10,000 Seconds is a Helluva Long Time to Hold your Breath

I didn’t know shit from shinola when I was 21.

I attempted university four times, over 3 years, in two countries. The highlight was playing college basketball at schools in both Texas and Vancouver BC, while finding enough inspiration to log two years of credits toward a degree in Physical Education. I did okay in English and Anatomy, squeaked by in French and Zoology but the other courses were simply uninteresting. As I look back, my real majors were pool and hanging out.

The only jobs I’d had were bagging groceries and stocking shelves at a store in my old Toronto neighbourhood. I pumped gas, changed oil and fixed flat tires at a series of Vancouver service stations.  My goal had been to be a gym teacher in high school and coach basketball. And then along came radio.

I'm #44
I was at Vancouver City College for what turned out to be the final stab at formal education. I was a good enough basketball player to attract the attention of renowned Simon Fraser University Coach John Kootnekoff.

My best friend’s brother was News Director at legendary Vancouver Top 40 radio station CKLG. Don Richards called one day. It was a strange conversation, a little about basketball but mostly about nothing. He called again the next day and told me he had recorded that strange conversation. He had played it for his Program Director Frank Callaghan as a voice audition. I passed.

CKLG asked me to report on all games at the 1969 BC High School Boys Basketball Tournament from War Memorial Gymnasium at the University of British Columbia. I had to be there anyhow as our term paper for Basketball Coaching credit was to pick a team, follow it from beginning to end of tournament and produce a scouting report. A brief discussion with my coaching instructor changed the assignment. I would hand in everything said on the radio with an introduction and a conclusion. I was “on the air” before stepping foot in a radio station, filed reports day and night for four days, got an A in my coaching class, was paid $250.00 (a fortune at the time) and was offered a full time job. It wasn’t much of a dilemma. I quickly forgot about SFU’s interest in my basketball ability and took the job.

May 1, 1969

My broadcasting career was launched for the princely sum of $200.00 per month. I was the kid guy in the newsroom, learning to write news and sports, edit copy and recording tape, operate equipment, do interviews, build newscasts and become an announcer.

I had many mentors

These are the people who stand out in my memory as significant influences on the kid that didn’t know shit from shinola.

Don Richards

He was the guy who "discovered" me. He must have seen some talent as he challenged me and helped me develop basic newsroom skills. The first few years were rough. I nearly quit several times. Don had the patience to talk me through whatever issues I had. It was mostly a confidence and experience thing because that first job in the business was at one of the best radio stations in the country.

Frank Callaghan

He was the Program Director at Boss Radio CKLG. From him I learned what not to say and do during a critique of your performance or as we call it in the business, an air check. It’s not a put down although it may sound like it. Frank would listen to a tape of a newscast from start to finish with his back to me. When over, he’d turn off the machine, rewind the tape, hand it to me and say, “do more of that”. I learned nothing about announcing from Frank but he did offer a piece of advice that sticks with me. He said, “I have to be nice to guys like you because one day I might need a job.”

Daryl B

In my opinion, one of the greatest Top 40 disc jockeys of the time. Daryl spent hours showing me how to work equipment, splice and manipulate recording tape and cue 45’s on the turntable. He would listen to my practice tapes and offer advice. RIP B, you left us far too young.

Don Stevens

Don came to Vancouver in 1970. He was on the air from 9 PM to Midnight and I was his newsman. He was and is a performer with subtle humour. He's a master of show prep and word economy. Don is still on the radio to this day at Calgary's XL 103. He taught me substance with brevity and how to create content.

Dale O’Hara

Dale hired me at CKY Winnipeg in 1974. I was with him for just one year. He taught me all about newsroom systems and journalistic practices. When Dale left Winnipeg to return to Calgary, I was honoured to be chosen as the next News Director of KY58, my first job in management.

Alden Diehl

Aldie was the General Manager of KY58. He was a very good singer, opera I think. He taught me voice exercises, phrasing and breath control. Not only did I become a much better announcer but it was Alden who started me down the path to being more than just a department manager. He gave me the tools to become a talent coach.

I had the pleasure of working for Alden twice.  He would later be the GM at LG73.

Gary Russell (Vidler)

Gar is one of my favourite people. We first met in the early 70’s when he came to CKLG as a DJ. At one point he joined the news team to read afternoon newscasts and I was assigned as his back up and writer. We had some fun. We created ace Vancouver reporter Lou Spinnoza and in a slightly affected, over-animated voice, Gary would file Lou Spinnoza reports to our national network. Lou was so effective that he got a couple of job offers from big stations back east.

Gary was later the Program Director at CKY Winnipeg where I was his News Director. I learned about finding talent from Gary. One of his big scores was bringing Don Percy to KY as the morning guy. I was the first newsman to work on air with Don.

