Bill Till was born in Lloydminster and was raised on a farm north of the city. His parents came from England near the Welsh border to settle near Hanna, Alberta before moving to the Lloydminster area. Bill attended school and helped with the farm through his youth and also discovered a passion for amateur radio. He attained a B.Sc. from the University of Saskatchewan studying Agriculture and worked for the Saskatchewan government for a short time.
As he remembers, in the late 1960’s there was a substantial grain surplus. He needed to diversify his career. He had come to know Ron Harris through involvement in the Air Cadets and was happy to accept a job at the Harris Electric shop for the winter. The timing was right because soon after he started working, Harris Electric obtained a contract from Husky Oil to attempt to set up a mobile communications system. In the early days of Husky’s radio communication only the field foremen had radios. Radios were so large then that to be ‘mobile’ they would take up most of the box of a truck and were quite fragile. To run the radio, the truck had to be running otherwise the battery would be dead in about five minutes. As the workload increased, Bill worked himself into a new company. In 1970 he started Till Communications Ltd., and kept the Husky contract.
His business grew by always keeping up with the newest devices on the market. It is Bill’s opinion that one of the main reasons that the local companies patronized his business rather than running to the larger communications moguls was because of his ability to offer radio service to ‘dead areas.’ The oil patch moves quickly and when there are demands for a service they have to be met as quickly as possible. The larger companies were simply not capable of providing service in a realistic time frame.
Technological leaps in radio and telephone service have made real-time communication over long distances more practical and inexpensive. Bill remembers the time when contractors had to carry numerous radios with them if they needed to monitor different channels. The scanner made this easier and consolidated the mess of wires and consoles into one small piece of equipment. However, some of the contractors came back to Bill soon after to reclaim their obsolete equipment because they found they were missing radio calls since the new device could only listen to one channel at once. They found that they had adapted quite well to having numerous conversations at once over the clumsy sets of radios.
Another invention that changed the face of radio communication was the decoder. These were devices that allowed users to use tone signals to specify who the call was for. The first devices were a mechanical set of switches that, when tripped by the given series of tones, would honk the truck's horn. This caused many coffee shops to empty in an urgent flurry of activity whenever a horn was heard. Bill developed a solution to this by using a vehicle’s turn signal mechanism to give each horn a distinctive ‘call.’
Bill remembers the cellular telephone’s first appearance in the late 80’s. He was part of a group that was approached by the government to plan their introduction to the public. The large provincial telephone companies were held back from introducing the technology that they had already developed so that the market would not be saturated. Co-operation of smaller service providers across the country was required in order to develop a plan of how they would build the industry. The process of co-ordinating the technological, political and corporate expertise was full of challenges. In the story of the cellular telephone’s emergence there is a point of interest which demonstrates Bill’s ideas about small business providing service to their communities more effectively than large companies. Before cellular telephones had been mass marketed, the main objective of the communications industry was to develop as extensive coverage as possible. Motorola developed huge and costly plan to provide ‘remote’ communities with cellular telephone access. It would launch 77 low orbiting satellites1 to provide cellular access to every area within the vicinity of a community with a population of more than 50,000 people. However, the terrestrial network of cellular telephone service, built through joint-ventures of entrepreneurs across Canada, offered much more affordable and reliable service to many remote areas before Motorola’s "Iridium" venture was up and running. The result was the abandonment of the original purpose of the satellites and the triumph of a more ‘down-to-earth’ group of businesses.
Bill sold his business in 1985. He remains very active in Amateur Radio and is the local examiner for obtaining an amateur radio license.
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1. These satellites are still in orbit and provide an interesting light show on a regular basis. This website http://www.heavens-above.com/main.asp?Loc=Lloydminster&Lat=53.283&Lng=-110.000&Alt=640&TZ=Sask provides instructions for viewing the phenomenon known as ‘Iridium flares’.