Saturday, October 19, 2019



CJRT is celebrating its 70th anniversary this Halloween although the scramble at the birth of both the station and the university that launched it actually produced two openings.
The first words on the ceremonial opening broadcast on Nov. 1 were nothing fancy, just student Bob Leitch saying “this is your educational system CJRT broadcasting from studios in the Ryerson Institute of Technology, 50 Gould St., Toronto.”
After H.H. Kerr, Ryerson's founding principal, spoke cautiously, novice instructor John Barnes broke from the straight and stuffy to become almost lyrical at 7 p.m.
“Today is Nov. 1, known in the church calendar as All Saint’s Day. And so last night was Halloween. You were no doubt visited by certain ghosts who introduced themselves to your home in spectral fashion. Tonight we bring up a new ghost, using radio waves to knock upon your door and enter your home. Like last night's visitors, this one is also useful and the first of its kind in Canada. That infant ghost is Station CJRT, Canada's first education broadcasting station, a new venture in this country...We are licensed to program a wide variety of broadcasts with the only exception of nothing commercial.”
It was a humble start, symbolized by the oddity that the first staff member was a teacher of English who was insisting he return to teaching his subject. The station would stay at Ryerson for half a century and then become the popular non-profit jazz station in Liberty Village which was then just an expanse of factories.  It leaned on music at the start, too, but mostly classical. It was the cheapest format for radio, first 30 minutes of recorded music as a dinner concert, then when it finished at 7 p.m. a 15-minute documentary on broadcasting and CJRT’s history. For the next 45 minutes until sign-off came recordings by little-known composers. You didn't get to hear the big hits of the year like Blue Moon or Baby, It's Cold Outside.
Everyone at Ryerson was proud of the station even if they didn’t really know what FM was. The institute listed it on its official letterhead (CJRT-FM 88.3 meg Education's Own Radio Station) because after all it was a first even if it was unknown.
It was the early FM days and no one then predicted that eventually FM listeners would dwarf those of the AM giants like CFRB. There were few home receivers because legendary media entrepreneurs like Roy Thomson in Timmins and Ted Rogers in Toronto had not yet hit on the strategy to sell FM receivers at cost and gain more listeners. Still, it was rare for a school to operate an AM station for even a few hours, so there had to be an official opening.
Or two!
The bureaucracies of education and politics fiddled the calendar for the public ribbon cutting and finally decided on Nov. 22. Premier Leslie Frost and Education Minister Dana Porter agreed on that date just to get it out of the way because it really wasn't important. Yet Frost did have more than a casual interest since he owned the radio station in his lair of Lindsay.
It all began at the CJBC station just up Jarvis St. and then moved to the historic but uncomfortable gem of an auditorium in the main building surrounded by military prefabs that had been used by the Normal School and even Egerton Ryerson for almost a century. There the equipment that supposedly put the station on the air was activated, although insiders knew the station had really been operating for three weeks.
Then the modest festivities moved to the primitive plywood studio for the station that had been fashioned out of a weird room built originally to train fighter pilots. Mini documentaries and canned dramas were broadcast to show how it would operate.
Kerr didn't want to pick fights with the big Toronto radio stations so he emphasized to anyone who would listen that CJRT was aimed at supplementing existing radio fare by offering a distinctive  service for listeners who were not being served, either because of small numbers or minority tastes.
The station had limped into an early life before Ryerson evolved to an institute of technology after its rehab days for veterans returning from World War Two. A few vets, coached by local radio personalities, ran what was really a major ham radio operation. Then Kerr and his key assistant, Eric Palin, who had laboured to keep the station going after the rehab days that ended the previous year, went before the governing board in Ottawa and were granted a licence because there really wasn't any competition.
Kerr told me for my book Ryerson University A Unicorn Among Horses that Ryerson perhaps wasn't the first in Canadian education to get a broadcasting licence."I think Queen's may have had one for AM and there were one or two out west but we were FM and the first to run a station on a completely professional basis."
The broadcasting industry had big hopes for the station because it worried about what organization would do the training if the expected boom happened. As proof, A. Davidson Dunton, a famous broadcasting name as chairman of the CBC's board of governors, came to the bureaucratic opening. No need to give him one of those rare FM tuners but Ryerson presented one to the premier and one to the minister because it was important to keep them happy. After all, the premier was in the business even though he generally was baffled by anything that Ryerson did, and Porter was the local MPP.
