DAILY NEWS Oct 1, 2023 11:53 AM - 1 comment

Genesis, Genius and Tumult at Citytv Recalled 40 Years On

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    More than forty years ago, CITY-TV “went to air”…sort of!

    It was September 28,1972, but the genesis of Citytv had started more than a year earlier, describes Edgar Cowan, a member of the original Channel Seventy-Nine Ltd. ownership group.

    He recalls the day when Phyllis Switzer, a small cable entrepreneur from Alberta, arrived at the office of the now former Senator Jerry Grafstein, an experienced broadcast lawyer, with a genius of an idea, hatched by her and her husband Sruki Switzer, a highly creative broadcast engineer.

    Cowan notes that their brilliant idea was to apply, to the CRTC, for an underused and inexpensive UHF broadcast frequency for the City of Toronto. The UHF frequency would automatically be required, by broadcast regulation, to be carried on any and all cable companies operating in the Toronto area, forgoing any need for expensive over-the-air broadcast signals.  At that time, cable had high cable penetration in the area and was growing exponentially….enough for a commercial TV station…Channel 79.

    Grafstein and Switzer realized that if the application was to be a success that some extra heft was need, so he invited an executive with a MacLaren Advertising subsidiary, and the President of the national Public Relations company, Carleton, to join, to bring some commercial thinking to the application.

    That was Ed Cowan.

    Then all three decided to invite Moses Znaimer into the group, to add some expertise to the programming side of the application, Cowan relates.

    Znaimer, at that point, was working for Ben Webster at Helix Investment/Tang Management, and had previously been with CBC-TV in Ottawa.

    Znaimer refused to join at first, Cowan related, until he finally came to understand the brilliance of the engineering concept, the potential commerciality of such a licence, and the opportunity to test some innovative programming ideas. He eventually joined the other three, and all four became equal and collaborative founding shareholders of Citytv.

    The four then set out to raise over $2,000,000 with each using contacts and commercial experience. Grafstein raised about 50% of the funds required, Znaimer about 25% (mainly utilizing his relationship with Webster), and the remaining amounts shared between Switzer and Cowan.

    The application process went very well, aided superbly by the extraordinary political and regulatory relationships that Grafstein had developed over the previous years.

    The licence was granted to the company, represented publically by Phyllis Switzer, on November 25th, 1971. 

    Citytv Channel 79 was formally launched 40 years ago on September 27, 1972.

    The first year at City was very exciting, as it instituted a number of  pioneering program formats, but tumultuous as well, due in part to this same interesting but commercially troublesome programming.

    This resulted in the station being temporarily saved financially by the introduction of the late-night Baby Blue Movies. This idea was thwarted soon-after by substantial commercial and parental attacks. This resulted in the need for a series of new partners having to come aboard, and a modest revaluation of the shareholdings of the founding group.

    A complete change in programming tactics occurred when the station was finally and successfully rescued by the heroic Alan Waters and the CHUM radio group…..and the rest is modern history.

    Happy Birthday City!!

    # # #

    Thanks to Ed Cowan for sharing his remembrances with Broadcaster Magazine.


    For more Broadcaster and Mediacaster Magazine coverage related to this topic, please see:


    Citytv Celebrates 40th Anniversary Online, On-air


    Citytv News Anchor Celebrates 35th. Anniversary


    SCTE Canadian Summit Honours Cable's History, Future Technology


    Znaimer steps down as president of CHUM TV


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