Monday, July 13, 2009

869th Post - Interview With John Biggs

I first heard John Biggs on C100 radio in the late 1980's, when I moved to Dartmouth from the Annapolis Valley. In 1993, he moved over to my beloved CJCH. He discusses this incident at length during the course of our interview.

This is the first interview I've conducted via e-mail. My thanks to John for his fine writing, patience, and good humour during the production of our online discussion. Any mistakes that remain in the text are my fault, not John's, not anybody else's.

Trying something else a little different with this interview. My comments are in bold-faced, like this. John's comments are in regular text.

Let's say hello to an old friend, and see what he's up to.


Question 1. How did you get your start in radio?

John Biggs: Actually, the first time I even thought about radio was when the idea was thrust upon me. I was rehearsing with our band in Dwight’s basement (my friend, Dwight Naugle, who was our drummer) and I guess I must have spoken something into the mic, and Dwight’s Mom said, “You have a nice voice. You should be a radio announcer.” Of course, Dwight’s Mom also liked the way I sang Black Magic Woman by Santana, so maybe I should have stuck it out in the band, but that was the first time the thought of working in radio had actually entered my thoughts.

Bevboy: Was this band Titan?

JB: Actually, the band with Dwight was long before Titan (different permutations and combinations of bands with different names, but the last name Dwight and I were in together was called Speed), but I was in Titan eventually, yep.

BB: How did you arrive at that name?

JB: The name had been chosen by someone else long before I became a member. Your guess is as good as mine.

BB: What type of success, limited or otherwise, did you achieve?

JB: Well, I guess you could check them out here .

We did okay. Years later, when my life as a professional musician had sadly and unsatisfactorily come to a close, I had no idea what else I was going to do, because being a musician was all I had ever considered. I went to (what was then called) Manpower, and currently known as Job Bank, I expressed an interest in finding out more about radio, did a voice test at CFDR with John Cunningham, and was allowed a seat in the radio program at what was then known as the Nova Scotia Institute of Technology (N.S.I.T.) in Halifax.

They called the radio station (which was the background music on the screens which used to run the scroll of wire copy on our televisions years ago – remember them?) “CRXL”. I was one of the very last people to successfully complete the course before they closed it down and put their focus - and money - into computers. Go figure that. It was 1983.

BB: Wasn't there a "Fireman Bill" or someone who taught that course? He had been one of those "Fireman Bill" characters on local television back in the day?

JB: Fire Chief Murray was his character name on Firehouse Frolics, back when it was still called CJCH-TV (precursor to ATV). His name was Murray MacIvor, and he was a very good voice talent in his heyday, but yes, he was one of the instructors at the school. The other instructor was Bill Wall. Both Bill and Murray worked at CJCH radio at one time or another.

Anyway, coming out of CRXL, I actually had a choice of two jobs – both in Newfoundland; one in Cornerbrook, and one in St. John’s. St. John’s, being the bigger of the two markets, was my choice. I had been on stages performing in many of the bars in both Cornerbrook and St. John’s just a couple of years before, and I loved Newfoundland. Hated leaving home, and my Dad, who had become very ill with leukemia, but I had to get a career started after having failed at getting a music career off the ground. A couple of years later, my Dad was dying, and I desperately wanted to get home, and although I was already doing mid-day shifts and doing character voices on the morning show in St. John’s, I took an all-night gig at C100 to get home. However, it was too late to get back in time for Dad.

He died in July of 1985, and I didn’t start in Halifax until late October of that same year.

Question 2. Tell me about your very first on air shift.

JB: I don’t remember much about my very first on-air shift in St. John’s (590 VOCM), but it was back when no one had even considered automating an all-night shift.

I mean, part of your job was to call the morning show host and wake him up, and make sure the studio was clean. Funny, they have cleaners to come in and do all that sort of thing now, but back then we were instructed to clean out ashtrays (imagine that) and wipe down all the counter space with a damp cloth to clean up any coffee stains (which were probably made by the morning show on the previous morning), and, of course, to change the logger tapes. Yes, for the love of God, don’t forget to change those 24-hour logger tapes so that the CRTC would have a record of everything ever said in a broadcast day, to make sure you were following proper procedure. You had to keep them for – I can’t even remember anymore – God knows how long, 30 days, maybe? Longer? …and you were always warned how serious a matter it was to forget to change them. Of course, that’s all done digitally now, too. No all-night announcers. No out-of-phase, warbly, reel-to-reel machines. Just digital progress.

BB: Am I detecting a note of cynicism in this?

JB: Sarcasm, perhaps.

BB: At what point did automation really come into vogue? Do you think that, today, a private station could afford to go back to being all live, local, all the time?

JB: One affords what one wants to afford. Since everyone has moved their bottom lines up to no longer include salaries for overnight employees, it’s unlikely all-night announcers will make a resurgence. However, after I left Halifax, I think one of the instances where it was most obvious that an all night presence is a good thing was when SwissAir Flight 111 went down, and out-of-town news crews were on the scene before anyone local. Had there still been a presence looking at the newswire on a regular basis on one of Halifax’s local stations, they could have been first to the scene. To not be first to the scene of something that major speaks volumes about how the industry has changed in the 26 years I’ve been in it.

Question 3. What is the best piece of professional advice you have ever received, and who provided it?

