The Radio Grind

10:30pm, June 1, 1981.

Up late. If I don't get to bed by 10 I'm drained the next day. These 4:30am starts are killing me. The department has no money to hire a director and Vicki and Gail don't trust the researchers to traffic cop the show so I produce and direct.

When we get off air at 9:00 I'm usually pretty buzzed and it takes me at least half an hour to re-focus on the day ahead which includes (but is not limited to) running the 10 o'clock story meetings, writing the item intros, checking the edits, balancing the budget (ha!), going to departmental meetings, doing a few p.r. gigs, dealing with freelancers, and picking the music for the next day - everyone says my music choices suck (it's that damn theme; I guess Chuck Mangione isn't the best thing to wake up to!)

I stay at the plant through the 6pm supper hour TV newscast then either slide away or hang around gossiping. I'm sleeping at the station more and more on a foamy I keep in one of the edit suites. It might not be classy but you gotta admit - it's efficient.

Doing a morning show is exhausting so I'm starting to look around. The posting for that new TV program [The Journal] will be out soon and after surviving the radio grind TV seems like a pretty nice gig.


Ten Thousand Days later

July 26th, 2009.

Ten thousand nine hundred actually. But the same highway still winds its way past the same middle-of-nowhere towns where the AM jocks chant the same cadence of commercials, weather, and fragments of news headlines. All that's changed are the names. Carter = Obama; Trudeau = Harper; Lafleur = Crosby. I've driven this route...fifty maybe a hundred times and still find that sweep of blacktop from the high point of the Shield down, down, down into that long curving right hand corner drifting across the shore line of Old Woman Bay to be one of the most exhilarating ten minutes of Canadian highway driving. And there's not a Timmy Ho's in sight.

I've been back and forth half a dozen times these past few months as I try to get relocated here. When I first drove the 2,100 miles from Calgary to Hogtown in July of '79 I was full of ambition and hope and lusty excitement about what lay over that shimmering hot horizon of highway. I remember thinking as I passed through T-Bay: "Hey ! I could actually get a perm and not a soul would know 'cuz THIS is how they'll always see me" (thank God I couldn't afford the 18 bucks). But tonight, I feel the passage of those ten thousand days and although I still hear that seductive, narcotic voice saying -- "now THIS, is a great story" ... I gotta admit to being sick and tired of the constant "transitions" and I wish to hell the Motel Six in Blind River would change its "Coloured TV" neon sign. Just a thought -- can you buy a black-and-white TV anywhere this side of Baghdad?

I'm going to try and pick up this little blog up again. Why? Because I liked the exercise in writing and corralling all those wild-pony memories is good mental health discipline. I've recently had a number of friends leave the business. Victims of down-sizing. And although they're making brave sounds about setting up their own "production company" or getting into "consulting" - there is probably no worse time in the history of our fragile industry to be trying to extend your career this way.

The other day I was re-reading some of the off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts I wrote back in '79 about why I wanted to make a life in this business - and although way too many of them had to do with chasing women and not being able to do anything else...a few of them actually had some resonance.

Here's what I wrote back on July 26th, 1979. Ten thousand nine hundred days ago, today.

"I love what I do. I love the people I pass my time with. They are funny and smart and passionate and incredibly hard working. They have brought me into a "community" and for the first time in my life I actually feel as if people are listening to what I have to say. I'm not sure exactly what that might be, but at least I have a voice."



Saturday, March 28th - 2009.

Here's something to take the spring time warmth away: it's an excerpt from an email I recently received from a respected, former colleague.


I am at my friend's place in North Miami Beach looking out my bedroom window and seeing the Atlantic. I have decided to take up drinking. I figure if fate will take you into the gutter it is easier being an alcoholic. As you know I have never been able to drink that much, so now I'm going to practice.

I have had a winter of writing proposals that nobody will buy. After each proposal I say now THAT would make great TV and then off to the next one. I enjoy writing proposals even when I get paid nothing, which is why I think skid row is an excellent thing for me to aspire to.

Or as Steppenwolf may have sung "Goddamm the media man"

Well that's life, I think I will go back and enjoy the sun. This should have been my goal thirty years ago rather than using my imagination and creativity to profit others. That, as I have learned is for saps and geniuses; and I am not a genius.

When I started writing this blog I wanted to contribute something marginally useful to the social history of Canada's media culture from a front line perspective. I also hoped that some of the students in my J-school class might pick up on one or two of the warning signals which I (and too many others) had missed completely.

My depressed buddy was an excellent field producer. But he was someone who didn't understand the difference between a job and a career.


The Spring Book

Edmonton AM, April 10th. 1981.

The numbers are in - and they're about what I expected. We're UP one spot, which is a huge achievement around here.

Our little morning radio show stands at #4 in a nine station market. The a.m. rock station is #1, the shit-kicking C-and-W station #2, the Easy Listening guys #3. We're getting about 30-thousand listeners a morning.
It could be worse - our noon show peaks at 12,000 and the drive home show at 18,000. I guess Eric's XT5 idea hasn't exactly taken the province by storm (although we've all got very cool coffee mugs).

My old boss, Richard Bronstein blew through town last week to talk about a new TV show that's in the works - The Journal. He didn't have too many details but said he thought it'd be a nightly magazine show with both a domestic and an international focus. Sounds interesting.

Richard's talk has fueled the gossip mills around the plant as he's going to hire an Alberta field producer. They're looking for someone with a Current Affairs background, some network experience. and a willingness to learn TV.

The fact that this show will be run by the "radio crowd" has sparked considerable bitching. One of the longtime TV guys here - Gerry Olsen, came up to me to ask if I was going to apply. He said that I should because (quote) "when you fuck up they won't know that you've fucked up".



Big John

Journal Entry, Edmonton.
Wednesday, January 14th, 1981.

A late, late night. Beers at the Strath. Dinner at the Keg. Etcetera at Bob Spence's.

Spence is the eminence gris around the CBC. For the past few years he's been the morning show host but got bumped to reading the news by the Vicki/Gail experiment.

He's a pretty easy going guy - all 6'5" of him. "Built to Scale" is his stock pick up line. Must work 'cause he gets plenty of action. Claimed he bedded Maria Muldaur of "Midnight at the Oasis" fame when she was through town last year...said he made her wail like an "Xoxa yodeller". Don't believe it myself, but the allusion was pretty funny.

Spence hangs out with another big guy, John Candy who is leaving town this week. The 'Chuk will NOT be the same.

He's been here with the SCTV gang for the past couple of months shooting at ITV where they get cheap studio time and non-union crews. Candy and Spence have been crashing around town like a couple of bored 15 year olds with adult pay cheques for allowances.

Last weekend SCTV had their wrap party as most of the actors were heading back east; the consensus was to have it on set, but the plant management would not give them the studio.

So, Candy rented it - in fact he rented the entire station.

He rented the gaffers so we'd have lights, the sound guy to spin tunes, the staging guys to put up tables, the security guys to keep things cool, the parking guy to jockey cars, and best of all he rented every production assistant at ITV Edmonton as....table dancers.

A great time was had by all. At the end of the night the bill was 22-thousand dollars. Big John picked up the tab. Every last dime.

That man loves to party.