Don Tremaine -- July 27, 2009
My thanks to Pat Connolly for helping arrange this interview!
Normally for these interviews, I have to contact the person and arrange to meet him or her at some restaurant in Halifax or Dartmouth. Not this time! I was on vacation in Pictou County at our cottage; Don Tremaine was one community over from us. I drove to his cottage, arriving a few minutes late, on July 27, 2009. You'll find out why I was late during the course of the interview. I had a good excuse!
Don and his wife greeted me into their lovely cottage. I was given a glass of water. I fired up my digital voice recorder. And we started to talk.
1. How and when did you get your start in radio?
Don Tremaine: I was in high school. The CBC had just opened their studios on Sackville Street at that time. I was in Grade 10. Some buddies of mine and I decided to go downtown on our lunch hour because we were all model airplane builders. It was World War II; everybody built model airplanes. This would be... '44, perhaps.
In those days, I was afflicted with asthma. I never knew when I was going to have an attack. When we got to the top of Sackville Street, I looked down the slope and I said, "Boys, you're on your own! I'll never make it back up the hill."
I thought, well, rather than go back to school, I went into the new CBC building and asked if they were giving tours. They said they would show me around. There was some guy going on the air; I forget who now, for a 15 minute piano recital. I looked into the window, watched him play the piano, and got the 5 dollar tour of the place. As I was getting ready to leave, this great big tall, frightfully British sort of chap appeared; and he said, "Can you act?" I said, "Well, who knows?" He said, "Come with me".
He hauled me into a studio. He parked me in front of a microphone, and took a seat on the other side. He said, "All right. You're Rob, and I'm Mother". We went through this script; no rehearsal or anything else. Anyway, I played Rob, whatever that was. He said, "Can you be here tomorrow night for rehearsal at quarter to 7?" My God, we didn't even have a phone. I used my grandmother's phone in Rockingham. I said, "I'll have to check; I think I can".
As a matter of fact, I landed a job there ... probably 2 or 3 times a week I'd appear on this little program that they had in the middle of the farm broadcast. It was a farm family saga, sort of a soap opera, The Gillens.
Bevboy: Oh, yes. I've heard of that show.
DT: Anyway, I became the office boy to the big lumber baron in town. That was my part. I stayed there through Grade 10 and 11. As I said, twice a week, maybe three: Six bucks a show. I was the richest kid in QEH [chuckles].
Eventually, I went to join the RCMP at the end of Grade 11. They wrote me out of the script as having decided to join the RCMP [chuckles]. Which is the proper way to get rid of me. That was my first introduction to radio.
I was only in the RCMP for 18 months.
BB: And after 18 months?
DT: Well, at that time, it transpired that if you didn't sign up for 5 years, I could get out with a week's notice. Otherwise, I would have to sign for 5 years. Seagoing is really not my thing; I was in the Marine division, and I couldn't see any possibility of promotion or anything else, so I thought, "Well, rather than sign, I'll go audition at CHNS". Which I did.
BB: Tobin Street?
DT: Yes. The old broadcasting house there. I did that [audition], and the guy told me I did a creditable job but he said, "You sound too young". I said, "Ah, Geez. Five years in the RCMP coming up!".
A week later, apparently, one of the announcers on the staff at the time, had gone on a big bender and hadn't shown up. They fired him. "Now we have a vacancy. Would you like to come down and do the audition again?" I said, "My voice is only one week older" [chuckles] "I don't know how it's going to go."
I went down, and did it again. They took me on on a probationary period. I did that; I was billed as an "Announcer/Writer". So, I had to write commercials. That course must have last 15 minutes; we got on with it.
I stayed there [at CHNS] for 3 years. That's where I learned an awful lot about the business of what [radio] was all about.
BB: You started at CHNS in... 1945?
DT: 1946. No. Wait a minute. I joined the RCMP in '46. I went to CHNS in '48. And the CBC in '51. That was the chronology.
BB: Tell me a little bit more about the radio building on Tobin Street, if you don't mind.
DT: Old Major William Coates Borrett.
BB: Yes. He wrote those books ....
BB: I have them. [They are books collecting stories told on CHNS radio in the 1940's. Titles include variations of "Tales Told Under the Old Town Clock". One chapter in one of the books actually discusses in great detaill what radio was like in Halifax back then. These books are not hard to find in downtown used book stores.]
DT: Anyway, he was the boss, and much inspired by the BBC. Of course, in London, Broadcasting House was the headquarters, so he named this CHNS Maritime Broadcasting House or whatever it was.
He was a good boss. He expected a lot of you, and he didn't take a lot of crap from anybody. But he knew how the place should go; he was a pioneer broadcaster. He actually built the first CHNS with some friends. So, he knew all about it.
We had a variety of programs. Man, we had quiz shows, country and music shows, popular music shows...
BB: And these were all done in house?
DT: Yes. In house. On the air. Live. We even had a classical half hour in the afternoon, believe it or not.
BB: And they were on 960 AM?
BB: From the beginning [in 1926] until 2006: They were always on that same frequency?
DT: Yes. So, that was great. We did all kinds of programs. I couldn't help think, "This is the game for me". I wanted to know as much about it as I [could], and I wanted to be the best I could possibly be. I worked hard at trying to get it right. The pay was lousy, though: I signed on for 25 bucks a week. That is still better than the RCMP were paying at the time. They were paying 70 dollars a month and found (a bunk on a ship, and 3 meals a day). [chuckles] Two uniforms, and that was it. [CHNS] was ten bucks a month more than I was making at the RCMP.