JB: I’ve received far too many to just hone it down to one. I will say that Steve Bolton’s advice of “brevity” (at my second radio station in St. John’s, CJYQ/Q-93) was something I took a long time to learn, but I’ll always credit him with the lesson. I’ve also become acutely aware that many people don’t “get me.” My sense of humour is not necessarily mainstream. I’m not a conformist. However, I can’t betray myself. I have to say what I find funny, rather than try to deliver a line that someone else thinks is funny, or is from a successful joke service which writes for the masses.

Back to the point - the most humorous (to me, at least) advice I’d ever received came from Barry Horne, my PD in my early days at C100 FM (The “Biggs For Breakfast” years, not to be confused with “Biggs and Harrison” or “The Breakfast Club with John, Peter and Moya”.) Barry, quite seriously, in a post-morning show meeting one day, simply instructed me to “be funnier.” I wanted to laugh, but he wouldn’t have found that funny, either. I shared this story with Peter Harrison, (who apparently you’d like me to speak about later), and Peter laughed and said it reminded him of his days in Theatre at Acadia, when one day the best advice he could come up with as a fledgling director of a play to his cast was, “act better.” Not exactly instructional, but funny as Hell. At least, it was to me. From time to time, Peter and I threw “be funnier” and “act better” back and forth off-mic just for a laugh.

BB: How did The Breakfast Club get its name? Surely not from the John Hughes film!

JB: I came up with it. Our PD, Murray Brookshaw, asked us for ideas for a name of the show after Moya joined. I said Breakfast Club. Peter and Moya seemed to like it. Murray didn’t react. About a week later, Murray met with us again, and said, “We’ve got a name for the show! We’re going to call it “The Breakfast Club!” I looked at Peter, and Peter said, “That’s what John suggested last week.” Murray acted as if it was news to him.

Typical of some people who don’t necessarily have ideas, but need to be credited for them. Happens in radio a lot. Everything is stolen from someone else. I used to do a bit on the show called “Tabloid Tales”, slugged with “We buy ‘em so you won’t have to.”. Stopped doing it after a few years, and lo and behold ASN news with Ron Cronstein is doing a bit they’re calling Tabloid Tales. Like I said, everything is stolen from someone else.

BB: Peter Harrison and I have something in common. We're both Acadia grads! I had no idea. Wonder if he studied drama there with Bill Carr.

Bill Carr is tremendously gifted. Very naturally funny. I was lucky enough to co-host an Atlantic Lottery special TV promotion for their 25th anniversary with Vanna White, who they hired and flew from California for the shoot. Bill Carr was chosen by the agency putting the shoot together to warm up the audience before the taping. I’d rather have listened to Bill do another half hour of stand up than get on with my co-hosting duties.

BB: Over the last year or so, I have heard many Barry Horne stories. I'll leave it at that. Is it safe to say that he was a polarizing figure at both C100 and Q104?

JB: If Barry Horne knocked on my door, I’d invite him in - that’s all I can honestly say. Barry gave me the chance to be the morning show host on C100 in 1986 - when FM was just hitting its stride. I had #1 numbers on that station, and managed to hang around for 11 years at the place. I dare say if Barry were still there, I might be still there. Was Barry polarizing? Lots of polarizing figures in radio. Brian Phillips was a polarizing figure. I was probably polarizing as well, but there’s not much I can do about that. People form opinions about you, and you’re powerless to change them. People think what they want. No one cares to really KNOW you. Some people just WANT to not like you. Makes them feel superior, or something. Whatever. The death of Michael Jackson is a perfect example of that. Now THERE’S a polarizing figure. Maybe – in the entertainment business – if you’re NOT a polarizing figure, you’re not doing your job. Did Barry ever piss me off? Sure. Do I hate him for that? I probably did things that pissed him off, too. Not much sense in hanging on to that stuff. Life is short. Lots of people have pissed me off a lot more than Barry ever did, but there’s no point hating them, either.

Question 4. Who were your influences in radio when you were growing up?

JB: Well, as I had explained, I really never chose radio initially. It seemed to have chosen me. But I will say that I had favourites growing up and listening to radio. Terry Williams was always fun, and Donnie Berns had one of the best voices I’d ever heard – and that includes now or then – and he so affected me, that I still remember a break he did one Christmas, on an evening show, when he introduced a Christmas song by Mahalia Jackson. That’s talent, man. I mean, it also speaks volumes about my having a pretty damn good memory for a 52-year-old, but Berns was the real deal. He had a cute little jingle, too, which he probably did all the voices for - “It’s the Donnie Berns show, on CJCH”…(difficult to sing it for you on paper.)

I think, though, Dave Cochrane was the guy with the style I tried to emulate more than any. I loved the way he shot people down. He did it in such a smart way, that it became what I wanted to do most. He also wasn’t afraid to laugh a little on the air. I know some announcers over the years have thought that it isn’t “cool” to laugh out loud.

I think you sound a little stiff if you DON’T laugh sometimes.

BB: I have never met Dave Cochrane, but I'll never forget a very awkward moment in radio that he was forced to preside over. It was very early in 1983, February 4th to be exact. Cochrane played Olivia Newton John's latest hit, a song called "Heart Attack". Coming off the tune, Cochrane announced some breaking news: Karen Carpenter had died of... a heart attack. He prefaced the remark by saying something like, "I would never have played that song if I had known I was about to announce that someone had died of a heart attack because it would have been in bad taste". I have never forgotten that moment, and I doubt if I ever will. You could never script something like that.

