Secrets of

Athabasca

The broadcast baron's lair

A recording studio moved into a house on 54th Street and triggered Athabasca's early broadcast endeavours

Joel Watson, Athabasca Advocate

Halfway up the very steep 54th Street in Athabasca, you can find a house hidden behind two spruce trees, holding one of the town’s first broadcast outlets.

If you go into the basement of the house, you will find a room with two large windows on each side of the walls covered with white acoustic paneling, resembling what could be an interrogation room – or more likely a recording studio.

The room once filled with studio equipment is now relatively empty, showing off its turquoise walls. The switches and outlets and a single hanging cable wire from a white box in the corner serve as a memento of cable television’s nascent years.

The recording studio on 54th Street, from the outside.
This room was neither a radio station nor was it the first of its kind in Athabasca – well, not exactly.

It was believed by some to be home of Athabasca’s first radio station by the build of the room. Current homeowner David Gregory, a former professor at Athabasca University and “minor radio personality” always assumed it was a radio space. 

“I worked in radio and the set up is just like the old radio studios in CKUA in Edmonton,” he said. “I’m sure they all changed now, but when I worked with them I was working in a very similar operation. It just looked like a radio studio to be.”

However, upon further investigation from three former residents and the Athabasca Archives, the room was neither a radio station nor was it the first of its kind – but they were close.

The house was in fact a temporary home to communications pioneer Edward Polanski, one of the first people to bring cable TV into northern Alberta, most notably in Athabasca in 1960.

According to a brief biography from a memorial website, polanski.ca, the broadcast baron, who passed away last year, installed a long distance reception system accessing 46 channels from American networks on his dad’s hardware store in Thorhild in 1954.  It served to relay the signal into his television and radio service store located next door. 

Locals would use this as an inspiration to continue expand telecommunications by building one of the first cable systems in Athabasca, making it one of the first cable systems in western Canada.

This is where the basement sound booth comes in.

During the early days of his cable system, Polanski had a specific channel that played nothing but music using FM radio wave signals. 

Phyllis Polanski, Edwards wife said in an email that the station was a 24-hour music station that played anything from country to jazz. The music variety was based on Edward’s collection of “long playing records.”

“You sit down and you plug it in and you put it out over the airways,” described Lionel Cherniwchan, former mayor of Athabasca and 47-year resident. “There was no talking, no nothing. There was just music. When they first came out with TVs and what not, before they came on with the video they’d play music. You’d put on your TV set turn it to a channel and there was music playing.”

The recording studio on 54th Street, from the inside.
The room still retains its soundproofing panels along with the two windows.

It may not have been Athabasca’s first “radio station,” but Polanski was one of the first to broadcast music through FM airwaves in the town. Although the studio booth was eventually located in the basement of the house, was not the original broadcast location.

According Adel Cordell, who lived in the house from 1960-1965, the house was newly built, and the sound booth was installed after Polanski purchased it in 1965.

“Presumably, he was the one who put the studio down in the basement,” she said. “My parents would visit – we were really good friends with the Polanskis – and sometimes they’d stay over at the old house, and they’d sometimes talk about the room that Ed built in the basement.”

According to a hand written letter from the Athabasca Archives and Phyllis Polanski, before building his studio Edward used to rent out the basement located in Dr. Josephine Brown’s basement.

“The studio was eventually transferred from Dr. Brown’s location to our house,” said Phyllis in an email.

The studio room remained in use for another five years before the Polanskis moved from Athabasca in 1970.

Now it the studio stands simply as a small piece of Athabasca’s forgotten media outlets, waiting to be refilled again.

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