Anyway, I got a raise up to 28. When I left CHNS to join CBC, I had got another raise around that time to 41 dollars a week. I still had to live home; there was no way I could afford an apartment or anything. My poor mother was stuck with the laundry and the rest of it.
It was a great learning experience, and there were an awful lot of people who went through CHNS who went on to have careers in radio.
BB: Don Connolly, and Liz Logan...
DT: You name it. Frank [Cameron], and all those people.
BB: Stan Carew, I think.
I'd like to go back on second, here. You lived in Rockingham, but you went to QEH in downtown Halifax. That's quite a little geographical distance to travel.
DT: Well, it was a bus ride. But one of the students was a friend of mine. His father always went in early. During the War, he happened to be in the navy, stationed in Stadacona. He would drop us; we got a drive. The afternoon? Sure, you came home on the bus. Getting in in the morning was not a great problem.
When I went to CHNS, I didn't get too many shifts. Basically, a 9 to 5. But every week or so, I would have the early morning run. We didn't sign on until 7 o'clock in those days; how very civilized. [chuckles] That was no trouble. I used to go down to Rockingham Station and get the DAR coming in from the Valley. They always made a stop in Rockingham, so I went aboard, and they landed me practically at CHNS' door down at the Nova Scotian hotel.
BB: Yes. Just across the street, pretty much.
DT: That was quite convenient, too. I couldn't afford a car, at those prices.
BB: Back in those days, 41 dollars a week was not much money, I presume.
DT: Not really, no. I mean, it wasn't bad. But I signed on to the CBC at $2500 a year. That was '51. Money was not the big deal at the time; it was just being in the game.
BB: All right. And, of course, 1944 was the year CJCH went on the air. November of 1944.
BB: When you were hired in '48 at CHNS, to what extent was CJCH major competition for you guys?
DT: We competed, but I think we were always just a little bit ahead. They had an exceptional announcer staff. Donald Loughnane was one; he was excellent. Harry ... whatever his name was; he was an excellent news reader. George Rich, who I mentioned went to the CBC. And, what was the guy who did the late night [show]? He beat everybody at it. Norm Riley.
BB: I want to ask you about Norm Riley later on. I have a note here to ask you about Pearshape Riley. I've been trying to get information about this man. He's been almost lost to the mists of time. I promise you that Norm Riley is coming up!
DT: But these people were exceptional broadcasters for the time. They were good. I can remember Don Loughnane in particular, and George Rich. Great newsreaders; they stayed good newsreaders forever. I don't know what became of Loughnane or the rest of those people.
2. What is the best piece of professional advice that you have ever received?
DT: The best piece of professional advice I ever received would have been: Be yourself. Don't try to be anybody you ain't.
BB: All right. Who provided that advice?
DT: That was gifted to me by the chap who was the chief announcer at CHNS. His name was John Funston. He said, "It's all right to copy people you admire on the air, but don't become them". Be yourself, and don't try to be someone you're not.
BB: Have you always lived by that?
DT: That was in front of me forever, yes.
BB: You want to be a first-class Don Tremaine, as opposed to a second class somebody else.
DT: Right. [chuckles]
3. How did you approach the challenge of "A Picture By Christmas"?
DT: I read the first tv newscast in Halifax.
BB: My gosh.
DT: That transition was... it was kind of funny. My wife and I had just been married on the 20th of November. One month later, the announcer staff we had at CBC then had to do double duty. Half of us would be assigned to tv for a shift, then another shift in radio to make your 8 or 10 hours a day or whatever it was. But, we had to do both.
Prior to that, they sent down a guy from Toronto with a kinescope, of Larry Somebody, who was the big noise in Toronto. He was the CBC's newsreader. I think there were 7 of us on staff. We were all assembled in the main studio. They put this thing on, and we started to laugh, every one of us. This guy says, "What's so funny?" We said, "So far, he's broken pretty well every rule we were told applied." Don't smile. Don't get all wrapped up in the story. Just report the news. This guy was getting all, "There was a serious fire today. Fourteen children died", with all the facial stuff. It was terrible. I thought, "My God. They're paying this guy a huge salary, and he was a big star in Toronto."
So, anyway, that's the way they told us was the way to go. After he took his little [kinescope] and vacated, we all said, "We can't do that!" The boss said, "No, you can't. Just read it the same as you do on the radio."
So, it basically was just radio with pictures. But, there were no teleprompters in those days. We were required to memorize large pieces, two or three sentences, into each paragraph. And, eventually, funny enough, every one of us would get it. There were three of us, I think, assigned to the news. We were, after not too long, to be able to read up almost a line ahead of what we were saying. It took some doing, but it was great for the memory!
BB: Who were the other two folks [in news]?
DT: Morris Foisey, and Sid Davidson. The strain got to [Foisey]. He finally figured he couldn't handle it. It was just too stressful. I forget who replaced him. Davidson and I did it for quite a little while, back and forth.
BB: What was your first day on television? What was the date?
DT: It was December 20th, 1954. The first live people to go on that night: Ted Briggs, fresh out of the Navy. He was the regional director [CBC]. Somebody said, "How typical CBC! He went on with an apology." We were only at half power. There was a steel strike, and they couldn't finish the tower. Poor old Ted was there saying, "I realize that we're not getting very far. The picture's terrible. But this will improve, and welcome to television in Halifax".
The next person on was me. I had a ten minute newscast. Nobody knew anything about make up, but we had a producer who'd worked on the stage. He just lathered me up. He practically put in on with a trowel. It looked like a minstrel show. [laughter]
There I was. I plowed through the news for 10 minutes, followed by Pat Connolly, who was there that night. Pat did the sports.
