Chapter Twenty

Evidence of another successful effort in our publicity campaign was still in place as late as 2002.

The peculiar design of the Alberta Block, the downtown government building that housed CKUA, left a perfectly blank wall two stories high and an equivalent distance wide facing Jasper Avenue, Edmonton’s main street. It was too good to miss.
I approached Jack with an idea: why not fill the space with an advertisement for the newly empowered CKUA? Typically, he shoved his work aside, got to his feet, and led me on a breathless climb up a stairway that brought us to the roof.
“Work me up a sketch of what you want,” Jack told me, “and I’ll see what I can do.”

As I explained in an earlier chapter, I am a cartoonist of sorts. I knew that Jack was particularly fond of the typeface used on the letterhead we were using, so I made it the centerpiece of my design. Jack’s favorite letterhead and an arrow pointing to the favored spot we enjoyed on the AM dial: 580, at its very beginning. All that had to be added was the mandatory: “Owned and operated by Alberta Government Telephones.”
What Jack “could do” has been staring down at passing main street traffic for more than forty years.

Okay, so I’ve established myself as God’s gift to non-commercial radio. Now let me tell you about some of the things that didn’t work:
Just one of the blessings I had been handed with that Program Director’s job was a fine newsroom. Paul Tatarewicz had managed to stay within the strictures set out by CKUA’s strange semi-governmental status to put together an enviable news service. I should have left well enough alone, but there was enough commercial radio left in my system to have me favoring the idea of a newscast every hour. I now know that CKUA had fought several bitter battles to keep its newscasts more comprehensive than a ‘news-on-the-hour’ pattern would allow.
I also took exception to Paul himself – or, at least, to the way he came across on the air. After how I had been bruised by the more aggressive style of Al Davidson during my Winnipeg days, you would think I would have welcomed Paul’s mild-mannered radio voice. But I was determined to put more ‘oomph’ into our newscasts.
The King of Oomph on my announce staff was Jim Edwards who later parlayed his authoritative style into a seat in Parliament, a junior cabinet position and a number of managerial positions in radio and elsewhere. I wanted Jim to be the new voice of CKUA News. Paul was shoved aside in his favor. Not satisfied, I then managed to alienate Jim and, at the same time, earn the distrust of the entire staff.

“News To The Hour”. It was my master plan for the News Department. We would reschedule our newscasts to turn up just before each hour, rather than ‘at the top of the clock’ where most of other stations’ radio newscasts could be found. We would steal a march on our rivals, and, I thought, gain an invaluable advantage in covering a breaking news story.
Once the city’s radio listeners realized that crafty CKUA would tell them the latest developments several minutes before the hour, why would they wait around to tune in to what the other stations had to say five minutes later? I sold the idea to Jack about the time I made Jim Edwards our new News Editor, but I hadn’t completely sold Jim.

It all appeared to be falling into place just before Jim was to leave on his annual vacation. All that remained to be resolved was the disposition of the Noon News which Jim felt should be exempted from the rescheduling. After all, Jim insisted, it had been our prime daily newscast for as long as most of our listeners could remember. I told him I would leave the Noon News untouched until he returned from his vacation; we’d talk again then, I said.

I must have been feeling my oats. Only days later, I backed the Noon News to 11:55 to match the other “News To The Hour” already in place. It only stayed that way until the day Jim returned from his vacation. I can still see his face when he confronted me on his first morning back on the job: barely-contained anger had turned it bright red with little flecks of white at the cheekbones. I remember jumping to my feet at the sight of him and rushing to close my office door so that his outburst wouldn’t be heard from one end of the station to the other.
I knew I was dead wrong, and Jim didn’t have to rage at me more than a minute before I backed off, simpering an apology. The incident was to have repercussions that didn’t take long to materialize.

