Sixty years ago, in December 1957, there was great excitement in Central Alberta.
Red Deer’s first (and only) local television station, CHCA, began broadcasting to the community.
Television was actually not that old in the province as a whole. It first arrived in Alberta three years earlier in October 1954. Three Calgary radio stations got together to start television station CHCT – later renamed CFAC. Shortly thereafter, Dr. G.R.A. Rice’s Sunwapta Broadcasting started CFRN in Edmonton.
People in Central Alberta began buying television sets and installing antennas to pick up the broadcasts from the two major cities. Soon, there were enough viewers in the region that CHCT began regularly publishing its program guide in the local newspaper.
In March 1955, Gordon S. Henry, president of the Central Alberta Broadcasting Corporation which operated CKRD.Radio, announced plans to apply for a license to operate a television station in Red Deer. However, this proposal did not proceed.
In the spring of 1957, George Alfred ‘Fred’ Bartley, the former general manager of CKRD Radio, started a new push to establish a local TV station.
He recruited a number of investors, including local lawyer Roy Porkka and theatre owner Gordon Purnell. A new company was formed, CHCA Television Limited, with the CA standing for Central Alberta.
A television license was granted on Aug. 1st, 1957 by the Federal Department of Transport, which was the authority in charge of regulating television stations at the time. Because CHCA was proposed as a CBC affiliate, the CBC’s board of governors endorsed the granting of the license.
By the end of August, construction began on a Quonset style building on the Divide Hill, east of Red Deer, to house the station’s offices and studios.
The high hill also provided an additional 118ms of elevation to the 95m broadcast antenna. Total estimated cost of the facility was estimated at $250,000.
Work proceeded smoothly and plans were made to begin broadcasting on Nov. 24th. In contrast to the current practice of stations broadcasting 24 hours per day, or only shutting down in the wee hours of the morning, CHCA’s initial programs were to run from 4 p.m. to midnight on weekdays, 5:30 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Featured shows on the new station included I Love Lucy, Dragnet, Front Page Challenge and Howdy Doody. A special feature on Saturday night was the broadcast of a N.H.L. hockey game. Local programs included a high school quiz show, a talent and square dance show, something called Musical Pictures and a local current affairs program called Your Community.
As a special attraction for the new viewers, arrangements were made with A.G.T. to have a live broadcast of the Grey Cup football game on Nov. 30th.
As it turned out, late shipments of equipment and technical problems led to significant delays in getting the station on the air. The widely touted live broadcast of the Grey Cup game had to be scrubbed. Full broadcasting did not commence until Dec. 11th.
Despite the disappointing delays, the station proved to be a great success. In 1965, the call letters of the station were changed to CKRD – TV with the RD standing for Red Deer. The next year, the television station moved to new studios on Gaetz Avenue, north of 54th St.
Over the years, there were several changes in ownership and name changes (e.g. RDTV). In 2005, the station was disaffiliated from the CBC.
It teamed with CanWest’s CH television stations across Canada and the station soon reverted to its old label as CHCA –T.V.
By 2009, CanWest faced significant financial problems. As a result, some assets were sold to Global. However, a decision was made to permanently close the Red Deer television station.
CHCA-TV went permanently off the air on Aug. 31st, 2009.