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History

Canada's first communication satellites

Bringing television and radio to the world wasn't a simple process, but it started a revolution

  • Jul 14, 2016
  • 403 words
  • 2 minutes
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When Prince William and Kate Middleton exchanged vows in 2011, about 24 million people from around the world tuned in to watch. Yet Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 received no such global coverage. But Britain’s longest serving monarch wasn’t cheated of this universal attention; rather, international live broadcasting simply wasn’t possible in the 1950s.

It wasn’t until July of 1962 with NASA’s launch of Telestar – a pair of communication satellites – that television and speech signals were successfully broadcast between Europe and North America. The July 1963 issue of Canadian Geographic describes this event as “heralding a new era in international communications,” and goes on to question the future of international broadcasting.

Universal language of broadcast

One of the pressing problems with this new technology, according to the magazine, was the concept of universal language. With thousands of tongues worldwide, which one would be chosen as the official Language of Broadcast? At the time, English was put forth as the clear choice, as it was considered the only language spoken by a sufficiently large number of people.

Today, television is broadcasted in countless languages: BBC coverage is produced in 32 languages, and CBC broadcasts in English, French, and eight Aboriginal languages, something that seemed unimaginable in the 1960s.  

Canada’s challenging size

Another puzzler back in the ‘60s: how would broadcast be accessible to all regions of Canada, a vast country containing several lightly populated areas, specifically in the north. The answer came in 1973, when Canada launched Anik A2–a satellite that provided live television to the remote Canadian for the first time, making Canada the first country to have a national satellite television system.

But as this issue of Canadian Geographic reminds us, satellites were also being developed for the purpose of telephone communication. And this was a whole different ball game.

The first direct distance dialing–calling outside of the local calling area without operator assistance–happened in 1951 between Englewood, N.J. and Alameda, Calif. By the time the 1963 issue of Canadian Geographic hit shelves, direct distance dialing had occurred between London and Paris, but still wasn’t possible between Europe and North America.
“In the not too distant future, you may be able to call a party in Europe by direct dialing an international access code of perhaps two or three digits, followed by the subscribers international number which may be 11 digits long.”

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