A bit of a pre-amble, one that is longer than normal, I'm afraid
This interview was conducted in two parts, in March and May of 2014. Frank Magazine ran about one third of it in 2015.
Don initially asked me not to run the interview, because the climate at the CBC had soon become such that hosts should be reporting the news, not making it. I have the FB message exchange on my Dropbox. I initially agreed not to run the interview, but in retrospect, and with the urging of my editor at Frank, as well as a good friend of Don's, I agreed to let Frank Magazine run the piece, as I came to perceive Don's request as inappropriate, and my agreement to withhold it a little too subservient. He should not have asked; I should not have agreed. After all, how many people have spoken to Don and come to regret it, and asked that the interview not be run, as the story in question had become a source of embarrassment? The deal with my editor has always been that after six month I can run the full, unexpurgated interview.
The six months was up a long time ago.
I had forgotten about the interview, to be honest. From time to time, I thought about dusting it off and running it here. Then, something would come up and I didn't get around to it. But now, with Don Connolly's imminent retirement from Information Morning, it seemed time to get around to running it, before it lost all relevancy.
The interview was conducted the better part of four years ago. Some things have become dated. Stan Carew is dead, and Bill Roach has competently taken his place at CBC's Weekend Mornings, although Louise Renault did one hell of a good job filling in for him this Winter. Stan's co-host Doug Barron is retired. Jian Ghomeshi's sexual assault allegations had not yet come to light. George Stroumboulopoulos had been named host to Hockey Night in Canada a few days earlier, but that did not last forever, and Ron MacLean is back where he belongs.
A note about the cussing. I was as surprised by Don's salty tongue as you will be. He was quite open about it. I heard him use the F word in the hallway recording a tease for the next day's Info Morning, after he flubbed a line. I have decided to leave all the cussing in place. If it bothers you, I'm sorry. I am just the guy who transcribed the 22 000 words you are about to read. I do not see it as my place to sanitize the content.
I don't know if I will ever run an interview on this blog again. This may be the last one, ever. Depends, I suppose, on who still wants to talk to me, and whether I want to talk to them, and how much time I have on my hands to transcribe a long-form interview like the one that follows. I don't see those cosmic tumblers lining up any time soon, if ever. Prove me wrong, won't you?
So, what are you waiting for? Take a couple of hours and read this "lost" Don Connolly interview!
Don Connolly Interview
March 11 and May 8, 2014
1. How did you get your start in radio? I know you worked at CHNS back in the day.
Don Connolly: Oh, before that. The week before Easter of 1972, Neil McMullin, whose name you might recognize...
Bevboy: I do.
DC: Ran Annapolis Valley Radio for a long time . He was General Manager in Bathurst. He called me up and said, “I need a guy to read the morning news at CKBC in Bathurst for a month.” I had been working at a paper. My background, such as it was, was in print. I said to Neil, “I hardly know where the radio station is.” He said, “I don’t care about that. I need a guy for a month.” He knew I had some news background. He had spoken to me, so I had a reasonable radio voice. I was making no money because I was unemployed. He said, “I’ll give you a hundred dollars a week to come work for me for a month.” He needed somebody right away. This was a Monday or a Tuesday of Easter week. Walt Forsey was leaving CKBC to go to work for the CBC in Moncton, which in the early 1970‘s is like winning a lottery. He would have doubled his salary. He would have gone to a union shop with all the benefits.
I went over on Good Friday, 1972 in the evening. Walt said, “Okay. This toggle switch starts that turntable. This one turns on the mic. This one turns on the cart player to play the commercials. Good luck, kid!”
BB: You produced your own show?
DC: I started that Monday morning and went into the little news room a third the size of this little studio. There were 4 teletypes. You’re way too young to remember teletypes. You basically watched for the Atlantic summary to come up and rip and read. You may make a few calls eventually. But, early in the morning the poor people of Bathurst would be getting no Bathurst news because there was no Bathurst news on the teletype. It would just be a summary of what went on in Atlantic Canada, some of whatever the headlines were for across the country and around the world, and a little weather forecast from Environment Canada and Bob’s your uncle. I did that for a month. And, interestingly enough, for your interest in particular, in those days, Don Mabee was the morning man. He was a broadcaster way better than everybody else in the building. He had no business being in Bathurst at that stage in the game. He knew what he was doing.
He and I got to spend some time with each other that month. He realized that I had a significant interest in music and a fairly good record collection. He went to Neil and said, “You should hire him to be a rock jock.” Which I did for almost a year for the rest of the 11 months I was there. 7-midnight. That kind of thing.
Then, Alex J. Walling showed up in the first couple months I was in Bathurst. He was there only, I’d say, six months. He went to CHNS. When he got to CHNS, he told Hal Blackadar and Gerry Kendrick, “There’s a guy doing mornings in Bathurst who could be doing mornings here”, better than who they had. AJ was on Tobin Street. Then, Don came down. And, in rapid succession, I came down. Dave Melanson came down. There were five of us from CKBC within about six months on Tobin Street.
Patricia: So, you had to supply your own records?
DC: No. I could have brought some in if I had wanted to. And, I did bring some of my own records in. The deal was, and I look at this with some regret, I remember saying to Neil, “Look: If you look it up in Billboard 1972 greatest hits list, there was a lot of the Jackson Family. It was not a great time for rock n’roll on radio. I said to Neil, “I don’t want to spend 5 hours sitting around playing that.” Neil, God bless his heart, said, “Frankly, as long as the commercials run on schedule, I don’t much care what you play.”
I think I played a lot more of my record collection, things I was interested in. It was self-indulgent and not very professional, looking back at it, but I think the kids in Bathurst got a better music education than they would have if they had got the straight play list.
BB: So, back then you could do that? Today, playlists are so regimented.
DC: Bev, it’s such a different world. How many radio stations anywhere in Atlantic Canada have a live body doing the music from 7 o’clock until 1 o’clock in the morning? Are there any?
BB: If we’re talking commercial stations, I’d guess not. The closest thing I can think of is CKDU, maybe.
DC: Oh, yes. And, I doubt that. I would think that most of that would be blocked in, too. But, it’s hard even to compare the two.
BB: Okay. You were at CKBC. And then you moved to CHNS. That would have been... 1973?
DC: Yes. It would have been ‘72 into ‘73. For most of that time, I did the 4-12 news shift. It was in part reading newscasts, but also preparing stuff for the mornings. In those days, there were real newsrooms. Knowing I was going to talk to you, I tried to count them up. Clive Schaefer was in the newsroom. Edmund Morris. Clive was the conservative spokesman; Mr. Morris was more the liberal. There would have been a News Director. There would have been reporters. There were probably a dozen people in CHNS and CJ.
BB: And people actually hitting the streets and covering stories.
DC: Going to city council. Going down to Province House. But, mostly I was in the room. And, the last month or so I ended up working in the morning backing up George Jordan, who was the primary reader in the morning. But, I was only there a year before I went to Ottawa. It was an interesting year. It was a considerable step up in terms of learning some of the things you had to learn. Because in Bathurst, you learn on your own. Don Mabee was a big help in some way; but largely you’re there in the evening by yourself and figure it out.
BB: Was there a jock there playing music when you were doing the news?
DC: AT CHNS, Al Sheppard was the guy doing most of that.
BB: Okay. That’s 1973-ish. Then, something happened and you went to Ottawa.
DC: I was almost exactly a year in Bathurst. I was almost exactly a year [at CHNS]. I had a friend, Jim Munson, who got his first job at CJLS in Yarmouth, had gone on and was working for CFGO in Ottawa. It was a [full-fledged] Rock station. He said there was a job up there. They had a program called “Canada Now”, which ran on Sunday mornings. It was a CRTC obligation. Rock and Roll stations hated news of any kind because it ate into the time when you played the hits.
BB: They had spoken word requirements back then on FM stations.
DC: Exactly. So, Sunday morning from 10-12, and repeated over night from 2-4 or something like that. The first hour would be a magazine. Anything you wanted as long as you didn’t spend any money or get sued. So, basically, long distance interviews. I did a Charlie Manson special. This whole raft of books came out, starting with “Helter Skelter” by Bugliosi. I interviewed him long distance. The book “The Family” by one of the members of the Fugs. You’d assemble that over time.
In the second half, there would be a news review, so you would take clips from the newscasts of the week and you’d cobble that together. But the reason Jim thought it would be a good fit for me was that a significant part of the job was interviewing. He knew that although I hadn’t been doing any, I had a broad knowledge and I was the kind of guy he thought might be a good fit for me. It was. It was an important and very lucky transition for me.
BB: And you were there about a year?
DC: Two years in Ottawa.
BB: And this takes us to 1976.
DC: Yes. I made like a bunny rabbit most Easters. These changes were all in the Spring.
BB: Okay. 1976 was the year you joined the CBC. How did that come about?
DC: I was a Bathurst boy. Went to school in Antigonish. I’d never lived in anything like a big town. I got to Ottawa. I come from a political family, with a great interest in politics. So, the first year in Ottawa, I couldn’t have been happier. But, by well into the second year, I was very unhappy in Ottawa. I found it a soulless place. It was not a place I liked personally. Professionally, it provided all kinds of opportunity. But, by the end of the day I’m going, “I don’t like this”.
So, starting maybe 18 months after I’d arrived, I started to look around for work. I called people I knew here because of having worked here. I was looking to get out of Ottawa, not necessarily to get here. I got one job offer to be the first News Director at CIGO in Port Hawkesbury from Mr. Doucette, when he was setting it up. I did a little interview with somebody at CKDU; they were looking for a manager, but it was a part-time job. That was not realistic.
There was nothing in the wind. Then, as fate would have it, A.J. Walling comes into the picture. Twice, I owe him. A.J. called me up because I had talked to him. He said, “You know, a guy name of Russ Kelly is leaving a show in Halifax called Information Morning. He is the journalist on the show.” Tremaine was the host. Gerry did the sports. Doug Arnold read the news. Reed Dexter did the weather. This guy was essentially the interviewer. He said, “You should call him up.”
So, I did. But by then I had also gone to Toronto and did an audition for the legendary Dick Smythe at CHUM. We went out to dinner. He took me back and showed me the shop. Within 48 hours, Dick Smythe called me up and said, “You can have over nights here at CHUM.”
I had applied down here for quite a while; they didn’t get around to my tape. A producer who will remain nameless didn’t know what to do with it (it was a big 16 inch tape). They tried a whole bunch of people. They were short a position on the show for several months. Tremaine was getting very impatient with it because he was having to fill in, essentially do two jobs. He put the pressure on the executive producer. The executive producer asked the producer of Information Morning, “How about the guy who called you from Ottawa?” He said, “Well, I don’t know what to do with the tape.” The two of them listened to the tape and called me right away.
The only time I can really remember professionally where you really knew you were standing at a crossroads. You look back and say, “Geez, I had a choice there and I made the right or wrong decision.” But this was a case literally when I was sitting in my apartment in Ottawa and said, “If what you’re mostly focused on here is ‘Get Rich and Famous’, then it’s a no-brainer. Call Dick Smythe and say, ‘I’ll be there Friday night’. But, being a native Maritimer, having most of my friends here, my decision to come here to this job had a lot more to do with coming to Halifax than it did with the job. At this stage of the game, by the way, unlike almost everybody that you’ve talked to, I’m not a radio brat. Think about this, and it sounds elitist but it’s to understand where I’m coming from. When I first went into radio, I didn’t know anybody with a degree. There were people who started to listen to the radio when they were 2, like Frank Cameron. They got their first job when they were 9 cleaning out waste bins. There were people who wanted to do that. Overwhelmingly, that’s who was there.
