With this week’s untimely passing of reporting legend Larry Fredricks, it got me to thinking how lucky I have been in my career to cross paths and learn from some of the greatest media giants ever to work in Montreal. I count myself one of the lucky few to have had the opportunity to learn about journalism and about life from people who lived and breathed it. We often go through life without saying thank you until someone passes, by then it’s too late. I would like to take this opportunity to thank some of the people who helped shape me to who I am today.
In 1989, I was in grade 9 and for career explorations (a program that put you in a working environment for two days, to see what the environment was like), I chose two places, CJAD and The Suburban. As a high school student, these were the only two places I ever wanted to work.
For the first day of career explorations I was placed at The Suburban (a paper I had been writing a column about high school for). Aside from Stuart Nulman, Joel Goldenberg and Irwin Rappoport, the reporters working that day, I met Larry Fredricks. Larry asked me what career I wanted to persue and I told him reporter. He gave me advice that I carry til today, he said, the only way to succeed as a reporter is hard work. He said, it doesn’t matter what people think of your work, it doesn’t matter if you piss people off, at the end of the day, honesty, integrity and hard work is the key. Follow this advice and you will never lose.
Larry was right, I worked hard and just a few years later I started reporting for the Suburban. Everytime I would run into Larry, he would always have something to say about an article I wrote or an opinion piece I wrote. Sometimes he agreed, most of the times he didn’t, but he was never dismissive, always encouraging and a true gentleman.
Probably the most frustrating man I ever had anything to do with. In 1996, I approached Gord looking for a job in the CJAD newsroom. In his gruff voice he asked me to tell him why he should hire me. I explained that I come with little baggage and he could train me the way he sees fit. He responded that there were tons of experienced newsmen looking for jobs, why would he hire a green kid. I answered with a question, I asked him if he wanted the same sound as everyone else or wanted something new and original. Hiring the same old same old, makes thing stale, I explained. He laughed and said he liked me and he would think about hiring me, that I should call him in a few days. I did, he never answered again.
A few years later I started working at CJAD as a board operator. On the second or third shift I was working, I approached Gord in his office and introduced myself. He looked up from his desk straight into my eyes and asked me how I felt when he didn’t answer my calls or call me back. I told him that I was devastated. He shook his head and told me that perseverance is the key to journalism. He said I should never have stopped calling, I should have driven him crazy until he answered my call. He said if it were him, he would have shown up at the office and badgered the secretary until she went to get him. He said when I gave up chasing him, I gave up the job.
Thinking back, he was right. If as a reporter you are chasing a story and a source is not answering your call or calling you back, what do you do? Keep calling until you get an answer. I learned a valuable lesson that day, thanks Gord.
When I worked the 6-midnight shift on CJAD, Ted Blackman would call in to record the morning sports hit. The recordings would be done on a reel to reel tape machine and to avoid having to splice tape and potentially screw up the report, if the reporter screwed up, they would just start over again until they got it right.
Ted always screwed up. At the time he was on heavy medication and had a hard time concentrating on what he was doing. It was amazing to see the man working as hard as he did, being as sick as he was. One night Ted called the station and recorded his sports hit. He then called back and told me he couldn’t sleep and wanted to talk. He told me he knew I was playing a pre-recorded program and had the time to indulge him in a conversation.
We talked for an hour. He asked me what my ambition in life was, I told him to be a great reporter and a legendary radio guy like him. He laughed and told me to stop with the flattery, it doesn’t really help. He explained that the chances of me becoming a radio guy in Montreal were nil, because old goats like him never give up positions. He told me to change my focus to either television or newsprint, but radio is a closed market not interested in new voices.
He wished me good luck and I thanked him. Unfortunately he was right, I haven’t yet gotten my big break in commercial radio, although I do host a very popular niche show on Montreal’s Jewish radio station.
For over 35 years, Jack Finnigan hosted various shows on CJAD. He was my personal hero, my mentor but most of all, my friend.
Jack was hesitant when I got transferred to his shift. He was hosting the afternoon show on Sundays and I was the fourth producer in as many years to be shifted to working with him. The consummate professional, he never let on, at least on the air, that he was annoyed with the constant change. Off the air however, he generally ignored me.
One day, Jack challenged callers to ask him questions. It was a twist he wanted to play up on his quiz show (since the station had cancelled all the music and now he had three hours to kill talking). Jack took the first call and didn’t know the answer. I whispered it in his ear, then the second and third. He looked over at me and smiled. After the show, he invited me out for a drink (non alcoholic) and a talk.
