I just wouldn’t bet on it ever making it into The Complete History of Music.
On the evening of December 8, 1980, a Monday, I had attended the regular weekly meeting of St. Catharines City Council in my capacity as a news reporter for a local radio station.
I returned to the office, housed in a locally famous old mansion built by Welland Canal baron William Hamilton Merritt, where I shared a few laughs with colleagues who were just about ready to head home. It was the practice back then for the evening newscaster to pre-record the final report of the day, scheduled for midnight, the risk of “breaking news”, and few listeners besides, not much of a concern to us at that hour. Peak news and sports numbers in the evening were at 11 o’clock when ten minutes of news was presented by whomever was on duty and no less than twenty minutes of sports handled by the legendary Tommy Garriock (who had an amazing following of horse-racing fans, alone, waiting for him to excitedly read the “win, place and show” results from the local Fort Erie track, as well as those from Woodbine and Greenwood. It was a ratings delight for management!)
Setting about my work, editing tape of city politicians expounding on who-knows-what issue of the evening, and then writing copy around it, the wire service began to ring a series of bells which signalled something of some urgency. (This was a time just after the old teletype machines were phased out, which literally typed whatever they were signalled to do remotely. The new device was a forerunner of the laser printer, but a rudimentary ping of a bell was still part of it.)
The first bulletin was that John Lennon had been shot outside his apartment in New York City. That was all I needed to break in to the overnight show with a bulletin. I recall the night announcer on duty was someone whose radio name initials were B.S. (not a reflection on him!)
Reading what little was available I told listeners that I would return with further news. I then commiserated with B.S. briefly, keeping the door ajar so I could hear the next set of bells. It wasn’t long after that confirmation of John Lennon’s death went around the world and, in my case, around the listening area of the “golden horseshoe”.
This was as close as I ever came to a Walter-Cronkite-announces-the-death-of-JFK-moment. Yet here we are, thirty years on, and my memories of that night are still quite lucid.
Several years later, after I no longer worked in radio (nor anywhere at all for that matter due to my illness), a film student from Niagara College – my alma mater – asked me to re-create a short scene from that evening. I took a bus down from home here in Toronto and, after making the rounds to see old faces on faculty, we used a radio studio where I’d cut my teeth from 1977 to 1980. The film shoot was, frankly, not terribly dramatic – the focus not on my running around from wire service to announce booth but just a medium side shot of me reading a dramatized version of the 1980 wire copy.
In May of 2001, on my first trip to New York City (as an adult), I visited the Dakota Building and crossed over to Central Park’s Strawberry Fields – a pilgrimage millions of fans have made now for thirty years.