In my case, I took the job in Bathurst. I took the job at CHNS because Halifax was better than living in Bathurst. But I was back here for several years, and I still had the possibility of doing what my father thought I should have done in the first instance, which was go to law school and take over the family business. I was in my early 30‘s before I said, “Well, maybe I can do this.” Not “could” do this in the sense of I was capable of it, but do I want to do it?
BB: This was the early ‘80‘s.
DC: Yes. Because I had other options. I thought about the same amount of being a radio guy when I was 25 as I did about being an astronaut. It just wasn’t on the horizon. I couldn’t have cared less.
I remember my friend Jimmy Munson. We were dating sisters. I’m thinking to myself, “What a silly way to make a living!” He was working the Afternoon shift and making chatty patter.
BB: Who wants to do that when you’re 50?
DC: You could write the book on that one. How many guys got themselves in that trap? An overwhelming majority of guys you’ve probably spoken to.
Oddly enough, the job I got at CHNS was the one Russ Kelly vacated to go to the CBC. I never met him there. And he was gone by the time I got here. I have met Russ subsequently, but I never worked one minute with him.
BB: Okay. It was 1976 when you joined the CBC. It was immediately at Information Morning. Have you done anything else? I know you did “Atlantic Airwaves” for a while.
DC: But those have all been add ons. I have only had one full-time job here, and this is it. It’s morphed in the sense that I was Don’s wing man for 11 years. That’s changed. But I’ve really only worked the one show.
BB: I remember that the first hour of Info Morning, from 6-7, it would be Don Tremaine and Gerry Fogarty...
DC: And Reed Dexter.
BB: And Reed Dexter. Or Ron Hill.
DC: And Doug Arnold before Ron.
BB: It would be these guys doing the show together. There was a lot of chat between the two of them, and you would show up at 7 o’clock. I wonder what was the thinking behind your not being on for the first hour?
DC: That’s an interesting question. I remember coming down for the job interview. They said, “Listen to the first hour at home and then come in and watch the show from 7-9, and we’ll show you around.” I got up. I was staying with my friend Robin. I listened to the first hour. It was four guys sitting around shooting the breeze. There was no structure. They used to do “This Day in History” for 15 minutes. Wow. I’m working a Top 40 station where everything is rapid fire. This went on and on and on and on.
These were smart, articulate guys. It wasn’t nonsense. But in terms of turning over ideas and moving the pace along, the thinking largely was in those days was between 6 and 7o’clock, if people are listening, they’re listening in bed. Who the hell is up at that hour anyway?
So, the people who were producing the program said, “Okay. We’re going to spend our resources in terms of lining up interviews when we think people are up, primarily from 7-9 and to some extent, 8-9 as well. So, you boys go play in your little one hour playroom, and from 7-9 o’clock, we’ll program the program.” The thinking was: I was the interviewer. They don’t need me in there between 6 and 7 o’clock. And they want me to be available until 2 to do tapings in other time zones and things like that. So, to have me here for the extra hour it suited two purposes: A), I was superfluous to their needs in the first hour; and B) it was useful to have me around the office for producing items during the course of the day.
We took a long, long time. Ian Porter was the producer of the show twice. We had begun to move it back a little bit more. We sat down at one point. He was going, “More and more, there are people driving in from Bridgewater, driving down from Truro, driving in along the Eastern Shore. You look at the traffic patterns. There are a lot more people in a lot more cars. We’ve got to up our game.”
If you looked at a graph from the old days, we started at six and were on until nine. Primetime was from 7-8. The prime number one slot was 7:50. It still is. But, now the difference is [the graph] is much flatter. There are more good spots than there used to be when the pyramid was deeper.
BB: I found it’s after 6:30 when you guys really start doing the news pieces.
DC: Cranking it up. One of the great happy accidents was when low power repeaters began to come on in the very early ‘80‘s. Mr. Mulroney arrives. All of a sudden, there are, like mushrooms, low power repeaters popping up. And we are moving from AM to FM, although we were allowed two extra years of doing both.
In the olden days, when I joined Information Morning, it was Halifax and Dartmouth.
BB: I remember that. For whatever reason, Annapolis Valley Radio had a relationship with the CBC.
DC: They were called an affiliate. CKBC did the same thing in Bathurst. But all of a sudden the low power repeaters were up there. But, instead of having more people to cover what’s going on across the province, we have fewer and fewer. We have this awful problem of saying, “This is Information Morning serving mainland Nova Scotia.” We do no such thing, and we didn’t pretend otherwise.
Ann Graham-Walker was a woman who worked for the show in Sydney. She came in one day and said, “You know what we have in Sydney? We have something we call Party Liners”. She explained what they were. It was like Boing! Instant good idea. It’s not enough, but it not only gives you voices [from other parts of the mainland], but they’re also contacts then. They will call you up to say, “This is coming up. This school is burning down.” It is nowhere near enough, but it’s a helluva a lot better than what we had.
That was right off the top, right after the news at 6. Usually there is a little bit of tape. But, from 6:30 to 8 o’clock, it is [harder news].
BB: And, certainly with the Party Liners...
DC: Community Contacts.
BB: I’m sorry.
DC: They’re still Party Liners to me, too.
BB: You changed the name because nobody knew what the hell a party liner was anymore, I’m guessing.
DC: That’s exactly what happened.
BB: And I’m also guessing that the Community Contacts is pretty inexpensive programming. It is a long distance phone call to these people.
DC: That’s right.
2. What is the best piece of professional advice or criticism you have ever received, and who provided it?
DC: It’s an odd answer to give you in a sense. I can remember the worst piece of advice I got on the very first day in radio. When I read the first newscast at CKBC, nobody had shown me [how to do it].
BB: Rip and read?
DC: It’s like, “Here.” The person in charge of the radio station, who will remain nameless, said, “What you’ve got to do, when you get in the booth, is put a smile on your face. Keep the smile on your face the whole time you’re reading the newscast.” I’m going like, “The second story I’ve got here is ‘Ten American soldiers and Twenty-Five South Vietnamese people were killed in an ambush on the South of Siagon yesterday.’ I don’t see how that’s going to work for me.”
But, I think more of it was by osmosis. I can’t think of somebody saying something to me which made a light come on. That’s one way of putting it. More significant than that is, I arrived here. Again, I wasn’t really committed to doing this for a living in any way, shape, or form.
There’s a famous story that Tremaine told, and maybe he told you. When I came down for this job interview I mentioned, I came in at 7 o’clock, having heard the first hour. Old Studio A is right through that wall. I’m in the control room. Trigger comes in. He’s introduced. That’s about it. He’s not given me much time or day. Now, bearing in mind that I look like I belonged to the Grateful Dead, and Tremaine is ex-RCMP. He just assumes that this is going to be a no-go. So, he was cool to say the very least. He was cool to the idea that I got the job. I’m not a stupid person, so I knew when I was introduced to Don that he didn’t like the cut of my jib. I knew if I took this job that one of the things I would have to do is assure him that I am not Charley Manson. In fact, I’m one of the good guys with long hair.
My job was: he would read the introduction. I would do the interviews. So, first six weeks, he’d read the introducton, I’d do the interviews. I would speak when spoken to. I’m an adult. I’m 28 or 29; whatever I was. I’d been in the business for a while. I knew my way around. But after six or seven week, Trigger said to me after the show, “Do you have a minute?” I said yes. “Okay. This could work with you and I.” He could tell I was respectful of him and the other guys on the show, all of whom were my father’s age. I was respectful of what they did, respectful of their talent and what they were doing. And, he knew I was serious about what I was doing, too, in a sense. I’m not serious about myself, but about what what job was. Very quickly after that, I don’t think Don would object to my characterizing him as my friend, but there was a paternal quality to my relationship with Don Tremaine. The debt that I own to Don is not because he sat me down and said, “This is what you you should do and this is what you shouldn’t do.”, even though there were occasions when he would correct me and say, “Look, you did something today that you might want to think about.”
But, it was much more a case of what you learned from Don Tremaine by paying attention to what he did, because as far as I am concerned, in my limited experience, he’s the best broadcaster of his generation, in Atlantic Canada. You look at his career in radio and television; I don’t think there’s much of a contest there. I think there are other names you could mention, but not with his breadth, I don’t think. I’ve often said about the 11 years we worked here, I learned a ton in the first year. But I was still paying attention to Don Tremaine in 1988, the last year we worked together.
DC: ‘87. You’re right. The last year we worked together, I’m still paying attention. When somebody died, I needed a little obituary. How in passing do you mention that someone not famous necessarily, but someone who had some contact, how do you handle that kind of stuff? How do you envision who’s listening? Those things are hard to quantify and hard to break down. I didn’t so much have a conversation with Don Tremaine where he told me two things about radio, or two things about television, which I then wrote down and tried to practice. It was much more a case of: I knew who he was. I knew what his background was. And if you sit in the studio for a couple of days, you’d say, “He’s really good at this. I might as well be better at it, and one way to get better is to do what he’s doing.”
BB: Okay. That’s how you handled when Clive Schaefer died, and when Jane Purves died, and other people who passed who had been an influence or people you knew in a certain context. When you talk about Clive Schaefer, when you talk about Jane Purves, are you thinking about what Don Tremaine told you?
DC: Not what he told me: what he would have done. But that kind of thing, yes.
BB: Okay. So, Don Tremaine has been a seminal influence on you.
BB: Anybody else? You mentioned Dick Smythe and Neil McMullen and Walt Forsey and Don Mabee and other folks. Is there anybody who taught you how to be a good rock jock, back in the day?
DC: I wasn’t a very good rock jock. [laughs] I wasn’t. Not to disparage Don Mabee, because it was a very different relationship: much shorter and much less contact and no real working together. I was immediately exposed to Don Mabee in Bathurst. I said, “This is the kind of guy who does know what he is doing.” He was exponentially more advanced than the other guys who were working there. He had a lovely manner. And he was natural, like good broadcasters are, generally speaking. You can fool people for a certain period of time, but if you make up a personality and you’re doing 3 or 4 hours a day, people are going to catch on to you. Don was always very natural. I identified in Don Mabee a level of professionalism that I respected immediately.
The Ottawa was a very interesting experience in that, in those days CFGO was owned by Baton Broadcasting, which owned The Big Eight. What they did was take a bunch of younger, middle of the road guys from Windsor, Ontario for what was the fourth biggest station in North America. It was a powerhouse.
They said, “We’re going to prepare you to serve in the Big Eight by putting you in charge: News Director, PD, maybe of one or two of the guys on the air. Steve Mabee was the News Director...
BB: “Mabee in the Morning”.
DC: “Mabee in the Morning.” Steve might have been 30, but I don’t think so. The average age would be 25 or 26. And that included people covering the hill. Literally, the first operations studio, you look out the window, Center Block was right there. You had a sense of incredible energy. Really quite professional, and I think that Steve had quite a bit to do with that. He was an old soul: he was young, but he wasn’t doing what some of the rest of us were doing in the back. He was living a different kind of life. They were really young people, but they were part of that same culture that we discussed earlier. They were overwhelmingly guys who, shortly after they were weaned off their mama, were thinking radio. To run into somebody like me, who just happened to be there on the way to God knows where... there weren’t many of me around. Their thinking is, “This is all well and good, but the first stop is Toronto at CHUM; and the next stop [after that] is the Big Eight.” I don’t know what they were making. The morning jock was probably making 25, and that would be a big deal. You go to CHUM, you’re hiking that up. You get to the Big Eight, you’re making LA and New York money. So, that’s where those guys are going, as opposed to guys like me, just scratching my arse.