BB: He did a sports show every Saturday night, I understand.
DT: He did every night, at the beginning. There was news, sports, and then there was Rube Hornstein with the weather. And, then, Max Ferguson did a 10 or 12 minute interview. The program was called "Gazette". I was the newsreader for... that was '54. In '56 they asked me if I'd like to go with Max and Rube as sort of the host/announcer type on Gazette. No more newsreading on that job. I was then doing the late night news at 11 before we connected with the network.
Max, Rube, and I turned out to be a pretty good team. We really enjoyed each other's company, and we had a Hell of a lot of fun. And that's one of many things that's missing today: Nobody seems to have any fun on the air any more.
BB: Or it's forced.
DT: Yes. It's terribly serious. And don't distract me with a few laughs.
It was really good fun. I thoroughly enjoyed those [years]. And then Max transferred to Toronto; they made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Lloyd MacInnis came onboard. He was there for about 7 years. He just fit right in; we were all great pals again. Everything worked.
4. Who were your influences in radio when you were growing up?
DT: I remember when CHNS was "The Big Station", all 1000 watts of it. When I joined CHNS, I was working with this chap. He was not on the air; he was our chief engineer. His name was Cecil Landry. He was probably Halifax's first real personality on the air. Everybody was "deadly BBC". Everything was terribly serious. He used to do the morning show. He was light-hearted, much as people are today. He was way ahead of his time. He had a great voice. He was the guy who discovered Hank Snow, and sent off his recording to Montreal and made Hank a millionaire.
The one thing that impressed me about [Cecil Landry], apart from the fact that he seemed very friendly and a very nice guy, was on one Christmas morning, he came on. My mother had the radio on, and there was Cecil saying, "Merry Christmas, everybody. And, by the way, a very Merry Christmas to the guy who stole all my Christmas lights off my outside tree. You rascal you!" [laughter] I never forgot that speech; I don't know why. I remember my mother and I laughing away.
He really impressed me with his attitude, the way he did things. When I went there, he was being seriously crippled by arthritis. He got around by a couple of canes and so on, but he was still a very nice chap. And he loved to get on the air. I was running a country music show at the time. He'd look it over, to my surprise, and he'd say, "Got anything by Hank on there?" Then, he'd come in and sit down opposite me and I'd have a little chat with him about him discovering Hank and all this stuff [chuckles]. But, he was really a very nice man.
I tried to find whether or not there were any descendants, and I never did find out whether or not he ever married, or if he did, whether they had children. I have to seriously doubt that any of those ever appeared because I checked with Carl Westhaver, who was the chief operator down there at the time, and he knew him long before I did. He said he never remembered whether or not there was a descendant from Cecil Landry. That would be interesting to find out because there must be a lot of stuff in the family left over from the very early days [of CHNS]. He was the chief engineer at the Moose River Mine Disaster. He and Harv Buchanan from CBC were the guys who went down to do that, the technical end of it.
BB: That was a joint production between CHNS and the CBC, was it not?
DT: It was a world production eventually, because U.S. networks kicked into that one. But, they borrowed Cece. I think they need more than one car to haul the gear. These days you could put it in your pocket.
BB: What was the name of the announcer for that Moose River...
DT: Frank Willis.
BB: Thank you very much. I knew it was a Willis, but I couldn't think of the first name.
DT: He had no children to my knowledge. His brother, Austin, who lived in Dartmouth until relatively recently, had a family.
BB: He was the actor?
BB: He was in a James Bond movie. He was in "Goldfinger".
DT: Was it "Goldfinger"? I didn't remember which one.
BB: And "This is the Law". I didn't realize that Frank and Austin were brothers. Austin lived until not many years ago.
DT: That's right. He died relatively recently.
BB: He was in his 90's. Austin was one of the early voices at 'NS as well.
DT: Yes, he was. And so was Frank.
BB: I have a picture somewhere of Austin Willis on the air from 1926 or something. I'll see if I can get that to you.
5. Today is the last day for AM radio in Halifax. How did you feel about that? CFDR? CHNS?
DT: Well, FM is obviously the better way to go. You know, CHNS had an FM station while I was there. There was a little mast up on Citadel Hill. The thing is that there were no FM radios in Halifax! [chuckles] There might have been 2 that would pick it up.
BB: Was it still 101.9 back then?
DT: I don't know what the frequency was. CHNX-FM.
BB: They had a shortwave service for years and years, too, didn't they?
DT: You've stuck me on that one; I don't know. I do remember the FM thing, and I said, "Why? Nobody has any FM radios!"
BB: And what year would this have been, roughly?
DT: Between the time I joined, which would have been '48 to '51. Somewhere in there.
BB: So, there was an FM service in Halifax way back then?
DT: Yes. There was a mast up on the Hill. It must have sent the signal all the way to Barrington Street! [Don and Bev laugh]
BB: All right. Your private radio experience was strictly CHNS. You didn't work for anybody else?
DT: Yes. I didn't bounce around to anywhere else, no.
6. Tell me about your Order of Canada. What level or designation do you have?
DT: I'm a corporal. [chuckles] No. I'm a Member. The way they break it down is: Recognition within your community is a Member. Recognition within the country is Officer. Recognition world-wide (like Anne Murray) is your Companion; people who have made a mark that the world recognizes. They only admit 15 of them every year. They admit numerous members, and quite a few Officers. Basically, no more than 50 a year come in.
