Moe Dunn, April 5, 2009.
I am willing to go anywhere to conduct these interviews. For this one, I drove an hour from my home all the way to Truro. We conducted this interview at the studios of Big Dog in that lovely town.
Morrissey Dunn was kind enough to drop by his station after church. Pressed for time, we concentrated on the early part of his career, back when I knew him best: His years at Annapolis Valley Radio. It was a fanboy's dream!
Moe, I would like to sit down with you again, sooner rather than later, to discuss your years since you left CHNS. K?
Thanks for the opportunity, Moe!
What are you waiting for, people? Read!
How did you get your start in radio?
Moe Dunn: It was virtually an accident. It started in high school. The guidance counsellor at my high school basically took his crack at every Grade 12 [student]. His question to me was, "What do you plan on doing?"
I said, "I'm going to stick with the band", because I was in a band at the time called Road. We are going to go to Kodiak, Alaska to start playing clubs and work our way East.
He looked at me and said, "Your mother's not going to like that." He shuffled all these papers around on his desk. He had no idea what he was looking for; his desk was such a mess. Out of the bottom of the pile he pulled this pamphlet and said, "Here. Do this." He didn't even know what he had passed me.
It was Radio/TV Broadcast Production. It was the first year the Radio College was to be in the Valley: Kingstec.
Bevboy: I'm from the Valley.
MD: So, you know which one I'm talking about.
MD: I was graduating in '76 from high school. I had no intentions of doing that. I brought it home. My mother saw it. She was glad to see that it was something other than playing night clubs in Alaska!
One thing led to another, and I went down for the audition. I remember it was 35 degrees, driving down to the Valley. I had never been to the Valley before.
BB: This is from Cape Breton?
MD: Yes. A hot day in North Sydney would have been 21! So, I go down to do the audition. I get accepted. The next thing I know I arrive in Kentville at my billet's place with two Nike bags and a radio. That was it. I went to Radio College and I got hired on by AVR a couple of months after I was in the course.
BB: I remember hearing you on the radio in 1977. I have this weird memory for dates.
MD: Is that right? Where were you living at the time?
BB: I was living in Port Williams. That's where I'm from.
MD: My first gig at AVR would have been writing copy three days a week after school. I'd go to AVR Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at 3 o'clock and write copy until five. Then Thursday, Friday, Saturday I'd go down after school and get ready for the six to midnight show. So, I'm still going to school and I'm doing this.
BB: That was considered work training? You weren't paid for that?
MD: No, I was paid for this. I was hired first, and then two guys after that, for part-time work. I was the first time to be hired full-time as well. The day I graduated, I think I started in copy and on air.
BB: So, this was 1977?
MD: The same year you remember.
What is the best piece of professional advice you have ever received, and who provided it?
MD: Hmm. You know what? I was very fortunate to receive so many pieces of advice that there is no way I can extract one, because so many people have influenced me over a grand period of time just by [offering] one bit of advice. Neil MacMullin, Tom Fredericks, Merv Russell. All of these guys at one time or another will have said something to me that made me say, "Wow! I'm going to remember that." I may be doing right now that I will have picked up on 30 years ago.
I didn't lock away any one golden rule. I know one thing that someone told me. In 1982, I was doing a fashion show. She owned a modelling agency. She said to me, "You're gonna need to get yourself an agent." I was working in the Valley at the time, and there was no real need to include someone else and give them 15% of what little I was doing in the Valley. But that advice was really good because I wanted to branch out and do other things; I didn't want to do just radio. Her advice was to get someone to keep your business intentions controlled, and that's what an agent would do. They help control your passions, etc.
Way back when I was in school, we took courses like History, English, Law. The best course I took out of that was Typing. [chuckles]. Believe it or not, to this day I thank God that I paid attention in Typing.
BB: Home row.
MD: Yep. We started on a manual. I graduated to an electric. And now there's so much going on that demands speedy responses. My ability to type with the best of them in this business has certainly helped.
I guess everything from determination to honesty and never thinking that this gift is going to go on forever. You're always going to have to apply yourself. I've been doing this now ...
BB: 32 years.
MD: ... 32 years. You did the math. I never, ever once take for granted that this gift will continue.