3. The “Megan Edwards” question. You lose your iPod. I find it. What songs on it would surprise me the most?
DC: I like to think I have pretty catholic tastes. Small “c”. Actually I do have Catholic tastes. At the right time of year, at Easter and Christmas, I like Gregorian chant. I wouldn’t necessarily have that on my iPod. But, I do have some on cd’s in my kitchen as we speak.
I can give you two kinds of answers. The guilty answer? I once got caught in the alleyway out here. Do you remember Old Dan’s Records? It was around the corner. There’s an optometrist there now. Under the sandwich shop across from Pete’s. A little, tiny spot. Anyway, we used to go over there a couple of times a week to see if they had anything. All used records. I remember coming back. I ran into Rod Stedden, who used to work here. I had a couple of albums. “What did you get today?” I said, “I want to show you this.” I had a couple Grace Jones records. He said, “It’s okay. I have ABBA at home.” I don’t have any ABBA, but I still think I have those Grace Jones albums.
Because you tipped me off to this in a way, [Bevboy note: I always supply the questions in advance for my interviews] I was trying to think of what I have been listening to. In my case, I’m your standard brand guy. I have my era: Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, The Beatles, the Stones. Pretty much what you’d expect.
But, if I were loading music which would reflect what I’ve been listening to for the last couple of years, a lot of World music. Césaria Évora The Cape Verde singer, who sings in French and Portugese. No idea what she’s saying. But every time I hear the songs, they’re all about me, and she’s in love with me. Honest to God. I say to the kids, “Turn it up. It’s all about how much she loves me.”
A lot of French cafe music. I always feel I should admit that I’m not a big fan of Paul Simon the person. But if I had to say, in all honestly, I have played “Graceland” more than any other one bit of music since it came out, which was around the time Katherine was born, so that’s almost 30 years ago now. And, “Rhythm of Saints” is not far behind it. I think, particularly in the first case, as much by accident as by intent, it turned out to be what I think is one of the genuine masterpieces of modern popular music.
So, that would be loaded on it for sure. It probably wouldn’t surprise you. I don’t know if you’d be surprised or not, but Pavarotti.
P: I’m a Mario Lanza gal.
DC: I can understand that. My first exposure to that kind of music was Mario Lanza on my parents’ [stereo]. Absolutely.
P: He was my dad’s favourite.
BB: He was never trained, was he?
P: He was not a trained Classical singer.
BB: Okay. When you talk to a David Myles, when you spoke to Classified, do you prepare yourself for those interviews by listening to some of the music?
DC: Yes. As I say, the other component of that part of the question is: my children are now 22, 24, 26, and 28. I was 37, 39, 41 and 43 when my children were born.
I always had music in the kitchen. Being a Maritimer, you have to have a party in the kitchen. By the time Molly, the second child, was born, I was largely the cook in the house. Or, as Molly herself would refer to it, “The Kitchen Bitch”. It is not very respectful, but is a not entirely inaccurate description of my role in the family.
So, the kids were exposed to a lot of music through me. Both of you would know this, but the reality is that one of the great and wonderful things is that all of my kids, including the youngest, actually had a Walkman, but with cassettes. Then, it wasn’t too long before the Discman comes along. Then, you could go to your mother’s computer and burn your own music. I remember Joel unplugging his headset one day, ten years ago, going, “What’s this? Who’s this?” I said, “It’s Johnny Cash.” He said, “Well, how do you know that?” I don’t have any Country music in my own collection. I said, “It’s Johnny Cash. Hello!”
I first heard Kathleen play Classified, I’m sure his first record. One of the things Maureen and I might have done right is now they plug into my system with a phone. Music is on the phone. They don’t have separate devices. It’s not uncommon, if the kids are playing board games or 45‘s in my kitchen, that every once in a while you’ll hear a little bit of Classical music: a little piano piece, or a little bit of something.
Across the board, I’ve been introduced to music that if I had had my children when normal people have their children, or if I didn’t have children, I’d be stuck on the two Bob’s, and you have to have Leonard Cohen. But, the exposure to the local music scene and what’s going on, is strictly a function of what’s brought into the house by my kids.
BB: Well, when you were the host of Atlantic Airwaves back in the day...
DC: A lot of the local stuff.
BB: Yes. There have been a lot of hosts over the years. It’s almost like a hot potato that gets passed around from one person to another. No offense.
DC: None taken. The question is, “Who’s producing it?” If you see a lot of hosts move through, it probably says more about the producers than it does about the hosts.
4. People think I’m weird because of my memory. Here is an example. In late 1987, you were interviewing a fellow named Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw Magazine. He became belligerent and referred to Canadians as “Iranian Serfs”, at which time you hung up on him. Do you have any recollections of that event?
DC: I vaguely recollect it only because I cannot for the life of me think of what we were talking to Al Goldstein about. Unless he was here as a guest, speaking at one of the universities.
BB: Yes. He did a lot of that.
DC: That’s what I thought. I was familiar with him because of the magazine. It was a counterculture magazine. Mostly counter, not so much cultural.
BB: Unavailable in Canada for some reason. It must have been so...
DC: Oh, it was pretty lurid. I do vaguely remember that. We have quite a polite radio program. In this case you had to [draws forefinger across his neck and makes cutting sound.]
BB: Would it have been a live interview that day? If it had been a taped interview, you could just have spiked it.
DC: I think there would have been people who would have taken advantage. Even if we had taped it, we could have put it on and pretended it was live. We don’t do that at all.
BB: Oh, really?
DC: We tape a lot of stuff. Let’s say they tape a little interview with me or somebody else. Then, they will either cut the first question off and go right into the first answer. I say no. A lot of people have the impression that you’re talking to people in the morning. Don’t tell them you recorded it. Don’t tell them you didn’t. Just let them make up their own mind about that. But, also don’t write your introduction to imply that Bev is on the line when in fact he was on the line two days ago. You don’t lie about it. But there is no requirement, morally or professionally, to suggest that this is 24 hours old. Unless it’s germaine.
BB: Well, you talked to Stephen McNeil the morning of the layoffs at Michelin. There was no way he could have.
BB: So, there was no way he could have known about it. Therefore, he couldn’t talk about it.
DC: Because we had taped it on Thursday morning. The announcement came when I was having my nap. My producer called up and said, “This is going to sound awfully weird." I said, “It’s very simple. Transparency is the key here.” We say, “We did this yesterday because you have 3 people talking about something as vague as what they were talking about.” [makes snoring sound]
BB: It wasn’t the most exciting interview.
DC: No kidding. But you just say to people, “This is something that you knew you couldn’t possibly do live. You needed more time than you hope you could get something out of it. You just tell people you taped it yesterday. It’s too bad we didn’t have an opportunity to ask them about this.”
BB: C’est la vie. Nothing you can do about it. Do you recall any other time when you hung up on someone? You’re very cordial with people. [Al Goldstein] must have really pushed your buttons that day.
DC: Yes. He was an American pornographer. His take on things would be to do things to stir it up.
Not on the air that I can think of. We have cut interviews short because of whatever reason. But, not like that. I did hang up the phone one time. If you remember, when Donny Cameron was the Premier of the province briefly, and he rolled back ...
P: Hold on. Hold on. [Sighs]
BB: She’s from Pictou County.
DC: I thought as a person who grew up in a very political family, and who is now 66 years of age, the most graceless political act I’ve seen in my entire life was his reaction to having lost the election back then. [Bevboy note: Cameron gave his concession speech, during which he resigned as leader of the Progressive Conservative party]
He rolled everybody back then 3%, including the teachers. It ended up one of the really interesting little arc of stories was that nobody liked the idea that you broke a contract. We had a deal, and you are arbitrarily going to roll it back out. Nobody likes that as a matter of principle. That’s not a good thing to do.
What it tapped was this incredible vein of anti-teacher sentiment. It was like, “We don’t want the Department of Highways guys [affected by this]. But, the teachers. Fuck the teachers.” The reaction of them being rolled back was, “They only work 9 months of the year.” It was like, “Too bad about them.”
It ended up generating over the course of several days, quite a few stories, which teachers didn’t like. But it wasn’t like we were making up the stories. This was the public reaction. These were the calls we were getting. We were not saying, “Call us with your anti-teacher story.” This was just this wave of phone calls and letters.
So, the phone rang at my desk one morning. It was a young woman. She said, “The Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union [wants to talk to you]”. By this time he’s sputtering. He’s not pissed off. He’s like a mile and a half North of pissed off. And he says, “I used to work in your business. I know what you’re doing. You are targeting and scapegoating the teachers of this province.”
I say, “What are you talking about? Why would I be doing that?”
He said, “Well, it would lead a reasonable person to assume that maybe you’re getting some contract work for the province.”
BB: What the hell?
DC: I said, “Excuse me? Did you just suggest that I was attempting to effect the editorial position of this program for money?” He said, “A reasonable person might assume so.”
I’m standing up by this time. I lean back as far as I can. And I [slam the phone down]. Susan Mitten was then the Executive Director; Rick was the Director of radio. I said, “Boys, call the lawyers.” They both talked to buddy boy. There were apologies back and forth. My attitude was, “In this line of work, what do you have if you don’t have your credibility?”
BB: Not much.
DC: You have dick in this line of work. If people think you’re doing that, if you get some asshole like him running around saying that kind of thing about you, even if only 1 in 20 people he talks to believes him, then they will go, “Hm. Who’s his friend?” [To Patricia] Like you and Donny Cameron. I still get a little verklempt when I think about that incident.
BB: You mentioned Don Cameron was graceless. I remember the night of the  election that he immediately resigned.
DC: Took his marbles. Went home.
BB: Yes. But that’s what a lot of people do. Rodney MacDonald did that. John Savage was hounded from office.
DC: But if you watched it. You can probably find it in the CBC archives. A man standing up in front of his own home people who had voted for him. He didn’t lose the election. He got a strong majority that supported in Pictou County through all of his political career. The thing you do that night? You stand up there and thank the people who voted for you, this time and all the other times that you ran, who continue to support you and to think that you’re a good guy, and supported your previous campaign against political influence peddling. All the good things you stood for. You thank them profusely. You say you’ll go home with your bride and think about your future. Then, you come out two days later and say, “I think the best thing for the people of the province, for the people of Pictou County, is to get somebody else. I’m going to move along.” Not basically to say, “I’m so pissed off at not being the Premier that I’m fucking off.” I thought it was the most graceless thing I’ve ever seen.
P: And a lot of people in Pictou County were really pissed off about that.
DC: I wonder why.
P: They were really pissed because, it used to be PC [Bevboy note: the Progressive Conservative party for my non-Canadian readers]. Charlie Parker went NDP. There’s a story there. You couldn’t cross the street without anyone saying, “Donny Cameron. He’s the next Christ.”
DC: Yes. Peter MacKay is currently wearing that crown of thorns. They treat him like a rock star down there, don’t they? I’ve seen him in action in Pictou County. Just like Justin Bieber.
BB: Pretty much. But to this day, people don’t want to hear Donnie Cameron’s name?
P: No. No!
BB: They felt that betrayed?
P: They felt that betrayed.
DC: I remember sitting in that room over there and going, “I just don’t believe it.”
P: Honey, he took his marbles and he went home. Took his sizeable pension. Now, I think he’s down in Florida or something?
DC: I have no idea. I haven’t seen him since that night.
5. Can you give me an idea of how drastic the cuts to CBC radio have been over the years? How many people worked on Information Morning twenty years ago? Ten? And now?
DC: Let’s call it ten, if you include Louise and myself.
BB: Of course.
DC: We’ll take [John] Hancock. He serves about ten stations. And then you have a director, Eileen McGinnis. And Pierre. That’s five. Then you have a producer and essentially three Associate Producers.
It comes and goes. During an election you sometimes add a body. The difference being in the olden days, there were five people on the air. But if you look at the number of people who actually produce the program, that’s pretty standard, give or take a body.
