“The history of educational radio in Ontario is the history of CJRT-FM,” wrote broadcaster and educator Dr. Ronald Keast in “A Brief History of Educational Broadcasting in Canada”.
“CJRT-FM began operating in 1949 as a part of the Announcing and Radio Production course at the newly established Ryerson Institute of Technology in Toronto (now Ryerson University). But the station was licensed also as an educational service to schools and the general public. Ryerson held the license and up to 1972 and CJRT was funded as a special budget item within the framework of the general university budget.
CJRT-FM went through a difficult evolution during the 1970s. In 1972 the Ministry of Colleges and Universities changed the nature of its funding to Ryerson, and made no allowance for the radio station. The result was an announcement in March 1973 that CJRT would cease operations on June 1. This began a flurry of political activity to save the station. On December 3 1973 the Premier announced that the government had decided to establish CJRT-FM as a separate and independent corporation. The CJRT-FM Inc. Corporation was formed in November 1974. It was a private, non-profit corporation with no share capital. It had its own, independent, Board of Directors. The Board was responsible for fund-raising, which could be done via on-air solicitation, program underwriting, donations, or other means. However, unlike the OECA, there were no yearly government grants. It was licensed by the CRTC as a non-commercial, educational station, in the “Classical-Fine Arts” music format. While it did provide some university-level courses through its Open College, its program schedule consisted mostly of classical and jazz music, with some news and commentary, and other talk programs.”
Paul Robinson joined CJRT in 1972.
“Far more Torontonians know Paul Robinson’s voice than his face,” wrote Bill McVicar in a Toronto Life article featuring the station’s new music director. “He’s the informed, unflappable and sometimes prosecutorial host of CJRT-FM’s Records in Review.”
"Records in Review," recalled Robinson in a recent interview, “was one of our most popular programs. It was often light-hearted and even irreverent, yet still informative and thoughtful.”
“I had no thoughts of making a career out of broadcasting,” said Robinson when interviewed by Michael Schulman of The Toronto Star in the 1970s. “I simply wanted to do a series of programs about conductor Herbert von Karajan, about whom I was writing a book while teaching philosophy at the State University of New York in Fredonia, near Buffalo. But as I came to the station each of the 30 weeks of the Karajan series, I began to poke into things, finding out how the station operated, making comments and suggestions. Finally, John Twomey, the station manager at the time, said to me, ‘I’m getting tired of hearing you criticize us – put up or shut up!’ So I wrote a detailed proposal on what I thought should be done with the station – and I found myself with a job.”
“As CJRT’s music director,” wrote Schulman, “ Robinson was responsible for overseeing most of the FM station’s 125 broadcast hours per week, a schedule that broke down into roughly 60 hours of classical music, 27 hours of jazz, six of folk and rock music and 17 devoted to news, public affairs, community events and arts commentary.”
"In our classical programming," said Robinson, "we tried to touch on every aspect of the vast literature of music and present it in an authoritative but informal way. Most of our listeners preferred the well known mostly 19th Century repertoire and this was reflected in our programming, but there were other, more specialized programs - Music Before 1800; The Choral Sound; The String Quartet; Organs of the World and A Night at the Opera. Collector’s Choice may have been the only regularly scheduled program in Toronto, perhaps in Canada, devoted to older classical recordings at the time. Many of the finest recordings appeared first on 78s and even in this stereo and digital age, we believed they ought to be given a listening."
CJRT-FM also did all it could to keep listeners in touch with the music of their own time.
“Contemporary music is often difficult to understand,” said Robinson, “but we owe it to our composers and to future generations to continually renew the literature of music. One of our series, Twentieth century Profiles, offered an introduction to some of the major figures in contemporary music.”
One of the most interesting aspects of CJRT-FM was its strong commitment to “live” music and to Canadian musicians. Each season, CJRT-FM, with the help of the Ontario Arts Council, recorded and broadcast about 40 classical concerts by local musicians. And probably the most unusual aspect of this live music policy was the Festival Series. These subscription concerts by the CJRT Orchestra, with Robinson as conductor, were presented at the Ryerson Theater.
“No regular CJRT listener has to be told what a change Robinson’s appointment has brought about,” wrote columnist William Littler at the time. “His numerous innovations have made a one-time proving ground for Ryerson Polytechnical students into an important source of quality music programming.”