Summerside’s first radio station went on the air in 1925 using the callsign CHLC, later changed to CHGS which reportedly stood for Holmans Guarantee Satisfaction, and with a signal strength of 25 watts. The operation was owned by the R.T. Holman company, a wholesale and retail business with stores in Summerside and Charlottetown. A short time later the strength was increased to 100 watts. The station was located in the store building on Water street and had a roof-mounted antenna consisting of two wires strung between small masts on the building’s roof.
In the early 1930s the power was reduced to 50 watts but by the end of World War II had returned to 100 watts. Initial programming was only 2 hours and 15 minutes each day but by the middle of the decade this has increased to nearly 10 hours per weekday and 7 hours on Sunday. In the early years at least, the station did not include advertising although the ownership of the station by the R.T. Holman company was frequently noted.
With relatively low power most of the listeners were in western and central Prince Edward Island but it could be heard regularly in nearby Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as well. The station was also occasionally picked up as far south as Pennsylvania and into Quebec when atmospheric conditions were favourable.
A Novelty Manufacturing and Arts Company postcard from the 1930s shows an image of the R.T. Holman stores in Summerside and Charlottetown, noting the CHGS callsign on the Summerside store. The images have been re-drawn with editorial changes. The Summerside store, which consisted of three sections – one of three stories, one of four and a link between the two – is shown as neatly designed three story building. On the other hand the three story structure of the Charlottetown store has miraculously had a story added.
The back of the card is the standard Novelty back, easily identified by the wordmark. However, there was a special edition of the card which is very much related to the early radio industry. Stations prided themselves on how large their coverage extended but this was often difficult to ascertain unless listeners wrote to the station and some early newspaper coverage includes reports of distant locations where the signals had been heard.
Many stations, including CHGS, requested information from listeners asking for reports of reception of broadcasts and in response sent what became known as DX or QSL cards. Early radio listeners, often using home made crystal sets and long wire antennas, found radio stations few and far between. With the broadcast bands uncrowded, signals of the most powerful stations could be heard over hundreds of miles, but weaker signals required more precise tuning or better receiving gear. This became a hobby in its own right, the name of the hobby coming from DX, telegraphic shorthand for “distance” or “distant.” Stations began to broadcast special DX programming to solicit information about coverage. For commercial stations this became a selling point to advertisers. In the 1930s CHGS’s DX broadcast took place from 2:30 to 3:30 am during the winter season when reception was best.
The hobby became more refined when an American firm developed radio verification stamps. This became a big fad as broadcasters rewarded listeners by sending out stamp in response to reception reports.
The stamps usually came on a card verifying the listener’s report since signal strength and coverage could vary widely depending on equipment and atmospheric conditions. Two firms out of Chicago were involved in making the stamps and albums for them. The more prominent was EKKO Company and the lesser known P.M. Bryant Company. CHGS bought stamps from EKKO and attached them to postcards verifying receipt of the DX reports. Stamps came in a variety of colors including red, green, purple, brown, blue, gray and orange. The only CHGS stamps that have been located are red. More than 700 stations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Cuba participated in the promotion. Canadian EKKO stamps featured a beaver instead of an eagle.
CHGS appears to have been the only station on Prince Edward Island participating in the promotion. By the mid-1930s, radio technology had improved to the extent that listener reception reports were no long needed for the conventional A.M. broadcast band. However DX hobbyists continued to send in reports. Holmans appears to have reverted to using standard postcards to respond as the interest in the hobby waned.
The radio station was a particular interest of one of the Holman brothers, Robert Claude Holman who had trained as an engineer and who lived in the U.S. before returning to Summerside after WW I. Family lore tells of at least one occasion when Claude, after an evening of illicit imbibing on prohibition-era P.E.I., wandered down to the store, turned on the station and broadcast an uncensored diatribe which very nearly lost the station its license when a few listeners complained. Operations of CGHS ceased on 31 March 1948 when R.T. Holman Limited exited the broadcast business. Over the nearly quarter century of operation programming had included musical renditions, sports reporting (including live coverage), talks, and broadcasting of church services. Summerside was not long without a station as a number of former CHGS employees and local investors started CJRW which still broadcasts from Summerside.