Off the air, on the farm: Why this broadcaster made a mid-life career change

It took Bill Gregory 25 years to realize he wanted to farm, but now he says he's never been happier.

Bill Gregory traded microphones for manure, taking over family farm in Harricot

Bill Gregory says the hours are long, but the work is rewarding on his family farm, Haricot Farms. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Bill Gregory's booming voice was built for radio, but these days he uses that deep pitch to quote a well-known Bible passage to describe his new station in life.

"To everything there is a season," he said with a wide smile, as he looked out over St. Mary's Bay from his family farm in Haricot.

It's only an hour from St. John's, but Gregory's "office" these days could not be further from where he spent the previous 25 years, behind the microphone at VOCM, Hits FM and K-Rock.

A little more than a year ago, he slipped out of the radio booth to join his family's sheep and beef business, Haricot Farms.

'It's about lifestyle'

Growing up on the farm, he never imagined it would become his full-time gig. Now, he can't figure out why he didn't do it sooner.

His role is very hands-on. There are no media stars here. If work needs to get done, it gets done.

Bill, right, sits with his former broadcasting colleagues Mike Campbell, centre, and Chris Batstone. (Bill Gregory/Submitted)

"It's not about money, it's about lifestyle," he said, standing in a newly constructed packaging and freezer facility at the farm.

Gregory and his wife moved back to Haricot four years ago, and he commuted to his radio job in St. John's.

The decision to turn away from the broadcasting career he loved was not an easy one, but it was gradual.

It also wasn't the first time Gregory walked away from his media career.

Bill Gregory talks about going from broadcasting to butchering 5:48

Laughter, silenced

About 12 years ago Gregory lost two co-workers, Ken Ash and Paul Magee, within a matter of months.

"They were mentors to me and I found it hard to be funny … to be 'on' all the time," he said.

With that profound loss hanging over him, Gregory eventually took a job in communications with the provincial government. That stint lasted less than three years.

Gregory says he doesn't mind butchering his animals, as he knows how they were raised. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Referring to his own age at the time and the access to information file he was tasked with stickhandling while at Confederation Building, Gregory's dark sense of humour creeps back in when describing why he returned to the airwaves, stating, "Bill 29 almost killed Bill 39."

Gregory survived his stint in government  and returned to radio, but he was not quite done with career changes.

Something kept pulling him back to the family farm, and a simpler life.

Simple, but not easy

It's a simple life, but not an easy one, although Gregory said the demands of his new job make it very easy to fall asleep at night.

"Besides, most of the things you work around you can eat," he added with a chuckle.

Jokes aside, Gregory takes his new role very seriously.

Raising and butchering animals is "not for everyone," he proudly stated while standing in the freezer among a hanging, quartered cow and seven sheep.

Gregory says one perk of farm living is 'most of the things you work around you can eat.' (Fred Hutton/CBC)

When asked if any part of the job grosses him out, he doesn't hestitate.

"Nope, none of it. Because I know the conditions here and I know this provides food for people."

That said, in an unexpected moment during our chat, Gregory recalled sitting on the floor of his barn last winter helping his dad tube-feed a newborn lamb.

Looking away, he paused briefly. "It died in my arms. I watched it take its last breath," he said, describing the experience as surreal.

"I went back to the house and just sat there," he said, adding he felt "a little verklempt."

But his smile is never far off. When asked if he was surprised by the emotional reaction, he quickly replied, "I'm not Spock."

Feeding the goat

There's a touch of irony to Gregory's mid-life switch: in broadcast media, the old expression "feeding the goat" refers to filling the insatiable appetite of air time. It's never ending, but not nearly as physically demanding as farm work.

The animals need to be taken care of every day of the year, and Gregory said there is no season that is easier than any other. 

The work is hard, but the payback for Gregory is the pace of life.

He doesn't miss the commute, and when he does come to St. John's, he notices a big difference.

"Driving in the city has become more taxing … everyone is white-knuckled and in a rush to get nowhere," he said, shaking his head. 

He wondered aloud why more people aren't opting for a life in rural Newfoundland, especially because of its other big perk: the view.

"You get lost in it, really," he said, grinning and releasing a deep breath as he surveys the oceanfront land that has been in his family for generation.

"I get to live it, every day."

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About the Author

Fred Hutton

CBC News

Fred Hutton co-hosts the St. John's Morning Show, and contributes to Here & Now and CBC N.L.'s digital platforms.