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Toronto Recording Artists On Radio
Part One
Ferdinand Fillion standing before the small receiving horn in the CITCo studio, top floor of the new GE factory, "playing to invisible thousands separated by miles of empty air". He was in the middle of the last number on the second Toronto Star program, Fritz Kreisler's "Viennese Popular Song". Miss Mary MacKinnon was at the piano.

9AH......... 9AH........ JAH........ This is 9AH, the broadcasting station of the Canadian Independent Telephone Company, Toronto, Canada.....QST........0ST.......... Tune up to 450 for The Toronto Star radio concert.

The announcer was Dr. Charles Aaron Culver, Chief High Frequency Engineer of the Canadian Independent Telephone Company (CITCo). Sitting in front of a little boxy wooden horn in the cafeteria on the fourth floor of the new Canadian General Electric factory at Ward Street and Wallace Avenue, he announced that this wireless telephone concert was being put on as a demonstration by The Toronto Daily Star. Dr. Culver repeated the call letters and the announcements several times, to allow the few amateurs and pioneering radio broadcast listeners in the district to adjust their receivers to 450 metres before the concert began.

For years the Star had presented weekly series of free public concerts around Toronto, the programs managed by The Star critic (Augustus Bridle?) and featuring the wealth of musical talent in Toronto: music teachers, advanced students, church soloists and instrumental ensembles. The venture into radio was an exciting experimental leap for the newspaper,to use the new and still imperfect wireless telephone to transmit these Star demonstration concerts to a wider public. Delivering concerts broad-cast through the ether was still a new, daring concept that was just catching on in the United States, for this was just at the beginning of the radio boom. Preparations for the debut wireless telephone concert had been made in secret. The Starís announcement wasnít published until March 27, 1922,just the day before the big event.

Dr. Charles A. Culver, CITCo's high frequency radio engineer, making the opening announcements forthe first Toronto Star radio concert demonstration. He is speaking into the "receiver" or "transmitter" and a box, probably containing the microphone amplifier, is on the floor behind the desk. Below, Mrs. R.J. Dilworth is singing into the "receiver" and Mrs. Evelyn Chelew Kemp is at the piano.

In this first series of Toronto Star radio concerts, broadcast over CITCOís 9AH (later CKCE, before the opening of The Toronto Star station CFCA), many of the artists had already or were soon to make gramophone recordings, often in Montreal. Toronto had no recording studios.

There were perhaps a thousand wireless amateurs in and around Toronto who could pick up the broadcast, and many people still did not believe that sound could be transmitted through the ether without wires, so the newspaper arranged for the demonstration to be heard in public auditoriums as well. One was at the Masonic Temple at Davenport and Yonge and a second was for the veterans and the nursing sisters at the Christie Street Military Hospital. The Masonic Temple was jammed minutes after the doors opened and hundreds were left out on the street. The young Edward S. "Ted" Rogers was a CITCo employee around that time and may have assisted technically at one of the three locations.

The artists were asked by Dr. Culver to be punctual in starting their respective numbers. "Itís a peculiar thing," he explained, "that radio audiences of an invisible kind are very impatient."

"Stand by," broadcasted Dr. Culver at half- past eight....... "The first number on the program" .....the National Anthem played by Mrs. Evelyn Chelew Kemp...... "Number two on the program furnished by The Toronto Daily Star" Mrs. RJ. Dilworth singing "Down in the Forest." Every number was announced by Dr. Culver, speaking into the magic horn in a slow, distinct voice.

Leslie Allen (1902-96), one of the first saxophonists in Toronto,
circa 1922.

The inaugural experimental radio concert gathered together some of the best Toronto artists. Luigi Romanelliís Orchestra starred on that first transmission, fresh from a successful "Jazz Week" at the Allen Theatre in downtown Toronto. Romanelliís Jazz Musikers played a "Popular Medley of Syncopated Harmony": "The Sheik"; "Oh Me, Oh My"; "Sweet Hortense"; "Wabash Blues"; "Say It With Music"; "If Winter Comes" and "Moonlight Serenade". The history books say that Romanelliís Orchestra was the first to broadcast "live" in Canada, in 1922, over The Toronto Star station CFCA. In fact, the first was this very broadcast over 9AH, CITCoís experimental 9-call, and a sort of grandparent of CFCA. Romanelliís Orchestra recorded for Berlinerís HMV label in 1922 and for RCA Bluebird around 1940.

"What does it feel like," The Star asked Romanelli, "to play jazz into space?" "Quite a sensation,Ē said Mr. Romanelli. "As I understand it, weíve just been filling the whole of central Ontario with Jazz, only the only ones who know it are those who have listening sets. Jazz, might say, is spreading, eh; spreading!"

Victor artist Boris Hambourg, cello, Director of the Hambourg Conservatory, did a solo turn on this first concert, playing "The Swan". He was later the cellist of the world famous Hart House String: Quartet (1923-1946), which also recorded for Victor and for RCA.

Pianist Alberto Guerrero, who supposedly made some home recordings with his young pupil, Glenn Gould, played a piece by Liszt. Recordings of his artistry might survive in the CBC Archives. Assisting on that program were the unrecorded Mrs. Dilworth, soprano, the well-known Mrs. Kemp, piano (former pupil of patriarch Michael Hambourg), Victor Edmunds, tenor, and the notorious Henri Czaplinski, violin soloist and teacher (an Auer pupil).

