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The Swashbucklers: The Story of Canada's Battling Broadcasters    by Knowlton Nash order for
by Knowlton Nash
Order:  USA  Can
McClelland & Stewart, 2001 (2001)
* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Entertainment broadcasting in Canada began just after World War One - in 1919, to be exact - when enterprising businessmen saw a way to turn the airwaves into dollars. When somebody hit on the wild idea of airing American programs with Canadian commercials cut into them (we call it simulcasting now; it's what keeps Canadian viewers from seeing the big-budget American commercials during the Super Bowl), the whole thing took off, and soon the country was embroiled in a war of its own: between rival broadcasters, between broadcasters and the government - for imposing its 'Canadian content' rules that limited the amount of American programming - between broadcasters and public-airwave advocates who thought programming should be commercial-free.

Nash, a veteran journalist, broadcaster and author (he's written a handful of books on this general theme), charts the course of Canadian broadcasting. Until the late 1950s, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the government-run broadcaster, pretty much controlled the country's airwaves; then, the government of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker took away most of the CBC's power, and started granting licenses to independent broadcasters across the nation.

Television in Canada was pretty new then, but eventually would come cable television, speciality channels, satellite dishes. Now the war is a different war, between private broadcasters. Nash examines some of them: the families like the Aspers and the Shaws and the Thomsons, media empires fighting each other for dominance in an extremely competitive marketplace. It's a fascinating story, told with Nash's usual intelligence and enthusiasm. If you're interested in the history of broadcasting, even if you've never set foot in Canada (and you should: it's a lovely place), this one's for you.

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