BB: So, every day is your first day on the air?
MD: You know what? It is! I have to do my morning show as if there is a young, 23-year-old scratching at the door to get in to do my job. I have to be aware of the fact that that person not only wants to, but could do a better show than me. So, every day, at 52 years old, I come in here and bring my best game with me. And, the next day, it's got to be better. That keeps it exciting, you know. If you're on an assembly line, or if you have a job that requires you to repeat a function day after day after day, there isn't that demand for you to do a better album, or do a better show, or whatever. So, I thank God that I am in an area where I can contribute the most to the Arts.
Who were your influences in radio when you were growing up?
MD: This is easy. Brother Jake Edwards.
BB: He was in Cape Breton? I had no idea.
MD: Yeah, he was in Sydney at CJCB. Let me give you a quick little list. Brother Jake Edwards. Dave Harley.
MD: General John Cabot Trail. He used to be the night jock at CJCB when I was going to high school. Fred Denny was the morning man at CJCB. When I was in junior high, high school; and now, a couple of generations later, the guy is still doing the morning show in Sydney.
Jay Bedford was on the radio while I was there, and I had the pleasure of working with him.
BB: His son is at C100, Zach.
MD: Yes. I had the pleasure of working with Jay not only at CJCB, but at CHER.
So, that's pretty much who I grew up listening to in Cape Breton. We're talking about a place with two commercial radio stations. CHER was an independent stand-alone. CJCB had an easy-listening FM station, which is now CKPE.
BB: Which station had the Talk Back show?
MD: That was CJCB. It just died a couple of years ago.
BB: It's a shame there's no forum for people to call in and complain about stuff, or to call in and comment on local issues. The last vestige of that I guess was the Hotline.
MD: That's absolutely true. One mandate on doing my morning show which is a combination of music intensive and entertainment chatter, but I want to include listeners. In any given hour I could have two or three listeners on the air.
Now, focus research dictates that only three to six percent of your audience is the active audience. They are the ones who participate in contests. They are the ones who will call in during talk shows. The other ninety-three to ninety-five percent of your listeners love listening to listeners just like them. They don't want to BE on the radio; but they enjoy the Hell out of listening to other people be on. It's eavesdropping. It's a high tech form of eavesdropping. Talk shows allowed people to eavesdrop on other people. It did give people a chance to vent on everything from politics to power, to pot holes to you name the topic of the day.
Talkback on CJCB gave me one of the best moments of radio I had ever experienced, and I was just a kid. You could get to know listeners by their voice when they called in. Two hosts of the show at this time were Dave Reynolds; and when he couldn't do the show, Dave Wilison would be his back up.
BB: Dave Wilson, the MLA?
MD: Now he's an MLA. And, one day, this guy called in. He was greeted on the air by the host. [The caller said] "How are you doing? Is this Dave or Dave?" The host said, "Dave". [The caller said] "Oh, good. Hi, Dave". [chuckles]
MD: Anyway, just little snapshots of comedy. "Is this you, Dave?" [chuckles]
Of all the station formats you have worked within, do you have a favourite, and why?
MD: I would say, my favourite radio format would have to be when I worked at CHNS, and the Oldies format, probably because of it being age related. The music we played at the time just so happened to be what I grew up on. I never did like 50's music. I really only started digging music from about '67 and up. All of the '70's. That was CHNS' core library when they were Oldies. I had the fortune of doing the morning show there, and mid day, and program director while this format was on.
So, that was hands down my favourite format. And there still is a world for an Oldies format to survive. Now you have to re-think it because you have FM: You've got restrictions and regulations, how many hits and non-hits, and so on.
BB: I thought that the CRTC had allowed an Oldies format to exist in FM?
MD: Since I haven't been a program director in so many years, I haven't been paying attention to the fine print. Those [restrictions] were challenges that we had to face. It used to be a 49/51% hit/non hit ratio. We had to play so many instrumentals. They've relaxed that.
BB: We might see one of those again in Halifax, because 780 KIXX has been bought by Rogers. They're moving over this summer. They're speculating what the format will be. I've been hearing it will be an Oldies format.
MD: Is that right?
