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Founder ♦ Innovator ♦ Altruist

“We had very little money but lots of vision and zeal.” 

H.P. Brown

CKUA’s first announcer H.P. Brown at the microphone, ca. late 1920s. Image: Courtesy of the University of Alberta Archives, Accession #81-117-1-101.

Born in Surrey, England in 1886, Harold Purcey (H.P.) Brown arrived in Kingston, Ontario in 1908.¹ A year later, he made his way to Edmonton where a series of bold opportunities and ventures awaited him in his new home city. In 1917, this self-described “accountant with many hobbies” accepted the position of supervisor of visual instruction at the University of Alberta’s department of extension. His interest in the emerging technology of radio would help lay the foundation for the 1927 establishment of CKUA Radio and transform how the University connected to people in rural and remote parts of Alberta.

Established in 1912, the mandate of the department of extension was to “carry the University to the people.” Its first director, Albert Edward Ottewell, along with guest lecturers, travelled the muddy backroads and byways of Alberta to engage audiences with talks on everything from agriculture to literature. Having first heard a radio in Chicago in 1921, Mr. Brown began to envisage using radio as a tool for educational programming in Alberta. With some time, tinkering, and lobbying, and help from a team of people—including University of Alberta President Henry Marshall Tory, Radio Engineer W.W. Grant, Professor Hector J. MacLeod, J. Wardlaw “Ward” Porteous, W.E. Cornish, and Albert Ottewell—CKUA took to the airwaves on November 21, 1927.

In addition to serving as CKUA’s first announcer and running the station, Mr. Brown also served as the sound-effects man. In 1957, he described an occasion when the station went above and beyond the call of duty to create sound effects for a live radio play:

“In those days we did not have records [to produce sound effects] and one of the early plays, we had to have a plane coming in…[we had] no record…no way of reproducing the plane, so one of the people taking part in the players, as we were rehearsing and wondering what we would do about this plane, this chap said… ‘well I’ve got a friend who works at the airport and can bring a plane over anytime we want to.’ So, we brought this plane over just at the split second—we had to synchronize our watches at both ends between the studio and the airport—we brought this plane over and just at the right time when the plane was supposed to be heard…well it came in beautifully.”

With his innate desire to improve the life of the city, friends and colleagues respected Mr. Brown for his enduring commitment and dedication to community organizations. He founded or held leadership positions with numerous groups including the Federation of Community Leagues, the Red Cross, the Alberta Safety Council, the Edmonton Cosmopolitan Club, and St. Paul’s Anglican Church, among many others. In 1952, he helped found the Edmonton Film Council and in 1957, he received a special Canadian Film Award for “pioneer work and continued devotion to the development of Canadian films.”² His legacy as a community leader, founder, and innovator lives on in CKUA’s commitment to offer an enriched and eclectic mix of programs to listeners in Alberta and across the globe.

The CKUA radio antennae towers at Pembina Hall on University of Alberta campus, Edmonton, Alberta, November 1927.

The Control Room at CKUA Radio on the University of Alberta campus, March 1932.

“[H.P. Brown was] a prince of a man…a man dedicated unselfishly to the enlargement of the human spirit.”
Elsie Park Gowan – CKUA radio play writer

See more from the Treasures from The Vault series


Endnotes

¹ In various archival sources, H.P. Brown’s name appears as: Harold Percy Brown, Harold Percival Brown, and Harold Purcey Brown.

² Edmonton Journal, “Prominent League Founder H.P. Brown Dies at 80,” November 18, 1965.

References and Further Reading

Alberta Educational Communications Corporation. A sound for all seasons: CKUA’s 60th anniversary. Edmonton: Access Network, Alberta Educational Communications Corporation, 1987.
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/index.html
City of Edmonton Archives. Harold P. Brown Fonds.
https://archivesphotos.edmonton.ca/Presto/home/Default.aspx
Cormack, Barbara Villy. Beyond the classroom: The first 60 years of the University of Alberta Department of Extension. Edmonton: Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta, 1981.
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/index.html
McCallum, Joe. CKUA and 40 wondrous years of radio. Edmonton, 1967.
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/index.html
University of Alberta Alumni Association. The new trail. Edmonton: Alumni Association of the University of Alberta, 1942-1978, v.33 no.2 (1978).
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/index.html
Walters, Marylu. CKUA Radio Worth Fighting For. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2002.

© 2017 Researched and written by historian Anna M. Rebus, BA, BA, MA, MA (in progress)

 

Created with the support of the Edmonton Heritage Council

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