Happy birthday CBC.ca

Knowlton Nash wrote the definitive book on the CBC with The Microphone Wars, which I have read several times and would recommend to anyone interested in topic.

It ends, however, in 1994. I asked Knowlton if he was interested in bringing the story up to date, and he said he wasn’t. So for a time, I considered writing it myself.

If such a book were to be written, the rise of CBC.ca would have to be a major part of the story. And just as the early days of CBC TV and CBC Radio had its nuts, visionaries, and freaks, so did the early days of New Media.

Now writing a book is not like writing a blog. And I know Knowlton, and I know I am no Knowlton. It occurred to me that such a project would be a lot of work. Perhaps writing a book wasn’t the way to go at all. That was more for Knowlton’s generation.

Maybe, I thought, it should be a website. Something that wasn’t filtered through me, but was written collaboratively by the people who were there. Something they could add to or edit easily. Something that the public could read for free, and add to as well.

So it was with interest that I saw the 10 Years of CBC.ca website today, which is kind of like that. There is a lot to click here, written by people who were there. An early favourite is Andrew Lundy with a nerdy yet frank take on Olympic coverage.

Now, the story I heard about the first CBC.ca webmaster (06/06/06 – Marilyn Persaud sets the record straight on this ~O) was that he was a young IT guy with a lot of ideas. He basically started the site on his own, with the help of a secretary who knew how to use Microsoft Office. Not many people understood what he was trying to do, but it seemed harmless enough. A typical CBC story.

The site took off almost immediately, even with not much on it, just a bunch of transcripts of the National. Spurred on by this early success, the guy put more and more online, and worked harder and harder on the site, and it took more and more of his time. It consumed his life and he was doing the work of 20 people.

Eventually, he had a heart attack and died. He was 29 years old.

I tried to find his name and his story on the anniversary site, but it doesn’t appear to be there.


  1. Chris Trubela
    Posted October 6, 2006 at 10:46 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Just dropping into the conversation to say that starting the on-line publicity/media archives was hell… but it appears as though the idea kernel was a solid one as it’s still going!

    Hi Mariyn and Kathy

    Chris Trubela

  2. Anonymous
    Posted June 9, 2006 at 9:49 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    So many broken or bizarre links on the radio portion of cbc.ca… I wish Joe Lawlor would answer his email….

  3. MMG
    Posted June 7, 2006 at 12:16 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Hey Marlyn,

    Good to see u online, setting the record straight. Holla when u get a minute. PEACE OUT.

  4. Kevin
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 3:02 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Good point about the message boards, Jayne. They were a valuable part of Canadian online life. I’s a shame that those years of active discussions (which predated blogs and foretold today’s user-generated content barrage) were not preserved somewhere as a barometer of Canadian opinions that all could still view.

    Sounds like a project for the CBC Archives crew. Anyone up for the challenge of getting this stuff back online?

  5. Jayne
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 1:35 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    And another thing…

    There is no mention of the interactive zone that used to be part of cbc.ca until Claude Galipeau came onto the scene.

    CBC.ca used message boards and live chats to connect Canadians both home and abroad. (A big chunk of the CBC mandate.)

    After 9/11 CBC was one of the only news sites to keep open their message boards.

    It may be a passe technology now, but these interactive features set the CBC apart from the competition, at the time.

    Sarah Morris was a real visionary at fleshing this zone out. As well, Josie Buiza, Lee Ferguson, Alaia Alsharif and I spent countless hours making sure that the content was well-monitored and well-written.

    I shouldn’t be that surprised, however, that some of these things have not made it onto the 10th Anniversary site. I mean, look who is running the show.

  6. Marlyn Persaud
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 1:24 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Thanks, Kathy. That’s right – Nov. ’98. It’s all a blur.

    Also to set the record straight, Kevin Roe replaced Kerry Morgan in 2001 (or was it Fall 2000..can’t recall). My initial message made it seem like he reported to me, but in fact, I reported to him! Sorry Kevin!


  7. Kathy Hewak
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 12:48 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Hey Marlyn,

    Just one small correction to your correction – the integrated CBC News site launched in 1998. Remember? I wrote the release! Actually, I think I still have a copy of the press kit at home. I should check my copies for dates.

    It’s a shame that no one higher up on the food chain at CBC.ca had called us looking for some screencaps of that bit of history (along with other tidbits we both have, Im sure). Not that I would have wasted any effort looking for copies. I believe that content still lives in the communications department. In fact, I think I even know which server.

    Oh well.

  8. Marlyn Persaud
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 12:15 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Hi Ouimet,

    I’ve seen what is written on the cbc.ca site, and I don’t know what to tell you…it’s either an attempt to rewrite history or they don’t have a clue.

    The content on http://www.cbc.ca/10th/timelineContent/199505_live.html is not accurate.

    For example, there was no virtual tour at that point – that was done for the 1997 relaunch. How do I know? I borrowed a camera from Kodak Canada (in exchange for a link on our site) and took pictures of the building to create the virtual tour.

    As well, the Theodore Tugboat site was completely separate from cbc.ca as it was done out of Halifax by Cochran Entertainment.

    The news content CBC is referring to in http://www.cbc.ca/10th/timelineContent/19960703_breaking.html was completely done by Newsworld – and the site was run by a guy named Laszlo and all the graphics developed by Robert Vajda. The main CBC News site which still exists today was launched in 1997.