What is your opinion of satellite radio?
MD: To be honest, I haven't listened to any satellite radio. Not because of any particular boycott. It's just because I haven't had the opportunity to listen. It would be like watching a movie uninterrupted, but you're going to pay twelve bucks to do it.
I can't see myself paying to listen to radio. When it first came on, it came on with a thunder because they announced these huge salaries. [Howard Stern's] contract is worth more than 100 million dollars. Just late last year, we hear stories that financial troubles are creeping into the world of satellite radio. The end of satellite radio in my opinion is just a matter of time.
BB: Well, they've never had a model where they were making any money. It was just that they were losing money at a slower rate. How can you run any kind of business that way?
MD: You know what? To be truthful, I am uneducated in that area because there was nothing in what I knew on the surface of satellite radio to entice me to learn more about it let alone to become a customer of it. To me, I really don't have much to say about it because I don't know much about it.
BB: Fair enough
I moved to Halifax in 1988 to seek fame and fortune, the same year you began working in Halifax at the old CHNS. How big an adjustment was that for you, moving from a rural market to an urban one?
MD: You do your homework.
BB: Well, I'm like the James Lipton of radio.
MD: You did your homework! I'm impressed with you.
The adjustment? First of all, let's go back to the phone call I got. I'd been offered to work in Halifax two times previous to this. For one reason or another, there was no need for me to pack up and go. I had just met my future wife, who was currently living in Halifax, so...
At that time, I received a phone call from CHNS, to do mid days, and at the time I was doing morning and program director at Magic 97.
BB: That was a good station when it first started.
MD: Well, thanks to Neil MacMullin and Tom Fredericks saying, "Morrissey, here's your station. Now, put it together. Open it up."
The best part of that station was the first part.
BB: The first few years.
MD: Yes, we had quite a successful few years.
So, it was quite hard for me to walk away from something that I had personally built, that I had put so much blood, sweat and tears into. But the sell point from CHNS was mid days, Monday to Friday. So, duh! Not a whole lot of heavy lifting there. And, my girlfriend/fiancee was in Halifax at the time, so I took [the job] on.
Mentally, I had to adjust because, now, there was a whole new set of rules. The format was tighter. They did focus research. They had top-notch people in charge of Production. They had three people in their writing department.
And, the competition was overwhelming. Our competition at CHNS, directly, was CJCH. The era of Brian Phillips and that gang. I had always looked up to [him] as well. I was all of a sudden playing on the same ice surface as these guys.
The adjustment was the overwhelming competition, and the air of competition in Halifax was pretty strong. At that time, it was pure radio: Live jocks, morning, noon, and night. You had the personalities that you listened to: 2, 3, 5, 7 of them. If it was Parade Day in Halifax, they were all in the parade. If there was a concert somewhere, they were all at the concert. So, you had this impression that radio was a significant part of entertainment. At this time, in 1988, it was the driving force behind entertainment. And, I was now a part of it. I came from a little, sleepy hollow of the Valley in Kentville.
Yes, there was a big adjustment. And I adapted quickly there because I knew what was there. But it was a big change.
I will list the names of people you know, knew, or worked with. Please say something about them.
Wally Milan - Wally, Wally! He's our man. If he can't play it, no one can!
MD: When I got to the Valley, he was the night time jock at AVR. He was the only guy; it was the only game in town. He was the one the kids really looked up to.
I enjoyed working with Wally Milan. Doug MacMillan is his real name.
BB: Oh, really?
MD: Did you ever hear of the world-famous lumber conglomerate, MacMillan Bloedel?
MD: His father is MacMillan! [chuckles] He wasn't in radio because he needed the money. He was in radio because he loved it.
Wally Milan. Blonde guy, running around the control room, his hair falling all over the place. Young girls loved him. And he had this look about him, right?
I remember one stinger that he used to have on the radio: "Here's Wally! Who? Wally!"
BB: Yeah, yeah!
MD: I could have thrown that out the window. But that was his. But, a couple of things about Wally Milan. He had a black belt in karate. Where he is now, I have no idea, but I always liked the guy. He showed me how to do my first night show, six to midnight. At AVR, we had a system of checks and balances, and he is the one who took me through the whole thing so that I could do it on my own the next night. He was my instructor for one night.