Gary would follow me back to LG73 Vancouver. Again, he was Program Director and I was his News Director. I was off air, managing the department , developing content and coaching talent when Gary called me to his office one day. He said we need you back on the radio full time doing morning news on the Doc Harris Show. Those couple of years in the late 70’s and early 80’s were my last on air. They were also some of the most fun. I still occasionally get recognized as Tall Ted with the news as Doc called me.

It was also Gary who got me started in programming when he promoted me to become Assistant PD of CKLG.

J. Paul Huddleston

KHJ Los Angeles, the birthplace of Boss Radio. If you were in the business of hit music in the 60’s, you knew the voice of J. Paul Huddleston. I was working for Moffatt Broadcasting as News Director at CKY Winnipeg when the company hired J. Paul as consultant to their news departments. Holy inspiration! – Tight conversational writing, localization, on air performance, story – story – story, people not reporters make news. I only had the pleasure of spending a few days with J. Paul but what a revelation!

Ed Bliss

Had a few hours with him years ago after hearing him speak at a Radio, Television News Directors Association convention. He wrote a book called Writing News for Broadcast. Bliss had a stellar career with CBS Television News, writing stories for both Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite in the 50’s. I adopted his approach quickly and still teach a form of his technique to anyone who wants to learn. My one copy of his book was loaned out to someone and never returned. I hope it continues to circulate among young broadcasters.

Greg Douglas

When I started my career in 1969, Greg was the Public Relations Director of the Vancouver Canucks Hockey Club. It was their last year in the Western Hockey League. The transition to the NHL was underway with the opening of the Pacific Coliseum and the launch of the NHL Canucks in the fall of 1970. I was not only the rookie in the Press Box but had long hair and was not accustomed to wearing a tie. Greg taught me the ropes. He was also doing sports editorials on LG. One of my jobs was to record his editorials, so we talked every day.

When I returned to Vancouver in 1977, I set out to hire Greg. He had risen to the position of Assistant General Manager of the Canucks and had recently been fired when the team cleaned house. Greg joined us as the Sports Director and morning sports guy on the Doc Harris Show. It was in these years that we began calling him Dr. Sport on the air. Greg would have a scoop. He always had some inside information. I would say to him, how do you know that? He always replied, "How do I know? Because I’m Dr. Sport".

I hired Greg a second time as Sports Director and morning sports guy at CKWX on the Jim Fraser Show.

J. Paul McConnell

J. P. handled sports for one of LG73’s Vancouver competitors. He was also a news reporter. For some reason we became friends in the Canucks Press Box. At a time when I was car-less, J. P. would swing by my apartment in his big city News Cruiser and drive me to and from games. I never forgot that. In the late 90’s, I managed the radio rights for the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup game for three years.  J. P. helped me piece together what became outstanding broadcasts. J. P. was a pro.

Dave Charles and John Parikhal

Dave and John built a consulting company called Joint Communications. They were our programming consultants and audience research company at LG73. Later they would provide the same services when I programmed CKWX. What I learned from Dave and John would fill chapters in a book.

Tom Peacock

He was GM of CKWX Super Country in Vancouver and hired me as News Director in the early 80`s. It was a 32 person news and sports department when I got there and made no economic or competitive sense. Through many conversations, Tom appointed me Program Director, the first of several PD positions I held in multiple formats. Together we transitioned the station with new talent and more realistic budgets remaining profitable and competitive for several years.There are many Tom Peacock stories. He was a people person, a social maven.

Probably the most significant impact Tom had on my career was mid 80`s. Tom had been a driving force behind the BC Country Music Association but the organization was in total disarray. Membership was down to a handful of diehards. As a result of Tom, I was introduced to a few key people, got involved in a big way, serving as Vice President through the rebuilding years. In 2011, I was deeply honoured with induction into the BCCMA Hall of Fame. Had it not been for Tom, that would never have happened.

Ralph Murphy

In the late 1980`s, CKWX and Kiss FM were sold to Rogers Broadcasting. The rules of the Canadian Radio Television Commission, required the company to spend $50,000 per year for five years on behalf of CKWX, in support of Canadian Talent. I met Ralph in a bar in Whistler BC during a Country Music event. We hit it off right away. He is Canadian from Ontario, but had lived for years in Nashville Tennessee where not only was he a hit songwriter but also worked for ASCAP. He has traveled the world for decades teaching the craft of songwriting to hundreds.  He also wrote a book titled "Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting".

Over several beers and literally on a napkin, we devised The WX1130 Songwriters Contest. Rogers ok`d it. Here`s how it worked. The station invited Vancouver and area songwriters to submit a demo of a song. Ralph put together a group of five songwriters from Nashville including himself. One of the Vancouver Five, as they became known, was Bobby Wood. He not only a songwriter but a successful studio musician and musical arranger. The criteria for the Vancouver Five included having written hit songs and be willing to make the trip to Vancouver to participate. The submitted demos were reviewed by the panel of mentors. Each selected two. The winning songwriters got to spend a day in a hotel room with their mentor, working on their song and learning from some of the best.