I remember a staff meeting we held in the station’s main studio only a matter of days later. Staff meetings were regular affairs that I ordinarily welcomed. But the night before that particular meeting, things had gone terribly wrong at The Yardbird Suite, Edmonton’s principal Jazz club.
I had approved the taping of that evening’s jam session for later broadcast and had left the details to some of the announcers who handled it rather badly. The fiasco was all news to me: I had spent the night at home with my family. At the staff meeting the next day, one of the announcers used every caustic term in his vocabulary to rake me over the coals: I should have been there to supervise; I had left CKUA open to ridicule . . . His accusations mounted in acrimony, gaining support as they did. Nothing I said in reply appeased my accuser or anyone else there, and the meeting broke up in disorder.
I came away feeling I had lost something, as I most certainly had. But a little sober re-examination gave me a more sensible perspective: being the Program Director of CKUA didn’t entitle me to anything more than grudging respect at most. The reins had never been held that tightly; the whip had never once been applied. You live with the consequences.

Solace came from an unexpected quarter: the United Kingdom Information Service.
London had only recently established an Edmonton presence for the service and we were making frequent use of it, broadcasting many of the excellent programs it made available: The Goon Show, World Theatre, My Word . . .
It made for many meetings with James Thomson, the likeable and efficient man who ran the Service’s Edmonton branch. I had no inkling of what Thomson had in mind for me until I received the following letter just before Christmas, 1959:

Dear Mr. McDougall,
I am writing on behalf of the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in Canada to invite you to join a party of radio men in a visit to the United Kingdom from the 17th of February to 16th March, 1960, under the official sponsorship of the United Kingdom Government . . .’
‘It has been our practice in the past to invite journalists to make up appropriate parties, but this year, for the first time, we have decided to invite representatives from the radio field and our party will consist of five men drawn from various parts of Canada.’

The letter was signed: ‘Mac Samples, Director, United Kingdom Information Office.’

What a Christmas present! Even if it couldn’t have come at a more awkward time. We were expecting another addition to the family in a matter of days, and the ceremony marking CKUA’s power increase was slated for March 9, 1960 – a week before the tour ended.
I felt my participation in the tour was up to the two key people in my life at the time: my wife and Jack Hagerman. The new arrival would be less than two months old by February 17. With two other small children to care for, could Marie handle things alone for a solid month? And what about the arrangements for the official ‘switch on’ of the new transmitter?
But both Marie and Jack gave me the OK: the opportunity was just too much to turn down. And so, with some misgivings, I boarded the aircraft for Ottawa the evening of February 14, 1960, for what soon became a voyage of discovery.

Mac Samples letter of invitation mentioned that our tour party “will consist of five men drawn from various parts of Canada.” It came as a surprise then to find that only four of us actually turned up in Ottawa to get things underway. Someone had to cancel out at the last minute.
If it was variety our hosts hoped to find in our party, I think the four survivors provided it.
– Will Bishop, Program Director of CKEN, Kentville, Nova Scotia, was the quietly efficient type. He kept a careful record of everything he was shown.
– Tom Bremner, the News Director of CFPL, London, Ontario, threw his back out early in the tour and spent much of it trying to recuperate.
– Doug Brophy of CBC, St. John’s, Newfoundland, provided most of the humor. One of his jokes had our official guide sprawled across the hood of a parked car on London’s busy Oxford Street, helpless from laughter.

What was my role on our United Kingdom adventure? I was the benighted Prairie lad, stumbling from one wonder to the next.

The tour provided a comprehensive view of life in what the United Kingdom had become under a youthful Queen Elizabeth II. We saw the BBC’s new television building, emerging independent TV, a film studio, a football match, a cattle ranch, a radio telescope, the House of Commons in session, a country ‘local’ pub, the John Brown shipyard, and Loch Lomond.
We went a mile deep in a coal mine, saw the London production of “My Fair Lady,” ate roast beef at Simpsons-in-the-Strand, chatted with Selwyn Lloyd and the Earl of Home, and traveled from one site to another in the Humber Snipe limousine once assigned to Prime Minister Anthony Eden.

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