As It Happens

The most unusual places As It Happens has reached someone

Whether it's a football field or the middle of the ocean, As It Happens always tries to get you as close to the story as possible.

From live hostage-takings to shark-infested waters — 50 years of getting as close to the story as possible

A sanctuary for gnomes, football practice and shark-infested waters are just a few of the places As It Happens has reached someone for an interview. (Markus Schreiber/AP, Christopher Drost/CP, Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

For the last five decades, we've tried to stay true to our name, telling compelling stories as they happen.

That can mean taking listeners to some pretty unconventional places.

Whether it's in the tension of a live hostage taking or whimsy of a garden gnome sanctuary, we always strive to get as close to the story as we possibly can from a phone line.

Gunmen during live hostage takings

Police wait on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., during a two-day siege of three buildings. (Stan Grossfeld/the Boston Globe via Getty Images)

When a dozen Hanafi Muslim extremists seized control three buildings in Washington and took more than 100 people hostage on March 9, 1977, host Barbara Frum reached one of the gunman in the B'Nai Brith headquarters.

The armed extremists were demanding a halt to the screening of a film called Mohammed: The Messenger of God.

After dodging several questions, he finally said with exasperation: "What do you want?"

She responded: "I want to know why you came to the B'Nai Brith and what you hope to accomplish."

"Don't worry about that. Zionist Jews. Don't ask me what I hope. I don't hope," he replied.

The man hung up soon after. The siege lasted two days. The hostage-takers killed a radio reporter, Maurice Williams.

This marked the first of two live hostage-takings Frum would cover that month. The second one ended without bloodshed.

#AIH50: Mediating a hostage negotiation on the radio

4 years ago
Duration 4:13
March 21, 1977: Late As It Happens host Barbara Frum spoke to a hostage taker, one of his hostages and a police officer as the situation was unfolding live. (Ben Shannon/CBC Radio)

When Robert McLagan held 11 employees at a Toronto bank hostage on March 21, Frum convinced the hostage-taker to let her speak to one of his hostages, to outline his demands, and to connect with a police negotiator, who would go on to secure a peaceful surrender with no casualties.

On a rowboat in the middle of the ocean

Julie Wafaei and Colin Angus set out in June 2004 to complete the first human-powered circumnavigation of the world. The 2-year trip included 5 months crossing the Atlantic Ocean by rowboat. (Julie and Colin Angus/Angus Adventures)

When host Mary-Lou Finlay reached Julie Wafaei and Colin Angus via satellite phone Nov. 7, 2005, they were on a rowboat in the Atlantic Ocean, travelling from Portugal to Miami.

As It Happens regularly checked in with Canadian explorer couple as they completed the first-ever self-propelled journey around the globe.

"It's a dark and somewhat stormy night out here on the Atlantic. We've got 10-foot waves and fairly strong winds," Wafaei said.

She described sea sickness, blistered hands, and close encounters with porpoises, whales — and a great white shark that circled their boat ominously.

"It was huge," said Angus, who had been out scrubbing barnacles off the boat moments before. "I was certainly happy not to be in the water anymore."

A sanctuary for gnomes

Ann Atkins is the proud owner of the Gnome Reserve and Wild Flower Garden in north Devon, England, which provides sanctuary to more than 2,000 garden gnomes.

"They're very, very, very old. As old as the hills. And yet at the same time, they're as young as a small child," the eccentric collector told guest host Geoffrey Stevens in an October 1981 interview.

"That's pretty magical, isn't it?"

Everyone who visits is given "gnome hats" to wear around the garden, she said.

"After they put the hats on, they change," Atkins said. "Their eyes become sort of dreamy, and at the same time, they laugh a lot."

Rob Ford on the football field

Rob Ford is hoisted into the air by his Don Bosco Eagles team after winning the Metro Bowl quarter-final at Birchmount Park in Toronto, Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. (Christopher Drost/Canadian Press)

The day after Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto in October 2010, host Carol Off called him up for an interview that was punctuated by the sounds of wind and people shouting — including the mayor-elect himself.

"Hello, Mr. Ford, are you there?" a confused Off asked at one point as Ford appears to be talking to someone else.

The mayor-elect, who died in 2016, explained that he was coaching football.

In the middle of answering a question about his campaign, Ford suddenly shouted: "Go out and get changed! Don't worry about the water right now!"

The man who lives in an airport

Stranded at KLIA2, Kuala Lumpur's budget terminal, Hassan al Kontar, 36, has been posting videos blogs of his daily life on Twitter and Facebook. (Hassan al Kontar/Twitter)

When host Carol Off spoke to Hassan al Kontar at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on April 13, he had already been there for 38 days.

The Syrian man was working abroad when war broke out in his home country. His passport expired in the UAE, he overstayed his visa in Malaysia and he was turned away from flights to Ecuador and Cambodia.

He became trapped Malaysian airport budget terminal with no money, no passport and nowhere to go.

"It's a huge issue just to try to have a normal life, like having a shower or going to sleep," he said in an interview regularly punctuated by the sounds of airline announcements. 

"My legs, my hands, I cannot feel them. But it's OK. I keep telling myself that I never heard about someone who died because he was sleeping on a chair."

He would remain there until October, when he was detained by Malaysian authorities.

With files from Mitchell Thompson


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