We went to a small bar off St Catherine Street and took a back table. Jack ordered a coke, I ordered a water. He smiled and told me that I did good by whispering the answers in his ear. He wanted to know more about me. We chatted for a couple of hours, then we headed our merry way.
The next Sunday, Jack came in early. He told me that he thought about our conversation and if I was serious about being a radio man, he would try to help me achieve my dream. He gave me some old script and told me to read it and give him the recording. He would listen to it, critique it and help me get better.
We went through that exercise for a few months, Jack would listen, criticize, I would listen and get better. We became very close.
Then Jack’s health started deteriorating and our relationship changed. I found myself very concerned for him, helping him out on air and off air, at the office and at home as much as I can. I went from being his producer to being his protector.
One day Jack collapsed in studio, it was in the middle of a question, which I quickly jumped on air to complete, while call screener Paul Mullen ran in to help. I ended up co-hosting that show and almost every other show Jack hosted until he was too sick to host anymore.
Jack died at the beginning of December that year, sadly the newsroom couldn’t find any footage of Jack’s voice and I had to supply them. I suggested a memorial show, it was arranged, I was supposed to host it. When it aired, I was given second chair and then shut out of it. Jack’s show was given to another host at the station and eventually cancelled.
Jack taught me about professionalism, integrity and perseverance. There were times Jack came into the studio in pain, way too sick to be there, yet he never gave up, showed up week after week, feeble and limp. That kind of commitment and love for the work you do is something we could all learn from.
Jim Duff is my hero.
He has been my hero since I was a boy listening to his reporting and no bullshit way of dealing with his guests and subjects. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Jim Duff, gruff, rude and to the point. A host people were scared to lie to, who was well prepared and ready to reveal the truth, damn the consequences.
While working for Jim when he was editor at The Suburban, I learned that no matter how hard the topic, no matter who I had to speak to, the story comes first. Jim taught me how to prioritize information, how to lay out a story properly and make it look good on paper. He taught me research techniques I still use today and an interview style that I still use today.
Jim’s suggestion during the Ice Storm of 1998 that CJAD should have moved their programming to the FM station to keep people informed didn’t sit well with the management of the station. They steadfastly refused to move the programming. Jim went public and got fired. Even after apologizing he still couldn’t get his job back.
He shuffled around a bit, first working at 940 News then as afternoon then morning man at CIQC 600. At the end of the day, Jim went back to his roots as a newspaper man, first editing The Suburban, then moving back to his family business The Hudson Gazette, which he still edits today.
Thank you Jim for making me the reporter and talk show host I am today.
Derek Conlon replaced Gord Sinclair as news director at CJAD. After months of badgering him (thank Gord for that Derek), he finally gave me an opportunity to do an unpaid internship in the newsroom. As as any intern, I was sent to cover the return of Olympic athletes, a dispute over a broken fence in Pierrefonds and a minor traffic accident.
On the last day of my internship I was shipped off to Dorval Airport (Trudeau International) to cover a minor fire that was picked up off the emergency channel scanner. I hopped into my car and raced down to the airport. As I drove in, I noticed that suddenly behind me hundreds of people were converging in the entrance. I parked my car and approached the crowd, I was directed to a short man standing in the middle. I asked him what was going on, he told me that the union representing customs workers was going on strike and they had just closed the airport. He said the airport would be closed until all the union’s demands were met.
I quickly reported what was going on to the station and being the only reporter on site led off the next newscast. A second, more experienced reporter was dispatched to the airport to relieve me of my duties, but she couldn’t get in and was stuck on the wrong side of the entrance. Hour after hour I led off the news with live hits.
The strike finally ended and I headed back to the station to file my reports. I wrote them, recorded them and filed them…They were never used. The anchor couldn’t bring himself to use a report from an intern.
Derek told me my work was great, he said the filed reports were excellent. He never called me to work in the newsroom again.
The lesson I learned from that experience was no matter how good of a job you do, in media, if you are typecast in a role (I was a technician), it’s very hard to move out of it.
Christy was my first editor. When I was 14 years old, he gave me a chance to write a column and get published. I am forever grateful to Christy for that.
It’s hard to believe I knew and worked with all these media legends. There were many others that helped me throughout the years. I unfortunately cannot name everyone, so please don’t be offended if you are not in this list. I want to thank all of you who took the time, the effort and shared your experience with me to help shape and groom me into the media person I am today. I am eternally grateful to all of you.