It hardly seems possible to believe, until I look in the mirror, that it was thirty years ago – at about this time of year, too – when I was sending out applications to colleges.
For quite some time I had been thinking I would like to get into broadcasting – not necessarily journalism (that would come a little later) – so I was looking for places to study.
At the time, just one year after René Levesque was first elected Premier of Québec (OMG I’m such a fossil!), there were few, if any, opportunities in my home province for the combination of English-language academics and practical experience I sought in a college. University programs at the time, those other than Journalism of course (by which it was understood to be print journalism), were limited to vague titles like “Communications”.
I set my sights on two Ontario colleges – Ryerson in Toronto (in its pre-university days as Ryerson Polytechnical Institute) and Niagara College of Applied Arts and Technology. Ryerson’s reputation was stellar, graduating many future employees of the CBC. Niagara was only known to me through personal references which, ultimately, became more important to me as I waited those long weeks between applying and receiving word. Two friends of a cousin, from my summer playground at the time near Portland, Ontario, had graduated from Niagara and were successfully employed in the business.
I was delighted to be accepted by Niagara and soon was making plans to move up there. I kind of thought I’d like to be a radio dee-jay, much to my grandmother’s dismay, although I was also influenced by a high school English teacher who had once been an editor of the International Herald Tribune. (He saw my potential, being an avid writer already, as a journalist.)
The program at Niagara then, as now, was very good. It is quite amazing to look at the course calendar and the specific program web site (naturally all this information was only in print format back then) and see how the media, and therefore training for it, has changed so much in thirty years.
In the latter part of my second, and the whole third, year at Niagara I was News Director of CRNC (Campus Radio Niagara College). Back then, of course, we did not have a web site. We certainly did not have a broadcast license. We were heard only throughout the main campus, on public address speakers, and as an audio feed on the local cable community access channel’s message board. Nevertheless, I recall including my News Director experience on my first résumé.
I did a week of practical experience in my second year at CJET in Smiths Falls (at the time it was both an AM and FM broadcaster), the local radio station of my grandmother in nearby Perth (now home to Mom). This included making the 12:30 p.m. death announcements for local funeral homes 🙂 , a ritual that was probably among the most-listened-to part of the station’s program day back then. (As kids we always made fun of this.)
By third year I had landed a part-time job at a country music station near the college, CHOW (pronounced C-HOW), under the tutelage of News Director Frank Sernac. (Alas he doesn’t have an entry in Wikipedia nor do I find anything about CHOW in Welland at all, leading me to believe it might have evolved into this.)
Back then, in those confusing Hank Snow, Dolly Parton and Ronnie Milsap days, I would read the evening news on weekends and do an occasional field reporting assignment. For a few months after I graduated, in 1980, I was employed there full-time.
Then, on October 27, 1980 (I remember as it was the day after my twenty-first birthday), I began working at CKTB in St. Catharines the news station in the Niagara area at the time, and apparently still so, under then-News Director Al Van Alstine.
Does anyone ever hear from either Al or Frank?
I was in St. Catharines, through the drama of my coming out and my longings to live in Toronto, until I was re-structured out of my job at Christmas of 1987. That’s when I made my break for Toronto – and out of the broadcasting business – (dishwasher, hotel switchboard operator, switchboard supervisor, reservations agent) where I last was gainfully employed by Delta Hotels Corporate Office.
As I remember all of this, and put it in the context of my present-day circumstances and ‘therapy’ over the past seventeen-or-so years, I can still call myself something of a journalist (as a blogger and frequently-published letter writer).
Moreover, recalling the ‘eureka’ moment I had with my social worker/counselor a couple of weeks ago, I am using “a shit-load of (life) experience to try to make a better life.”