JB: Well, he could have chosen to wait to announce the death of Karen Carpenter until after the next song, so I think the moment might have been played to sound awkward, but it sounds more like he chose that time to say it. No one would have forced him to make the death announcement at that moment. Plus, he made you remember it to this day, so it worked, right? It was powerful.

BB: Cochrane left CJ for CFBC, and from there I have no idea what became of him. Do you?

JB: Most of us, when we leave radio, don’t get talked about much. We’re just radio announcers, and most of us radio announcers matter more to ourselves than they do to anyone else. I hope he’s doing something that makes him happy. I used to love the lines he used on Brian to promote Philly the next morning. We used to call them zingers, but it’s not a practice which is done much anymore. Usually, these days, you promote something coming up in the morning show the next day, like a contest, or what have you, but radio is pretty vanilla/beige/tame (pick your favourite among those three descriptors) now in that regard, so you wouldn’t actually take a shot at the morning show host or hosts. That just wouldn’t be nice.

Back to influences - Gerry Lawrence is a wonderful man. Period. …but I could never be like him. I’m too selfish of a guy to ever give in to the popular view. I’m not saying that the person you heard on the air isn’t who Gerry really was, because I can only assume you’d be miserable if you ‘acted’ that way just to present the populist view. I’m just saying I couldn’t pull it off. It’s like - I’m not a Jay Leno fan, even though he was more popular with the masses, because he tells jokes everybody ‘gets’. I’m a Letterman fan. He’s more thoughtful, and I enjoy his sarcasm more than anything. I was always warned that sarcasm wouldn’t translate on the radio. That’s right, Mr. Consultant. It takes effort and thought to figure it out, and a lot of people are lazy when it comes to listening to radio. They want it handed to them. They don’t want to have to think too much about it. A person has to use their mind to translate what’s been meant by sarcasm. …but it’s still a sense of humour. It’s just not broad. You know? I just can’t do broad strokes.

When Gerry had come back to CJCH after having spent some time at CHNS, I was working C100 (as usual), and we got into a conversation about fresh baked bread, and the smell of fresh baked bread – and I mentioned I always loved going up Quinpool Road and smelling the fresh bread wafting from the Ben’s bakery. He said, “Have you heard of a place called The Staff of Life?” I hadn’t. He said, “You gotta try their bread. It’s amazing.” I said I should probably do that one of these days. He said, “You gonna be around for a while?” I told him I was heading home in about half an hour probably. He said, “Okay see you in a bit” - and left the parking lot. I was still standing outside talking to somebody, when he pulled back into the parking lot, with a long white bag sticking out the window at me. He had gone up to Quinpool Road, bought me a loaf of bread from The Staff Of Life, and brought it back to me. Nice, nice, nice, thoughtful man. Loved Gerry for that.

BB: This makes me wonder, in this day and age, if there is room to program by one's gut? You know what I mean, John. Rather than listen to the endless research, just decide to do something that's different and see how it works out. Is there still room for that in today's radio, John?

JB: It’s what I’d do, if I had the money, but I’d be doing it with just one signal. Most companies owning radio stations own a LOT of them, and they want to put their brand on them across many markets. Individuality has taken a back seat to branding. In most cases, it’s about the product, not the individual.

Back to people who influenced me… Well, Brian (Phillips) always intrigued me. He was lightning fast, and I could sense who he really was just by listening, which is an art – and for someone to be able to “say without saying”, that is…use the double entendre – that always fascinated me. I learned a lot from Brian. Brian’s timing (of a joke) was the closest thing to impeccable I’d heard on Halifax radio.

The first time he came back, after his trouble with the law, I remember he and I about to get started for the morning, in the old building on Robie, standing by our bunks (because they definitely weren’t lockers), getting our headphones and whatever else we needed ready to go for the shift - he on CJCH, his very first morning back, and I on C100, as usual, and I could see a hesitation in his approach…which surprised me - because the only side of Brian I had known to that point was the picture of confidence. He looked me in the eye, and said, “Do you think I’m going to be okay?” I looked right back at him and said, “Jesus Christ, man, you’re Brian Phillips. Of course.”

You’re the first person to whom I’ve ever mentioned that, by the way, so Brian’s the only person who could verify it. He said it in confidence a long time ago. I hope he’d be okay with me revealing it now. Brian did more than serve his time. The people of Halifax held him to a higher standard for far too many years afterward. He had to go away a second time and come back again before finally being able to stay home, but the heydays of CJCH were long gone by that point.

BB: And, Halifax radio is poorer for not having Brian on the air any longer. How sad that there seems to be no place for him on local airwaves today.

JB: Well, I was pretty sad that there was no place for me on the local airwaves in Halifax, either…but radio does that to people. Lay off your top-salaried people, and hire younger staff with less experience who might be as good someday as the people they’re replacing, or then again they might not…but they cost less, and they can be trained to say the things you want said at the times you want them said. As long as you’re playing the big chocolate Monopoly game when you’re on the air, you get to do it again the next day. As far as Brian is concerned, he could do very well in any market in the country if he cared to move. He knows that.

Question 5. How did you get the job at C100? I seem to recall you worked the overnight shift before ascending to the morning show.

JB: I’m not sure all that many people were pleased by my “ascension” to the morning show. Ascension’s a bit heady. Let’s stick with promotion. The isn’t papal, it’s just radio.