BB: More than 50 Members?
DT: No. I mean 50 as a group, 15 of whom may be Companions. 25 or 30 may be Officers. And the rest would be Members.
BB: This would be recognition of your years and years of service?
DT: Well, you never know. You're recommended by somebody. That person has to get 3 other prominent people to agree with what they have said about you. You never know who the Hell they are, or even why. I suspect I know who, and I won't name them.
BB: Fair enough.
DT: But, I think it had to do with the fact that I had 10 years on the [IWK] Telethon from day one until I retired and beyond. I didn't do any of the hard and heavy lifting. I was just a face and the mouth on the telethon. An awful lot of people worked an awful lot harder and deserve an Order of Canada far more than I ever did. But, I did get this recognition from somebody, and 3 or 4 prominent citizens agreed. Then they sent it off to Ottawa. The Department of Honours agreed, too, so off we went to Ottawa.
It was quite a day. We were really impressed. Romeo LeBlanc, by the way, was doing his first investiture. You had to go in alphabetically. There were only two "T"'s: Sylvia Tyson was one, and I'm the other. He dropped her medal. He bent down as quick as you could be, and gathered it up and stood up and he said, "If you think you're nervous, you should see it from this side!" [Don and Bev laugh] He was an awfully nice man.
BB: We were sorry to lose him recently.
DT: He just did everything right. And he was respected. No scandals. No stupid political moves or anything like that. Just a very competent man.
BB: Now, the way it works, I heard, when you are offered a Member of the Order of Canada, you have to be [publicly] reluctant about it? Or, you're not supposed to talk about it until it actually happens?
DT: They alert you, and you are not to tell the press. They want to operate the news. It's not up to you to say, "Hey, I'm in the Order of Canada!"
BB: You don't issue a press release yourself? You let them do that.
DT: That's their job.
BB: Well, maybe after 50 years of whatever I'm doing they'll make me a Member.
DT: [Chuckles] A most impressive ceremony, I must say. You come away with your patriotism well and truly buffed.
BB: It's a plaque, plus a pin, right?
DT: There's a medal. The Members get to hang it on their chest. Officers and Companions get to hang it around their neck. There's a little pin you can wear on your jacket. They suggest that whenever an occasion presents itself, to wear the medal. Well, I've done a number of things with various members of the armed forces, Remembrance Days things, and shows with the navy band and all that; and they always said, [Where's your medal?]. I did [wear it] once. I looked around at all the medals of service hanging off the chests of these people and thought, "I can't do this. I don't belong in this crowd at all". It's home in a drawer. I wear the pin. And I can remember Romeo's wrap up speech was something to the effect of: "Don't be afraid to let people know that you're a Member of the Order of Canada". He emphasized it's not an award for the Elite. It's just recognition of hard work for the community, [or] Canada. But, how Canadian of me; I think it's too ostentatious to wear the medal! [laughter]
BB: What would happen if you lost the pin? It must be easy enough to misplace them.
DT: I lost one; I don't know where it went. Rube Hornstein gave me his. They give you 2, because they're pretty sure you're going to lose 1.
BB: And, once you lose the second one...
DT: You can apply. They know who you are. But this time you pay! The first one's on them. After that, forget it. [chuckles]
7. Please say something about the following people.
A. Gerry Parsons
DT: Gerry was on the staff of CHNS when I got there. He gave me a few tips because he had been there for a year, or maybe a little more. Gerry was a very popular announcer, and a very good one, too. He did the job very well.
We didn't socialize, but certainly we met every day, and we each had our various responsibilities. But Gerry was a good chap.
BB: You would meet for lunch somewhere?
DT: Yes. Frequently we would all go to lunch together if we happened to be in the same general time zone.
BB: What lunch places were in downtown Halifax sixty years ago?
DT: We used to go to Pete Karas' place. That's on the corner of Barrington and Morris, right across from one of the popular bars there. I forget what it is now; I don't know if it's still a restaurant or not.
BB: Well, Barrington and Morris, there's a condo building which housed CHNS and Country 101 for years.
DT: Yes. The one diagonally across the street.
BB: There's a Vietnamese restaurant there now.
DT: Is there? Well, Pete Karass was a big fan of the station and the Westernaires program that I used to do. He'd always have some comment to make. He was a funny guy.
Keith Barry was the guy I worked with who was the most helpful to me when I went to CHNS. He and John Funsten. But Barry and I became extremely good friends. We were great pals. We were beer drinking buddies. He was an excellent broadcaster. You could send him out with a microphone and an operator. He covered the Dartmouth Lakes races in the Summer. He covered baseball, college football. He knew all the rules; he was a very versatile guy. I learned a lot from Keith.
BB: OK. And he was a good buddy of yours, too.
DT: He's dead now.
BB: Are any of his descendants still living in Halifax?
DT: No. He went to Vancouver with the CBC. I think his wife is still alive, and his kids would all be in Vancouver.
B. Don Connolly
DT: Now, there's a great guy. Don Connolly: My gad. When Information Morning was still relatively new, I was invited aboard ... What did we have then? At the beginning there was Bob Oxley, who was the senior host. It took half the announcer staff; it made the rest of us mad as Hell because we all had to work extra night shifts because these guys were working in the morning.
Frank Cameron, and I forget the other guy's name. Two news readers. There was a sports caster; his name escapes me at the moment. And a weather man: Reed Dexter, who was employed by the weather office. And who else? It was quite a cast! And, eventually, it just got to the point where they had to hire another announcer or two in order to give the rest of us a bit of a break on the night shift stuff over on television. And, then, radio too. Radio [had] night shifts in those days.
So, anyway, Bob Oxley worked extremely hard on this thing. Eventually, I think he burned himself out. I think Oxley lasted only about 9 months on that show. He took a transfer to Toronto, where he became a national newscaster for years. As a matter of fact, he retired from that.
He was replaced by ... oh, a chap called Paul Kells. The interviews of those days (this was early television influence): You confront the person that you called, always forgetting that they volunteered to come on with you. And then he would berate them and give them Hell. You're still beating your wife kind of thing. Halifax is not geared for that kind of stuff. We're too polite. This guy was from Ontario, and he was not very polite.
The show had really gathered a lot of audience. We were just number one forever.
BB: They still are.
DT: Yes. And he was shooting it down. So, the program director called me in one day, and he said, "Look: We've got to have somebody to sort of lighten things up around Paul Kells. You're it!"
I said, "Gordon, I can't possibly work the early morning. My God. I'm a night guy."
"You'd better get used to it because you're going on the early morning as a co-host."
The idea was he would be snarking away at somebody and I would ask a light-hearted kind of question to sort of cool things out a little. But even then he was not [winning friends] or influencing too many people. So, anyway, he wasn't fired, but I think they suggested to him that perhaps he'd like to go elsewhere, and they would arrange whatever they could for him. He went to Toronto, and disappeared, basically. I may have seen him once or twice.
Anyway, all he did was adopt the tone of the time, like the Mike Wallaces and people were doing It didn't go over; he just couldn't be light-hearted over anything. No sense of humour whatsoever. It was terrible. If you liked that kind of interrogater, he would have fit in Hitler's SS quite nicely. [chuckles].
BB: So, how did Don Connolly come on?
DT: Well, Kells was replaced. The still wanted me in for the light-hearted piece. They left me, and they assigned a fella named Russ Kelly. Russ was a Hell of a nice chap. He had a very nice attitude. He was a very good interviewer. He and I split it up more than Kells and I, because Kells never left too many openings for me to get into. But Russ and I bashed it back and forth nicely.
There was a news reporter's job in Vancouver, and he wanted it, applied for it, and [got it]. He gave them a month's notice. I don't know to this day who got the invitation out to Connolly. I never found that out.
BB: Because he was working for CHNS then.
DT: No. He had been working for CHNS, and went to Ottawa. He was working for one of those stations up there. He's got a tape of himself that you wouldn't believe.
BB: I'd love to hear it.
DT: It's funny. But, anyway, he was there. And somebody suggested that he might want to try out. I'd never heard tell of him, nor had anybody. I guess some of the newer CHNS people we didn't know would have remembered him, of course.
Anyway, he came in one morning and stood in the control room. You never saw so much hair in your whole life. He looked like a busby: The British guards. It was red. He was wearing cowboy boots and jeans. I thought, "What the Hell is that?" The technician said, "He looks like an armpit with eyes!" [Don and Bev laugh] I told Connolly that, too. This is not unknown.
The news was on. Reed said to me, "Who is that?" I think Gerry Fogarty said, "I believe that might be the new host of the show".
He never came into the studio and introduced himself or anything. He just sort of looked to see how it all went and left. The next thing we knew he was hired.
I must say we all hit it off just great. I really don't think there was a better team of people: Fogarty, Don...
BB: Ron Hill.
DT: But Ron didn't take part in the show as the rest of us did. Some how or other, we all got along extremely well. I always considered [Connolly] a friend and still do. He's a great guy.
BB: I remember listening to Info Morning back then. Don Connolly really wasn't on in the first hour. It was more light-hearted stories...
DT: That's right.
BB: You and Gerry Fogarty would be kibitzing about things. I remember that very well. It was the second hour, from 7 to 9.
DT: That's when he came in.
BB: That's when the main interviews always took place.
DT: We used to give him a hard time. "Who the Hell are you? You're so privileged to get in here at 7 o'clock!" But, he came as a good interviewer, and he became a better one every year since. He's still one of the best, I think.
BB: It will be a big loss to the CBC and to Halifax when he retires.
DT: As he says, "I'll have to work until I'm 115. I still have a kid to go to college!"
BB: He had his kids late. We're stuck with him for a little while yet.
DT: Yes. With any luck at all. [chuckles]
C. Pat Connolly
DT: Ah, Pat! It's funny: Here we are, two of the pioneers of the first night of television [in Nova Scotia]. He's living up above me in the apartment building, and I'm living below. He said I'm living in his basement. I said he's living in our attic! [chuckles].
Pat's a great guy. He was and is still to this day, would be a great piece of valuable broadcasting talent to anybody. He was at CFDR, and CJCH, and us [the CBC]. I don't think anybody ever did it better than Pat. He's just superb. Excellent. Just another Connolly! [chuckles]
BB: To what extent is he a buddy of yours? I know he's your neighbour.
DT: Well, we have this connection of having been there the first night and so on. We don't chum around much. In the Wintertime, he's still doing the stuff at the Metro Centre. He lives rather quietly; I guess I do, too. But we meet in the garage and haw haw it up in the elevator or whatever.
BB: He and I talked on the phone on Friday [July 24th]. That's when he gave me the invitation to call you. I didn't realize I had an invitation before that. We met for lunch a few months ago with my fiancee. We met with Pat, and the hours just melted by. The stories that man tells!
DT: Oh, fabulous stories!
BB: It was a privilege to meet him. I hope someone takes you online to my blog where you can read the interview with him.