BB: Pretty generous guy, was he?
MD: He had no qualms about teaching anybody anything that he may have known. I don't know how much experience he had before he got to AVR. But, I liked the guy.
BB: I won my very first record album from Wally Milan/Doug MacMillan in 1977. He used to have a little column in the newspaper, [and a contest on the radio]. He would give some facts about a band...
MD: Oh, I remember that!
BB: And I think I still have one at home. It was about KISS. He was giving away a copy of their newest album, called "Love Gun", and I won it. The very first thing I ever won off the radio was from him. I remember driving my bicycle from Port Williams on a rainy Friday in the summer, to go to the radio station and pick up my winnings. It was the biggest thing that ever happened in my life, was winning that record.
MD: How about that?
BB: And I got there, on Oakdene Avenue. I was soaking wet. Wally Milan walks by. "Are you Bev Keddy? Here's your record!" That's the only time I saw him face-to-face.
MD: Is that right? [chuckles]
BB: Yes. So, I had to ask about Wally Milan. Thank you for that.
MD: That's Wally!
Bob BillingsMD: There is an original idea that only the Valley could come up with. Block your Sunday morning programming with this [religious] programming that made them a ton of money. And, to prop that up, make your Monday to Friday morning guy, a minister! When I was in the Valley, he was the morning man.
BB: The march around the breakfast table!
MD: His real job was as a minister. He just happened to be the morning guy at AVR.
BB: I wonder how he multitasked like that?
MD: Well, he had an interesting approach, an interesting delivery on air.
BB: You're being diplomatic.
MD: I'm being very diplomatic. As an example, when the radio college opened, and new young guns like me and Kevin Meredith and Dave Bannerman and Eddie Davidson, started walking in there, we were bringing fresh ideas to AVR. And, guys like Bob Billings and Don Hill were witnessing that our new ideas were being embraced. And, here Bob was doing a morning show where his entertainment feature was based on marching around the breakfast table. You could sense that these guys could hear the footsteps behind them.
As was the case with Bob, his days as morning man were numbered, but not as an employee, because he was a valued, very dedicated, honest man, hard-working. They moved him from on air to Production. They gave him the opportunity to work as long as he wanted to there, and he embraced it. He knew that the jig was up, so let's do a new thing, and he did.
BB: Excellent. So, you're not saying anything bad about the guy. You're just...
MD: No, no. He had as unique a delivery as any other announcer may have. How can you insult an individual based on their abilities and skills? He had his own unique approach. He was the morning guy. Me being a rock n' roller, he wasn't my cup of tea. Professionally, that's not the kind of jock I want to listen to. Personally, he was a wonderful man. I leaned on him for advice more than once.
BB: Is he still around?
MD: Yes. Apparently, he still has a church in the Valley.
MD: [Chuckles]. Jakey!
BB: Jakey? How did he get that name?
MD: We're from the nickname capital of the world. I do a stand up comedy routine. Depending on where I am, one of my bits will be on nicknames. I'm from the Sydney Mines area of Cape Breton. Everybody had a nickname. Ian Robinson's [nickname], that I gave him, is "Jakey". There was a guy who owned a corner store. We thought he was 3 sandwiches short of a picnic. His name is Jakey. We thought he was funny, thought his name was funny, so now we call each other Jakey.
Ian was a few years behind me. I was in radio when he graduated in '82 or '83 from Memorial. He was much like you. He had and still has a passion for radio when he was growing up. He could recite line, verse, chapter of radio in Sydney and in Halifax. I love his sense of humour. I love his laugh.
In the old days, he would sort of look up to me. Nowadays, we're equals. He has certainly made his accomplishments in the business. But I still look at him as my little brother. He's my little brother.
BB: He tells me that 20 years ago you guys hoisted a few at a few downtown bars, too.
MD: Oh, yes. We'd do that. We worked together at CHNS, or he'd be at CJCH. We'd still go out. "Meet you at Cheers!"