Anyway, yes - I was the all night guy. I came from having had lots of experience in my first two years in radio in Newfoundland doing lots of public appearances and co-hosting morning shows, and putting in the hours, too. Don’t forget, I wasn’t some kid coming out of high school when I went to technical school for radio. I had already had gone to Dal, then left university to play music professionally and was on the road for a few years, so I wasn’t ‘green’. …and basically, when the morning show job was posted, I said I would do it for whatever the minimum union wage was to do a morning show, and I would do every public appearance known to man (although it ended up that I did that to the point where I burned myself out on them), but I helped take the station to #1. (Well, except for CBC radio , apparently, but don’t get me started on that. The budgets for private and public radio are vastly different. If CBC wasn’t beating us, then something would have to be terribly wrong. They had writers, researchers, producers, technical directors… Never mind. You get the point. We had none of that. )
Then, when the show became the Biggs and Harrison show, it became a strong #1.

The addition of Moya (on The Breakfast Club with John, Peter and Moya) made us almost untouchable. Things were good…but yes, it started with just little old me, and I hit the air on the C100 morning show just as FM was really starting to catch on. Like I said before, I applied for a job there while home to see my father in the hospital where he was fading with leukemia. It was a very tough time for me. I had already lost my Mom to a heart attack when I was 13. At this point, 15 years later, losing my Dad made me feel orphaned. It was up to me – with no parental advice - to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of my life, and if radio was going to play a role in that…and just now, as I’m writing this to you, I just remembered the best piece of advice I ever received. It was from my Dad. He told me, as I was leaving for Newfoundland, for that first radio job, “Remember, it’s possible a lot of people will be listening to you. You can influence a lot of people with what you say on the air. You have to remain responsible about that.” I’ve tried to. I haven’t always been successful, but I haven’t started any wars, and I don’t think I’ve broken up any relationships or anything. But it’s become second nature to me to always weigh things with my Dad’s statement in mind. I just try to be true to myself.

BB: Was anyone upset when you became morning guy at C100? Did this not sit well with someone who might have assumed the job was his? You're hinting at something, John; care to elaborate?

JB: Not really. It was a long time ago, and I worked very hard to get and keep that job. If anyone had a problem with that, it was their problem to deal with, not mine.

BB: I noticed your comments about CBC. I am sure you are aware of the massive budget cuts they are facing. I know locally that Stan Carew's program is hugely popular, and it's put together by Stan and Doug Barron, with a newsreader at the bottom of the hour. That's it! It is a distinctly low budget affair. Is it still fair to rag on the CBC given A) their mandate; and B) their new financial realities?

JB: We hear about the public broadcaster’s troubles because they are public. Their budget is nowhere near as small as a private broadcaster’s budget, even after cuts, and that’s the truth of it. Maybe it’s time to cut spending of MY money and YOUR money on the CBC, and let them try to sell their product. You can bet the product that you hear will change drastically. Private broadcasters don’t usually go around crying about having their budgets cut, because they have to earn their budgets. This is a big sticking point in Ontario, actually. Hardly anyone pays attention to CBC radio in Omtario, but they get to keep a CBC 1 and a CBC 2 and even a CBC Radio 3 on the air, plus because they have taxpayer money to keep it on the air. Plus Galaxie, plus RCI. If they needed to rely on advertising sales to continue, their landscape would definitely change. A level playing field would make for interesting times, I think.

BB: I have noticed that most private radio announcers are dismissive or even disdainful of the CBC. I have always wondered why. The CBC is not exactly competition for you guys. Yet, I detect friction between private radio and the CBC. Why is that?

JB: Again MY taxpayer money funds radio stations which do many frivolous things with that money…and if a person is listening to CBC, and not to my station, then my station has a smaller head count to take to an advertiser to say “we have X number of people listening
to our radio stations!” so yes, it does affect the private radio sector.

BB: Do you still think of your father, and your mother, and do you still find they have influenced you? I ask this on a personal basis, as my own parents are rapidly aging and becoming more frail. What advice would you have for me, regarding my parents?

JB: I’m not sure what kind of person – if they had a good relationship with them, as I had – would stop thinking about them because their parents just because they had died. Yes, of course I think about my parents – possibly even more now that I finally have children of my own. Because I was 13 years old and then 28 years old when I lost my Mom and Dad respectively, their influence has actually remained greater for me, I believe. I was still being formed into someone when I lost both of them, so their opinions, their views on life, their values, have always remained important to me.

My only advice would be to spend as much time as you can with them (without getting in their way, of course), and if there’s anything you haven’t said that you’ve always wanted to say, any conversation you’ve never had, have it now, say it now, make your peace with them. You’ll feel much better years from now for having done that. My dad and I had the chance to have many conversations about all sorts of things, because he was dying with leukemia for over eight years. He was pretty amazing to me. He lost his wife when he was 53, and never re-married, and for the next 15 years he raised his two kids - with no help - the best that he could, working every day to provide for them. Came home from work every day at 5pm, home by 5:30pm, we ate supper together as a family every night, and he built his world around us. When my sister moved out, he was lost without her, and it was difficult for him for the three of us to not be together, but he never wavered. He didn’t go out drinking, or lose touch, or get angry. He stayed connected to both of us, and helped myself and my sister through any challenges we faced. It was always about us for him. Best dad in the world.