DT: I'd like to see that.
D. Norman "Pearshape" Riley.
BB: Not much is known about this man any more now, but at one point he had an extremely popular radio program at night on CJCH.
BB: He went on to manage Hank Snow. He had a falling out with Hank Snow. There were some nefarious derrings of do there. He had a record store on Spring Garden Road.
DT: Yes, he did.
BB: But for a guy who was that popular at one point, what happened? What are your recollections of Norm Riley from when you were a listener, when you guys were competitors?
DT: Well, Norm Riley was never seen. He had the sexiest voice according to the female population of Halifax. He had kind of this southern drawl that sounded like he might be down from Georgia somewhere, and this very soft, carressing kind of voice. And, of course, he would be playing all the romantic songs of the day and so on. He had a tremendous following, mostly female. But as somebody said, the worst thing he ever did was appear in public, because everybody had this picture of him in their minds, which no more matched the reality than anything.
Poor old Norm! He had no posture at all. He was bent practically double. He had one eye that went in toward his nose, which was huge. I think he was missing a tooth or two. He was just a terrible slob. I don't know how long that program went on on CJCH. It went for quite a while.
BB: [Wasn't] it a late night broadcast out of the Green Lantern Building?
DT: No. It was out of the top floor of the Lord Nelson Hotel. That's where they had their studios for quite a long time.
BB: Oh! I thought he did a remote broadcast from the Green Lantern.
DT: I think they tried to keep him out of the public view, because everybody had this romanticized idea of what he looked like. If he ever hove into public view, it would shatter a few illusions. [chuckles] That was my understanding at the time.
BB: All right. Fair enough.
DT: Anyway, he was hugely popular. And then, as you say, he got this entrepeneurial thing going, and he opened a record shop. That's where things started to go down hill because he didn't match what he sounded like; at least that was the thinking at the time.
[The business] didn't go very well as I remember. Hank Snow had come to town. Hank needed a manager. Norm, who was "Mr. Slick" when it came to selling himself, turned up and offered his services to Hank. Hank took him on. Despite the fact that he was an uneducated little shrimp, he wasn't stupid.
The story went that somewhere along the line, Norm was managing the dates. Eventually, somehow or other, Hank got the word that his manager had allegedly absconded with some funds, and disappeared, down in the States somewhere, where I think he was from, anyway.
BB: Somewhere in Iowa, apparently.
DT: [Chuckles] Is that right? I remember interviewing Hank one time, and I said, "If I said the name 'Norm Riley', what would you say?" "That son of a bitch!" [laughter]
BB: He also went on to found a record label.
DT: Did he?
BB: In California. I found some references to it online. I am just trying to piece together some stories about Norm Riley.
DT: He's probably long dead by now, but my God, he had a big impact in Halifax, especially among the women.
BB: OK. Somehow I got it in my head that he did a show out of the Green Lantern Building.
DT: It doesn't mean it didn't happen, Bev, but I don't remember. I was not a fan.
BB: Fair enough. You weren't a teenage girl back then. Well, did your wife listen back then?
DT: She knew who he was. Yes, she would have heard him.
BB: Well, maybe I'll ask her about Norm Riley afterward if she wants to talk about him.
DT: I'm just guessing, but I think she would just say, "Well, he was on the air, and he had a lovely voice".
BB: All right. I've learned some things [today] about Norm Riley.
DT: I don't know where else you would go for information.
BB: I guess Clive Schaeffer ...
DT: Yes. He used to work with him.
BB: I'm not sure if he's well enough to speak. I don't know if you listen to Wayne Harrett's station out of Eastern Passage, CKEP...
DT: No, I haven't heard it, but I have heard of it, certainly. That's where old announcers go to die. [chuckles]
BB: Wayne has an office manager named Krista Cook. She knows Clive Schaeffer. I want to ask her about him.
DT: Yes. It might be good to check ahead on that. I haven't seen Clive in a long time. We were good friends at CHNS.
BB: He worked there for 50-odd years.
DT: Yes, he did.
BB: He used to drive his bicycle to work.
DT: His motorcycle. He took me up to the Valley on the back of that motorcycle of his. We damn near ran into the back of a truck when we got within about two miles of home. He was quite a guy. Good broadcaster, too. You could throw him in anything, and he could do it. I think that was one of the things that set us apart back in those days: You had to be able to do it all. Because, "Why are we paying you?" would have been the question if you can't do everything we ask you to do.
BB: If you can't play music, if you can't do a sports broadcast, if you can't do an interview...
DT: You have to be ready to do it all.
E. Clive Schaeffer
BB: Is there anything else you want to add about Clive Schaeffer?
DT: I can't think of anything, no, just his remarkable longevity on the air. And, you know, he never sounded different. He never changed the way he did the news. It was just exactly the way it should have been done. And he did that the entire time, in the fifty whatever years; the sound of his voice never changed. You could spot him anywhere.
BB: He formally retired in the early 1990's. And, then, when Frank Cameron and M.J. Finnamore were doing the CHNS morning show, they brought him back for one day just to say that he could have worked in six different decades.
DT: Oh, I see.
BB: In 2000, I think it was, they brought him back for one day to read the news.
DT: I think he was in the Air Force during the war. He went straight into broadcasting as soon as he got out, which would have been '45. And he never stopped. [chuckles] Or, it took him quite a long time to stop.
F. Frank Cameron
DT: Oh, my Gad. Frank was one of these birds who never stopped having fun on the air. He had Frank's Bandstand; that was sort of a contract job. He was still employed at CHNS at the time.