At the close of the concert Dr. Culver simply said into the funnel receiver: "This is YAH signing off". And after repeating this and giving again the information as to what the concert was, for the benefit of any who might have tuned in in the middle of the concert, he said, into space, to thousands: "Good night!"

The second concert from the CITCo plant at Ward and Wallace, "designed to demonstrate the marvel of the wireless telephone", included two recording artists. Miss Vera McLean, the celebrated Toronto contralto, soloist at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, had cut two sides for Herbert Berlinerís 216000 series in late 1919, and had already broadcast over the Toronto Marconi station, CHCSB, for transmission to the Canadian National Exhibition in 1921. She sang "For You Alone" and "I Passed By Your Window". Pianist Clement Hambourg, of the Hambourg Conservatory and later of the House of Hambourg, played a Chopin Prelude and "Nightingale" by Nevin. His artistry is preserved on instantaneous recordings cut in his own studio, plus a privately issued Gershwin disc. The unrecorded Lionel H. Bilton, cello teacher at the Hambourg Conservatory and himself a pupil of David Popper, and violinist Ferdinand Fillion appeared as well. Dr. Culver announced.

Advertisement in The Toronto Star for "Jazz Week" (March 20-25, 1922) at the Allen Theatre, Victoria and Richmond Streets in downtown Toronto.

The Star arranged for three public venues for listening-in: Riverdale Collegiate Institute, St. Stevenís Parish Hall at Bellevue and College, and again at the Christie Street Hospital.

Miss McLean refused to admit any nervousness. Previous experience in phonograph record work had dulled the sharp edges of novelty for her. "It gives one a funny feeling," said Mr. Bilton. "No audience to look at, you know."

No recording artists appeared on the third concert in the series, but the fourth, April 12, 1922, featured Leslie Allen, saxophone, later of the New Princesí Toronto Band (NPTB; see CAPS' initial CD release, "Dance Bands from Canada 1922- 1930", CAPS 001).

Leslie Allenís saxophone numbers, accompanied by Earle Estelle, were a novelty. The "sobbing saxophone" in "Wabash Blues" spelled "jazz" with a capital J.

Feet could hardly be restrained from breaking into a syncopated dance. "When Buddha Smiles", while more subdued, belonged to the same family.

"It was a peculiar sensation,Ē said Miss Maude Buschlen (violinist), as though I were going to be electrocuted.

I felt as if something might fly at me out of the horn." ...... Mr. Allen disclaimed nervousness.

Leslie Allen was later a member of several recorded bands, such as the NPTB in England, Dave Caplanís Toronto-Band from Canada in Germany, and with Carroll Gibbons, George Melachrino and Alfredo and His Band back in England. In the 1930's, Allen was a huge radio and recording star with the BBC-Dance Orchestra, and a rival of the popular Al Bowlly. Leslie Allen was an uncle of Eddie Allen, singer and accordionist of the CBCís "Happy Gang".

Frank Wightman's Famous Orchestra. Wightman is at the piano but trumpeter, Alfie Noakes is not apparent in this photograph. The drummer, at right, could be Gene Fritsley.

Luigi von Kunits, the founder of the New Symphony Orchestra (which became the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) and teacher of most of the violin section of the TSO, played on the fifth broadcast, the Easter program, April 13. Von Kunits, unfortunately, did not record. By this time the wooden horn in the CITCo studio had been replaced by a little fibre funnel which measured about a foot across.

Concert #6, on April 18, was a popular music night for dancing to radio syncopation. The regular announcer was now revealed as Gordon W. Hogarth of The Toronto Daily Star, and the broadcast began with the words, "This is radio station CKCE testing". The program featured Frank Wightmanís Famous Orchestra (Frank Wightman, piano; Leslie Chaplin, violin; Alfred Noakes, trumpet; Wilfred Wheeler, trombone; Harry Foss, sax and Gene Fritzley, drums). Alfie Noakes recorded later with the NPTB and with Alfredo and his Band in London, England. Eugene Fritzley was a regular in Romanelliís Orchestra and later recorded with Captain Plunkettís Overseas Orchestra (see CAPS 001).

Bibliography and credits

  • J.E. Atkinson ofthe Star - Ross Harkness, U of T Press, 1963
  • Toronto Daily Star, 1920-1922
  • Roll Back the Years - Edward Moogk, Ottawa, 1975
  • Dance Bands from Canada, 1922-1930 (CAPS 001), notes by Colin J. Bray, 2000
  • Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (eds. Kallmann, Potvin & Winters, U of T Press, 1981)

Thanks to Bill Pratt and David Lennick

Arthur E. Zimmerman is author of "In the Shadow of the Shield" (657 pp), a fully documented oral history of wireless and radio broadcasting at Queenís University and in Kingston, Ontario, 1902-1957. He is currently researching the earliest years of the Montreal and Toronto Marconi radio stations, XWA/CFCF and CHCB, respectively, and is looking for biographical information on the Canadian singers Gus Hill, and Dorothy Lutton, as well as for copies of the magazine Canadian Wireless (June 1921-July 1922). He can be reached by telephone at (416) 923-2001 or by e-mail at arthurz@look.ca