CJCB had a reunion a couple of years ago. Ian was instrumental in putting this thing together. He helped bring together people from all over North America. They came to Sydney on [that] weekend because they had worked at CJCB. There were some faces; there were some stories. And Ian's laugh can be heard at the tail end of every one of them. He has this great big thunderous laugh.
BB: Yeah. It's almost like a giggle sometimes, too.
MD: I will always enjoy Ian Robinson. I think he still has on tape, my first all night show at CJCB in Sydney in 1978. He's got more tape on me than I do!
MD: Denyse worked here in Truro radio back in the 1980's when she was very young. I think she worked at the old CKCL. Then, she ended up in Halifax at CHFX where we worked together. She worked at the country station. So, we worked together for eight years.
BB: On Barrington Street? 1313 Barrington Street?
MD: Yes. First, on Tobin Street. We were only there for a couple of days before moving to Barrington and Morris. We shared traffic with Cindy Greer. I was doing the morning show. Denyse would pop up and share the mornings with me. She was hard to keep up with. I couldn't understand how a woman could go that fast, do so many jobs, never break a nail, and walk in stilettos. And, here she was, doing traffic. I think she still does all of that.
And, when she was here [in Truro], she liked it; everybody liked her. But Halifax [MBS] was tugging at her, and she couldn't resist. She tried it here, but she decided that Halifax was her home, so she went back, and everybody still loves her.
Shawn Rosvold/Shawn Kelly
MD: Let me go back to Magic . When Neil MacMullin gave me the ok, he said, basically, "Here's your frequency. CKWM-FM, 97.7. Here's your budget. Now, turn it into something. I had been in Pasadena, California. He had sent me to Los Angeles for a programming convention. I came back, and I took [with me] little bits of all these other stations that I saw and heard all over the States, and put together Magic 97. The writing, even the style of lettering, from one station, in Philladelphia. I liked the word "magic". I also wanted to play on the "M", as in CKWM, so that could also be incorporated into Magic.
Before he gave me the key to the place, [Neil] said, "Do a good job". He said, "We only have one crack at this". With that, I took it to mean, "Don't make any mistakes". And, if you do, be smart enough to fix them. I thought the most important thing was going to be, "What's our line up? What's our content going to include?" I thought it should include some of the best jocks I could get my hands on. We already had one in-house, Jamie Dodge. I had to recruit somebody who was young, who knew music up to that point, and was going to be passionate and eat every bit of information he could from that point on so that he could be our music director. I found him. His name is Mike Mitchell. He's been there from Day One. He is still there. So, he was a part of the roster.
Getting back to Shawn Rosvold: His application came in. I was excited that someone with such a polished delivery and a rock-solid resume, actually wanted to work at a radio station that I was going to help build. He was the only guy that I ran into Neil's office with his resume and his tape and the whole thing, and I was excited. I said, "You've got to listen to this." That made Neil happy: The fact that I was excited about this guy. It was Shawn Rosvold.
We still communicate with each other. Is he still in New York?
BB: The last I heard, he is still in New York and is a producer on satellite radio, for, uh...
MD: Is it Jay Thomas?
BB: Jay Thomas! Yes.
MD: So, anyway, Shawn Rosvold: He was my first big-time ringer. I'm proud to say that he was there.
BB: Didn't he become program director [after you left]?
MD: I'm sure that after I left, yeah. He would have taken over after I left in '88.
MD: Oh, Frank. There's my man. The first time I met Frank, we were celebrity M.C.'s. There was me, Frank Cameron, Laura Lee Langley. The three of us were celebrity editions on some variety program. They did caricatures of all of us. Needless to say, I wasn't happy with my caricature.
The first time I spoke with Frank, I found him to be personable, not an ounce of ego. He was pleased to be in our company, and he always gave 110%, especially when he was in front of people.
I learned a little something from hooking up with Frank, and that is how he worked in front of people. A big part of my career is how I work in front of people, which it is.
I had the pleasure of working with Frank briefly at CHNS. I was not program director at this time, so I didn't hire him. I have nothing bad to say about Frank. And, of course, he's been in broadcasting since the 1800's. [chuckles]
BB: Since before they had broadcasting.
How did you get the job at Annapolis Valley Radio? 1977, if I recall correctly.