Question 6. Tell me about July of 1993. How did you learn that you would be shifted to CJCH and how did you feel about that decision at the time?

JB: That was a real mixed-emotion day. I never really recovered from that day. I suppose if I had have been able to swallow that and smile, I might still be working in radio in Halifax, I don’t know. Bill Bodnarchuk called me into his office and presented me with the plan, which was to switch CJCH from a “Favourites of the 60s 70s and 80s” to a Classic Rock station. From a tactical perspective, it was designed to pull a few Classic Rock purists away from Q104 - and in doing so, fatten the numbers on C100, or at least give the illusion of a bigger difference in size of listening audience between C100 and Q104, because Q104 had been closing the gap. However, if anything, considering the 7 years I had put in as morning show host, helping to put the station (C100) on the map should have counted for something, in my personal estimation, and it would have been nice to have been the beneficiary of such a move. However, that was not to be the case. My choice was either to accept the CJCH morning show position, or I’d be shown a different scenario in which I would no longer be an employee there. Such is the nature of the animal. You never know where these decisions come from at the time, or who is on your side, and who isn’t, but it hardly matters now. If I had it to do over, I’d probably have left and not played along, but I had just gotten married, and that probably played into my decision. It would’ve been pretty irresponsible of me to not take a job offer over a buyout when I had just gotten married.

BB: Hmm. In retrospect, do you view this move from C100 to CJ as a punishment, a punitive measure for some perceived slight, or did they really think that there was a positive career benefit for John Biggs to move to that station? Was this a way to "get" you, or was it a reflection of their confidence in you to make CJ a popular station again?

JB: I certainly think the move benefited Kelly (Latremouille) more than it did me, if that’s what you’re asking. It was not a step forward for me, and only barely translatable as a step sideways. It’s one of the reasons the phrase “New Opportunity” is used a lot in business. Sometimes, it’s not as good as the opportunity that you just lost, but it’s the only one you have. How do you sell that as a positive? “New Opportunity.”

I think that there was a likelihood that they felt I would simply walk away from it, and they’d be done with me, I don’t know. I wasn’t going to give anyone that easy a way out.

BB: How have you never really recovered from that day? You left Halifax years later, and seem to be very successful today. Not even mentioning your personal success in recent years, with your family.

JB: It’s not a matter of whether I recovered from it, I suppose. It’s not like I stunted my personal growth - but I remain cautious of people in every business situation. Trust is very difficult for me. Let’s just say I was very disappointed by the attitude of a lot of people around the situation. You can lose both trust and faith in people pretty rapidly when you can sense their reaction to a particular event.

Some advice for anyone who cares to take it: Don’t get into radio to make friends. If friendships happen, and they will, that’s nice. But remember – if you’re an announcer - that anyone on the announce staff of your radio station could in all likelihood be looking to get ahead of you, and may use unscrupulous methods to do so. Don’t abandon any friends from your life before radio and make the mistake of surrounding yourself with only radio people. Life may not be much fun if it all blows up on you, and you’re on the outside of your old job looking in. This could apply to any job, I suppose. Luckily for me, I had my friends from my band days and from high school to hang out with when radio became less and less of an option for me in Halifax.

BB: Stealing a few listeners away from Q104 sounds very much like the justification for CFDR to become 780 KIXX in December of 1993: to apprehend a few listeners from the then Country 101, so as to make that station no longer number one. Seems cynical to me, and a waste of a radio station.

JB: Well, country listeners wouldn’t feel it’s a waste to have another country station, don’t forget. From a tactical perspective, it’s about the combo, however. The combination of total listeners you can provide to advertisers over your selection of signals, whether it be CHNS combined with CHFX, or CFRQ combined with CFDR/KIXX, or CI00 with CJCH. It’s not cynical; it’s just numbers and money.

Question 7. I will list the names of people you know, knew, or worked with. Please say something about them.

Peter Harrison – Peter and I drove up to work at C100 in white 1985 Honda CRXs. Yes, each of us had one, and we were very similar in thought on many things as well, but occasionally diametrically opposed on a couple of others. We shared some amazing times, and for a while there, we had each other’s back. He was a great on-air partner, he’s a good man, and a very intelligent person.

Kelli Rickard – I’ll always consider her one of my best friends. She had a confidence in me that wasn’t shared by many. She stuck by me when it wasn’t the popular thing to do, because once a man starts to go down in our business, the sharks like to circle, and everyone loves to get a kick in at you. I’ll always love her for sticking with me. I would re-partner with her on a show in a heartbeat. Less than a heartbeat. She’s awesome.

BB: How did you know you were on the outs? Is this a perception on your part, or was there real tension between you and management? If so, then Kelli was very brave indeed to stick with you.

JB: It’s a feeling I got from the people around me, and it’s more insidious than anything. Lots of insidiousness in the entertainment industry, and radio is somewhere among the many facets of the entertainment industry.

Brian Phillips – Radio could use about a million more people with even half the natural ability of Brian Phillips. People should be ashamed of what they put him through. I mean – Wow - Brian wasn’t a perfect human. Alert the frickin’ media, and while you’re at it, name me a perfect human.

Part of the problem was that when Brian came back to the air the first time, in 1988, he wasn't allowed to discuss his legal problems on the air. The perception from the listeners was that he was ignoring the issue, and they ultimately rejected him. Very sad, and it must have been frustrating for him not to be able to mention it.

