Signing On: The Birth of Radio in Canada


303 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-385-17742-9





Reviewed by Dean Tudor

Dean Tudor is a journalism professor at the Ryerson Polytechnical
Institute and founding editor of the CBRA.


This oral popular history is a collection of personal narratives and recollections, about 125 of them, from broadcasters, technicians, listeners, and entrepreneurs in private and public broadcasting — all ranging from the well known to the obscure. Approximately half of the material has been taken from the Bambrick Collection at the Public Archives. Accompanying the text are about 300 black-and-white illustrations — photographs of people, advertisements, radio listings, and drawings. The arrangement is by region, moving from east to west in Canada, and by private or public radio. This is good for showing the regional diversity of Canada; not all radio was centred in Toronto. Still, there is a disconcerting lack of continuity in the book, a lack of “linkage” of the various commentaries. The authors should have provided more introductory matter for the speakers: who are they? Harold Symes, for example, was immensely influential in setting up and maintaining sound effects areas in the CBC, yet his dry and mannered account reveals none of his importance. Given such defects, along with a lack of sourcing and dating for the recollections, it is a wonder that the book succeeds at all in capturing the early excitement of radio, as is obviously the authors’ intentions. There are a few typos and misplaced page references, as well as some doubt as to whether a particular studio was indeed in Ottawa or in Winnipeg.


McNeil, Bill, and Morris Wolfe, “Signing On: The Birth of Radio in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,