BB: At first.
DT: Yes. They would tape that show on a Saturday. He wasn't on the staff then. But, eventually, as Frank grew older, that program had to be shot down somewhere. There was an opening there at CBC, and he applied, and had no difficulty being hired. Great voice, and just that cockish bit of "I can't take this crap seriously" kind of approach. [chuckles] Everybody thought he was just a big comedian. He was a pleasure to be around, I must say. He's a funny guy; but he, too, is probably one of the best newsreaders we produced. I've always said that Frank could have gone to Toronto. As a newsreader, he could very much have been a Mansbridge or anybody else. He was really, really good. I don't think I ever heard him make a mistake. He did it extremely well.
BB: And, he has a book coming out sometime. I'm not sure when.
DT: That should be fun.
BB: I interviewed him as well; it hasn't been published yet, but he was very forthright in his comments.
DT: Oh, yes. He held nothing back. A lot of people used to admire him [for that]; he took no crap off anybody. If the CBC management didn't like it, to Hell with them. Tough! [chuckles]
BB: Fire me!
BB: I'm looking forward to reading his book. When I sat down with him, I was reminded of Art Linkletter said: The best people to interview are kids under the age of 10 because they don't know any better, and retired people because they don't care.
8. Do You Miss Working?
DT: No. I don't. I've always said to a lot of people that when the switch on the limelight is in the off position, have the good sense to leave it there. [chuckles] I never wanted to go back to the game. But it was a great job, and I loved every minute of it. I felt so lucky to have been able to get into a niche where I belonged.
BB: Most of us never get that lucky.
DT: Yes. That's right. It doesn't happen to everybody. I thought that was a great job; I enjoyed it immensely. It had its moments and its people, but what could you do?
9. You are well known for your volunteer efforts. Please tell me how you became involved with the Tattoo and the IWK [Telethon]
BB: The guy who founded the Tattoo lives in Toney River.
DT: That's his cottage right there [points next door], but his home is up there [on the Sunrise Trail], about a mile up the road. A great big monster of a place. '
BB: Why would he have a cottage so close to his home? You want to get away from your home!
DT: [chuckles] It started out that home was in Oromocto or some Forces base or whatever. I met Ian here at the cottage when we were here fairly new at the time. That was his wife's family's old cottage, but no more looks like it did then; nor does this! He was Captain Ian Fraser at that time. He came down here in a Morris Mini Minor with a wife, 2 kids, a cat, a dog, and their luggage. They moved in here for his leave. [The cottage] had 2 bedroom, his wife's two maiden aunts, and her mother. How in the Hell they ever did it... every time you'd wake up in the morning and go out there, Fraser would be out there. "You got a cigarette?" [Don and Bev laugh] "Get me out of here!" Oh, man alive, he was terrible.
He couldn't stand the heat in that kitchen, so we drank a few beers here and there to say the least. He had to go back into that milieu: All women; he'd be the only guy. Even the cat was a girl! [Don and Bev laugh again]
Anyway, he and I knew each other for a very, very long time. He used to write radio plays for the CBC. They were funny, funny bits. I used to announce them, if I happened to be on duty, and I can remember asking a produce one time, "Who the Hell is this A.K. Matheson, anyway?", because that was the name he wrote under. The guy said, "Well, he's a Captain in the army; I think he's in Oromocto. He's not allowed to have a job outside the Service, so he writes this stuff for us. I think his name is Ian Fraser". So, that's how I first got to know him.
He was sitting over there on a stump with another stump and a typewriter in front of him. I went over and introduced myself. I said, "You're A.K. Matheson, right?"
"Who the Hell told you that?"
We went on from there. At that time, he was typing out his script, the only one that they ever rejected. He had a homosexual parrot involved in the thing somehow or another. The CBC said, "No, no. No. Forget it".
After that, he got transferred to peacekeeping duty and went to Cypress. We didn't see him for 9 months or a year after that. But then he came back and did the Centennial Tattoo, which was a huge success. Given how much he knew about organizing that sort of thing, and he is an organizer of the very first order, he said, "I can make a buck at this". So, he resigned his commission. He still had about 2 years to go to a full pension; by this time he was a full Colonel, so he wasn't taking a great loss. Then he built the Tattoo from there. It used to be a 3 day affair. He had a guy that went with him coast-to-coast, a serving officer at the time: Doug Bell. We split up the announcer chores on the [Tattoo], which were kept to a minimum, and still are, because it shouldn't be all blather; it should be, "Here it is. Goodbye".
Anyway, Doug and I got along very well. He died on the job. I left the catwalk at the end of the last show one year. He didn't look very healthy that night. I said, "Are you coming down for a beer after the show?" He said yes. He never got there. He went back to his hotel and died.
BB: My God.
DT: But I was there doing that stuff for Ian, along with Doug, for about 21 years.
BB: You retired about...
DT: From that, when we turned the Millennium. I was going to go in '99. Ian said, "Give us one more year. The Millennium switches, and you and I will both retire at the same time." I said ok. He's still there; I've been retired for 10 years. [chuckles] He gets me to throw in a voice over thing here and there.
BB: I was there last year, and heard you do one. I thought it was something pre-recorded years and years before.
DT: It's just a volunteer thing. Just a change of voices from George [Jordan].
BB: He was running for political office this year, so I don't know if he [worked at the Tattoo] or not.
DT: I know George very well. That had to be just for fun. Tie himself to Rodney MacDonald. You have to wonder. [Rodney] didn't win too many hearts or minds.
