After 4 decades on air, Don Connolly retiring from CBC Nova Scotia
Veteran morning radio show host is signing off for the last time
It's hard to describe his voice — warm, full, maybe a little bit rumbly. But if you've lived in Nova Scotia at some point over the past four decades you would recognize it.
That voice will fade from the airwaves this morning, as Don Connolly turns on his microphone for the last time to say goodbye to generations of morning CBC Radio listeners on the Nova Scotia mainland.
Connolly, who first joined the Information Morning team as an interviewer in April 1976, calculated he's done more than 70,000 interviews in his 42 years with the show.
Connolly said his goal was "to be good company" for morning listeners "to reflect back to them the Nova Scotia they understand and care about."
Born in Antigonish, N.S., on June 22, 1947, and raised in Bathurst, N.B., Connolly was supposed to go into the family business — construction. Instead he found himself reading the morning news at CKBC in Bathurst, after getting laid off from his job at a weekly newspaper.
He remembers the advice the general manager at the station gave him when he mentioned he didn't have any radio experience: "It ain't rocket science."
Connolly went on to work at CHNS in Halifax and CFGO in Ottawa before accepting the interview job at Information Morning. He'd been offered a job at CHUM in Toronto around the same time, which is the job he said he should have taken if he "wanted to be in show business."
Instead Connolly chose to go to Halifax, "where my friends were."
The three announcers on Information Morning at the time — host Don Tremaine, weatherman Reid Dexter and sportscaster Gerry Fogarty were professionals of "my father's generation," Connolly said.
"I spoke when I was spoken to."
Connecting with the audience
Connolly said his favourite interviews are the ones that showcase the kind of people Nova Scotians truly are. Connolly remembers doing a live interview with a man who was trying to reconnect with a family in Annapolis Royal who had hosted him during the war.
Partway through the interview the mayor of Annapolis Royal called the control room and said she knew the family — in fact they lived across the street from her.
"Their light's on in the kitchen," he remembers her saying. "Do you want their number?"
The team called the family and managed to make the reunion happen live on the air. That moment "spoke to the connectedness" of the community, Connolly said.
Taking the show on the road to broadcast from a remote location far from the polished studio in downtown Halifax was also a passion. Those moments gave him a "deeper understanding" of life in rural Nova Scotia, Connolly said.
Voice of calm
When the Westray Mine exploded, when Swissair Flight 111 crashed and when Hurricane Juan made landfall, Connolly's role was to be the calm voice in the midst of a crisis.
Then there were the elections — federal, provincial, municipal. "I love them all ... [Elections] are the amongst my very favourite things," he said.
Connolly remembers the night in 1993 when Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative premier Donald Cameron, defeated by John Savage's Liberals, "quit politics on the spot, live in front of his own people in Pictou County."
It was a "jaw-dropping kind of moment," he said.
It's that element of surprise, Connolly said, that makes live election broadcasts so interesting.
Connolly will be the first person to tell you he makes mistakes too. Like the time he interviewed the Irish prime minister and replaced the name of his political party with that of his rival.
"I think I stopped blushing about a week and a half later," he said.
There's also "my 40-year propensity to tell the time wrong," Connolly laughs.
'Wealth of lived experience'
Stephen Kimber, a journalism professor at the University of King's College, was working at the CBC in Nova Scotia when Connolly first started working there in the 1970s.
He remembers Connolly's "huge hair" and "great voice."
"I think he's become better and better over the years," Kimber said.
His guests aren't just answering questions, they're engaged in conversation, he said, and Connolly has proven that you don't "have to be nasty in order to ask tough questions."
Kimber said it's going to be difficult to replace the sheer volume of knowledge — "a wealth of lived experience" — that Connolly has amassed about this community. Kimber said he's been such a presence on the radio for so long, "it will be hard to imagine the show without him."
Retiring on his own terms
Connolly said he had planned to retire in 2016 on his 40th anniversary with the CBC — but then life got in the way. He had a bad fall in 2015 and broke some bones. Then he had to undergo treatment for two kinds of cancer.
"Rather than kind of wobble out," Connolly said, he decided to "pick a time and place of my own choosing and go out standing up."
Connolly said he has no specific plans for retirement — except perhaps to study for his driver's test. After years of taking cabs to the studio in the early-morning hours, he said it might just be time to get behind the wheel.