Maybe, but whether it was up to Brian to apologize for what happened or whether it was up to management to give him the green light to talk about it, everybody makes mistakes. I think I made one once. Can’t remember exactly what it was, but I’m sure I did. However, MOST of the problem is, right or wrong, you’re held to a higher standard when you do what we do. Of course, in the last ten years or so, the Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton crowd have almost completely reversed that trend by actually making MORE money for being complete flakes in their personal lives, so what do I know?

Terry Williams – I kinda miss him, actually. I felt he was a positive influence, but he and I didn’t really get to spend enough time together to get to know one another. We were from different generations of CJCH, but I found him to be a decent spirit, and he was always good to me. Very positive guy, always up, always with a kind word.

BB: I think a lot of people miss him.

JB: Well, I was long gone before he left, so I can’t speak to that.

Pat Connolly – Pat and I never worked together, but I remember him once writing about me in his newspaper column. I can’t even remember the name of the Ontario university Acadia had trounced – I mean REALLY pounded them - in a university hockey championship - but the team’s coach was named Titanic. Not kidding. Paul Titanic. I’m pretty sure his first name was Paul – but when your last name is Titanic, that’s kind of a moot point. Anyway – I had just mentioned off the back of John Moore’s sports something to the effect of, “What would you expect to happen, when the coach’s name is Titanic?”

I guess Pat must have enjoyed it. Of course, he was always an enthusiastic Nova Scotia sports supporter, so he wrote about it in the paper. I didn’t get a lot of press, so that stuck out for me. My “line of the week”. Considering I worked about 11 years of morning shows in Halifax, taking time out for vacations would give me about 540 weeks on the air in the morning. One line of the
week is probably a little “under quota”. ;-)

BB: I have interviewed Pat for this blog. Look for the interview to be published soon!

JB: But of course, Mr. Bev Boy.

Matt Northorp – I definitely miss Mattie. Matt and I had more fun in three or four minutes on the air than I’ve had in entire shows. When I first started on C100, Matt was the evening guy, and I was the all-night guy. The ‘cool’ thing to do in FM radio in those days was the “cross-over” …”How are ya doin’? What’s goin’ on? Whatcha got comin’ up?” etc. – and Matt and I always turned it into something bizarre, insane, stupid, silly, goofy – and then, completely out of context and apropos of nothing, I’d say, “Speaking of music…” to which he would reply, “Smooooth!” – and I’d list off my first set of tunes, our bit would be over - and I’d start my show. However, the problem with Matt and I – who both, at some point in our early careers, would have had Mr. Steve Bolton mention the word “brevity” on more than one occasion to us – was that we tended to turn the bit into a talk marathon on a station which billed itself at the time as “Light Rock, Less Talk”. Yes, there were memos. There was a particularly lengthy memo from Barry Horne (my “be funnier” guy) after Matt and I had expounded upon an adventure involving he and I transporting a refrigerator from Halifax across the A. Murrray MacKay bridge to my house in Eastern Passage. Matt and I considered it a classic piece of radio, and a lot of fun. Barry had a different opinion.

BB: Matt is still on the air on C100 drive, with Deb Smith as his co-host. They make a good team. I'd love to interview him for the blog. I hear he is a technophile like me.

JB: There ya go. A couple of Cape Bretoners, taking over afternoon drive radio in Halifax. Good on them. Deb is great. Matt’s a lot of things. He is an excellent voice talent, and has a couple of beautiful dogs, and yes, was into computers ahead of the curve. If you’re talking to him, tell him I said “Duck-EEE”. Big emphasis on the EEE. No, I can’t explain it.

BB: What do you think of the "less talk" thing, anyway? I hate that kind of thing. I'd be perfectly happy to listen to radio that had more interaction with listeners. Long, long stretches of music punctuated by commercials and brief weather reports just don't appeal to me.

JB: Everyone’s different. These days, I do different kinds of shows on three different stations, all with different formats and different listening audiences. There’s no accounting for taste, as they say, and I mean that in a positive way. I don’t have a favourite, because it’s my job - to do all of those things. I was Music Director at a country station for about five years here, and I didn’t listen to country at all growing up. It’s your job, and you do whatever your job is to the best of your ability. If you don’t someone else will gladly come along and take it off your hands. Being a Music Director isn’t about liking the music you’re playing on your station, it’s about understanding the listener who likes the music your station plays, and which perfect combination of songs will work on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis to keep them listening. When to rest a song, when to bring one back, following the listening trends of the most successful stations, etc. However, if you love the music on the station where you’re the music director, you’re in heaven, or close to it. Actually, heaven would be radio with a better salary. I’m kidding, of course. I’m actually a millionaire. That’s why I’m driving a 4-year-old Malibu Maxx with bald tires, because I make so much frickin’ money doing this.

Question 8. How did you approach the challenge of March 1995, when CJCH became a News/Talk station?

JB: Well, I like to talk. Again, however, there are many different kinds of talk. I love the art of the interview. You need to be able to shut up and listen to interview someone well. Remember Mike Bullard on TV? I had a feeling he wasn’t going to make it as an interviewer for very long because he liked hearing himself talk too much. Instead of actually listening to his guests, he just wanted to crack jokes - and he managed to ruin many a good conversation and take a lot of potentially good stuff off the rails by trying to feed his own ego and his own agenda. Anyway, we all know how that turned out. So, the toughest part of the News/Talk challenge, if there was one, was that Kelli and I had to take the station down from a music station to a talk station by removing two songs per hour, and then four songs per hour, etc., until all the music was gone. That was the mandate, and that was hard…but no one on staff or in management – not PD Terry Williams, not VP/GM Bill Bodnarchuk – had ever worked at a talk station before. It was new territory for everyone. “We’ll learn as we go”, we were told…but I love the art of the interview. Always will…and I think I’m starting to get okay at it, finally.

