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CKWX marks 100 years of radio broadcasting in B.C.

April 1 is a notable anniversary in local Vancouver broadcasting, if we do say so ourselves. Saturday marks 100 years since this radio station first signed on.

And it all started with a used 10-watt transmitter, no larger than a suitcase.

“One day I went down to Seattle to a radio show, the first radio show I would say in the northwest, and I saw a transmitter there, a 10-watt transmitter, and I bought it,” explained Arthur “Sparks” Holstead, the founder of CKWX radio, in an archived interview.

“It started just as a plaything, actually as a toy,” he added.

It was an expensive toy at that.

The Westinghouse Model TF cost Holstead $350 — not an insignificant sum back then.

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On April 1, 1923, “Sparks” signed on as CFDC from the top floor of his automotive supply business at the corner of Fitzwilliam and Wallace streets in Nanaimo.

He and his business partner sold car batteries at the time, but also carried parts for magnetos, generators, and starters.

Like many radio operators in those days, Holstead was a hobbyist. Running CFDC was a sideline, the station was heard mainly at night, playing borrowed records with credit given on-air.

No thought was given to soliciting advertisers either; it simply didn’t occur to him.

Of course, even back then, it wasn’t long until regulators came knocking.

“Oh, we were operating for quite a while, and up comes the license inspector from Victoria and says, ‘Hey buddy! You’re not supposed to be broadcasting. Where’s your license?'” he said.

“‘License? I never heard of such a thing!’ I said, ‘How much does it cost?’ He said, ’50 dollars.’ So, I said, ‘Okay. Here’s 50 bucks.’ And we got a license.”

After a time, Holstead was spending more of his days on the other side of the Strait of Georgia. He had opened a branch office at 1220 Seymour in Vancouver. And it wouldn’t be long until the radio station followed in 1925.

Holstead recalls getting mail from listeners far and wide, remarkable for a station transmitting just a 10-watt signal. But many had a hard time making out the letters CFDC through the static.

“And we would get mail from New Jersey, New York, New Zealand. And we would get call letters for CFVC and CFBC,” he explained.

So, for the first (and certainly not the last time) in our history, the station rebranded in 1927.

“So, that’s how [we] came to change to CKWX. We figured that nobody would get confused with those kinds of letters.”

By 1928, ‘WX was broadcasting seven hours a day, sharing its frequency with a handful of other stations.

CKWX first appeared on the dial at 411 metres or 730 kilocycles. Then, at 1010, 950, 980, and finally, in 1957, we made the switch to 1130, where the station remains today.

As for “Sparks,” he would continue to be associated with the radio station long after selling his ownership stake. As late as the 1960s, he could be seen watering plants when CKWX was located on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver. He would spend his winters in Arizona and summers in West Vancouver.

Remembered as a gentleman and a true pioneer in radio broadcasting, Arthur Holstead passed away in 1971. But his radio station lives on.

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