It would be years before FM radios were common even in cars. On some nights, the rookie announcers from the Radio and Television Arts course were heard mainly over the loudspeakers hung in the battered halls outside the studio. Now they are remembered in the CJRT call letters that stand for Journalism, Radio, Technology.
There are many grads in Canada from CJRT/RTA, including some working at the station today. One famous one is Glen Woodcock whose Sunday Big Band show is one of the oldest radio programs in the known world. It goes back so far that Glen claims that Eve was the first Big Band singer.
The Ryerson of today has few traces, other than the facade of the famous building from Egerton's day and pioneer names on buildings, of the historic jumble of buildings and courses  that the early grads like me survived.
Yet it has climbed rung by broken rung to become a major university, and its radio station that started because there was some left-over equipment after a war has climbed even higher to broadcast from the top of the CN Tower and earn an international reputation.
Happy Birthday, CJRT,  let me buy Woodcock and other stars there many beers at Steele's. Oh darn it, it's gone, isn't it, under the Ryerson footprint, and the days have vanished into nostalgia when Lightfoot and Hawkins romped there with Sam the Record Man promoting next door. Lucky days for me when I still had enough money to drink there or at the Edison.
At least I have 91.1 to keep me happy as I contemplate the mists before Ryerson became famous and everyone had several FM radios.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019



I don't pretend to be an expert at many things but after moderating dozens of political debates at every level in forums ranging from Nathan Phillip Square to TV studios, I really do understand how the best debates come to be.
Let me declare without expecting any valid objection that what we're experiencing is so inane it would be a miracle if they helped one voter.
That farce involving what was billed as the political "leaders" of Canada was so bad that I kept flipping to other channels but then coming back to see if this verbal mess had sunk even further into a swamp of horrors.
Then we have the American versions featuring most of the registered Democrats and a media desperate to fill the endless news cycle.
Too many candidates! Too many moderators! Too much emphasis on timing! As a result you have candidates under the pressures of the clock and the others talking over top of them resorting to the talking points that they can recite in their sleep.
If you have more than four candidates in a debate, you have a problem.
If you have more than one moderator for  a debate, you have a problem, especially if each moderator wants to show off how clever they are with words. A moderator should be like a traffic cop at an accident: Keep the vehicles moving and not give preference to any lane.
The smart candidates are going to talk about what they want to get across so the question from a moderator is really not a probe but just a trigger for the topic. Any moderator who wants to make a rep should realize they are the least important person and the voters don't really give a damn about them.
Don't give me guff about fairness, democracy and all that because the blunt reality is that what most of the audience wanted the other night was to compare the Liberal, Tory and NDP leaders because they are the only ones who have the remotest chance of forming a government.
The other three aren't even window dressing on the process. It's just a waste for us to listen to tales about an unrealistic world of electric everything where one of the great economic drivers of our country, oil, should be sacrificed on the international altar of activists.
What we need is depth to the arguments because currently even a fish pond is made to appear an ocean. It benefits the shallow actor, like the drama queen from the stage world of costumes, makeup and sincerity in a can who is the latest gLiberal to try to spend their way to our popularity.
A good debate has the only candidates with a real chance debating issues for more than a minute a pop. It should take several hours. Any time a electronic device detects two people talking at the same time their microphones should be shut off.  The leaders can even sneak in their five-minute stump speech at the end just in case any voter hasn't heard it already. This would be a reward for them actually baring themselves publicly to the slings and arrows of outrageous opposition in an assault that lasts longer than a quip.
Of course it will never happen. And so I will never watch one completely since I no longer have to.
Oh no, the CBC would have a hissy fit, along with the sanctimonious Star, and myriad commentators and PC professors would trumpet that it is more important to have a garbled debate that really isn't watched than a lean version that might reveal something about the leaders.
All hail the politically correct political process in North America where anyone who can mouth a trite slogan about the environment and saving seals and banning drink straws and the joys of bike lanes can shove their way into a debate in front of an audience which then mentally heads for the exit.
So we have 28 people run for mayor of Toronto, and most of the known world competes to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. president, and people are so revulsed by these phoney debates, histrionics and posturing in today's shallow politics that we have blithering fools running the States and Britain.
One reason for the revulsion is all these people who think they should run for office because they can run for office. What we need is more critics who don't suffer fools gladly. If public resources are going to be used for a debate, the public has a right to demand that only those who really have a chance should be included.  Let the chuckleheads go argue in a bar or lineup to be interviewed by the CBC.
