IDEAS hosts 1965-2015

Ideas Hosts collage

Left to right: Ken Haslam, original host of The Best Ideas You'll Hear Tonight & IDEAS; Russ Germain, host of IDEAS in the early seventies and mid-eighties; Lister Sinclair, host of IDEAS from 1983 - 1999; Paul Kennedy host of IDEAS since 1999. Warren Davis and Jim Robertson also hosted the show during this ​period​.

A short history of the show

"Ideas... The Best Ideas You'll Hear Tonight" intoned CBC announcer Ken Haslam. With those words, spoken in his cultivated, baritone voice, Haslam launched the first episode of what was described as "the new look in CBC educational broadcasting" an hour-long show of "radio for the mind" to be heard each weeknight. It was Monday, October 25th, 1965.  

Phyllis Webb

Phyllis Webb

The program was the brainchild of two CBC Radio producers, Phyllis Webb and Bill Young . Webb was a West Coast poet who had always wanted to work in radio. She joined the CBC in 1964 and began producing a lecture series called University of the Air. In later years, she would win a Governor General's award for her collection of poetry, The Vision Tree: Selected Poems. Bill Young was an American who had come to Canada to study. In 1964, he was doing graduate work in English at the University of Toronto, when he was recruited to the CBC. His first job was to produce The Learning Stage, an adult education program with lectures and interviews on such subjects as theatre, film, music, travel and poetry. 

Phyllis Webb talking to Paul Kennedy about the early days of IDEAS -- from our 40th anniversary program

Bill Young recalls attending a meeting at which producers were asked to consider amalgamating programs with similar mandates. The CBC needed to save money. Plus ça change. Webb was enthusiastic. She felt the lecture format of her program was too constraining and wanted to try doing something livelier. She and Young worked together on a proposal to merge University of the Air and The Learning Stage to create a new nightly program that would take the best of each series and present adult education on radio using a variety of approaches. They sent the proposal to CBC management, and it was accepted. 

IDEAS Alumni - Janet Somerville

IDEAS alumni: producer, Janet Somerville (centre) with CBC Radio technician Del Mackenzie, and producer, Lew Auerbach, in a recent photograph.

The new program was launched under the title, The Best Ideas You'll Hear Tonight, but within months it was shortened to Ideas. Webb and Young hired a third person to work with them, a young woman named Janet Somerville. Somerville had been working on her master's degree in theology at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto when she learned of the vacancy at Ideas. She jumped at the opportunity and applied. She didn't expect to get the job, and when she did, it was to her "absolute astonishment." The program also had a roster of freelance contributors. Among the best known were Timothy Findley, who became the show's literary editor, and Bill Whitehead, its science editor. 

"Idea Number One for Monday" Haslam announced briskly, "Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution" and the show began with a discussion about Darwin's 1831 trip to the Galapagos. Webb was disappointed with that first show and says the series got off to a "horrible start." Janet Somerville says it was "class-roomy" and "text-bookish" But the new series quickly found its feet. The second program was much better and eventually won an award. 

What IDEAS sounded like in 1965. "The World of IDEAS" -- from our 30th anniversary celebration

Ideas underlie every aspect of our lives. They shape how we think and speak about the world, how we behave, how we see ourselves, individually and in society. Ideas drive imagination; they determine how we conceive the past, the present and the future; they inform our political and social arrangements, our arts and culture, science, technology, and religion, our personal relationships and beliefs.

--  by Bernie Lucht (executive producer of IDEAS from 1984-2012), excerpted with permission from the introduction to IDEAS: Brilliant Thinkers Speak Their Minds, Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2005.

A look back at 50 years of IDEAS