Now, there have been periods of time when the cuts were the deepest. The period just before Swiss Air ... the expression I used in those days was, “I’m not sure we have enough money to cover the bed.” You could get by by doing the show. Tape some stuff. Put some stuff on the air you’d just as soon not. We did repeats. Our thinking was, “Nobody will listen for all three hours. Something we might have put on late on Tuesday, you might replay at 6:10 the following morning.
BB: That happens now, with the news.
DC: Yes, but we don’t do that any more. You do those kinds of things. You have to cut corners and that sort of thing. So, Swiss Air? What year?
DC: Around this time there was a process. I think it was called “Creative Renewal”. If you’re working for a big company, there are national strategies, regional strategies, local strategies, program strategies. How do you manage in that kind of thicket?
This was before they moved all of the reporters over to Bell Road, to the news building. Stuart Young was the Producer of Information Morning. I forget who was running Maritime Noon or the afternoon show. Everybody else: all the reporters, all the editors, all the associate producers of programming, went into the pool. Then, the producers would beg, steal, or borrow from the pool. A person who was in charge here whom I very much like and respect and who did a lot of good here, so she will remain nameless, basically said, “It’s been decided at a national level that there will never be any show culture again. That’s an out-dated idea. It will always be pools, and you will negotiate within that larger group to get items.”
It’s a bit like King Canute [Bevboy note: that name can also be spelled “Cnut"] and the tides. “The tide is never coming in again because I don’t want it to come in.” You can’t do daily shows without a program culture. You can’t do it unless you have a group of people whose job it is to produce that program.
BB: No continuity, if nothing else.
DC: That’s it. And knowing what works on this show and what works at 7:50, and at other times. You can say it all you want. It ain’t true. But, there was a horrible period -- it seemed to be 18 months to 2 years -- when we were pretty lean. That is sometimes a function of numbers, a function of who you have around. You have some people around who are older and less interested and waiting to leave. One of the real things we’ve struggled with here is that there are way fewer people who work for the CBC now than used to work for the CBC. I am, if you want, part of the problem: I refuse to go. There’s somebody not getting hired because I’m not going. I would feel differently about leaving my job if I could identify somebody who’s younger than I am by 20 years who’d be really good at this, and I was holding them back. There are people who are perfectly capable of doing my job, and there’s all kinds of people, some of whom are capable of doing it, and some of whom are not, who think that [they can].
One of my favourite stories, and it goes back to Tremaine in a way, the last year he was here back in ‘87, we were over in old Studio A. The last guest of the day, who was live, was a woman involved in costuming, in movies or stage, in Bear River. We were doing the interview. We finished up. It was 3 minutes until 9. She sat where she was. She was quite an attractive woman, so I was hoping it was me it was all about, but it wasn’t.
P: Oh, the male ego!
DC: I am kidding. I was married by this stage of the game. Anyway, she says to me, “I hear you’re retiring.” It was out there; she wasn’t outing me in any way. I said, “Yeah, I’ll be going in a couple of months.” She said, “Will that job be advertised outside the company, or will that be an internal hire?” I said to myself, “This woman has no more experience in radio than this pen does. She thinks this may be a job she was interested in.” This always spoke to me to the degree to which, as Don and I used to say, “Anybody can do it. It’s just talking.” To make it sound like there’s no skill or ability involved. You just show up and shoot your face off a couple of hours. That’s what that woman heard from Don Tremaine: that some how or other, that instead of being a costumer she could come in and take over, not from some bonehead, but from “Trigger” Tremaine. But I think that spoke to his ability to make it seem so easy.
BB: But, there are people who do fall into radio. Rich Terfry is a lovely man, I’m sure. But, what broadcast experience did he have before he got the Afternoon Drive show on Radio Two?
DC: But, Rich Terfry is a real smart guy. But, is he a particularly good broadcaster?
BB: I don’t know. What do you think?
DC: I don’t hear enough of it to know. He was hired, to some extent, because of a remarkable musical knowledge. And, I think he brings some star power. I think that Ghomeshi might be a better example. It’s a matter of taste. You like him, or you don’t like him. But, there’s no question the CBC got what they wanted. They wanted a guy who could develop that persona, which you like or don’t like. It’s like the decision to hire the new host of Hockey Night in Canada. Last night, in my hockey dressing room, the average age is probably 50-ish. People didn’t hate [the decision]. But, I think the Rogers people believe what they articulate: that they have to grow the potential audience. To do that, you don’t need more Don and more Ron. We’ll see how that works.
BB: It seemed like an odd choice to me.
DC: It’s an interesting thing you say in a way. During the recent Winter Olympics, there was a woman... Kelly something. She was on with Vancouverdon in the evening. They did a back-and-forth thing. She is a downhill skier.
BB: I will look it up. [Bevboy note: It is Kelly Vanderbeek]
DC: She reminded me of only one other person and that is JD Roberts when he was first on Much Music. [Bevboy note: He now goes by John Roberts and works for Fox News] I just couldn’t believe, at his age, he had that level of natural comfort. She was the same way on television. I hope that somebody in the television world has got their television set on, because that woman is not full of shit, not full of herself. She was naturally enthusiastic and relaxed and herself in front of the camera. That’s a gift.
I don’t know if they’re comparable situations in radio, because TV is such a controlled thing. “I’m going to put you on for 5 minutes. We’ll talk about this.” But, you don’t have to do any driving with a train. You could put somebody on the radio to do my job tomorrow, if my job was just interviewing, maybe. But then, how do you do the other things you have to do? The changeovers and the mechanics and switches all that other stuff? You have to learn that. I don’t think you automatically intuit it. If you’re looking down the road and you realize you’re going to be doing from whatever it is you’re doing now, that at 7:50 you’ll discuss that murder on South Street. The only thing between where you are now and that is Hancock, so you say, “Okay, look. You can go to Hancock any way you want, but you have to tell John in advance that we’re coming out of you and we’re going to that, so we’ll have to tail off here.” You don’t have to tell John that any more. You get something flat and smooth, not some little anecdote, not a little kicker. You do something nice and flat to get into that. You put a little weather or something in there. It ain’t rocket science. You can teach your dog to do it. But, you’re not born knowing that, like anything else.
BB: Okay. So, 10 people do Info Morning now. Ish?
DC: Except for those little weird anomalies. I don’t think we’ve ever got much higher than that, or much lower. As I said, there are those weird little spots where, if I look over 36 years, that’s kind of the average. And we always feel the same: we’re like 2 short of what we should have. What we don’t have the capacity to do now is that because the reporters are over there and they’re more the creatures of the news operation, we don’t get as many people on the street bringing back tape. We’ve compensated to some extent for it: It’s not at all uncommon for Phliss to go out and get something for our people who would traditionally have been lining up items on the phone for me to interview on the phone and writing up the scripts for me to go do something. You get those outside voices in using a different vehicle than we would have when we had more people available to us. But, I think if you think of straight staff, that’s got to be pretty standard.
BB: I didn’t realize it had always been about 10 people.
6. Please say something about the following people:
A. Don Tremaine
DC: I’d only add to what I said about Trigger, in the sense that I like to think of him as a friend; I hope he thinks of me as his friend. But, there was a paternal component. I think that it was not only about how you broadcast, capital B Broadcast, but I thought the way in which he dealt with other people he worked with. And, interestingly, I was working with Don by the time I met Maureen, who’s my wife. His attitude towards his wife Jeannie, his attitude towards his family, his conduct towards all of that, influenced me as well. I thought he was a stand-up guy, the way he dealt with management in the company. And, more important, there was never any doubt in my mind that Don Tremaine was not one of those guys who was in radio or television, [where it was] about him more than his family. Because it weren’t so.
BB: I met him. I met his wife. His son is a dermatologist. I had occasion to see him once. They all seem like nice people.
DC: They are nice people. I know Rob; I know Scotty; I know his daughter. But, I know Jeannie better than I know the kids. She’s a straight-up Pictou County girl, too.
BB: Well, their cottage is one community over from us. We’re in Seafoam. They’re in Toney River.
DC: And have been forever.
P: I was a kid. I was walking along the shore with a couple of other kids. The tide was coming in. We got lost. We had to find our way back home. Mr. Tremaine was good enough to save us.
How did he get the nickname “Trigger”?
DC: That was his nickname at CHNS when he was doing a Country show. They all had nicknames.
BB: Gerry Parsons was “Hayseed” Parsons. There were others, too.
B. Gerry Fogarty
DC: When Gerry retired, some guys come and go around the shop. Gerry doesn’t, or hasn’t. He and Stella still live in the family home. He actually called up... you might have caught part of it. We had this piece of archival tape. We weren’t sure which one of the golden-throated oldies had recorded it. We tried to identify it over 3 or 4 days. Tremaine and I used to have this joke: if you didn’t know something, ask the listener. Somebody out there must know.
I said to Louise, “Let’s invoke the Don Tremaine rule here.” So, during the newscast at 8 o’clock, our director Eileen McGinnis said, “I think we have the answer. Sure enough, it’s Don Tremaine.” I thought, “That’s Gerry [who had called in]”.
We don’t see as much of Gerry as we see of Don Tremaine. But he sounded as if he were in fine fiddle. I saw his wife Stella on the street about a year ago. She seemed to be fine, too. I don’t know what he does to occupy himself. I was thinking about Gerry, actually, during the Olympics because in those wonderful days when Gerald was here, he covered I don’t know how many of the heavyweight championships boxing matches. He’d gone to Vegas to cover Ali. International hockey. The reason I thought about him during the Olympics was, if he was going to an international hockey tournament, you could hear him in his little booth over there, going over and over the Swedish team, the Finn team, et cetera and so on, so that when he looked over at #25, he wasn’t stumbling over [the pronunciations].
BB: Was he always correct in pronouncing them, or he made it sound as if he were correct?
DC: No. My guess is, that 99.96% of the time, he got it right. He was very knowledgeable about it. A very conscientious broadcaster. Very knowledgeable about sports, which doesn’t always follow. You can be a very good sports broadcaster and not really care about it very much. It is one thing to know about sports; it is another thing to be very professional.
You don’t do a broadcast between Finland and Lithuania and be that smooth unless you spent a lot of time in your basement with a little guide as to pronunciation of Finnish names.
BB: Mike Cranston said he often faked it when he was saying names of people who had 18 consonants in their last name or something. He would do his best, but other people like Daryl Good would get it right.
DC: I have mispronounced lots of names in my day, but you A) get feedback from people you work with; but you also get feedback from the people out there. Our audience would expect you to know how to pronounce people’s names. And you’d hear about it if you didn’t.
P: And place names.
DC: Which is a little bit of a trap. Meagher’s Beach. Musquoddoboit.
BB: AgriCOLA street.
C. George Jordan
DC: The last I heard he was doing a shift [at Seaside FM]. George and I first worked together at CHNS for about the last six months I was there. He came after I was there. George was one of those guys we talked about. His first job in radio, I think he was 16. He was still in the army. I think he was doing something on the army base.
By the time I met him at CHNS, he would have been worked in a wide variety of radio stations. Tremendous voice. A real ability. He could write it and read it. He had tremendous authority in his voice for a guy who was quite young at that stage of the game. But way more important to my way of thinking: very smart. Extremely funny guy.
I was here for a while. He called me up one day. He said, “Look, I can’t get an audition for the CBC.” The traditional way into this company would have been you took the route that I took. Bathurst. CHNS. Someplace else. And, then you apply to the CBC. In George’s case, it was, “I can’t get an audition. They’re looking for more guys like [Don] in the background sense.” A journalism background rather than a broadcasting background.
