Thursday, September 8, 2011 | Categories: Episodes |
Today on Rewind, Michael Enright is joined by Shelagh Rogers of The Next Chapter. They look at some of the personalities who have graced the air on CBC Radio. Sure it's the news and the drama and the stories that have made CBC Radio what it is over the years, but for better or for worse, it's hosts you probably remember. From its earliest days CBC had people who would have done anything to be on air. Think Kate Aitken, Lister Sinclair, Max Ferguson, Lorne Greene. John Fisher, Peter Gzowski and many more.
Sure it's the news and the drama and the stories that have made CBC Radio what it is over the years, but for better or for worse, it's the hosts that you probably remember. From its earliest days CBC had people who would have done anything to be on air. The Second World War elevated some of those individuals to star status. One of them was Lorne Greene. He was the national news anchor at CBC Radio during the Second World War. With his bottom of the scotch barrel voice and his dramatic delivery he became known as "The Voice of Doom."
John Fisher was one of the CBC's most popular personalities. He started his career as a lawyer in Nova Scotia, and joined the CBC as its Roving Reporter in 1943. "John Fisher Reports" ran until 1953, and chronicled a decade of transformation for Canada from the Second World War to the postwar boom. Fisher crisscrossed the country airing three fifteen-minute reports each week on everything from the first telephone call from a returning solider to his mother in the Yukon... to honeymooners in Niagara.
James Bannerman was another character. He was chosen to host the arts program CBC Tuesday Night, and became known for his warm and intimate style. People would tune in just to hear his introductions of the documentary or music that would follow. Bannerman might say baldly that what was coming didn't appeal to him, but then he'd go on to say why you should listen anyway. Here he is in 1967 introducing a documentary about the Beatles made by Peter Gzowski.
Kate Aitken was the voice of housewives right after the Second World War. Her program offered advice on cooking, childcare and fashion but also delivered a perspective on the broader world of women and politics. Here she is in 1948 introducing a piece of music by Marian Andersen, the world famous African American contralto.
For more than sixty years - almost the entire life of the CBC - Lister Sinclair was one of Canada's best known and best loved broadcasters. Lister was a mathematician, playwright, actor, director, producer, critic, birder, music expert, writer... and sports nut. He started out at the CBC in 1942 as an actor. He went on to write more than 400 radio plays. But he was also a radio star and hosted many shows- 'A' is for Aardvark, Court of Opinion, Morningside and at an age when most people think of retiring- Ideas. In television, he was one of the first producers and hosts of The Nature of Things. He was a frequent panellist on Front Page Challenge, a special guest on Wayne and Shuster, and he produced many documentaries and programs for CBC Television. Here's a sampler of Lister's work between 1955 and 1987...
Allan McFee spent more than 52 years at CBC Radio, starting in 1937, when he joined the announce staff. Allan McFee was charming and entertaining, irreverent and ornery. Allan had a reputation early on as a rebel at CBC, clashing with producers and bureaucrats who tried in vain to make him toe the line. There are many Allan McFee stories- for instance, he always carried a special pen so he could scribble "POOP" across memos from CBC managers...there was the time he set fire to a memo he didn't like that was posted on a bulletin board. The time he dotted the studio ceiling with asparagus tips he'd thrown in the air. And for almost a year he delivered the weather forecast for Dribble Lake, Ontario. Except that there was no Dribble Lake, Ontario. Besides general announce duties, Allan hosted Eclectic Circus. It was full of music, stories and a lot of the McFee brand of whimsy.
Max Ferguson was another CBC Radio legend. Story has it that when Ferguson was first hired in 1946, he was appalled to find that he had to host a cowboy music show. In hopes of quick reassignment, he improvised a character called Ol' Rawhide, an elderly ranch-hand who gave colorfully disdainful appraisals of the songs he introduced. The character was an instant hit. In 1949, Max moved to Toronto so that his program could be broadcast nationally. This is from 1960 where Max has a little fun with the announcement from Ottawa that Canadians would be able to buy do-it-yourself fallout shelters.