MD: It would have been early '77 because I was still going to school. I had to share my time with the school. I would go to school up to three o'clock, and then run down over the hill and work at the radio station until five. Monday, Tuesday Wednesday, they had me working part-time in continuity.
BB: It was a steep hill, and you could just roll down.
MD: Thank Heavens it was coming down at the end of the day. Then, Thursday, Friday I did the night show; and then Saturday afternoon, I did the Saturday afternoon show at AVR.
Those were the days when the format was a little loose, little looser than it is now. We were allowed to bring our own music.
MD: I must say that the Valley learned about groups like Suzi Quatro. I would bring old Doobie Brothers with me. Deep Purple...
BB: Before Mike MacDonald?
MD: Yes. Before Mike pasteurized the Doobie Brothers. And Minglewood? I used to play until the needle fell off. Minglewood's Red Album? I don`t know if you remember that or not. Matty's first record, with "Caledonia".
So, I would play this, and the program director at the time, he hadn't a clue what I was playing. It was like, "What are you playing?" I'd bring Jethro Tull in, and he would say, "This Tull guy has got to go!" [laughter] I think at that point I realized that sooner or later that program director's going to go. And he did.
Your first job is always the most valuable. I challenge anybody to say anything different. It may not be the best job you've ever had. You may not do your best work at that job. But your first job is going to be where you pour the cement. And AVR gave me that ability, that latitude, for me to learn about myself and to learn about broadcasting, and to put experiments into action. Because, you were allowed to fail. Back then you were allowed to fail.
It's almost like the fall is that much worse today if you do fail. It could be your research was wrong. Some stations may put so much emphasis in one phone call that could really dictate what your next project is going to be, a success or a failure. Back in the old days, when we had room for failure, because you failed did not mean you were on thin ice. And I'm not saying that it should be that these days. I'm not saying we should change.
But I'm thankful that I'm in radio at the time I am now, and that I learned when I did. I think these days, in the current conditions, to learn about radio and get in radio at ground level at 18, 19 years old, as I did, in 2009... I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think you can relate, Bev. We're a similar age, maybe a little younger. Still, you know what I'm talking about. It was all fun. It was shits and giggles back then. But you still got the job done. I'm just glad I had the people: The Neil MacMullin's, the Tom Fredericks'ses, the Merv Russells, who did hand over the key and say, "Here. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. Do your best. We'll evaluate it later." It worked out well, I think. 32 years later, I'm still here.
I remember you became the morning man at AVR around 1980, 81. You replaced Bob Billings. What steps did you take to modernize that morning show? How difficult a challenge was that?
MD: It was 1979 when I came back to AVR for the third time. I had left AVR twice there. I had left in 1978 for CJCB for six months. Then, I came back in late '78 and went to CHER radio. One of the sales guys at CJCH in Halifax had gone down as manager and wanted me to go down. It was very successful during its brief six or seven month stint, but disaster was just around the corner. There was an opportunity to get out because Tom Fredericks called and said, "Do you want to come back to AVR as program director?" This was a big step for me. This was my first job as p.d., so I came back in late '79 as program director.
BB: You were really young, too.
MD: Yeah, I was 23. So, that was huge. I was program director not only of AVR's four AM stations, and CKWM-FM. I had to learn how to p.d. those stations. Neil bought the radio station in May of 1979. He had a vision. He wanted it to grow; he wanted it to progress; he wanted it to be better; he wanted it to sound more polished. He had been around the business, so he knew what he wanted. Therefore, he gave the manager, Tom Fredericks, the budget to get the tools. Me coming back as p.d. wasn't a stretch.
Early, maybe 1980 as you said, it was time to start to grow, to start to get a little hipper. Neil knew of my abilities as a jock, so he wanted to take advantage of that. In addition to being program director he wanted me to be on air. Mornings would be the place to, let's say, reinvent AVR.
So, Bob [Billings] had to be moved to a different area. That's when he was moved into Production.
BB: It wasn't his choice?
MD: You know what? I'm not 100% sure. I think perhaps Bob was encouraged to step aside and let some young blood in. He was not kicked to the curbside.
