Media: Newspapers, Television and Radio

The First Nations of the North American west fulfilled the social communicition function through powwows and the oral story-telling tradition. The first newspaper in what was to become Saskatchewan was the weekly Saskatchewan Herald, started at Battleford in 1878.

The Saskatchewan Herald was typical of early publications—published on a weekly (or less-frequent basis) and dealing heavily in local and territorial news, with occasional national, European or Imperial news if the mail provided it. A biographer of its founder described the territorial press as being “almost exclusively Conservative” in its politics. “Discovery, Civilization and Progress were the watchwords, along with Christian morality, were to provide the ingredients for a united and prosperous nation… There was an almost irrepressible optimism in the future through the development of the West.”

Many publications of this sort began in the North-West Territories and pioneer-era Saskatchewan, though few survived. Exceptions were The Moosomin World-Spectator (founded as The Courier in 1884) and The Leader, founded in March 1883 by iconoclastic businessman-politician-writer-lawyer Nicholas Flood Davin of Regina. It evolved into the daily Leader-Post.

Publications in larger Saskatchewan centres began evolving as their communities grew. The Leader, for example, went daily in 1905. Becoming dailies in 1906 were the Moose Jaw Times, the Saskatoon Phoenix and the Saskatoon Capital (later Star). In Prince Albert, the Herald began publishing as a daily in 1911.

A Historical Directory of Saskatchewan Newspapers 1878–1983 lists hundreds of newspapers and magazines that have been published in Saskatchewan, ranging from The Banish the Bar Crusader (1914–17) to The Klansman (1929–30) to the leftist Regina weekly newspaper The Prairie Fire (1969–71). Significant for its longevity and influence is the Saskatoon-based Western Producer, founded after World War I as The Progressive, which sought a pool for the selling of Saskatchewan farmers’ grain. It was renamed in 1924 as The Western Producer and was taken over by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 1931. It was sold to a BC firm in late 2001.

In 1922, the Regina Leader began CKCK Radio, the first commercial radio station in the province. On February 11, 1923, CKCK became the first radio station in the British Empire to carry a live church broadcast. It carried the first play-by-play broadcast of a hockey game on March 14, 1923—a full week before famed broadcaster Foster Hewitt made his radio debut in Toronto. CKCK’s creation was followed by that of CFQC in Saskatoon (1923), 10AB (predecessor of Moose Jaw’s CHAB) in 1923, 10BI (forerunner of CKBI in Prince Albert) in 1925 and Moose Jaw’s CJRM (forerunner of CKRM in Regina) in 1926.

In 1928, federal Conservative leader R.B. Bennett, no stranger to Saskatchewan through his membership in the Territorial Council of the North-West Territories, was an investor in a Conservative-oriented daily, the Regina Daily Star. Plans for a sister paper in Saskatoon were scuttled by the onset of the Great Depression. The colourful competition between the Leader-Post and the Daily Star ended in February 1940 when the Star closed, fatally injured by a modest advertising pool and federal government rationing of newsprint during World War II.

In July 1939, the CBC began broadcasting to the prairies from a powerful transmitter at Watrous, selected for its central location and favourable transmission properties. CBC did not have a radio newsroom in Saskatchewan until 1954 and did not have its own TV station in the province. However, the CBC-TV signal was available in Saskatchewan through privately owned TV stations like CKCK (Regina), CFQC (Saskatoon), CKBI (Prince Albert), CJFB (Swift Current) and CKOS (Yorkton). This characteristically Canadian private-public partnership began eroding in 1969, when CBC acquired the TV arm of CHAB Radio. Overnight, CBC-TV went on the air with its own station, while CKCK-TV changed affiliation to the private CTV network. A similar situation occurred in Saskatoon in 1970, when a CBC TV station went on the air and CFQC-TV became a CTV affiliate.

Notable commercial media groups in Saskatchewan have been the Sifton family (which by the 1970s owned the Leader-Post and StarPhoenix, CKCK-Radio and TV, and several media properties outside of the province) and the Rawlinson radio group (which started in Prince Albert, and acquired stations in North Battleford, Regina, and Saskatoon). By 2004, commercial TV stations were owned by either Winnipeg-based Global TV or Toronto-based Baton Broadcasting. The Sifton newspapers in Regina and Saskatoon were acquired in 1996 by Conrad Black’s Hollinger Corp., which immediately terminated a quarter of their personnel, setting off a national political furor. By 2000, the newspapers had been acquired by Global TV’s corporate parent, Canwest Global.

Cable television service began in Estevan in 1961 and Weyburn the next year. Service to the remainder of Saskatchewan was delayed while the federal and provincial governments fought a long battle over the nature of cable TV providers and the telecommunications system linking them. A 1978 compromise saw cable outlets in Regina and North Battleford structured as locally controlled co-operatives; those in other centres were conventional private firms eventually acquired by the large regional Shaw cable firm.

An important development was the creation in 1979 of the School of Journalism at the University of Regina. The 1990s saw innovations in the creation of Saskatchewan-based Internet web sites, either independent or allied with media outlets, a provincial educational broadcaster (the Saskatchewan Communications Network), and several First Nations media outlets.

Will Chabun