The head announcer in that particular period was Don Tremaine. I went to Don and said, “Look, it’s crazy not to give this guy a shot. There’s no question about his ability to do whatever it is around here.”
So, Trigger brought George in to do an audition. He was hired very shortly thereafter.
BB: He only had about 18 years of service.
DC: That sounds about right.
BB: I thought he’d been here forever. He had that kind of voice.
DC: Yes. He did sound like that old school guy, but he’s a guy much closer to my age. He might be a year or so older than I am.
One of the things that had been very interesting to me, and I bring this up on a regular basis with people, if you look at -- and you would be the guy who’d know -- the success of the Weekend Morning shows with Doug and Stan. One of every two radios in the Maritime provinces [is tuned to the show]. Think about that. As they say in the free market, if they could capitalize that, if they could find a way to put that on private radio, they’d make a lot more money than they’re making.
If you look at that, what is it a product of? Two real smart guys who worked between them, every kind of radio station known to mankind. Top 40. Country. MOR. They worked all of that stuff. They’re still engaged. They still want it. I think that Doug sometimes gets less credit than he deserves. Stan is much more the front man. They are partners in this. I think of that as a real partnership.
And, I think one of the fundamental shifts that ebbs and flows in this company is that for most of my time here, this would be a Producer-driven company. You sign on Information Morning. Joe Blow is the name of the producer, although it’s more women who would have been my boss for 35 years. A producer gets to make more of a call. I could have gone, fully retired, 4 years ago. And I wouldn’t be staying on if I didn’t have a working relationship with my producer. We share a view as opposed to 20 years ago when I had 4 small children. The producer could have told me to go stand in the corner and sing country songs. I would have had to.
But there was that time when [George] and Frank Cameron were doing the afternoon show here. We care about numbers. We didn’t used to, theoretically. I always did. I remember the first year I was here, Don Mabee calling me up and saying, “Your numbers are really good this book. You should look at them.” Nobody knew what I was talking about. As God is my witness, the man who was the director of radio, a wonderful man who will remain nameless, said, “Donald, we’re in the business of providing alternative radio. I don’t have a book. I don’t know anything about it.” I had to call the TV Sales guys to get a copy of the BBM’s. And, for years, I would be the only one looking at it because I came out of private radio.
You should know who’s listening. It’s crazy not to know. They said, “We’re above worrying about that.” Well, we’re not above worrying about that anymore. But, if you were just interested in that, you would have looked at Frank and George and you would have found a producer who and say, “Look: the old producer of the weekend morning show was a guy named Bob Bauer.” Bob said, “I’m the producer of Weekend Mornings. My job is to do the paper work and keep the CBC away from those two guys.” If the CBC was smart when those two guys [Frank Cameron and George Jordan] were working together in the afternoon show, they would have hired some producer who would have done paper work and kept the CBC away from those guys, because, between the two of them...
BB: They were amazing.
DC: And it would have been much more so. If it wasn’t that constant push and pull. Now, you might not like it; you might find them too... “laddish” as they would say in England. You might find them a little too this or that. But, if they had stayed together on that show for the length of time that I have hung around the morning show, what do you think the numbers would look like? They would be Stan and Doug numbers, I think. It would be that kind of thing. It wasn’t like they were a couple of little boys saying “poop” in the dark. These guys knew what they were doing. And like every other program, there are people I am sure who can’t wait for me to retire because they don’t like the sound of my voice. They don’t like my tone. They don’t like the cut of my jib. There would be people like that I think in the afternoon show. It would have been laddish. It would have been a little bit raw. But, overall, I always thought that was a mistake: that for whatever series of reasons that handling those two guys was more trouble than it was worth. Now, George and/or Frank might disagree with how that came undone. I don’t know that. But that was always the impression I had.
BB: Frank was gone. He did the evening news with Doug Saunders. But George Jordan hung around for a while. He had other people working with him.
DC: Frank left the afternoon to go work with Doug? I don’t know about the timing of that. That would be worth checking.
BB: I am not sure.
DC: I think that Doug and Frank over there in tv land was before the two of them on radio. I would defer to you in this particular case.
BB: Frank Cameron retired from the CBC in 1995. August. Four days later, he was back on CHNS radio. He was doing the evening news as of August 1995 and for years before that. But when he left Mainstreet, I’m not certain. I would have to ask him.
DC: He may have chosen to go back to tv. But the idea of Frank retiring? That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. He’ll be two days dead, and they will be trying to pry some microphone out of his hand.
D. Frank Cameron
BB: Okay. It is now May 7, 2014. We are still in Studio D. We haven’t left.
DC: You’ve been here forever.
BB: Hello again, Don Connolly.
DC: Hello, Bev.
BB: Is there anything else you want to say about Frank Cameron?
DC: I don’t know if we talked about something that came up around that time. I remember talking to somebody else about it. Was I talking about him and George on the afternoon show?
BB: Yes. A little.
DC: And, in a way, Frank would be, in Nova Scotia, the quintessential guy of that particular generation. The kind of guy who would listen to radio as a little tiny boy. Always wanted to do it. And, when he got into it, it probably lived up to his expectations. He’s a guy who clearly loved radio. He liked television, too. But, the fact that he continues to soldier on, and continues to work at Seaside FM and write his column for Frank... it’s wonderful to see a guy at this stage in his life still so engaged in the broadcast part of it. And it’s so frank to be mixed up with Frank. He didn’t mind stirring it up a little bit.
BB: He doesn’t. He will say what he wants to say.
DC: That’s exactly right.
BB: Do you think there would be room for him at the CBC now? If there were a senior statesman like position? An agent provocateur? A Harry Flemming-type role? Would Kathy Large consider him?
DC: In this climate, as we have a conversation now, where we haven’t even attached the names to the numbers of the most recent layoffs, the idea of having someone around who would be a kind of senior person without specific responsibilities is almost impossible to imagine. At this stage of the game, as we speak today, I came in this morning to turn on my computer to find that Lynden MacIntyre had announced that he is going to retire from the Fifth Estate. He said, “The Fifth Estate is down to skin and bones.” It’s either going to be him or some junior member of the staff. He said, “I’m out of here.”
BB: So sad.
DC: It is. It’s a tremendous loss. He said, in one respect, when he decided to take that decision, and I hadn’t thought about it this way, most of the layoffs of six hundred and fifty people will be junior people and people behind the scenes. It won’t be people whom people recognize, so it won’t engender the kind of conversation that people will have today because it’s Lynden.
BB: By him leaving, it sends a real message.
So, the idea of having anybody around who hasn’t got a real job and comes to work five days a week to do a specific job was before my time at the CBC. I don’t see it anywhere up the road for sure.
BB: I know you said that you didn’t want to retire for the reasons you discussed last time.
BB: But that would have sent a similar if you were to call it a day, wouldn’t it?
DC: When I read it this morning I said, “Geez, Lynden, you’re putting pressure on me!” Maybe I should do the same thing. I think it’s somewhat different in our case at this stage of the game, in that the morning show, the noon show, the afternoon show, in this round of cuts, have been spared loss of jobs. It has created a bump, which in fact has occurred. But that’s a result of last year’s [2013‘s] cuts finally getting resolved. It could be months before we know who’s involved specifically.
In the radio building, I like to think that if there was a very promising 30 year old who was going to be back out on the street if I kept my job, you like to think you’d think about going. Because of the cutbacks, there was a time when you were always on the lookout for real smart people in private stations, in newspapers, et cetera and so on. Go talk to your friends on the private side. Twenty years ago, you were working for CJ or you were working in certain kinds of jobs, and the CBC called up... We were offering better money, better opportunity, better training. So, we got the best and the brightest in a way.
We’re not hiring anybody full-time. You can get contract work. You can get casual work, maybe, if you’re on the casual list. But the idea of your getting a job here...!
BB: A friend of mine works here. Cassie Williams does web news. I’m not exactly sure what the role is, but it is casual work. No benefits.
DC: We’ve seen it here. I’m not blaming the CBC. It’s the whole shrinkage of the industry. It’s an industry-wide phenomenon. In our particular case, the contraction has been such that Gerry West (the associate producer on our show) got to be the Associate Producer last year, after kicking around what seems like forever. But for years he was a casual, and then he had a contract on the show for a while. Then, he got a job. You wanted to take him out for a drink.
You see it on the private side. There are all kinds of people willing to work. It’s an old joke, and you’ve probably heard it. You come in to complain to your Program Director about something you don’t like or you want a little raise. He opens up the bottom drawer and says, “You’re not happy? I’ve got 30 tapes in here of guys who will do the job you’ve got for less money.” So, think about it now, with all the graduates and the shrinkage in the industry. It’s a difficult time.
Since we last spoke, I was over at the kids at the Community College. I really felt compelled to say, “Look: think about dental school. Think about law school.” Bev, there was an expression here, when we first started putting more and more stuff online, and they were trying to teach more radio people to do more tv, and tv people to do radio, cross pollination, we said, “We cant’ think of ourselves as radio people or tv people. We’re online people. You have to think of yourselves as content providers."
BB: For god’s sake.
DC: I hated the expression. Yours was my reaction. But as I said to the kids there, “In a way, that’s not an unhealthful way to think of yourself. Because if you think you’re going to go from there to getting some apprentice kind of work and then get a job, you’re going to have to find a way to find your own stories and find a way to get them out." Whether it’s blogging about it [or whatever], you’re going to have to find a way to get your stories out. That might turn in to work.
I said, “There was a time when you came out of this community college program (which I think is very strong) and you were willing to go to Bathurst or Yarmouth; go to CJLS or CKBC or some small place, and work for terrible wages, and take the worst shift. You’d get a job. Not any more.”
BB: Well a lot of these guys and gals who graduate from NSCC, do get jobs, but they’re displacing someone who’s making a lot more money. Like you said, they’re willing to work for shit wages. So, I think there might be work out there, but only if you’re willing to work cheap. And, what kind of career advancement is that?
DC: I can’t imagine. Lots of young people want to do it, too, just as the always have; but it’s a tough time to want to do this for a living.
E. Louise Renault. As I said to you before, hers is often the first female voice I hear in the morning. She has a very genuine voice.
DC: She has a lovely instrument. She has some theatre and movie background. She’s done voice work, in both official languages. We were very, very fortunate in Louise because Liz’s departure was sudden and unexpected. It’s always hard to replace.
Think about this. I realize that in some of the privates now there are two handers in the morning. But, they’re different. The idea of co-hosting a show is more complicated than it seems from the outside. If it works well, you don’t notice. But there have been instances, which I won’t discuss simply out of courtesy, with other people I have worked with, where it hasn’t worked nearly as well as it does now with Louise or did with Elizabeth [Logan]. You can’t have two interviewers. You have to have separate roles. And you have to be comfortable in them. You have to make allowances for each other. It is a relationship like other kinds of marriages. You’ve really got to have faith in each other and assume good will.
Anyway, when Elizabeth left, there was very much a concern because there was no obvious person [to take over]. There were certainly people here who I thought could have been part of it. Louise didn’t work on our side at all. She worked for the French guys. But, she had done various things for them, and her English is every bit as good as her French. She is absolutely classically bilingual. Often enough, people have a perfectly good radio voice, and are smart, well-educated, and have a good background. But, do they have any experience? You don’t want to have people learn the job, working on the job. Louise didn’t need that.
She was not a full-time radio person. She has dabbled in various elements of it, but she is not an old hand in radio, so her experience in movies and films and television and so on, brings a fresh set of experiences to bear on the program. She brings things that many of us hadn’t been involved with her own background, which is always very useful to us. It brings us a whole new set of eyes in a way, on different parts of the community.
BB: Did she do the alleged humour on Jack McGaw’s Information radio for a while there? There was a woman who told these jokes. Politically-correct, safe humour, so it wasn’t all that funny. The woman’s voice was reminiscent of Louise’s.
