My journey into broadcast journalism may never have happened had my mom not rescued my BCIT application from the dresser drawer I had stuffed it in and mailed it off, unbeknownst to me. So it came as a complete shock when she informed me I had an interview. We drove down to Vancouver, with me protesting all the the way that I had zero hope of getting in - hundreds of people applied and there were few seats available and there was no way they would want me - a relative bumpkin in a sea of undoubtedly deeply talented naturals. It was a bit irritating to be told I was wrong.
I had grown up with a deep love affair with the radio - turning it on the minute I woke up and listening late into the night. It was the "theatre of the mind" in every way and I was deeply attached to the personalities I felt I knew intimately after years of faithful devotion. When I was a teenager I could listen to CFOX on the stereo in our basement where I heard Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" for the first time long before my bible, Rolling Stone magazine, told me who she was.
When I graduated it was 1986, the year of Expo in Vancouver and I was among a small group of students selected to work at what was then known as BCTV while the fair was underway. But the risk of taking that position, not knowing what would transpire when Expo was over proved too much for my insecure self so I vaulted for the only radio job I could find on the "wanted" board at our school. It was at a station in Quesnel, an hour away from my parents and it fit within my comfort zone at the time. This was a station that offered "message time" an opportunity for people on reserve and in outlying areas who obviously didn't have phones to submit short messages to their friends and relatives that the DJ would read on-air. Messages like - and I quote - "Got beat up last night so can't meet you in town today." Being part of the "media elite" in a very small town was an eye-opener and I quickly learned when I covered a city council or hospital board meeting that the principals involved wouldn't hesitate to call the station (or drop by!) and offer their editorial comment on what I had just said. I wasn't there very long before my news director got a job overseeing the newsrooms within the Kootenay Broadcasting System and he asked me to go with him - so I was soon packing my bags for Trail, where Ken Georgetti was still ensconced as the head of the local Steelworker's union and news revolved around life at the smelter up the hill. Stations like KBS still carried large newsrooms at the time and our 8am and 5pm newscasts were marathon affairs with a full sports packages, farm news and unique to Trail, "news in Italian" read by an unpleasant local man who apparently spoke in a dialect of Italian no one in the largely Italian community understood. I often covered the court beat in neighbouring communities like Castlegar and Rossland, phoning in my updates from pay phones. I remember one incident when I was alarmed to find the accused waiting to use the phone while I filed my report and I passed him in my car hitch-hiking on my drive back to the station. He waved.
I stayed in radio for ten years - hosting talk shows, producing radio documentaries, on the beat and on the air. For the first couple of years away from it, I missed it terribly and dreamed of going back but it wasn't to be. The radio landscape has contracted since then and I don't suspect the same opportunities exist today that I enjoyed back then. Still there is something magical about the radio that will never be replicated in any other medium. Close your eyes and listen.