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CBC Radio Dramas

Since 1975, the Centre has been the official legal depository of the radio drama scripts and ancillary drama materials of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  The CCBS Collection now includes scripts from the dawn of radio in Canada in the 1930s to the present day. The Centre’s Archives collected and established by Howard Fink house more than 20,000 original Canadian radio drama scripts and several hundred sound versions of the most important of these productions, as well as all the surviving ancillary documents. Three extensive annotated bibliographies have been placed online for the radio dramas (1925-1961, 1962-1986 and 1987 ongoing).

Radio is a unique medium, and though it may be overshadowed by newer media as a means of communication, it has nonetheless played a central role in the evolution of Canadian and global communication and society. We maintain that the radio drama scripts contained in our archive are important artefacts of the cultural and political development of Canadian modernity itself.

CBC Radio Drama and Canadian Society

As may be gathered from the publications and research grants for the Centre’s original research program (Jackson, Fink, Vipond, and Nielsen), our focus is on the sociological-literary-historical and communications analysis of English-Canadian radio drama, in its national and regional production centres, concentrating on the creative products, their creators, the administrators, and their networks. The principal objective of this research program is to explicate English-Canadian cultural development as revealed in the historical and literary development of CBC radio drama and Canadian Broadcasting policy. Moreover, we learned from contractual negotiations, our copyright and legal agreements with the CBC, and research experience with the radio drama archive that the archive needs to be very carefully preserved for current and future generations of researchers.

Research Fellows have been researching and publishing on the theme of Canadian radio drama and society since 1975. Select examples of projects include:

  • Centralization and Decentralization of Canadian Broadcasting in Western Canada (John Jackson, Howard Fink, Mary Vipond, SSHRC grant, 1992-1995).
    This research represented the last phase of a long-range study programme built around CBC radio drama productions. It originated in the SSHRC funded project 410-89-007 ("Canadian cultural development, central & regional voices:  The case of CBC English-language radio theatre"), which concluded on August 31, 1991. In the proposal for 410-89-007 we indicated that it was our intention, in the long term, to pursue a study of the development of radio theatre in Western Canada focusing on Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Calgary as regional production centres, and requested funds for a short-term study of Winnipeg as a major regional centre. Having completed our work in Winnipeg, we were able to follow through with research in Regina, Calgary/Edmonton, and Vancouver. Continuing with our original objective, we documented the centralization process via western radio theatre as an aspect of the broader process of the centralization of English-Canadian cultural production. The inquiry centred on the tension between regional and central voices in the development of public broadcasting in Western Canada.
  • An Instrument of War: The CBC in World War II (Mary Vipond, SSHRC Standard Research Grant, 2001-2004).
    This project, which will result in a book-length manuscript, focuses on the propaganda role of the CBC during the war by examining its censorship activities as well as programs such as the news service, war-related talks and dramas, and special events programming.  Most of the research was undertaken in Ottawa at what is now Library and Archives Canada; the chapter on war dramas will be based on scripts held at the Centre for Broadcasting Studies.  Graduate students in History assisted in the collection of secondary source material and in constructing a database of CBC wartime programming that will be analyzed to assess the trends in the frequency and popularity of such programs.
  • A comparative Critique of Seriocomedy and Social Context of Broadcasting in Quebec and Canada (Greg Nielsen, SSHRC Standard Research Grant, 1998) and The CBC and Radio-Canada Seriocomedy Project (Greg Nielsen, John Jackson and Mary Vipond, 2001).
    The research program began with comparative analyses of differences between French speaking Quebec and English speaking Canadian nationalisms as seen through the study of public broadcasting with a focus on Toronto and Montreal production centres. This research focused on public broadcasting and the cultures of urban laughter. It demonstrated that the CBC Broadcast Center provides production of an imaginary Canadian community mostly managed but not exclusively produced in Toronto’s downtown core. A French Quebec sense of a different national and urban imaginary in mass culture form also has its origins in the public broadcasting headquarters in Montreal.

We continue to archive CBC radio Drama and update the conditions of the archives to make them accessible to researchers. Our archival research continues to develop (Vipond on the history of Canadian Broadcasting; Nielsen on French and English language seriocomedies) but we also began broadening the research scope toward North American (Jackson and Rosenburgh on radio and audience reception) and global studies of broadcasting and other broadband media such as online newspapers.  (Fink on the Diniacopoulos tapes, Nielsen on newspapers and culture of cities—Montreal, New York, Dublin, Toronto, Berlin). By expanding the field of our research object to include the public cultures of broadcasting after modernity in a variety of locales.

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