So, that was one of the changes that I had to make. We had strong on air people in the Valley at that time. We also had to grow mid days. We had to grow afternoons. I knew all too well what these day parts sounded like, and I knew what Neil wanted them to sound like, because my counterparts in Halifax were Brian Phillips in the morning, Randy Dewell midday, Gregg Lee at night. You had these big jocks.
I had to create a Valley-type of sound. We did that by hiring a jock from Charlottetown, John Morgan. He went to mornings.
BB: Yeah, John Morgan. I remember him very well.
MD: I found it was too difficult to do mornings and be program director, so he came over as mornings later on, but to make the changes in '79, '80, '81, Eric Smythe came over from the Creative department, and we put him on air. He was a very strong announcer. He was part of that change to make AVR hipper.
We expanded our news department to include sports and weekends, etc., to make it more community relative if you will.
That was the toughest two years of my whole life. "OK, Kid. You've got to grow up now. You've got to ruffle some feathers. You have to make some changes. The boss wants this sound; you're going to have to give it to him."
BB: Was there resistance from listeners?
MD: Yes. We got resistance from one group of people who resist change. But some of these people probably balked at colour tv, too. You're going to inherit some people who will oppose no matter what you do.
We also had a group of people who were vocal in their relief that their radio station that they had to endure for years and years was finally getting a window dressing.
BB: I was one of those people.
MD: Oh, thank you. It was this time, too, when Commercial Street in New Minas was ... it seemed like all you had to do was add water and businesses were popping up. There were McDonald's, Burger King, shopping malls. And, you, and thousands of other teenagers and people in their young twenties, it was realized that these people had control over a certain amount of income as well. So, the radio station, to basically show our sponsers, our advertisers, that we were aware that our population was changing, we changed our programming. We enhanced it. I don't say we "changed" so much. It evolved. I had to make that evolution.
I think we did that in the same way that here in Truro, this radio station (Big Dog) came, as a result of a bad format known as Easy Rock; and before that, another bad format of The Mix; and before that I don't know what. If you have the right people in place during evolution, what you recognize as the end product is going to be well worth it, as it is here at Big Dog. We had some people who didn't like the change, but the vast majority... yes, it was well worth the trip.
The same with AVR. It was a tedious, two year period there where we had to grow, we had to dress it up, we had to go colour and leave behind black and white. And we did it very well.
Is there something in radio you have not done, that you would like to do? I think you've done everything except sweep the floors.
MD: I've done that at a number of stations! Don't forget: When you lock up at AVR, it included the broom.
The one thing I have thought about often is that I would enjoy doing a talk show. Here's a piece of wisdom from Merv Russell: When it comes to talk shows, you don't have to have all the answers. But a good talk show host knows where to get them. I believe that one thing I would like to do is a talk show. I can use these people that know me, and use my resources of the people I know, to connect our listeners to a question whether it be about politics, religion, sports, you name it. I may not have the answer, but I can get the answer for you; you just hold on the line. That's all these people need, is a facilitator.
BB: Do you think there's a possibility of their being private radio talk shows again?
MD: I hope so. I don't know if AM is going to come back and just be given to spoken word, of if there's going to be a free for all on the digital network. I think you're going to hear in some way, shape, or form, an arena where listeners can be heard, at random, and en masse, in what I call radio eaves dropping.
Tell me about your acting/mc/public speaking/voice over jobs.
MD: This goes back to '82 when a dear friend of mine, Carol Lesbriel, said to me during a fashion show that I was MC'ing with her, "Man, you're going to have to get yourself an agent". Only because I was getting more requests to do work, and some of the projects were in Halifax, where you could swing a cat and hit 20 good jocks, or MC's. Not only did I have to get an agent, but I had to make sure that whatever I did was damned good and better.
I finally got an agent in '86. The first project he got me was a TV commercial. What I was actually after was just to do voice over work. The first project I got was for a Vogue Optical tv commercial, which turned into a series of them, so I did four. At the time, everywhere I went, whether it was the mall, or church or where ever, it was like, "Oh, there goes the Vogue Optical guy!".
Then I got a series of shopping mall spots which Denyse Sibley and I actually did together. We were husband and wife. [They were] for Atlantic Shopping Centers. The same agent called me one day and said, "You've got an audition for a movie role". I think that was mid to late '80's for the Bruce Curtis Story.
