New Media: Radio

The Dawes family demonstrated a keen interest in scientific advances and new technology applications. Among other things, they brought the first telegraph and telephone lines to Lachine. For its advertising, the brewery took advantage of each new medium as it emerged. Black Horse was no longer on the market when television arrived in Quebec, but radio came in time for the brewers of the famous beer to put it to good use.

Radio and Advertising

In 1919, Montréal’s CFCF became the first radio station in the world to broadcast regularly scheduled programs, and in 1922, CKAC went on air as the first French-language commercial radio station in North America. Radio was rapidly gaining popularity. Between 1931 and 1941, the percentage of French-Canadian households owning a radio soared from 37.5% to 70.6%, and reached 88% in 1947. Broad market penetration made radio a highly promising way to communicate with consumers. Advertisers turned to this new participatory medium and eagerly sponsored or produced programs, some of them broadcast live before an audience.

As of 1930, most shows of any importance were sponsored, meaning that radio had a stake in Quebec’s consumer society. Advertisers sponsored entire programs in exchange for mentioning their product at the beginning and end of the broadcast. Before long, the names of companies, including breweries, began appearing in program titles, as in Molson Newscast and Radio-Encyclopédie Frontenac, for example.

Quebec radio history shows that print media companies were quick to embrace radio technology by applying for broadcasting licences, as did the Montréal newspaper La Presse, which bought station CKAC in 1922. This enabled them to cover large territories quickly. Radio went directly from the experimental stage to commercial use, with businesses and department stores running their own stations. Clearly, media concentration is not a 21st-century invention.

Black Horse Radio Programs

Dawes Black Horse Brewery was associated with several radio programs, including L'Heure des amateurs, Singin’ Sam, The Black Horse Tavern and newscasts (in French on CKAC and in English on CFCF). Among the music shows broadcast in French in Montréal, Black Horse sponsored one described as “a sparkling program of pop music” featuring Freddy Martin and his orchestra.

In 1948, Black Horse launched the audience-participation program Connaissez-vous la musique ? (Do you know music?). On this show, a live band performed two songs suggested by listeners and audience members had to guess the titles. If they guessed correctly, they and the listeners who had suggested the songs received cash prizes. The program aired on a dozen stations, from New Brunswick to Hull, Chicoutimi and Val d’Or in Quebec. National Breweries documents report that the program was an instant success, with more than 10,000 listener letters received the first week and famous musicians sending messages of high praise.

Participatory programs were a very effective way to reach large listening audiences with mass advertising. And for the brewery, they provided an audience profile that helped identify potential customer groups. 

Resource References: 

nbl_notre_publicite.pdf: The Review. Published in the interests of the employees, vol. 11, no. 3, March 1948, The National Breweries Limited, Montréal, P.Q., pp. 1-4.

les_emissions_black_horse.pdf: The Review. Published in the interests of the employees, vol. 12, no. 9, September 1949, The National Breweries Limited, Montréal, Qué., p. 10. 

soyez_aux_ecoutes.pdf: Review. Published in the interests of the employees, vol. 10, no. 2, January 1947, The National Breweries Limited, Montréal, P.Q., p. 18.

connaissez-vous.pdf: The Review. Published in the interests of the employees, vol. 12, no. 3, March 1949, The National Breweries Limited, Montréal, Qué., pp. 12-13.