Right now, the admission bar requiring some glimpse in the polls or number of candidates in a party has been set too low. So the debates are crowded with more clamouring to get in. The chaos on the stage means you're lucky to hear even a coherent boast. So I spend my time instead watching very old reruns of M*A*S*H.
At least there they get a chance to operate on each other!

Monday, October 7, 2019



In the days of power and glory that was the Davis Government in the 1970s, Tom MacMillan stood head and shoulders above all the backroom players in ministers' offices.
I'm not sure when I became aware of him as a force behind the powerful provincial treasurer but it may be the day he was lounging at the big wooden table in the (illegal) bar just off the Legislature's press gallery and announced pleasantly that I was full of shit in my column that morning and gave such an impressive analysis of my errors that I used it the next day after subtracting the sarcasm.
And for nearly 50 years I listened to anything TeeMac had to say, other than any golf tips with his buddy Andy Donato, because not only did he always think outside the box, he could kick the crap  out of anyone who took refuge there.
He was agreeable with sharing his torrent of ideas that he had on every imaginable topic as he participated 120% in life.
I have read comments about his passing and think it should be made more obvious that he could be essential to any political party or club or newspaper if given an opening because his mind was so quick.
He wasn't a believer in bureaucracy with its forms, protocol and the way things were always done. It was a very minor thing, perhaps, but I've never forgot his mini rebellion when he tired of renting the Syd Silver tux on all the occasions where he had to represent his ministry and bought a tailored tux and saved the government money in the process. The auditor refused to pay but by some mysterious process the story was leaked.
He was the ideal committee man. I am sure that Saint Peter has already put him on the harp board because he was always at the head of the line when it came to committees for charities and reunions and where should we go for drinks.
The refreshing part of his volunteering was that he always did more than his share and was quick to harvest any suggestion from the rest of us if it wasn't too lame.
So if we were honouring the doctor for our informal club of friends, and Bernie Gosevitz loves to flaunt colourful socks (he does it with more class than the PM) and I suggested that we make that a  features of the fund-raising dinner, then TeeMac's committee would seize the idea and even Donato's invitation told all the men to flaunt really wild socks.
He could seize any gimmick, large or small, and incorporate it into the event, as fast as any trout rising for a lure.
The rejigged politically correct cliche is that behind every successful person stands a surprised spouse. I have found that behind every good leader in politics and business stands an assistant or two  capable of dealing with any situation from a crazy man in the reception lobby to a gift for the wife on the forgotten anniversary.
Behind Bill Davis as premier stood Clare Westcott, behind Paul Godfrey as Metro chairman stood John Kruger and Ray Biggart, and behind Doug Creighton as publisher and president were a handful of trouble shooters, especially TeeMac, no matter what his formal title.
Believe me, I studied the symbiotic relationships with more than casual interest having turned down being an assistant to Creighton and Godfrey because of the hectic life. But TeeMac thrived.
In the early Toronto Sun, a few of us were expected routinely to do myriad chores far outside our job description (not that there were job descriptions.)
Nothing quite captured the complicated relationships between Creighton and his key people better than the night that TeeMac as Albany Club president was presiding over the annual Sir John A. dinner at the club that is the Tory holy of holies.
Creighton had just had a brainstorm at dinner at his "club", Winstons, then one of the best and most famous restaurants in the country. So he sent for TeeMac to immediately take action. TeeMac explained that he was chairing a dinner that had several past PMs and premiers in attendance but Doug insisted. So TeeMac left the dinner, talked at length to Doug and then returned to a puzzled head table.
I sympathize with those labouring in the beleaguered Toronto newspaper market today when the old farts and Sun Day Oners reminisce about the knuckle wars between the Star and Tely and the glory days when a tabloid upstart of overworked journalists followed the Pied Pipers of Doug Creighton and Peter Worthington from stunt to scoop to adventure.
These are tough times for Toronto newspapers, but please forgive and allow the diminishing corp of old timers to boast about how great it used to be because it keeps us warm as the sun goes down. And we certainly are growing fewer with Tom MacMillan and others going on before us. Yet I am sure that he has advised Saint Peter that the Golden Gates would look a lot better if there was a Sun box just outside and each and every day the paper should get a little fatter.
Not that it ever could grow to match our nostalgia of the little paper that grew and grew and then ....