British Columbia

CBC's influential former music host David Wisdom talks tunes and photos

David Wisdom, former host of Nightlines and RadioSonic, opened his home on Salt Spring Island to talk about the history behind his long career playing music at the CBC and what he has moved onto now.

Wisdom now lives on Salt Spring Island and regularly exhibits his photography at the Vancouver Art Gallery

David Wisdom and North by Northwest guest host Grant Lawrence talk about Wisdom's influential career as a music host on CBC Radio for 30 years. (CBC)

Longtime listeners of CBC Radio and a music lovers across the country might remember many of the radio shows hosted by David Wisdom, including Nightlines, Pearls of Wisdom and RadioSonic.

After working at the CBC for 30 years, Wisdom retired in the late 2000s but recently North By Northwest guest host Grant Lawrence visited him at his home on Salt Spring Island to discover the history behind his long career playing music at the CBC and what he has moved onto now.     

Wisdom's career as a radio host started with a call on the day Elvis died. It was August of 1977 and the radio station sought him out because of his extensive record collection.

"I got a phone call from the music librarian, record librarian, who said, 'I hear you have a lot of records, we need somebody who knows about young people's music today. Would you come and apply for a job?' And so I did."

'Play what you want'

He attributes much of his success to the late Susan Englebert, CBC veteran and creator of Radio 3.

Englebert, who produced the show Nightlines, brought Wisdom on to host in 1987 moving the show from Winnipeg to Vancouver.

"They wanted to move the show to Vancouver because Vancouver was happening, and Susan Englebert, who, without her, I wouldn't have had the same career that I did, said, 'you take over this show and you can just play what you want.' Those were amazing days." 

Nightlines occupied the airwaves on Friday and Saturday nights until 1997 and Wisdom says he took the opportunity to have fun with music from a wider variety of genres than the regular weekday overnight program, Brave New Waves.

"I played Dolly Parton, I played some folk music, but my main focus always was independent music, alternative rock, garage rock… all that kind of stuff," he said.

Just as his career started on a momentous day, Nightlines wrapped up on the day Princess Diana died in Paris. Wisdom switched gears and moved on to co-host RadioSonic with Leora Kornfeld, which later evolved into CBC Radio 3.

"We both were pretty sure of what we knew, and sometimes we'd butt heads a bit. I didn't think that was such a bad thing on the radio, I enjoyed it," he said.

Wisdom's best memories from that era was the time spent travelling around the continent to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Festival, over to Toronto for the North by Northeast Festival and to St. John's, Newfoundland for the East Coast Music Awards.

As he got older, so did his audience as he moved on to host the prime time show, Pearls of Wisdom.

"I was happy to do it," he said laughing. "The good thing about it is I learned a lot about a lot of different kinds of music. I had to play music that was for an older demographic, I got into music of the 30s and 40s."

Move to a digital era

"When I left CBC I was over 60, I realized I was playing music that was sort of aimed at a much younger demographic than I actually was. I appreciated that, so I knew why they put me into doing the Pearls of Wisdom slot," he said reflecting on his last few years at the CBC.

There was a shift of focus within the corporation around the early to mid 2000's, and like many media outlets of the time, the CBC began the move toward digital programming.

"Life got more and more difficult for me at CBC because there was kind of a change in philosophy, the change toward the online aspect of CBC, which I was kind of late to."

Although the switch to digital didn't appeal to Wisdom, he took the first few years after leaving the CBC to scan his extensive collection of slide photography.

"So I had easy access to all the pictures I had ever taken from the 1960's on… I've always been somebody who takes pictures. I used to have these events called slide shows and I would show my own slides.

"I'd set them to music and I'd invite other artists and photographers and kids in the 60s and 70s. It went on in kind of a formal way with invitations for about 11 or 12 years."

Since then, he's been exhibiting his photography and is involved with the Vancouver Art Gallery on a regular basis.

David Wisdom's next communal slide show, featuring his photos and the photos of other presenters, is Tuesday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. PT at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

With files from the CBC's North by Northwest.

To hear the full interview listen to audio labelled Pearls of Wisdom: an update from CBC's influential former musical host David Wisdom.