    With regards to the Domain thing, if memory serves me correctly, we wanted the CBC to be under the Canada domain – not commercial business. But, by the time we decided to buy it up, the squatter was asking some outrageous amount and we passed. I’m surprised that still hasn’t been dealt with.

    Marlyn Persaud
    Manager, Web Services
    Ryerson University

  9. bryanf
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 11:35 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I can definitely see Marlyn’s Communications background when reading her comment. It is entirely accurate, yet omits many negative tidbits that could have been included. Yay Marlyn!

    The 10th anniversary site on CBC.ca has some interesting bits, and had me waxing nostalgic for a couple of minutes. The gallery of computer equipment especially made me long for the days when they were my babies.

    I look forward to having lunch with old CBC.ca friends soon (the ones who’re still there anyway) as I’m working downtown again starting next week.


    CBC.ca sysadmin 1999-2000
    CBC.ca consultant 2001-2003
    CBC.ca/IT team lead 2003-2005

  10. Ouimet
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 9:34 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Thanks for taking the time to write that, Marilyn.

    Looking at the anniversary site’s own timeline, CBC.ca started in May 1995, but the date they are celebrating, July 3rd 1996, is really the day that breaking news was first posted online. So it’s actually more than 10 years of CBC.ca.

    Too bad a version of the story you wrote was not included on that site. Some of those unsung heroes are mentioned, however, in different contexts.

    So what’s the story behind CBC.com? Did someone scoop you, or did you not want the address?

  11. Anonymous
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 8:56 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Sorry, that should have read “In terms of audience share cbc.ca represented something like .1% of all internet page views in March.”

  12. Anonymous
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 7:28 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Ouimet, I recently checked the audience numbers for cbc.ca. It is a worthwhile effort but CBC’s web activities should be kept in perspective. In March this year, boosted by the Olympics, cbc.ca had one of its highest monthly reach numbers ever, in excess of 4 million people. But, as mentioned earlier, this is about equal to the monthly reach of Star TV or other small specialty channels. Audience reach is deceptive if one uses a long period of time such as a month to tally up the reach numbers (eventually you will reach everyone if you extend the period of measurement long enough). In terms of audience share cbc.ca represented something like .5% of all internet page views in March.

    P.S. the new cbc.ca look requires at least a 19″ screen to read it, something that most people don’t have.

  13. Marlyn Persaud
    Posted June 6, 2006 at 7:24 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Hey Ouimet,

    Just thought I would set the record straight about exactly how cbc.ca began.

    cbc.ca was launched in 1995 (April or May..not sure, I’d have to check my records) with the homepage design you posted on your site. Radio, had already started and was way ahead of the pack, thanks to a guy named Joe Lawlor. They were already doing streaming at that point.

    The name of the person who started the main cbc.ca site was Gary Wagner – he was in CBC’s IT department. He felt that the Internet was going to be a big deal and he wanted CBC to have a place there – at least that’s what he told me. Patrick McCann was the “project coordinator” who worked briefly with Gary, to help coordinate some of the content that was posted – National Transcripts, program information, etc. It was a pretty small site, at that point. Patrick decided to leave CBC and I was hired by the Communications department to take his place. That was September 1995. I was a Communications Assistant, working in Audience Relations and was seconded as Project Liaison for cbc.ca.

    About three weeks or a month later (again, I’d have to check my records for exact timing) Gary died of pneumonia.

    I was left holding the bag. I read some books on HTML and started coding and building sites, as well as coordinating the information. I hired a programmer to take his place (sitting in Communications – not IT) but he didn’t work out and was fired. We had a Communications print designer that started working with me on building graphics for the web.

    I hired (with the support of my manager in Communications – Kerry Morgan)a web development company called Caught In The Web. We redesigned the site, built a scheduling & news releases database, among other things. The site was relaunched in 1997.

    Finally, in Fall ‘ 97, Kathy Hewak started working with me on the site. She was hired to help promote the new News site, now under the direction of Mark Hyland/Ken Wolff in November 1998. She also worked on the launch of Infoculture, developed by a talented girl named Tessa Sproule.

    With Mark Hyland now on board, under John Lewis, CBC began to take cbc.ca seriously. John and Mark were the best leaders cbc.ca ever had – past and present. They supported and respected everyone at cbc.ca. They gave all the worker bees an opportunity to provide input and feedback on how the site would be shaped. I don’t think that has ever been done since. The site was refocused to promote CBC News content. My group continued to handle program promotion, message boards, chats and ‘Communications’ content via the website. By this point, I was Manager of the Communcations New Media Group, under Kerry Morgan, who held overall responsibility. Here are the names of the people who worked tirelessly on cbc.ca in my unit b/w 1998 – 2003:

    – Kathy Hewak
    – John Fortin
    – Jayne Bingler
    – Paul Buen
    – Lee Ferguson
    – Khal Shariff
    – Sarah Morris
    – Catherine Thompson
    – Josie Buiza
    – Alaia Alsharif
    – Chris Trubela
    – Eric Vanderkoi
    – Kevin Roe
    – special mention: Joe Lawlor (CBC Radio)

    These are the unsung heroes of cbc.ca.

    The Communications group won the 2002 English Television Award – the first time ever a New Media group was given this honour.

    That is how cbc.ca began.

    Marlyn Persaud
    Manager, Web Services
    Ryerson University

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