Bill McNeil started his career at CBC Radio in 1950. Before starting at the Corp he had worked as a miner in Glace Bay, Cape Breton. Years later, a writer from Glace Bay wrote in the Globe and Mail that "when news spread through the community that Bill McNeil had been hired by the CBC, it couldn't have produced more shock than if a Protestant had been made Pope." It didn't take long before McNeill's resonant voice and quiet manner made him a beloved voice across the network. One of his passions was oral history. In the 1960s he was the principal host of the current affairs program Assignment. McNeil particularly enjoyed talking to old people. Listen to this clip from 1965 where he talks to Mrs. Macdonald, a 107-year-old from Cape Breton.
Assignment was replaced by a brand new program called As It Happens. And one of its first hosts was Harry Brown. In 1974 the program aired a documentary called Dying of Lead. During the broadcast in the Eastern Time zone, the lead smelting company named in the piece served the producers with a court injunction, forbidding the broadcast of certain parts of the program. The crew interrupted the delay system, and Harry read a script describing the legal wrangle. Then he read the injunction, word for word. By the time he was finished, the producers were able to insert tone into the documentary to replace the offending passages. In some places the tone went on for seconds, perhaps minutes. This case changed broadcast law and put a small radio program on the front pages of most Canadian newspapers for the first time. Here is just a bit of Harry Brown's unflappable delivery.
It was on As It Happens that Barbara Frum blossomed as a broadcaster and interviewer. Frum hosted As It Happens until 1982, when she moved to CBC Television's The Journal. In that time she conducted thousands of interviews with intelligence and a probing curiosity. Some of them became classics. We have a couple of them for you now. The first is from September 1975, when Charles Manson follower and eco-terrorist Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme was arrested after a failed assassination attempt on U.S. President Gerald Ford. Following Fromme's arrest, Barbara Frum got on the phone with Fromme's roommate Sandra Good. This clip comes after a few minutes of an already difficult interview. Then it got really weird.
Clyde Gilmour was a legend around CBC Radio with his vast record collection and his encyclopaedic knowledge of music of every kind. And the two watches he wore, so if one stopped, he would still be on time...and be able to time his music selections. The first edition of Gilmour's Albums aired in 1956, and the show continued till 1997. Clyde selected all the music from his own collection of more than 10,000 records and 4,000 CDs. And as you'll hear, it seems he knew each album intimately.
Alan Maitland's resonant and polished voice was well known and loved by CBC Radio listeners.
Over the years, he worked on dozens of programs including his own music series, Maitland Manor, as well as The Gordie Tapp Show and Action Set, a 1970's for young people. And for nineteen years he was the co-host of As It Happens. Perhaps his most enduring work was as a teller of stories in the guise of Front Porch Al and Fireside Al. Every Christmas Eve since 1979 on As It Happens and right up to this day, you can hear his rendition of The Shepherd. But what is on deck now is Alan with Stephen Leacock. This is from The Great Election of Missinaba County.
Peter Gzowski first began his career as a print journalist, working as a reporter and editor. In the early 1970's, Peter turned to radio, hosting programs like Radio Free Friday and This Country in the Morning. His restless nature led him to television where he hosted Ninety Minutes Live...an attempt to create a Canadian late night talk show. It was a critical failure. By 1982, he was back on radio hosting what came to be his signature show- Morningside. And Morningside was where Stuart McLean- now host of Vinyl Café- got his start on air. This is from 1986 where Stuart McLean shows Peter Gzowski all the things he managed to buy for a dollar.
Vicki Gabereau spent more than 20 years at CBC Radio and became known as the "queen of talk" specializing in long form interviews. She talked to everyone from singer Dolly Parton to romance writer Barbara Cartland, race car driver Stirling Moss to actor Tony Randall. In this clip from 1988, Vicki talks to Peter Gzowski and they swap some stories on difficult interviews.