BB: I agree. Mike Bullard seemed awfully smug.

JB: If only he’d had Barry Horne as his boss, to tell him to “be funnier”. ;-)

BB: You may not remember it, but in 1996 you interviewed Dean... Marsaw? Forget the last name, but he was a navy guy on a hunger strike because he had been denied a pension. Your talk with him was very moving, as you mentioned when you had nearly died a year earlier and embraced life. You couldn't understand how someone could throw away his life the way this guy was. I wish I had a copy of that interview!

JB: Yes, I remember it well, and yes, Marsaw. I have a LOT of cassette tapes, and I have searched for that particular interview, but have yet to find it. Oh, well. I found some pretty good ones while looking for it, including a couple of fun ones with my old friend Gary Martin, when he was the Public Relations person/ spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Police. Now THERE’S a guy I miss. Loved him. Just not fair, what cancer does to human beings, to families - to lives everywhere.

I’m glad you called it “my talk” with him. I try to make my interviews seem less like interviews and more like conversations.

BB: There was no "manual" to go by, to see how to navigate from a music station to a talk one? That seems odd to me.

JB: There’s a lot of ‘odd’ in radio. I would have thought you’d picked up on that by now. ;-)

Question 9. Where are you working now, and how does your past experience inform and enhance what you are currently doing?

JB: ClichĂ© time. EVERY past experience helps with the next. Even my 8 or 9 months at radio school at NSIT taught me what NOT to do, at the very least. This November, I will have been in radio for 26 years. Guess the chance to get the band back together has probably passed at this point. I’m only half kidding about that, by the way. I’m working at Astral Media Radio in Hamilton. I’m actually working in the same building I originally moved up here to Hamilton to work in - back in April of 1998. However, there have been four owners in the last 11 years. First Radiocorp, led by former GM and Vice President of Q104, Jim MacLeod; then it became Telemedia, owned by the GaspĂ© de Beaubien family in Quebec. After that, (Gary Slaight and) Standard bought it from Telemedia - and finally, Astral bought Standard Radio. Now, we’re the largest in the country. Astral has more radio properties than any other group in the country. They also do outdoor advertising, interactive media, and specialty and payTV (Teletoon, Family Channel, The Movie Network, to name a few).

By the way, on a side note, I was sad when CHUM was no more. When they were sold, it was the end of an era in Canada. CHUM was like family to me, regardless of how I was treated at the end of my employ there.

Anyway, I’m the mid-day host on an Oldies station, Oldies 1150 CKOC. CKOC is the oldest radio station in Ontario, started in 1922, and the second-oldest in Canada. I’m on there from 9am to Noon. (available at I’m also the mid-day host on the talk station here, from 12:30pm to 2pm. Talk 820 is relatively new – launched September 2nd of 2008…and available at (That’s right. I’m in on the ground floor of another talk station. We’ll have to wait and see how much more history might repeat itself.) I also fill in on the station for which I initially moved here back in 1998, 102.9 K-Lite FM. On top of the announcer gigs, I run the programming software for Talk 820 and I build all the format clocks in the software program. I was the music director for Talk 820 before it changed from 820 CHAM, and I turned out to be pretty efficient at running the software, so that job is a holdover of sorts from that position. Plus, my ‘title’ is Interactive Program Manager. I work on all three stations’ websites – updating, downloading and creating new content, etc…so, I keep busy. Plus, I still get a chance to do the occasional public appearance – and when I’m not at work, I’m home with my wife and our twin three-and-a-half year old children (boy and girl), Liam and Morgan. Did I mention I’m busy?

BB: How do you manage your day, working at 2, sometimes 3, radio stations, with disparate formats? Tell me about a typical work day in the life of John Biggs.

JB: Up at 6am, make breakfast for the twins, get them dressed (I’m the “morning parent”), and get them to daycare by 9:30am or so. All summer, I also host the newsmagazine show, Hamilton @ Noon, for our newsroom, so when I get in (between 10 and 10:30am), I take a look at what’s happening locally, and start making calls to line up interviews for the Noon show. Read up on the stories I’ll be talking about with those guests, wait for return phone calls for interview times, answer email, fix problems with websites or programming if any, and then do a quick crossover with the previous announcer to tee up both Hamilton @ Noon and my show (The Biggshow, which runs directly after it from 12:30pm to 2pm), and we’re off an running. Through our email client, my producer has a list of the guests I’ve arranged for both shows (I book all my own guests, so my producer’s role is more of a technical operator), and whether or not they’re calling us or we’re calling them. We do the show(s). Then at 2pm, it’s back to my office space, booking and finalizing guests for my next show or shows, running the programming software with any last minute clock changes, updating websites with any new info/contests, etc., and then back down the hallway to production to record a promo for the next day’s show, talk and voice whatever commercials production needs me to voice. I’ve also, during the time since my talk show ended when back in my office, assembled the prep I’m going to use for my Oldies 1150 show from 9am to Noon the following day, and I go into the voice track studio, and record that. I pride myself in VTs that sound live. It’s really just a matter of remaining ‘present’, and caring about your final product. Oldies music is also upbeat and fun, so it’s an easy format to love. After my voicetrack, I’ll do one last check of my email before I leave, and then hit the road to Brantford to get home for supper with my family between 6 and 7pm. It’s a full day, and I usually don’t get a chance to eat during the day, so supper couldn’t come soon enough. After we get the twins to bed, my wife and I usually watch a movie. Neither of us is very big on most of the TV programming that’s out there, so we watch a LOT of movies. Then, I’ll check my work email from home, and I’m off to bed. There’s the WHOLE day for you, not just the work day.

