By Jesse Robitaille
A pair of colourful stamps celebrating 100 years of radio history was issued by Canada Post on May 20, exactly one century after an early broadcast by one of the world’s first radio stations, XWA in Montréal.
On May 20, 1920, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company broadcast a radio program through its station XWA – Experimental Wireless Apparatus – from its top-floor offices at 173 William St. About 175 kilometres away at Ottawa’s Château Laurier, a gathering of the Royal Society of Canada tuned in to a live performance by soprano Dorothy Lutton, who sang two ballads through the airwaves.
“Later in the evening there came the message from the Château that the concert had been heard, and congratulations were offered,” reads a story published by the Montréal Gazette the following day. “The occasion was an experiment in wireless telephony, which, although it has been successfully operated on short distances, has not so far been demonstrated in a public way over distances of more than a mile or so.”
XWA began transmitting occasional broadcasts in 1919 after receiving Canada’s first experimental radio licence, media historian Mary Vipond wrote in her 1992 book, Listening In: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting, 1922-1932.
While earlier one-off broadcasts were made in Canada – as well as in the United States as early as 1906 – XWA was the first station to operate in the former country.
Later in 1920, XWA changed its call letters to CFCF (for “Canada’s First, Canada’s Finest”). Two years later, the station made the leap to commercial broadcasting as CKAC to become the first licensed radio station in North America to offer French-language programming.
At that time, 34 Canadian radio stations were in operation. By the end of the 1920s, the number of radio sets across the country increased from fewer than 10,000 to nearly 300,000.
Printed by Lowe-Martin using four-colour lithography, each of the stamps measures 34 millimetres by 29 millimetres.
Designed by Toronto’s Soapbox Design with illustration by Oliver Burston, the stamps are available in 10-stamp booklets (with five of both designs) and feature tagging along three sides. A total of 130,000 booklets were printed.
An official first-day cover (OFDC) featuring both stamps and measuring 190 millimetres by 112 millimetres is also available. A total of 7,000 OFDCs were serviced with a Montréal pictorial cancellation featuring a signal-emitting radio tower.
“To create a stamp depicting the earliest days of radio, for which there was little original imagery available, Canada Post assembled a team of experts from academia, communications museums and vintage radio clubs to ensure visual accuracy and an authentic back story,” reads a statement issued by the Crown corporation this May.
PAST RADIO STAMPS
Known as the “father of radio,” Guglielmo Marconi – the founder and namesake of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company – has been featured on two past issues from Canada Post and its earlier predecessor, the Post Office Department.
An eight-cent stamp issued by the Post Office Department in 1974 features a portrait of Marconi with a view of St. John’s Harbour from Signal Hill’s Cabot Tower, where the Italian-born inventor and electrical engineer received the world’s first trans-Atlantic wireless signal from Europe on Dec. 12, 1901.
Marconi was again featured on a 48-cent stamp issued by Canada Post in 2002 as part of a two-stamp “Communication Technology” series. Once again, a portrait of Marconi is shown alongside Marconi Wireless Station in Glace Bay, N.S., where he transmitted the first complete message from North America via radio.
NEXT 2020 STAMP
After reworking its stamp program schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada Post is slated to release its next issue – the annual Canada Post Community Foundation semi-postal stamp – on Sept. 21.