Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It took a few decades longer than it should have for us to get inside the front door of one of the most interesting broadcast facilities in Toronto, but better late than never, right?
Long before there was television or radio at 299 Queen Street West, the majestic five-story building was something of a media hub in a different way. Built in 1913 as the headquarters of the Methodist Church in Canada, the “Wesley Building” ended up becoming the headquarters of the church’s Ryerson Press for many decades until it was sold in 1959.
In 1985, media visionary Moses Znaimer bought the building and spent more than a year renovating it as the new home of his CITY-TV, which had long since outgrown its original quarters at 99 Queen Street East. The “CHUMCity Building” went through a remarkable transition before reopening in 1987. Instead of traditional TV studios, the entire building was designed to be a TV studio, allowing CityTV and its sister station MuchMusic to plug in cameras and mics everywhere from streetside to stairwell to create a much looser-looking product.
CItyPulse news anchors didn’t sit behind a desk – they perched on desks in the second-floor open newsroom to introduce stories. Giant glass doors on the corner of Queen and John opened up to allow MuchMusic viewers to be part of live shows. On the east side of the building, a beat-up CityPulse news truck was mounted as though it had crashed through the wall, complete with spinning wheels and headlights.
It was a facility that was imitated in many places, though never quite duplicated. It survived Znaimer’s sale of the CHUM-City stations to CTV (later Bell) in 2007, albeit with some big changes: CTV couldn’t keep CITY-TV itself, so it had to sell that network to Rogers. For a few uncomfortable months, City kept operating from 299 Queen under Rogers ownership, competing with its former 24/7 news channel, CP24, which remained under CTV ownership.
Once CityTV moved to a new facility at Dundas Square, this building took on a new life as a CTV facility. CTV signage replaced the old CHUMCity signage, and CTV programming began to fill the building.
Today, this building works in tandem with the big CTV Agincourt studio complex out in Toronto’s eastern suburbs. That facility (which we still really want to see someday) houses the TSN sports network, the local CFTO-TV newsroom, CTV’s national newscasts, TV master control and much more.
Meanwhile, 299 Queen West originates several other lighter CTV shows from several spaces around the building. Two studio areas flank the main lobby area on Queen Street: on one side, there’s the Marilyn Denis talk show and “The Social,” CTV’s version of “The View,” while CTV’s “Your Morning” show originates from the other side, in the space that was once MuchMusic. (A few years ago, the corner at Queen and John was closed in, removing the old “Speaker’s Corner” booth outside where Torontonians could drop in a dollar and record a video message that might get played on TV.)
There are live audiences for these shows again now that the pandemic precautions are ebbing, bringing some liveliness back to the building these days.
Up a few steps toward the back of the building is the space that started out as CityPulse news. These days, most of this space is CP24’s newsroom, which we didn’t get inside because they were live on the air, but there’s also space back here for the BNN business news network.
Most of the upper floors here are office space, but there’s some studio space as well: “e-talk,” the nightly entertainment show, originates from an open-plan studio amidst the show’s production offices on the second floor.
From this floor, there’s a bridge that connects across the parking lot to the adjoining building at 250 Richmond Street that’s now occupied by Bell’s radio stations – but instead of taking the bridge, we go outside to admire the old CityPulse news truck, now adorned in CP24 livery and still a Queen West landmark.
After the original landmark CHUM building at 1331 Yonge Street was sold and demolished for yet another condo development, Bell saved the historic sign that used to adorn the front of that building, installing it in renovated form on the corner of 250 Richmond.
You wouldn’t recognize it now, but in the 1990s this building was one of Toronto’s hottest nightclubs, Go Go, a converted warehouse space filled with three floors of bars and stages.
These days, the basement is much more sedate, home to the rack rooms for Bell’s radio stations and a few production spaces.
Bell’s FM stations occupy one floor above, with CHUM-FM (104.5) taking pride of place in the corner studio with a million-dollar Toronto streetscape view. There’s at least one remnant of 1331 Yonge here: the sign on the studio door reading “Through this door passes the finest air staff in the world” was moved over here along with CHUM in 2009.
(CHUM’s AM side operates from the Agincourt studios these days, since it’s TSN Radio 1050 and integrated into the TSN TV operation out there.)
Bell’s 2013 acquisition of Astral Media brought two new stations into the building: CKFM (Virgin Radio 99.9) moved into the studio next door to CHUM-FM, replacing CFXJ (Flow 93.5), which was swapped away to Stingray.
The Astral acquisition also brought news-talk CFRB (1010) into the Bell fold, moving from its longtime home uptown at Yonge and St. Clair to a new space on the top floor of 250 Richmond.
The big studio in the middle of this complex does live talk pretty much all day, with lighting and cameras for video and a big control room next door, as well as several production booths next to the main studio. (Some of this space had been used for CHUM AM before it moved out to Agincourt, from what I understand.)
It’s a little emptier up here than it used to be; Bell cutbacks a few years ago eliminated most of CFRB’s own newsroom, which was in a big space on the corner next to the air studio. Today, CFRB’s newscasts are produced by CTV news staffers out at Agincourt, leaving an empty room that’s going to be used as a staging area for some upcoming studio renovations.
And as we head out, we note a little fading history at the corner of Queen and John: above the space where the Speaker’s Corner booth used to sit, there’s still an honorary “Moses Znaimer Way” sign commemorating the man who had the vision to bring broadcasting here.
(We’ll catch up with Znaimer’s more recent ventures in next week’s installment…)
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND….
It’s the annual Tower Site Calendar!
This is the 23rd edition of our popular wall calendar, featuring gorgeous full-color photos of tower and transmitter sites from around the country, and sometimes the world. Our photos capture the sites throughout the day and throughout the year.
This makes a great gift for the tower enthusiast in your life — or a special treat for yourself!
Because it’s not yet off the press, we’re offering a pre-production price of $20. Once the calendar is printed, the price will go up to our regular price of $21.
Don’t wait – order yours today!
We have the Radio Historian’s Calendar again this year, too. There are only 25 in stock and they sell fast, so don’t wait to order.
And don’t miss a big batch of Toronto IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: CFZM 740/CJBC 860, Hornby, ON