Question 10. Where do you see radio being in ten years?

JB: I think I’ll worry more about where I’ll be in ten years. I’m sure radio will look after itself before it looks after me. At least, that’s been my experience so far. Newspaper is having a rough time right now, and will probably be almost if not completely on-line in ten years…but radio has the ability to keep you in the moment. No other medium – not TV, not internet, not anything – can be live, portable and local 24 hours of the day, seven days of the week - and in the moment the way radio can. Programmers have removed the 24/7 component of radio and are cheating us out of some of those “live” hours right now, but maybe we’ll see that come back as well. Once a radio station in Nova Scotia finds a practical and efficient way of selling airtime to a company in Australia - because most of the world is (at this point in my thought process) listening to internet radio on their new internet-access iPods, then maybe they’ll have to hire people to work the all-night shift again. In all seriousness, I’d like to see more owners and more stations, because I think ‘terrestrial’ radio will always be viable, and the number of genres of music is only going to become more diverse over time. …and no matter how global we get, we’ll always want some kind of local human connectivity, and no medium will ever be able to do that the way radio can.
Do you realistically think you'll see some of these things happen? A return to more live, local programming?

I think, if it happens, it will happen partly out of necessity…but I think it COULD happen. Currently, I think too many radio people are worried about what a difference the internet is going to make to the viability of radio as a medium. They were worried about TV at one point, too, but TV didn’t kill radio. If anything, TV enhanced radio. (Video never did kill the radio star. It was just a not-very-good pop song.) The internet can also enhance radio’s presence (Hey, even stand-alone internet music stations call themselves “internet radio”.) Well-produced radio from a professional studio can work locally on the airwaves and around the world on the internet at the same time. The advertising stream a radio company can create by selling their station(s) on the internet as well as to local advertiserson traditional terrestrial wave bands can work to bolster their profits if done properly…but it comes back to content. If your content is kickin’ ass, it doesn’t matter where you are on the globe. People will listen, and if you’re getting website hits in the big thousands, there are advertisers who will pay to have their ad or even their flash box on your site.

BB: I agree with your sentiments about radio. No other medium has more history, more potential, than radio. If I had it do again, I'd have chosen this medium as a career choice, bottom line, hands down. I love my current job and everything, but I love radio more.

JB: There’s really not a lot of money in it, Beverly Boy. There’s hardly ever concert tickets anymore compared to the old days…but if you’re passionate about something, you don’t mind driving the 4-year old Malibu Maxx with the bald tires – because one day this week, you might get to talk to one of your heroes, or to a beautiful female recording star (who might also be one of your heroes), or intro a song you’ve always loved, or tell a joke you just came up with a couple of seconds before you turned your microphone on, or be the first to break a news story - or make a positive difference in someone’s life with something you said that they’ll remember and take with them for years.

Something about those opportunities transcends money. I may not be curing cancer, but I can help inspire people to raise money for the researchers who someday will.

Still, I’d like to be able to afford new frickin’ tires without having to put them on a credit card. Give me a break here.

Anyway, thanks, Bev. Say hi to my birth city for me. I’ll always miss it, and all my friends there.

Take care.


Bev here. Thanks again, John. Always nice to hear from you.

P.S. T-2 days!


JB said...

Bev Keddy used to call me regularly when I was hosting the morning show at 920 CJCH. Bev has visited my home in Eastern Passage before, and he's now on my Facebook page. Clearly, he's a stalker.

I kid. I'm a kidder.

Thanks, Bev, it's always nice when someone takes the time to take an interest in someone else's experiences. Continued success with the blog, and I'm looking forward to finding out what happens in T-2 days.


Laurie said...

Thank you for your interesting interview with John Biggs! When I lived in Halifax (mid 80's to '91) I loved listening to John's radio show as well as while living in the Toronto area
when hearing John's dulcet toned voice on a Hamilton radio station was a pleasant surprise. John is always entertaining & has a good sense of humour. He is thoughtful & you can tell he does show prep. He has always given his heart & soul to his work and his community. Any radio station would be lucky to have him on their team!

I had the pleasure of meeting John through mutual friends when I lived in Halifax. I know other people who worked in radio in the Halifax area as well. John helped take C100 to #1 in the Halifax market. It was a great time to be in FM as it was growing & John was living the dream.

Radio is a fickle business in any city. John wasn’t treated well by CJCH/C100 at the end. Working in broadcasting can sting as departures are known publicly. John is an ethical person who works in a field with many people who aren’t ethical & I've met a few of them. There are many people who have similar stories of employers (in broadcasting & other sectors) who were nasty which is very disheartening and a tough lesson to learn in life when people give so much of themselves to their career.