Next, Ralph and Bobby put together a studio band as well as singers from the Vancouver Country community, took them into a studio and recorded the winning songs. The resulting CD not only got airplay on WX1130, but was distributed nationally. We tied everything back to the BC Country Music Association.

From Ralph I got a deep appreciation for the craft of song writing. I`ve never written a song but the knowledge made me a better storyteller and marketer.

Marty Forbes

I was the last Program Director of WX sister station CJAZ FM in Vancouver. It was Canada`s first all jazz radio station. For a bunch of reasons it was not successful. We took one more shot at the ratings before changing formats. We did alright but not enough to save jazz.

Marty Forbes taught me the value of networking and sharing. He and I had not worked together before the format switch but we had become telephone friends. I convinced Tom Peacock that Marty was the guy we needed to create and launch the new format. Kiss FM Vancouver was Marty`s baby.

Arnie Celsie

A clever, innovative and tireless radio consultant and talent coach. I first worked with Arnie toward the end of my time at CKWX. We got together again when I was VP Newstalk Programming for Rawlco Radio. One thing about hiring a consultant. If you don’t use them, you learn nothing. It’s true that you won’t use them if there is no connection. Arnie and I connected. He not only became my sounding board for ideas, but also a key source of information and inspiration. Arnie is now Vice President Consulting for Sparknet Communications.

Doug Rutherford

I was fired by Rogers Broadcasting in May of 1991. They were cutting costs at CKWX and replaced me with someone at half the salary and significantly less experience. It was the beginning of the end for the Country format on the AM dial in Vancouver. A few years later, Rogers flipped to All News.

While searching for the next challenge, I got a call from Doug Rutherford who was then the Program Director at CKNW Vancouver. He was instrumental in me being hired by CJOB Winnipeg and the move to the Newstalk format. I eventually went to work directly for Doug when he became first the Alberta Manager for Western International Communications and then President of WIC. I loved those years and would work for Doug again in an instant. He’s a straight shooter, black or white. You were either a Doug Rutherford person or not. There was no grey. Not only did I learn a ton about management from Doug but he made me the National Program Director for WIC’s AM stations, all of them Newstalk. Those were rewarding years. Unfortunately, WIC was bought out by Shaw and became Corus Entertainment. I left the company about a year later.

Peter Warren

He was the legendary talk show host at CJOB in Winnipeg. I was hired there in 1991. I knew a lot about news but virtually nothing about the talk format. Warren taught me about hosting, passion, content research and performance. As we grew to respect each other, he even allowed me to challenge him. It was Warren who lived by this rule. There is no taking a day off from the show, unless sick or on vacation. There are no slow news days, only lazy hosts and reporters.

Bob Irving

Bob is one of the all-time great play by play voices in Canadian sports history. His passion is football. He has been behind the microphone for Winnipeg Blue Bomber games almost since the dawn of time. He is so good that he had offers from major US networks to cross the border to ply his craft. Bob hates flying. He earned the nickname Knuckles because of how hard he would grip the armrests from takeoff to landing.  I had programmed NASL Soccer and PCL Baseball at CKWX, prior to meeting Bob. It was Bob who taught me about NHL and CFL play by play set up and execution.

Gordon and Doug Rawlinson

Passion for business, passion for radio. The Rawlinsons did it their way always. Always learning and always seeking advice from some of the best business and radio minds. They were demanding but fair. Gordon wanted to win with Newstalk in Saskatchewan. I am proud to say we turned weak stations in Saskatoon and Regina into influential and profitable Newstalk franchises. They treated me well, especially after the sudden death of our son in January 2008.

Roy H. Williams

One of the people the brothers Rawlinson reached out to for advice was Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads. They brought Roy to Saskatchewan and Alberta to speak to their advertising clients and they paid for key employees to travel to Roy’s Wizard Academy in Austin Texas for various courses. I went twice. I saw Roy speak on 4 other occasions on his trips to Canada. If you want to learn how advertising works, about the brain and behaviour, consistency, about storytelling and emotion, read Roy’s bestselling books or better yet, go to the Academy and take a course or two.

I made it for 45 years

I got to know a thing or two about people and about radio over the years. I even learned that shinola is not only a word, but a World War II era brand of American shoe polish.

I have also learned that radio has changed.  More specifically, the business of radio has changed. Companies are no longer interested in the services I offer. Some of that is my age. And I’m convinced that some of it is my 4 year battle to defeat and recover from cancer. It’s got nothing to do with my success record or my capacity for developing and executing strategies or my ability to coach talent. I’ve had a dream of being an active contributor to broadcasting when I celebrate 50 years in the business. Do the math. That means another 5 to go. But as I celebrate the joys of the first 45 years, I wrestle with the reality that my career is likely over. However, know this, If my phone should ring, I’m available. 

Oh, and the title of this story will be the title of my book. 10,000 Seconds is a Helluva Long Time to Hold your Breath.