Television was a relative latecomer to Calgary. The first broadcast was in September 1954: three radio stations, CFCN, CFAC and CKXL pooled their resources to start Calgary Television, with the call letters of CHCT. An old drill hall in the Rideau-Roxboro district was converted into a television studio. Along with the familiar Indian chief test image, the broadcaster had some film shorts. Regular programming was still weeks away and local productions a few years in the future. But the new medium had arrived.
Television was not entirely welcomed with open arms in Canada. Moralists worried about the content, educators about the distraction for children and the prospect of mass illiteracy, and nationalists about American culture beamed directly into living rooms. Other commentators saw it as a wonderful new tool for the dissemination of information. For most of the Fifties, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation controlled broadcasting licenses and content, and produced its own programs for the Canadian market. The CBC attempted to inject an intellectual note into television viewing, in part to answer criticisms of the medium, and featured public affairs programs, Shakespeare and ballet. Viewers, however, tuned into popular American shows - few CBC offerings aside from Hockey Night in Canada clicked with mainstream audiences. In the late Fifties, the CBC's monopoly ended and private broadcasters were licensed. CHCT (later CFAC) became Calgary's CBC affiliate in 1957; was joined by Herbert Love's privately owned CFCN Television in 1960.
The impact of television was soon felt in Calgary. Alberta had one of the highest rates of television ownership in the country - one source claims that by 1956 over sixty percent of households in Calgary had a set. Attendance at movies, the theatre and sports events began to drop, in some cases precipitously. Restaurateurs across the country reported that their establishments emptied just before popular shows. Television's influence was seen in politics: John D. Diefenbaker's dramatic on air personality helped secure Conservative victories in 1957 and 1958 and anticipated the historic 1960 U.S. presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon.
As television became more pervasive, criticism mounted. The amount of time children spent in front of the TV and their exposure to violence became a perennial concern. Critics attacked the passivity of the television viewing, although some commentators were pleased that families spent time together in front of the "electronic hearth." In retrospect, the fare of Fifties television looks incredibly wholesome, reinforcing rather than eroding "Family Values."