BB: How about the IWK? How did you get involved with that?
DT: Good question. My wife's been a volunteer there for about 26 or 27 years. I guess I was asked to do it or assigned to do it or something. I got pushed into that. I did that for 10 years. You had to stay awake the whole time. You were up for a whole day. It was a long, hard slog. They used to open up the Armouries after the show. Those of us who could still stagger around were invited over for a beer or pizza or whatever. Apparently, one of the soldiers one night was on duty when we were coming in. He said, "Geez, this is the first party I ever went to where the guests were carried in!" [Don and Bev laugh] We were basketcases at the end of it, but it was great fun to do that. But it was a hard slog, I'll tell you. I remember going out to the parking lot at 5 o'clock in the morning and jogging on the spot.
The IWK Telethon, like everything else, it evolved. It became different. Now, when we [the CBC] were still doing it, I had left; and the next year, I forget whether I was supposed to do it or not. I was retired then, anyway. I did it while I was retired, but the CBC technicians were threatening to strike. It was decided upstairs, and I think rightly so, that you can't have this thing all ready to go and then have them walk out. That's when CTV was called in. I give them full credit. They took that thing on with very little preparation time. I think it might have been a couple of weeks; that's all. I guess CBC management handed over whatever we had in the way of tapes at the hospital and all that. They did a very creditable job.
I wrote them a letter afterward, congratulating them. I was talking to the producer; I did a bit for this year's [telethon] too. She said, "I remember you wrote a letter after we did the first show. You were the only one at CBC who did that". [chuckles]
BB: My fiancee volunteered there for years. She said that when the CBC had it, it was a much more homey broadcast than when CTV [took it over]. A little slicker, perhaps. I'm not trying to be insulting.
DT: No, no. That's true. But everything does change. You cannot maintain a show on television that's going to be exactly like the first one, forever. They all change. Producers change. People change.
10. John Biggs had a question for you.
BB: John Biggs, who was a Halifax broadcaster, who lives in Ontario now...
DT: I know the name.
BB: OK. His parents and you went to the same church. St. Andrews Presbyterian Church or something in Dartmouth?
BB: You had told a story to someone in that church to the effect that (this is right after you got the job at Information Morning) you got up really early; you got up before the birds do and so forth. This woman says something to you. Do you remember that story?
DT: I think that's a take off on my grandmother. I used to get a little mileage out of this at one time. There were 4 of us who were asked by the then-boss of the region to go to lunch to celebrate 25 years with the CBC. We got all dressed up; there were 3 technicians and myself. We went down to the Nova Scotian hotel [today it's the Westin]. We were allowed one drink and the usual rubber chicken lunch. We were given a camera. The guy said, "Off you go, then. If anybody's got a shift, carry on back to the station". Well, I was off, because the morning was done. Here I was all divvied up in my blazer and so on. I thought, well, I'd go off and see my grandmother, who was in Fairview Villa. She had had a stroke, and she was practically blind, and she was 99 years old. She was still [competent] though, pretty much. She couldn't see very well, and she also slept late in the day. As a consequence, she never heard me on the air.
I said, "How are you?"
She said, "Oh, great. They tell me you work real early in the mornings."
I said, "Yes. "
"What time do you get up?"
"Half past four."
"How many years were you with the CBC?"
"25 years with the CBC? You're still getting up at half past four in the morning? You never made much of yourself, dear, did you?"
[Don and Bev laugh]
DT: I thought that was a great line.
BB: I love it. And that made an impression on John Biggs and his family.
DT: Apparently so! I must have told that story where he heard it.
BB: He specifically asked me to ask you the question. I just did, and it's funny!
11. Kevin Tillman had a question for you.
BB: My boss, who gets upset when I refer to him as "my boss" [even though he has a lot to say about what work I get, and what type, if any, promotions and pay increments I'll get], even though he can make my life difficult...
DT: [Chuckles] All bosses do.
BB: He asked me to ask you about the Jitney, the commuter rail service during rush hour in the 1950's and '60's. Apparently, you took it every day.
DT: No. I took the DAR for the early shift on CHNS. And I took the CN train that came in... I guess that was still the CHNS days. That was the one I took if it was on time, and mostly it was. That's the one I took for my 9 o'clock in the morning, my 9 to 5 job. You get to know all the commuters: All the folks from Bedford, Birch Cove and Prince's Lodge. It was kind of a jolly little crowd that came in on that thing. But as I say, because it got me right to the door, no matter what hour I took it (the DAR for the early and the CN Number Six or whatever it was), why not? But sometimes, if they were late, so was I. [chuckles]
BB: So, you never really used the Jitney, then?
DT: No. I remember it. It used to go to Waverley or Windsor Junction or something; but I don't think I ever [used it].
BB: Every once in a while, in downtown Halifax, the roads get chewed up enough that you can still see the old tracks. I'm not sure when it went out of service.
DT: Quite a long time ago.
BB: Quite a few years.
12. Wrap Up
BB: Don Tremaine, I appreciate your letting me visit you on such a beautiful day. I appreciate your time. It was lovely meeting you. I was very nervous about meeting you. I consider this a major "get" for me. I am just a guy with a blog who likes to type, and I like radio. I thank you very much for your time, sir. I thank you for letting me come to your home and meet your lovely wife.
DT: Well, you're very welcome, Bev. And thank you very much. Who cares about me? Thank you for thinking of me.
BB: I love to meet the old radio folks. Well, not just the old radio folks: All radio people, and hearing the old stories. Once again, thank you so much.