CFCF-12, or CTV Montreal as it prefers to call itself now, will be turning 50 years old on Jan. 20. It was on Jan. 20, 1961 – the same day as John F. Kennedy’s inauguration – that the station first went on the air (they even have the video of the first broadcast), and though it has changed owners, studios, programming and staff since then, it has the same call letters, the same channel (at least until the digital transition later this year) and the same position as Montreal’s top English-language television station.
As part of the anniversary, the station is devoting most of its 6pm newscast on Jan. 20 to an anniversary look back, with invites like long-time personalities Don McGowan, Bill Haugland and Dick Irvin. Jed Kahane, the station’s news and public affairs director, also tells me a special song from comedy duo Bowser and Blue will be presented (those who remember the Terry DiMonte-hosted consumer affairs show Fighting Back know that it gave the duo a lot of exposure during the 90s).
The anniversary show will repeat at noon on Jan. 21.
Those who can’t wait until then can see some stuff they’ve already put online, including minute-long vignettes they’ve been putting together for each day leading up to the anniversary.
Among the things online:
- Blasts from the past: Some early archives from the 60s and quickie compilations of people and things that have appeared on the station in 50 years
- Galleries of photos from the station’s early years (this photo of a sideburned, peace-sign-showing Haugland is a highlight, as is this one of a new anchor by the name of Mutsumi Takahashi), famous people who were on the Beat the Clock game show, and memories sent in by viewers
- Video messages of congratulations from some local figures
“Starting the 17th, we’ll also have extra content and interviews at noon and 6 relating to the anniversary, Montreal history, how our industry has changed, etc.”, Kahane wrote me in an email shortly before heading for the ski slopes.
Take a step back in time
I was going to devote the second half of this post to a suggestion that CFCF take advantage of those vast archives and bring back more than just 10-second clips. I was going to say that they should put full episodes of these beloved (and, by today’s youth, unknown) shows online so we can watch them.
Turns out they’ve done exactly that. From the “Flashback” section, you can watch one full episode from a dozen entertainment and current affairs shows. You can see:
- Magic Tom and Magic Tom’s Road Show from the Ormstown fair
- George Balcan host a charades-based game show where contestants compete to win what today looks like spare change
- Pierre Lalonde invite Ginette Reno to sing songs like 9 to 5, along with one she just wrote with Jean-Pierre Ferland called “Rouge“
- Mad Dog Vachon wrestle
- A report from Leslie Roberts (now Global Toronto’s anchor) on Céline Dion’s first English album, and another one from Mutsumi Takahashi on the sorry state of the Metropolitan Expressway, both on the same episode of current affairs show Park Avenue Metro
- Dick Irvin, Jr., host sports trivia game show Know Your Sports
- An episode of the sitcom Excuse My French
- Proof that the people who ran this station in the late 60s were consuming mind-altering substances
- Carpenter Bill Brown, aka Mr. Chips
- Neil McKenty host a call-in show with Expos manager Buck Rogers in 1989 about, among other things, losing star player Andre Dawson
- Jack Curran head to Denmark for a 1973 travel show
This is great stuff (well, mostly great, some of it is kind of dull by today’s standards). I hope it doesn’t stop here, and they can wrestle more stuff out of the archives to be enjoyed again.
UPDATE (Jan. 19): They have added more stuff, including:
- An episode of Hockey Magazine with Dick Irvin, talking about the print media and featuring an interview with The Gazette’s Red Fisher, highlighted by him talking about his “new minicomputer” (in 1983!) and how road stories used to be sent by Western Union. He also explains why he doesn’t like to use too many quotes in his stories (too predictable, he says), and wishes he could keep doing this for “another 30 years” – we’re two years away from that.
- A 1990 episode of Fighting Back, the consumer affairs show hosted by Terry DiMonte. Features reports by Catherine Bainbridge, Cynthia Drummond and a very young-looking Richard Dagenais, and a song by Bowser and Blue.
- An early 80s episode of Travel Travel from Vail, Colo., with Don McGowan.