DC: I don’t know the answer to that. I will ask her about that. After we’ re finished I will write that down and send her an email.
F. JC Douglas (because everybody has a JC Douglas story!)
DC: Don’t know JC. Never met him.
BB: Oh! You didn’t ask me to remove the name. But you know who he is?
DC: Oh, absolutely. It’s funny, and it’s partially the result of your blog. I didn’t belong to the Press Club in Ottawa. I think there were two here during my time here. They didn’t last long. But, it is too bad, almost, that there isn’t something like that, whether or not it’s a lips-with-legs club, or something where the people like Frank Cameron and JC Douglas and other people [can hang out].
I find that people in radio tend to be fairly gregarious or interested in trading stories and that kind of thing. But, outside of Steve Murphy, I don’t know if I know anybody left in the private side. I know A.J. Walling, but that’s going back to Bathurst, and he’s really not all that active. Outside of that, all those people who are working now in, what, 20 radio stations, almost?
BB: 10 private radio stations.
DC: I don’t know any of them.
BB: Back in the day, you would have known a Brian Phillips.
DC: I know Brian. I knew him primarily because his wife used to work in a [hair] shop down where I used to live. I used to run in to Brian faily regularly. But I haven’t seen him in... a decade.
There’s not a place where [media] people hang out. There’s no regular forum where people get together and trade war stories.
BB: There’s John’s Lunch on Pleasant Street. Some of them like to hang out there. I’m not sure why. It’s one of the over rated places in the city. That, and The Chicken Burger.
7. Is there something you have not done in radio, that you would like to do?
DC: I’ve done most of the jobs, for sure, over time.
BB: A Hotline-type show, maybe?
DC: No. It’s funny you should ask about that. When I was working at CFGO in Ottawa, there was a classic example of a place where if you weren’t happy, they would show you the desk drawer full of tapes. Anyway, there was a guy there named Ted Billoe, who came down here briefly. He was the General Manager at one of the tv stations down here. I think it was Global. But he worked for Baton. Baton had bought CFGO, which had been an old, elevator-music type station. They turned it in to an absolutely classic Top 40 station. But they paid you mushrooms.
As it turned out, around the time I left, they lost a couple of guys. Everyone’s always looking for a way out to better pay and a better job. So, I got the job here. I went to tell Ted. I said, “Look, I’m going to be gone in two weeks.” He says, “No. You can’t go. We’re going to make you the News Director, and we want you to do our new open-line show.” To me, the idea of doing an open-line show was a threat as opposed to any incentive.
I don’t know how Mr. Howe feels about them. Does he like doing it, or is it part of his job? If you’re in Newfoundland, it’s interesting.
DC: And NBC. The two hotbeds of call-in radio. You’re really involved in a public debate. Here, especially where you have a market so splintered, if you have a small slice of the audience for your radio station, and you’re doing your talk show, you must recognize most all of the voices you hear, almost every day.
BB: Do you ever listen to Rick Howe?
DC: I catch him from time to time, in a cab, or whatever the case may be. He has the same kind of backgrounds as so many of us of a certain age, a very fluent and accomplished broadcaster. He may enjoy that. And I’m not knocking it. It’s just that, for me personally, you’re reacting to people calling in.
The closest I ever got to that experience was going Swap Shop on CKBC back in the day. People were calling in to sell a bumper from a 1968 Camaro. You’re a captive of whoever calls you. You have very little control. If you’re in those other markets where it’s part of the culture, different people call in. That’s a different thing.
There were two competing ones here. Bil...
BB: Bill Ozard?
DC: Bill Ozard had one on CJ. And there was someone down on ‘NS.
BB: Well, Clive Schaefer was [a host] for a while.
DC: Did Clive actually have a talk show?
BB: Scott Snailham found this treasure trove of CHNS stuff, old acetate tapes and so on. He’s been digitizing it and putting it up online. I downloaded the Clive Schaefer talk show myself. I can get it to you, or you can contact Scott.
DC: I would appreciate that.
BB: Bob Oxley did one as well, at CHNS. And there is an episode of that online.
DC: Who, of course, was the first host of this show.
DC: One of the good guys. Four years ago , our 40th anniversary of the show. we had no money. But we contacted anybody who had worked as a host of the show. We called Bob, who was over in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Long since retired. Bob said, “Don’t worry about it.” He flew over on his dime. He stayed with in-laws or friends. Bob was one of the real good guys.
I can tell you a Clive Schaefer story.
DC: Do you know of Ian Morrison? Worked for CJ forever.
BB: Yes. He also played Scrooge on Christmas Daddies for years.
DC: Could be. Looked the part. We mentioned before how these guys at Bathurst went down to CHNS. One of the guys alerted me that the 4-12 evening news shift was open. They mentioned me to Ian. I talked to Ian. He said, “You drive down to the Moncton airport. I’ll fly up there, and we’ll meet and do an interview there. We’ll see.”
So, I drive down to go to the airport. I have my hair tied up in a pig tail, right down almost to my waist. Full meal deal. This was... 1973. We go through it. He goes, “Do you want the job?” I didn’t have a lot of radio experience, but I could do that job for sure. He said, “One condition.” I said, “No problem.” He said, “You’ve got to get your hair cut.” I said, “Sure. No problem. “ I actually just used to stuff my pigtail down the back of my shirt.
When I’m there for the first couple of days, they just take you in during the day. They don’t put you in 4-12 by yourself. Clive must have been working supper drive. Within a couple of days, everybody is saying the same thing: “We can’t wait until you two meet. Both of you are bookish. Both of you have strong political opinions. He is the president of the Monarchist Association of Nova Scotia. You hate the Queen.”
I don’t know if you ever knew Clive. Clive’s pants would be up to here. I had all that hair. He was as bald as a billiard ball. It was like, “There’s going to be an explosion when you two meet!”
Eventually, we of course met. But we actually worked together for a brief period of time. We overlapped in a shift in the afternoon. In fact, I was always careful to be respectful of his opinions. We had discussions about the monarchy. We talked about other things. But it was never, “You crazy old bastard!” I was always very respectful of him. I disagreed with almost everything he believed in, because he was a very, very conservative guy. By Nova Scotia standards, extremely conservative guy.
Anyway, one of the great thrills when I was there was that there was a going away party which Clive Schaefer came to. I was really flattered, apart from all the politics or whatever the case may be, we had enough of a relationship that he came to that party.
BB: I actually was at his apartment a few years ago and talked to him for a little bit. I never published the interview. He wasn’t well.
DC: He was doing an editorial every day. So did Edmund Morris. His would sort of be a liberal one.
BB: I hear that Edmund Morris, when he did those editorials, was extremely long-winded.
DC: I don’t think that would be an exaggeration.
BB: He did them for CJCH for a while as well, and ran on at the mouth there, too. There were jokes about him doing his editorials and bumping in to news breaks and so on.
DC: There is this joke that when he left CJ or left ‘NS to go some place else, somebody called the station manager and wanted to know where Edmund was. “Why do you ask?” The caller said, “Well, my canary died of loneliness” Edmund had this whistle. And it didn’t impede him at all. He was not self conscious about it at all.
8. Tell me about a couple of on air mistakes you’ve made. I know that before John Hancock took over as the sports reporter, they actually played a little clip of you making sports mistakes. I remember that because you were tripping over the names of some baseball players. I would do the same thing. Do you remember that?
DC: I didn’t do much of that. Gerry [Fogarty] was here until John arrived. Steven Freygood , who worked here for a long time, in the 1976 Olympics, just after I arrived, wrote something called “Sports Reports”. It was satirical. We did about 20 of those, which we played before and during the Olympics.
But in terms of getting names wrong....
BB: Well, tennis players. My god.
DC: Tennis players might be the worst. It’s interesting because we’re running this contest these days about Shania Twain. I remember the first name her name was written down on a piece of script. Liz was there. I said, “‘Shanneeya’ Twain”. She looked at me like, “Have you been living under a rock? You don’t know who that is?”
I thought about it during the  Olympics again. Listening to Gerry in his little sports booth for weeks before the international ice hockey tournament. He was just reading the names out loud, so they would come trippingly out.
On air mistakes? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Does a week go by when I don’t mis-read a clock? I did it this morning. I was off by an hour.
BB: Would it help if the clocks were digital?
DC: That’s what Walling keeps telling me. I tried it one time: I bought an alarm clock with big numbers and put it there. I know what it is. If we’re outside, and you look at your watch, you don’t really articulate it. You look at it and say, “10:30“. You don’t really concentrate. It’s strictly a function of paying attention.
I’ve been very, very fortunate, Bev. I remember our first news quiz. Gord Greden[sp.?] was the quizmaster. He worked for Radio Canada International. He is the sweetest man, but quite straight. The question was about a young boy who had been injured, and what was the cause of injury? I ring my little bell and say, “It’s because he was injured beating off a bear!”
It’s fortunate it was on tape. I look at Liz. Gordie looks at me. It may be, even in my life not just my professional life, the funniest mistake. We laughed so hard for 5 minutes. We finally got it together and tried to start again. There is a tape of it around.
BB: I would love to hear that.
DC: I’ll see if I can find a copy of it. I’m sure I would have asked a question which I would have put badly or that people would have misunderstood, or that I might have had a fact wrong, or people had contradicted me. That kind of thing. But the kind of thing where you really forgot that the mic was on and something really bad happens... I can’t imagine how bad the newscasts were when I first worked at CKBC. I can’t imagine what an awful a jock I probably was for much of that time. Nobody taught you anything.
I had a decent voice. I had a pretty good record collection. But I can’t imagine how bad I was. I look at some of my time here. The difference between the interviews I used to do in Ottawa, which were exclusively on tape...
BB: Nothing live?
DC: No. Not a thing. Any mistakes you had, nobody ever heard them, man. They were taken off the reel-to-reel tape. So, all of a sudden, you’re down here and you’re doing three-quarters of them live, and they’re live to time. Some of the interviews I enjoyed best, lasted for an hour in Ottawa. But you have to find a way to do a beginning, a middle, and an end; and you’ve got 7 minutes. I know I would have screwed that up.
I think we talked last time, when Patricia was here, that the guy from Moncton who ended up in Ottawa and not knowing that the mic’s on a lot. After a certain length of time, as you would know, you’re conscious of the fact that there’s a red light around.
BB: But there must be times when you mis-word things. There’s a story about Bill Jessome. There was a miner’s strike in Cape Breton. He asked the head of the union whether he had an ace up his hole. Little things like that, that you can easily put the wrong word in there. It was kind of funny.
DC: It was. I can just see Bill going green on that one. “Uh, oh! It’s out there now!”
BB: I guess that if something does happen you just soldier on and hope that nobody notices.
BB: A slight follow up. A couple of days ago I heard you read an email from a fellow who was not complimentary to you. He was asking when Don Connolly was going to retire and...
DC: “Take his big fat federal pension.”
BB: Yes. I wonder: You have to be objective and so on, but you are reading something about yourself. And you’re trying to do it in such a way that you’re getting this fellow’s words out and not trying not to interject a ...
DC: Tone is the key there. As a matter of fact, that’s a decision that I made. The email came in in the morning. When the email came in, Eileen printed off a copy. It was there when I arrived. She said, “Do you want to get cranky first thing in the morning?” I looked at it. It was not scheduled to be read. But at some point I said, “You know, we get a lot of nice mail.” I told Eileen, “Look: I’m going to put this email in here.”
As your question implied, the key there is that I’m going to read the email. It’s really important not to sound like you’re shitting on Buddy, that you’re being snide, or whatever. It’s like, “Here’s Buddy. Here’s what he had to say.”
