Queen's 175th Anniversary

Queen's University Queen's University

[Queen's University Douglas Library]
[Queen's University Douglas Library]
Celebrating Queen's 175th Anniversary

CFRC takes to the airwaves

1923 to present day
Decade: 1920s
[students of CFRC]

The station was given the call sign CFRC in 1923, and from its outset, it relied on volunteers to fill its airwaves.

[the CFRC studio]

After inventors like Marconi, Hertz, Tesla and Edison helped bring wireless communication to the world, Queen’s wasted little time in teaching students about the miraculous new technology.

As early as 1894, Queen’s newly established Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science was offering its students lectures in electrical engineering.

An electrical engineering department was subsequently created in 1912, and two of its pioneering professors, Lester Gill and later Douglas Jemmett, were soon introducing their students to the science of wireless transmission.

In 1919, Professor Gill started a Wireless Club dedicated to honing student skills in wireless transmission and crafting broadcasts, and their new radio station took the call sign 9BT. The station established two distinct traditions: Gaelic culture and football. Its inaugural broadcast in 1922 was fourth-year engineering student George Parsons playing “The Bluebells of Scotland” on his cornet, and later that year 9BT broadcast summaries of Queen’s football games in Hamilton and Montreal.

The station was given the call sign CFRC in 1923, and from its outset, it relied on volunteers to fill its airwaves. University administration supplied some funding and strategic direction, but CFRC was in essence a student club and officially became the CFRC Student Radio Club in 1957.

[Dave Cunningham at CFRC]
Dave Cunningham in the CFRC studio

As the years went by, technical facilities and broadcast hours steadily expanded. In 1954, an FM channel was added to the existing AM frequency. A new studio opened in Carruthers Hall in 1959. After that, a paid manager was hired to coordinate the station’s affairs.

As the station grew, so too did the calibre of its alumni. Actor Lorne Greene, journalist Jeffrey Simpson and CBC broadcaster Shelagh Rogers each began their career behind a CFRC microphone.

Though housed on campus, CFRC is a distinctly community-oriented radio station. Its volunteers come from across Kingston and beyond, and its programming gives voice to topics that don’t often hit mainstream airwaves. In a given week, there will be broadcasts of Democracy Now!, Arabic language lessons, feminist commentary, and much more.

CFRC is one of the world’s longest-operating radio stations – and more than a decade older than the national broadcaster CBC! In 1990, it went stereo and now broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

You can listen to the voices of Queen’s at FM 101.9 in the Kingston area, and worldwide online.

[CFRC volunteers outside with banner]


The historical content of this site was curated by a committee of faculty and staff with submissions from the broader Queen’s community.
These moments are not intended to represent an exhaustive history of the university, but rather significant sign posts in its development.
Special thanks go to University Historian Duncan McDowall for his contributions.
Many thanks also to the people of Queen's University Archives for their support of this anniversary project.
Have feedback about the moments? Please contact qu175@queensu.ca