Chapter Twelve

The three key executives at the CKUA of 1950 were all veterans of World War II. They happened to represent the three services: The Manager had been a fighter pilot, his Program Director had served in the tank corps, and the Chief Engineer in the navy. They were all in a position to make my life a misery, but each of them mixed kindness and understanding into their instruction.

If they erred at all it was in the other direction: I felt positively indulged; and Joe McCallum, because he showed such talent, was given latitude unheard of for someone that young. Joe was barely out of high school when we worked together, but he had already originated several radio programs, and I was to watch him give the singer Robert Goulet his first public exposure.

About Joe’s creations: most of them fitted the ‘something for everybody’ approach the station followed at the time: a kiddies’ program, a teen show, etc. But at least one of Joe’s radio shows was truly weird: it featured the soundtracks of National Film Board productions. Joe would set up a movie projector in the control room and flash the images on a studio wall while the sound track went out on the air.

Imagine watching a TV show on a set with a broken picture tube: that’s how most of those programs must have sounded. True, the sound tracks for Norman McClaren’s experimental cartoons could often stand on their own, but much of the time Joe’s NFB show was on the air our listeners got scraps of dialogue separated by lengthy silences broken only by a cough, footfall, or unexplained laughter.

Joe’s teen program was at least predictable: “High School Highlights” was a procession of mumbling adolescents publicizing sock hops and team rallies. The girls were often whiney and nasal, and the boys gulped and displayed the wavering vocal range that heralds adolescence. Until this one handsome young buck in a team jacket took his turn at the microphone and rumbled:

“Hi, this is Robert Goulet from St. Joseph’s High School . . .”

The contrast was enough to have our Chief Announcer, Jack Hagerman, galloping down the hall from the front office, demanding to know who this incredible voice belonged to.

Goulet maintained in later interviews that he had some trouble getting an announcer’s job at CKUA once he had graduated from Saint Joseph’s High School, but I was in the control room that day in 1950 to see how he had impressed the Chief Announcer. And not much later, I was to see Goulet work the same magic on a Winnipeg Program Director. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

John O’Leary had put his finger on the one function the other Edmonton radio stations were especially happy to surrender to CKUA: the training of future broadcasters. John – and later, Bob Goulet – were only two of many to benefit from CKUA’s catchall approach to the medium. Other names come to mind: Leslie Neilson, Arthur Hiller, Alex Frame, Bob Willson, Steve Woodman . . . Where else could a greenhorn gain so much experience in so short a time?

Consider what I got to do during my first year in radio:

– Spin a solid hour of classical music recordings every night while reading from a faint carbon copy prepared by the caustic university professor who had selected them.

(NOTE TO ANNOUNCER: Giacomo Puccini is pronounced Gee (as in ‘Golly-gee!’), ah, COMO (as in Perry Como) Pooch, EENIE (as in Eenie-Meeny, etc.) and not “JACK-o-Moe PUCK-inny,” the way you read it last week.)

– Take minor roles in ‘school plays’ – radio dramatizations used in Alberta classrooms as an aid to the teaching of History and Drama.

(SAILOR: Arrr! See yon gull, Captain Columbus! We must be nearing the Orient at last! ME: [OFF MIKE] Land ho!)

– Wheedle my way into an interview session with Stan Kenton, the leader of one of the ‘big bands’ my friend Vic’s record collection brought to my attention.

(Both Stan Kenton’s big band and Louis Armstrong’s fine-honed group of jazz veterans came to Edmonton in 1950. They performed in the one venue big enough for the expected crowds: The Cow Palace. No-one seemed to know where the place got its name but it was quite in keeping with the city’s deep rural roots.)

– Go into the station’s main studio every Saturday afternoon with a half-dozen odiferous country-and-western performers to act as the host of their live, unscripted, hour-long show.

(“And a great big western howdy to you, friends and neighbors! This is your ol’ saddle pal, Pinto Pat . . .”)

– Break into a pre-recorded program with a news bulletin reporting the invasion of South Korea by its northern neighbor.

(“We interrupt this program for a news bulletin. Canadian Press reports that . . . “)

– Originate and present a weekly program of popular music to be shipped to Australia for re-broadcast there.

(“Greetings from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to our friends listening to 2-SM, Sydney, Australia.”)

– Stand up to my ankles in snow on a movie theatre marquee overlooking the city’s main street, trying to control my chattering teeth long enough to describe Edmonton’s annual Santa Claus parade hurrying by in a sudden blizzard.

(“And th-th-this m-m-must b-b-be the j-j-jolly old g-g-gentleman h-h-himself . . .”)


One Response to “Chapter Twelve”

  1. Alec Bollini Says:

    I finished the first twelve and now await with bated breath the next installment.

    Alec Bollini (that’s pronounced Beau-Lee-knee, Signor Puccini.

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