I read the email. If you brought a third person in, and don’t give them any background and say, “What would you make of the reading of that critical note? Would you be able to tell that the guy reading it was the guy Buddy was talking about?” I don’t think you could, in fairness to me.
It’s funny, because my mother used to have this expression that there will be people who don’t like the cut of your jib. The sound of your voice. The look of you. Whatever the things are. It’s very common, for example, if you take people who belong to the left wing of the NDP says, “You have a daily business report, every morning at 7 minutes to 7. There’s no daily poverty report.” In other words, there are those people who don’t feel that we do enough social justice issues.
There was a woman who used to work here, who will remain nameless, because she now works full-time for an industry advocacy group, who says she can’t listen to us any more because we’re always about bleeding-heart liberal shit.
So, as long as you feel on a regular basis, over the course of the year that people on the right think you’re too wet, and people on the left think you’re following something of an agenda set by whomever, you’re probably okay.
If you don’t realize there are people who don’t listen to Information Morning because they can’t fucking stand me, then you’re awfully fucking naive. The reality is that there are people who don’t. There are people in this building if you knock on the right door and said, “Look: shouldn’t that old asshole carry on and fuck off? He should have fucked off 5 years ago.” Maybe. But there are certainly people out there who would believe that.
But if you really, in your heart of hearts, say, “Look. I know that I don’t bring an agenda here.” And over the course of the year that you hear the kind of criticism, and it’s roughly the same from both sides, I’m probably okay.
Like you, there are things I believe in strongly. That’s me. What I preach to my kids in terms of what values and all that kind of stuff, is separate from here.
But when I have a reaction to any kind of story, because of what I do for a living, I always turn that around and try to look at it from the other side. I think that’s the obligation. How do I feel about the current government? How did I feel about the Darrell Dexter government? How did I feel about Hamm’s? I have voted in provincial elections in the last decade and change, for the three major parties. I miss the Rhino party. I used to like to vote for the Rhino’s.
But I don’t bring an agenda to this job. I have personal beliefs of a political variety, to be sure. But what is the role of the journalist? Is it like Mencken said: “Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable?” That’s not all. The job, in my case, is not just to interview. It’s hosting.
BB: The worst thing you can do is bore people.
DC: They’re not listening long if you’re fucking feeding them medicine with no sugar to make the medicine go down.
BB: That email you read from Buddy? Was it a live read?
DC: It was something that Eileen had handed to me at 5 to 6. I had it on the desk. There was a moment there. The piece around that was germane to the subject. I didn’t record it.
You get a very skewed view of how people listening, feel about your program. The people who hate you, aren’t listening. Buddy was an exception. But, generally speaking, if you don’t like the show, or if you don’t like us, you’re not listening. People who respond, like the show, or think you do a good job, or whatever the case may be. That often comes up in an email. So you very seldom get something that is that pointedly critical. Every once in a while, it’s worth pointing out that there are people out there who don’t feel that way.
BB: It’s a reality check if nothing else.
9. What can you say to convince people who do not listen to CBC radio, to try it out? There are people who have their backs up about CBC radio. Out of principle, they will not listen. Even people in private radio are not happy with CBC radio. I say, “Suck it up, buttercup. Don't listen if you don't want to."
DC: Let’s take an easy example. You drive your car from Middleton to Burnside every day, and you want some company as opposed to listen to CD’s. You want to listen to the radio. You’re in the car, 2 hours a day. What are your options?
If you turn us on in the morning and listen to us, or you turn on the afternoon show and listen to it, and do that for a couple of days, and you go, “No.”, because A) You want more music, or B) you don’t like the kind of stories we do, or C) You don’t like the kind of people who are hosting the show, or D) You don’t care about sports or you care more about sports, then you can say, “I have listened to that, and here are the 2 or 3 reasons why I don’t like it.” I wouldn’t even attempt to dissuade you from that point of view.
I think the barrier which has come down very, very significantly in my working life here is: CBC radio, if you know how to work the BBM sites, in 10 A markets in this country, the morning show, if not number one in all of them, is in like 8 out of 10. You know what the numbers are here.
BB: Yes. They’re pretty damned good.
DC: They’re spectacular. We talked about this the last time that one of the things that I take the greatest pride in, is that it is not just metro. What we think of as the traditional university-educated white collar academic political class is listening. That’s not true. We have very, very strong listenership in rural and small town Nova Scotia. We cut across class lines. We cut across income levels. I think we do as good a job as we can in trying to reflect what issues are on the minds of people in this province. We could do it better, of course.
Are there days when the show is better than others? Absolutely. I’d rather speak for my own show. I think that’s true. Now, once you get outside of that, do you want as hard-edged a morning as Anna-Marie Tremanti brings? Lots of people do. Here’s an opportunity to find out about big, national and international items with a very sharp, able woman.
Jian Ghomeshi is a very polarizing guy. Some people absolutely love that show. Some people still pine for Peter Gzowski.
So, how do you convince people to like something that is not one thing? It’s more like in the olden days of what we in private radio used to call “block programming”. We are different from Anna-Marie, who’s different from Jian, who’s different from the noon show here, which is different from the afternoon show here, which is different from As It Happens. And there are people who like elements of it. We talked about this before. I probably listened to Radio Two more previously when it was playing more Jazz and Classical, than I do now because the pop music thing I can re-create in my own kitchen with my own music.
So, I think that if people tried it and don’t like it, I have nothing to say to them. I think that people are often surprised. They think it’s stuffier. They think it’s something it might have been at one time. You and I are old enough to know that if you look at the numbers for CBC radio in what we call the pre-radio revolution, which is arbitrarily 1970; if you look at the numbers for this radio station in 1960 or 1965, they were a flat line, man.
Look at them now. That can’t be all Sociology professors and lawyers downtown and people in Province House.
BB: I’ve had this discussion with Tom Bedell about Stan Carew’s show. Tom does the drive show on Q104. I said to him, “Why doesn’t a private radio station try something like Stan Carew’s show?” He said it was because of advertisers. There’s no way that they would tolerate or sponsor a show like Stan’s because it’s all over the map, musically. But the ratings are what any private broadcaster would kill to have. So, I have always wondered about why CBC is oftentimes criticized by people who don’t listen to it, or they look at a successful program as being anomalous. It’s astonishing to me why nobody has tried to hire Stan Carew to re-create what he does, in the private sector.
DC: Or turn some other guys loose. You’ve talked to probably just about everybody in this racket in this town.
BB: Most of them, yes.
DC: And you say, “Okay. Look. If you didn’t have a PD. If you didn’t have a Music Director. and if you didn’t have a music policy. And you could get rid of the ads. We’re basically going to use the mornings as a loss leader. We don’t have to do any ads, and you can do whatever the hell you want, is JC Douglas doing the same show as he is doing right now? I don’t think so. Is anybody else? No, they’re not, because there was a constraint.
I don’t know, because I’m working when they’re working, what anybody else is doing in the morning. I have no idea. I worked in private radio in a time when there were news rooms. I worked in a time where if you were a good jock, you could get the PD to give you more latitude.
In the case of CBC radio, what’s the advantage? We talked about this before. Not everybody gets the kind of freedom that Stan and Doug get. We talked about how I felt that George and Frank, in the afternoon, if left alone, could have had a comparable kind of success. But that means you have to be brave enough for the producer to say to the company, “We’re going to let those two crazy guys go nuts. As long as they don’t get us sued, we will give them the freedom to be able to create.”
I work within a rigidly-formatted program. National news cast at 8 o’clock. There’s news, there’s weather, there’s sports. There’s a format. But within that there is a fair amount of freedom to operate. You’re going to get an awful lot more opportunity to be creative if you can sell your idea here than in private radio because it is more rigidly-formatted than we are. At least what I hear of it. I don’t hear much of the morning crews and what they do. I’m not criticizing them.
About 15 years ago, a company in Quebec was buying up radio stations for nothing. There were guys turning over their licenses. “You take my debt. You take the transmitter. You take it off my hands, man. Give me a buck fifty.” They had newsrooms. They had guys working the morning, mid-day, afternoon, evening. All these bodies.
[It came down to] either you should be in the business of getting out of the business, or you should be buying them up.
Now what you have is you have regional networks, you have national networks, which are stitched together by guys who bought radio stations cheap. Now you can go to Toronto and sell to Coke or sell to Levi’s in a way that CKBC couldn’t, or CJLS can’t. You go talk to the sales manager in Toronto, as opposed to going to the guy in Bathurst or whatever the hardware store is in Yarmouth and try to find a way to make money that way. If you are in a chain the expectation is that private radios from the people that own them are businesses in the business of making money. There’s nothing wrong with that. But they’re very seldom tempted to move outside the format which they know makes money.
10. What goes through your mind every morning at 5:55, just as you’re about to start your on air shift? I presume that Louise is sitting over there finishing “Daybreak”. You’re about to crack the mic. Are you thinking anything in particular?
DC: I’m ordinarily in there for a couple of minutes before Louise’s show ends. Here is the thing I think about. I ask Louise what Sandy’s lead is. “Overnight, an accident kills two on the 104“ as opposed to “Farley Mowat Dies”. We’ll be going from, “Hello. How’s she going?” to headlines right away. I’m worried about matching the tone in the seconds we go on the air to that first story. I have to try to match that up with energy level.
You can probably pick it up the same way I can. Turn your radio on, and this person comes on. They’re pretending to be that friendly and that up and that energetic and that quick when they’re not. It’s not real. I’m not a morning person. I’m thinking I’m not going to be over the top. I might not be as energetic as I’m going to be at 7:15 because there’s an arc in the business. But I want to remind myself that this is the opening, so you want to have energy. The questions of energy and tone are the two things that I think about. And I worry more about the tone than I worry about the energy, because I think I’ve figured out where on the spectrum I should be. But tone is so important because like in any other conversation, like what you and I are having, you listen to what I am saying, but how am I saying it to you? Am I saying it like I really am paying attention to your questions? Do I look like I’m attempting to answer them honestly?
11. Tell me about your Lifetime Achievement award you received a few years ago. Steve Murphy actually mentioned you on the air on the next edition of Live at Five.
DC: Steve wasn’t involved. It was up in Saint John. What I said, “I figured that every private broadcaster in Atlantic Canada must have 2 of these if they’re giving one to the public broadcaster”
You were alluding to this tangentially earlier on. The guys on the private side see us as living in a different world from them. I don’t know if we’re even represented in the RTNDA[Radio Television News Director’s Association].
The woman called me up from Toronto and said, “You’ve been nominated.” I really, really was surprised. And I was really honoured. And I managed to screw it up, too, by the way.
BB: How so?
DC: It was this time of year, in Saint John. I said, “Thank you very much. Absolutely. What’s expected of me?” She said, “Well, show up. Do a little 5 minute speech. Take the award. Have a drink.” I said it worked for me.
I worked very hard at the speech. I paid a lot of attention to it. I said right off the top, “As a guy who works on the public side, but used to work on the private side, I’m that much more appreciative of the award because I know it’s not necessarily something that public broadcasters get.” I talked a lot about my private experience and my respect for the people who work on the private side and so on.
I had 5 minutes. I was maybe 2 minutes in. I looked up. I’m thinking, “These people want me to shut the fuck up.” You could tell that what they expected was, “Thank you very much. Hi, Mom! Bugger off!” I felt like such a tool. I waited for the very first thing that looked like a full stop and then said, “Thank you very much. Hi, Mom.” I could see people looking at each other and going, “What the hell is wrong with that tool? Is he going to tell us his life story? Are we here for the duration? Should we get another drink?”
[Doug Barron knocks on the door, wanting the studio. We head down the hall to another room. Don sits on a giant medicine ball while I take the chair]
BB: Okay. We’ve been moved to another room. Don is sitting on his balls.
