Chapter Twenty-two

The tour ended March 19, 1960 so I must have returned to Edmonton shortly after that. I was in quite a state: along with the jet lag, I was suffering from a sort of reality shock. The British government had spoiled me rotten, and I had a lot of adjusting to do.
There would be no breakfast in bed, no-one to shine my shoes, pick up tabs, leave tips, and no Humber Snipe waiting to whisk me away to something I’d never seen before, followed by a meal in the nearest posh restaurant. In the closing days of the UK tour, it had become downright annoying to be helped into my overcoat yet again by yet another obsequious maitre d’. Back home in Edmonton, I was suddenly nobody again – and it hurt.
The first few days back at work, everything seemed so routine. I spent far too much time looking wistfully out of my office window. I think it was Bob Goulet who snapped me out of it.

Bob hadn’t let any grass grow under his feet since I’d last heard of him. He had a regular spot on the CBC TV’s most popular variety program, and he had been chosen for a leading role in the next Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical.
“Brigadoon” and then “My Fair Lady” had made Lerner and Loewe the collaborators of choice on Broadway in the 1960s, mentioned in the same paragraph with Rodgers and Hammerstein and even the Gershwins. And now the red-hot team had turned their attention to Camelot, and snared Richard Burton and Julie Andrews for the key roles. Bob Goulet was to play Lancelot, a part of only slightly less importance: it was a turning point in his career.
So, when an amateur choir in Edmonton asked him to return to the city as the soloist at their annual concert, he might have been expected to turn it down. He accepted.
As soon as we got word of it at CKUA, we went into high gear to push the ‘alumnus’ button. Accordingly, when Goulet alighted from an Air Canada flight at Edmonton’s airport, Gil Evans was there with a tape recorder and microphone. The next day we lured Goulet to the station for an interview. But our most shameless exploitation came when he had gone back east: we tracked Bob down for a phone interview where he was deep in Camelot rehearsals somewhere in New York.
It was my suggestion that Goulet be asked to sing something he was rehearsing into the telephone, and – thank heaven – he refused: which says a lot about both of us. What if Lerner or Loewe had caught him singing “Never Will I Leave You” into a telephone before the world was to know there even was such a song?
Dumb, Pat, dumb.

But let me rewind a bit to give you an insight into Bob Goulet’s complicated psyche. Let’s return to the moment Bob came through the entrance doors into the waiting room at Edmonton’s airport, having just arrived from Toronto. He had attracted quite a crowd, divided into various distinct knots.
Gil was nearest the entrance, microphone in hand. I was with the press, standing among the reporters and photographers. Off to one side was a welcoming committee from the choir that had brought him to Edmonton for its concert. I recognized a few self-described dignitaries among them that I was anxious to avoid.
Some just plain fans had gathered closer to the entrance doors. To the rear of that assemblage were a half-dozen people who looked decidedly out of place; their ruddy complexions and unstylish clothes marking them as country folk.
Bob came bouncing through the doors wearing an expensive tailored overcoat and a jaunty Tyrolean fedora, complete with an outsized feather. He made straight for the half-dozen country folk, and – while the rest of us cooled our heels – hugged each of them in turn, using his elegant baritone to greet them in French. I had forgotten that he had relatives in Alberta.
In my opinion, the scene marked Bob Goulet as a class act. He was to reinforce my esteem for him forty years later when he turned up at CKUA’s 75th Anniversary celebrations. You have to admire a guy that acknowledges his roots.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I might have been hard-pressed in 1960 to describe what we were trying to do at CKUA, but it appears much easier now, going on 50 years later:
Above all, we craved a larger audience for the station if only to justify the public money being spent to sustain us. It seemed reasonable to direct our efforts towards a particular kind of person: someone with fairly catholic tastes who was willing to set them aside long enough to welcome something new. We weren’t after the cognoscenti because, at the time, only a few of us even knew what the word meant, but it would help our cause if our target listener were something of an attention-seeker. I visualized a coffee break situation, with our newly won disciple telling a friend: “You’ll never guess what I heard on CKUA on the way to work.”

We knew it was a lot to ask. We had to start with:
1. Exceptional hosts with an inborn sense of when he or she had reached the edge of alienation.
2. Brilliant, catchy, but brief examples of every possible form of music.
3. The broadcast resources needed to provide our new conquest with the minimum to get through peak periods of the day, such as early mornings and the drive-home hours.
4. A clean, clear radio signal.
5. Consistency.

Consider how close we were to meeting all of these criteria in 1960:
1. We had several announcers who qualified.
2. We had a marvelous record library, comprehensive enough to provide most of what we would need.
3. We had a compact but flexible news department, and at least one member who knew Sports well.
4. Thanks to Jack, we at last had a clean, clear signal, though it fell short of reaching the entire province. Put this one down as ‘iffy’.
5. This one still needed a lot of work. Much was still left over from our Old Days of trying to cater to every taste and need with separate programs.

Jack and I had been particularly unhappy with our weekend programs for some time. I’m not sure which one of us took the initiative to tackle the worst of it: the gaggle of nine language programs that took up three-and-a-half hours of our Sunday afternoons; but it was Jack, as usual, who did all the vital spadework with the government.
There is an excellent description of his efforts in Marylu Walters book CKUA Radio Worth Fighting For. And Ms Walters goes on to set out how it all came to naught and resulted in my dismissal. All I would want to add to her account is the concern I expressed to Jack before the whole process began: it involves going back to that newly won CKUA listener and his coffee break friend.
Let’s say the conversation took place sometime during the week, but the friend’s curiosity didn’t get the better of him until the weekend. What would he get to hear if he tuned in to CKUA for the first time on a Sunday afternoon? What the language people were doing didn’t bear the slightest resemblance to our weekday programming. Another potential listener down the drain.

There was a pocket-sized magazine published in Edmonton in 1960: a sort of poor man’s TV Guide. Along with the listings, it ran a gossip column on the local entertainment scene. It seemed reasonable to expect it would include some mention of my dismissal.
It did, in one of the column’s closing lines:

” . . .and Pat McDougall, Program Director of CKUA, has resigned. So what?”

You can be sure those words stung when I first read them, but it wasn’t too long before they began to make sense. ‘So what,’ indeed!
Jack had no trouble finding a replacement. Tony Cashman, a well-known local historian I had somehow never met, was warming my chair little more than a month after I hit the street.
There was no outcry from CKUA’s notoriously bumptious audience. And the Alberta dailies – quite rightly – considered me yesterday’s news.
I had three kids and a mortgage – and not much of a settlement from Alberta Government Telephones. I had to find another source of income in a hurry. The commercial stations I approached found my announcing style quaint. I remember being led down a hallway at CHED, Edmonton, to take an audition in one of its studios, when I heard a loud banging sound coming from the control room.
“What’s that?” I asked the Program Director.
“Oh, that’s just the guy on duty, psyching himself up for his next intro.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Kicking the trash can.”

Not my scene, man. Not after cool, chronically unhurried CKUA.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: