Thursday, May 8

CBK Radio 540 Watrous Building Rich with Memories from Another Era

For most listeners of CBC Radio 540 in Saskatchewan, the shows produced in Regina come whithout too much thought about how the content ends up on the airwaves, into their home or car radio. Watrous, Saskatchewan is rather omnipresent as the location of the transmitter and tower for CBC's AM band in the province. Most of us know this, but never ask ourselves why the Watrous connection?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the old transmitter building on the edge of Watrous. Behind it sits a much smaller, newer building where the current transmitor is housed. Yet this old "Art Deco" structure from 1929 is of much greater interest. The local heritage society has published a nice write-up on its history.

The original CBK Radio 540 building in Watrous, Saskatchewan.
The transmitter is apparently to this day the most powerful in Canada, because of the flat surroundings and the airwave conductivity of the soil content I am told. I encourage you to visit the virtual tour organized in collaboration with CBC in 2012. The place came with complete radio studios, an announcer's lounge and temporary living quarters, as the photos from the 2012 tour show. I wonder if these temporary living quarters were not the fall-out shelter from the cold war era that was added in the early 1960s? The operation was completely self-sustaining in terms of back-up generator capacity and life-sustaining staples.

The map of Canada on the floor depicts transmitter locations a mosaic of quarter-inch battleship linoleum.
Today's challenges are not that different from those faced in any heritage conservation project. Asbestos decontamination, building envelope integrity, maintenance and safety. Who knows what the future has in store for this remnant of the past in a fast-evolving industry that has shifted squarely to web casting capacity-building. Let's hope as much as possible of this piece of Saskatchewan history can be saved.