DC: Big ones. On his big balls.
BB: Was there anything else you wanted to say about your Lifetime Achievement Award?
DC: As I say, I was very pleasantly surprised to get it. I’m not sure if it wasn’t just for longevity.
12. How do you prepare for a given interview? I notice when you interview someone, you always come up with the right, artful question. Is that a function of your experience, a function of your producers doing research and thinking you should ask this particular question? Or is it pre-interview, interviews?
DC: All of the above, in a sense. The best way to think about shows like ours is that Friday’s Information Morning begins on Thursday at about 9 o’clock. We have a little meeting sometime around there, depending on availability. We look at our white board, which has all five days of the week on there. You look at today’s show. Did anything go well or badly? Is there anything there we have to follow, or should follow?
For example, today after the show, I had a meeting before you came in. If you saw the Globe and Mail today, the new Chinese ambassador was talking about how he would like Canada to ease some of their trade restrictions on China. One of the things they would buy more is is blueberries. I said to Diane, “I know some people at Clearwater. I know for a fact that it has been focusing more and more attention on China. Next week, we should talk to John Bragg up in Oxford and see if we can get ahold of Colin MacDonald down at Clearwater, who are looking to do more trade with China and see how busy the Chinese can be in our own economy. People would be surprised to see how much business that these two companies do with China.”
Let’s say that we decide that the common person to talk to would be Colin MacDonald. First and foremost, do I know about Clearwater’s business? I know a good deal about Clearwater’s business because I’ve been working here for a long time. I know Colin MacDonald. My wife used to work for Clearwater.
So, someone would call Colin MacDonald and they would say, “Yes. They’re really looking to expand”. So, there would be a pre-interview done by, let’s say, Margot Brunelle. We would have had a conversation. “What do you want to ask? What do you want to talk to Colin about?” I would first of all like to know about they’re doing now, what they want to be doing, whether or not the current political climate is helping or making it harder for them to do business, and what would they like to do about that? That would be the arc of your story. That’s what you want to know.
When I would get back in, the next day, I would get about 3 pages. The first page would be the introduction that Louise would read, and 5 or 6 suggested questions, and a page of notes. I would look at the notes. If something big came up, like Colin is leaving on Saturday for China, she might even call me at home. As opposed to the arc that I just described.
But I would read the introduction, read the notes, read the questions. And I would circle the key points. How much? When? What number?
If you were coming in to my studio live, unless I have to refer to specific names and numbers or something very concrete, you never see me look at my notes. I’m looking at you. I want to you to have the impression that we’re having a conversation.
BB: Just the two of you? Nobody else is listening?
DC: There you go. If you can sell that to the civilians... Just trust me. I said it to the woman we had on today. I taped her on Tuesday. The woman who had the brain tumour. She was in. She had a whole bunch of paper. I said, “Look: I’m your neighbour’s brother. I’m just going to ask you these questions about what happened. Just trust me. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
Even if it’s on the phone, I do the same thing. I try to absorb what I need to be thinking of in each of these individual interviews before I do the interview. It’s 38 years that I have been here. As I said about Clearwater, I know what their business is. I know who the principles are. It’s not like you have to tell me a whole lot of background. Sometimes, something comes up which is brand new, and you need some background. But, generally speaking, things connect.
BB: Well, how about when you call the ... I keep calling them Party Liners.
DC: Community Contacts.
BB: Thank you. I’m so sorry.
DC: I still think of them as Party Liners.
BB: I’m guessing that somebody does a pre-interview with them.
DC: Eileen McGinnis[sp.?] does that. They’re her crew.
BB: Okay. She’ll ask questions of tomorrow’s Community Contact.
BB: So that you will know what questions to ask that person?
DC: Yes. And, it’s long since gone away, but I have had struggles with producers and associate producers in the past who say, “Why don’t you call Bev Keddy? Do the pre-interview, write up the script, et cetera and so on?” My answer to that is, “If I called up Bev Keddy and say, ‘Okay, we want to talk to you about Frank Cameron having died and you did an interview with him recently. We would like you to come on tomorrow.’ I say, ‘Did he seem well to you?’”
So, we have the conversation. Then I say, “Come on in at 7:15 tomorrow.” You come on in. You’re not a good example because you know too much about radio, but let’s say it’s some other civilian who doesn’t do radio. You sit down. And I ask you all these fucking questions which I talked to you on the phone about yesterday. On one level, you’re going, “This is a phony conversation. This isn’t real. I know he knows this because I already told him this.”
So, if Frank Cameron died, you give me the number of a couple of guys. Call Tremaine. Call George Jordan. Call Bev Keddy. I have Bev’s card from the other day. I have George’s number at home. If you want to talk to me about what I should talk about with them, that’s fine. But I’m not calling them. Because when he comes in tomorrow, or she’s on the phone tomorrow, I want her to be able to believe that I’m asking a question to which I do not know the answer. That it’s a fresh conversation.
The associate producer could be talking to the people for 20 minutes, a half an hour. I have to find a way to make a beginning, a middle and an end in 6 minutes. That’s what I do.
There are a lot of people who think that an interview should be short, crisp questions. I have a different view of it.
BB: To me, it’s more of a conversation. That’s how I look at my interviews.
DC: In my show, and in my life, these days, that’s how I feel. That it should be about something, that it sometimes should be sharper and crisper. Generally speaking, you should be able to overhear me talking to somebody about something.
BB: That’s what I try to do. And, by the way, it would be cool to be brought in to discuss someone’s career sometime.
DC: I have your card.
Bonus question courtesy of... Brynn Langille of News 95.7
What advice do you have for recently-graduated broadcast journalists trying to make their mark?
DC: If Sandy retired there would be a fairly senior person going in to that job because it’s a competition. He’s in there [the former television building] by himself. You’re writing it. You’re reading it. You’re stacking it. There’s occasionally a reporter, like Phonse Jessome. If there is some shit happening, he goes to chase that ambulance. But Sandy is on his own.
BB: Why isn’t he with you guys like he used to be?
DC: That’s a story for another day. But that’s not the same question as the question that Brynn put. It’s always been important to get ahead, to work hard, it’s got to be doubly hard now. If I were her, if I were a young woman or a young man in broadcasting, and I had a job which was in news gathering and dissemination for a couple of years, I would be really thankful that I had the job while I learned because what you might learn in community college, or journalism school, like most jobs, you learn the job, on the job.
I told you before. I tell everybody. I absolutely so value the 4 years that I made all kinds of mistakes in private radio, and what I learned by being able to do a little bit of everything. Morning news. Rock jock. Reporter. Interviewer. All of those things. To be able to get some experience hands on. Then, she is, say, 25 or 26?
BB: Yes. About that.
DC: We touched on this before. There was a time when you could, with no experience, get to work in a small radio station and learn on the job and go up from there. That’s all gone now. There are 100 people out there with a degree from community college or a journalism degree. You’re not going to get the interview without something like that.
Then, if you are in the business, you have to ask, “What do I want? What do I really like to do? Would I like to be a reporter in Ottawa? Do I really want to be a reporter in Washington? Do I really want to be on CNN? Do I think I would really be able to identify a fairly-specific job within the broad context? What do I have to do to go from where I am to where that is?”
Man, it’s tough. Again, it touches on what we talked there about content. Lyse Doucet works for the BBC. She’s a girl from Bathurst. She went to Africa to work for an NGO, probably in the late ‘70‘s. In such a remote area of Africa, she made some kind of contact with the BBC. They needed Elise. She would go talk to someone, get you a name, get you a number. And now she’s one of the most senior BBC foreign correspondents there is. She works internationally, but primarily Africa.
You really have to make yourself. “This is what I want to be: A political reporter. I have to keep myself. Keep my rent paid. Keep my car on the road. But I’m to go see Ian Thompson at the Herald and say, ‘I have 3 these good ideas about political stories. I’d like you to give me a chance.’ There’s no easy way there.”
If I think I want to be a pretty face on television, a man or a woman, then fucking concentrate on your hair cut and wardrobe and invest in your teeth. Then ask yourself or ask the person next to you if you’re cute enough to be a star on tv or whatever the fuck it takes.
But it’s really now, more than ever, you can’t say if you join the right organization at just the right time, it can happen for me.
BB: Sometimes there isn’t a path. It may be so bramble-filled that it cannot be traversed.
DC: If Brynn called me up and said, “You know what work I like? What you’re doing.” I don’t have a fucking idea, pal. The real key is the example of the woman who asked Don Tremaine if his job was going to be advertised outside. I think that, to be good at daily broadcasting over a fairly protracted period of time, it should sound smooth, and it should sound easy. I learned most of the over 11 years sitting alongside Don Tremaine. That’s not a solution for Brynn.
And I think as we double back to your final question, do everything. It may equip you but also expose you to, “I like that, or I don’t like that.” Here’s the hard question. I’m not going to ask you, but you look at all the people you’ve talked to over all those years. What percentage of those people who worked in radio and television broadcasting, loved radio, loved television, loved to communicate; and how many of them want to be famous? You know what I mean?
DC: What’s your motive here? We talked about this before. Go up there and walk in to the world headquarters of the national broadcasters in Toronto. How many guys are making a living? How many are just scraping by? For some of them, it’s enough. They’re on tv.
I’ve often said, not naming names, I turn on the television set. You can see that guy right there, if he were fired tomorrow, and the PD said, “Look: if you give me 25 dollars a day, you can come back and do the late night news on television,”, you know that he would get a job at McDonald’s, and pay 25 dollars a day, just to get back on tv. So, if that’s what you’re all about, I’m not judging that. But I really think you have to do the level of self-examination which is pretty critical if you’re willing to put up with the nonsense and the shitty pay and the abuse that you have to take in this career.
BB: I wonder how many people go in to the NSCC program and graduate with a job, but within 5 years are so jaded that they quit? I don’t have an answer for that, but I’m sure it happens a lot.
DC: It’s worth asking. You look at the number of people we’ve seen go through here. I’m talking about really capable people [working casually]. You can’t survive on that all along. For many of them, working here was what they had always wanted to do. But after the 5th or 6th year, they go do something else. And they almost always get good jobs because they’re almost always really smart people. So they end up working in communications, and they’re really good at it because they worked inside the belly of the beast.
BB: Are the opportunities better elsewhere, outside of Nova Scotia? Because that is the perception: that out West, everything is better.
DC: As a matter of fact, I had a conversation not too long ago with a kid. His father is a friend of mine. The kid’s a real smart guy. Until recently he was working for George Stroumboulopoulos He’s interested in sports. He was home for the summer. He asked, “What do you think are the chances of finding work here?” I said, “It’s a real conundrum.” There’s no work here, but everybody doesn’t have work here or in Saskatoon or whatever, they’re all in that same line up in Toronto.
If you were to ask me where are the job opportunities in broadcasting, it’s the people who currently own the whole Bell, who own the Leafs and who own the buildings. I think that TSN announced yesterday that they’re going to be expanding in to 4 regional networks. Sports radio and television broadcasting would seem to be the only growth industry in the country. I have a Bell package. They’re getting so big. Bob McCown said on his show that the total number of people on the [Bell] campus of the Sports Network was about 1400. I might have misheard that, but it was some utterly bizarre number. And, because of the new hockey deal, they’re renting space in our building downtown for the hockey guys, because they have no room at their own place.
So, if you love sports, there are jobs in that industry. But the line up to get in here is short. The line up there is long. I don’t know the equation.
BB: Don Connolly, thank you very much for the last several hours of your life, over the last couple of months. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
DC: I’ll tell you right now, Bev, just try not to make me look like too big a tool. Thank you very much for your interest.