- A Montreal AM Live interview with Ted Ziegler, aka Johnny Jellybean, in 1992, hosted by Leslie Roberts.
- An episode of The Editors from 1977, hosted by Greta Chambers, on correspondents for foreign newspapers based in Canada
- A 1985 episode of current affairs program As it Is, with hosts Bill Haugland and Marilyn Weston, including a segment with Anne Lewis interviewing Leonard Cohen.
It would be fun, I think, to air some of this stuff again too. Perhaps overnight, or during the weekend, when there isn’t much to watch anyway but people who have nothing better to watch can see the shows or record them using their VCRs and DVRs.
Why can’t we write new history?
Watching some of these past shows, the prevailing thought in my head is: Why aren’t shows like this being produced anymore? Why are we seeing American programming in prime-time, NFL football games on Sundays and celebrity gossip shows from 7 to 8 pm weekdays on CTV?
I realize that, in a 500-channel universe, local television isn’t the destination it used to be. But all that tells me is that CFCF should be striving to increase its local programming, rather than airing reruns we can find online or see on those cable channels.
I realize that local television stations don’t have the kind of budgets they did back then and can’t hire the same staff they had in the 60s and 70s. But with new technology, it’s cheaper than ever to produce good-quality video. If YouTube has shown us anything, people can produce shows all by themselves (though realistically it would take at least one or two more people to produce something of any quality).
I’m not eager to see a return of Mr. Chips or poorly-lit local wrestling shows. And I don’t think it’s realistic to expect local programming that rivals what’s being produced by major U.S. networks or nationally out of Toronto.
But surely there’s something between the big-budget national shows and no-budget cable access.
At some point next year, Global Montreal will be bringing back its local morning show, thanks to a promise Shaw had to make in order to buy the TV network. And though it looks cheap as hell, Global does have a half-hour local interview program.
CFCF-12, the leader among anglo Montreal stations, has only its newscasts, as great as they are. Its morning programming consists entirely of a news ticker that runs at the bottom of the screen during Canada AM. Current affairs, arts and entertainment, sports, interviews and everything else has to fit into those newscast hours.
Of the shows the station has put online, there are three I’d like to see as inspiration for new ones. Park Avenue Metro, though a silly name, was a show that allowed reporters to spend more than three minutes looking at an issue. Occasionally longer reports will air during newscasts (those are the ones that are heavily advertised beforehand). But it doesn’t happen with enough regularity.
It’s Your Move was a silly little game show with pretty cheap prizes, but I found it fun to watch, and it’s nice to see people from our community on television.
And the show with Pierre Lalonde showed something that local television could really use: live musical performances. I can’t remember the last time I saw a musical artist or band perform a complete song live on CFCF. If local college radio stations can setup a studio and bring in bands to perform live, why can’t our highest-rated local TV station do the same?
Accuse me of being a dreamer of things impractical, but I think that, in the long run, the future of local television can only be local television.
Happy anniversary, CFCF-12. Here’s hoping for 50 more years, and that the second half-century will bring memories as rich as the first.
CFCF-12’s 50th anniversary show airs Jan. 20 at 6pm and Jan. 21 at noon.
UPDATE (Jan. 15): Bill Brownstein has a long feature in Saturday’s Gazette about the station and its anniversary. In addition to quotes from old-timers Haugland, McGowan and Irvin, it includes this bit about the newscast’s ratings:
In fall 2010, BBM ratings indicate that 202,300 viewers took in CTV Montreal’s 6 to 7 p.m. weekday newscast, as opposed to 32,300 who caught the local CBC-TV package from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and 6,900 who tuned into Global here from 6 to 6:30 p.m.
For the math-challenged, that’s 84% of this share to one station.
From a comment below, a link to Google’s newspaper archive of a special section of The Gazette devoted to CFCF’s launch on Jan. 20, 1961. Similarly, here’s an article from Mike Boone on the station’s 25th anniversary in 1986.
UPDATE (Jan. 19): The blooper reel is, sadly, only about three minutes long. But there’s also a report from Annie DeMelt on the “lighter side” of news.