BB: I've seen that movie.
MD: I was a lawyer in that movie. These are projects that I didn't intend to go get. Long story short, I auditioned successfully for the role of the lawyer in the Bruce Curtis Story. I got bitten by the bug. I said, "That's it. This is what I want to do".
In amongst all of this, Merv Russell and I got to be good friends. He is probably the most connected guy in media or business that I have ever met. He still is. Everywhere we travelled together, he would introduce me to someone of influence or somebody that had something that I wished I was a part of. That led to MC jobs, after dinner speaker work. That's what led to me doing stand up comedy routines.
I had that in the bag; I had that going for me. And the movie acting: I would get one audition after another. I was in the first season of Black Harbour.
BB: Was that a recurring role?
MD: Yes. It was a recurring role. "Harold Bullard" was the character's name. He was a government official. At the same time, I was in a movie called "Love and Death on Long Island".
BB: With Jason Priestley?
MD: Yes. I played the role of Jason's sitcom dad in the movie. On my first day on set, Jason and I met in make up. He was in the chair next to me, and I looked over and said, "They're going to have to do a little work on one of us!", because he was 26, and I was 38 at the time. And I'm supposed to be his father. I said, "How the Hell are we going to pull this off?" He was quite a nice guy; we got to be good friends.
I was very fortunate. I was in [Shattered City]; I had a great role in it. Before that, I was in Westray Mine disaster documentary. After that was the Halifax Explosion movie. I thought, "Is this all I'm going to be in? Explosion movies?"
Somebody said I had been a big name in some little movies, and a little name in some big movies, but I was never the big name in a big movie. [chuckles]
BB: What's the most recent film you've been in?
MD: The Halifax Explosion. I was an American doctor in that. That was a two part series; I was in the first part. Big speaking role in that one. It was a prominent role. I have to tell you a funny story about that. My son had three or four of his posse together at our house a couple of years ago. I was upstairs getting my ceremonial afternoon nap. Nevin was getting ready to go out with these guys. They were sitting in the living room. While Nevin was getting ready, he just popped a dvd in the machine for these guys to watch, just to keep them company, to kill a little time. What he popped in, inadvertently, was the Halifax Explosion. at the point where I walk into the movie!
It ran through a couple of scenes I was in. These guys watching this have no idea that who I am. They know that Nevin's father is Moe Dunn, but we had never met. So, just as I come off the screen, when I get punched out, I walk downstairs, walk into the living room, and I look at the boys. "Hey, how are you doing, guys?" Well, all their jaws dropped because they had just seen me on screen.
So, there were some cool moments of me in the movies. It's treated me very well. I stopped actively pursuing the movie trade if you will only because finding out in Truro driving back and forth for an initial meeting, and then for an audition, and then for a callback, and then maybe a second callback. And then you'd go in for wardrobe, sizing, etc. That was a lot of trips, and right from the very first minute of someone expressing an interest and you're getting the movie, any actor will tell you this: You're unmanageable. You can't live with them, because that's all you're thinking about. "I have to get that movie role. I have to learn these lines." You're consumed by it. And the kids running around the house, and your wife... They're trying to conduct their lives as normal as possible, but here I am. This will go on for weeks and weeks. And the travel back and forth. It all got to me. If I do get a call from someone who wants me to be in a specific project, then I would be more than happy, but since then I have not had an active agent. I have enough freelance work that keeps me going to Halifax on a semi regular basis, as my home is Truro.
BB: Well, thank you very much for this interview. It's been very fascinating for me to walk down memory lane with you and to talk about the old days at Annapolis Valley Radio. I listened to it for many years, so thank you very much for your time.
MD: You're most welcome, Bev.
BB: It's been a pleasure meeting you. And... spread the word of the blog! I want to interview every on-air radio person in Halifax, but I'm going to spread it now so that any on air radio person in Nova Scotia I would like to meet them, sit down with them and interview them for the blog.
MD: Consider it done. We'll link you up with Big Dog and Moe Dunn website for starters. We'll get you linked up.
BB: Excellent! Well, thank you once again.
MD: My pleasure.
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