The Radio Building

Ye olde Jarvis Street CBC Radio Building (Photo by Andrew Crump)

Ye olde Jarvis Street CBC Radio Building (Photo by Andrew Crump)

When I started at CBC Radio in Toronto in nineteen eighty-eight I worked out of the Radio Building at 354 Jarvis Street. The Radio Building was a sprawling ancient structure that once upon a time had been a girls’ school. Brick on the outside, inside it was people and wood and consoles and tape machines and it smelled an awful lot like my grandparents old wooden farmhouse in rural New Brunswick. It was huge and had a lot in it, including an abandoned pool in the sub-basement that nobody swam in much except for a few rats.

Studio G, the radio drama studio, was located on the main floor. So were Studios C, D, E, F, H, J, K, L, M and R. Studios B and W were in the basement along with Radio Master Control. Studios Q and T were on the second floor. Studio X, a dubbing studio, was on the third floor if memory serves (I only ever worked in there once). Studio A was at Carleton Street. So was Studio Z, used by the French. Studio 4S, the music studio, was also in a different building half way across the city (I never set foot in there) and studios P, P aux, and V could be found at Parliament Street along with Tuffy the cat (that was where Metro Morning and Later the Same Day were produced). As near as I can tell there were no Studios I, N, O, U, Y, at least in my time, though why those letters should be discriminated against I have no idea.

Metro Morning at 509 Parliament Steet in Cabbagetown

Metro Morning at 509 Parliament Steet in Cabbagetown

Studio C was a tiny studio mostly used for voice tracking and two ways. “A” might have been for Aardvark but Studio D was for Ideas (Studio A, located on Carleton Street, was the sports studio). Basic Black, The Arts Tonight, and Stereo Morning came out of Studio E. As It Happens used Studio F from 11am to 7pm. Studio H was on the verge of being renovated into a high end production studio featuring an AMS Neve Audio File Logic 1 console, a state of the art mixing desk so advanced its inventor was said to have gone insane shortly after inventing it. Arts National was packaged in Studio J. Studio K was a multi-purpose packaging studio—Listen to the Music, Sunny Side Up, and My Kinda Jazz with Jeff Healy were packaged in there, among others. Prime Time with Ralph Benmurgi (later Geoff Pevere) came out of Studio L. CJBC (French services serving the Franco-Ontario community) broadcast live out of Studio M. Studio R was used for Morningside and Sunday Morning. Of course, many other shows also came out of these studios over the years.

AMS Neve Logic 1 Digital Audio Console

AMS Neve Logic 1 Digital Audio Console

The Technician’s Lounge was located on the main floor directly across from Studio M. Many were the friendships I forged in that lounge while waiting for my next booking, and many were the television shows about bugs and animals I was forced to watch because of the old timers controlling the remote—at least, those old-timers not absorbed in their never-ending card games.

I hardly set foot in Studio G, which seemed the domain of engineers infinitely more capable and ambitious than me. Radio drama would come later in my career, in a different studio in a brand new building.

One floor down was the cafeteria. I ate a lot of Banquet Burgers in there. I remember spending a few moments there on my very first day with the CBC, wondering what the future would hold, little suspecting I’d still be with the CBC decades later. Over the next few months I struck up a friendship with one of the cafeteria’s young short order chefs, a friendship that lasted until the day I jokingly suggested that he give me a meal for free. The request was so outrageous that I was certain he would immediately recognize it as a joke, but he didn’t, so I doubled down by suggesting that he give me every single meal from then on for free. He still didn’t get it, decided that I was morally suspect, and that was the end of that friendship.

The short order chef wasn’t the only one without a sense of humour. One day a friend of mine found himself standing behind a radio host ordering some soup. While handing the host the soup, the cook clumsily spilled it all over him. “I guess the soup’s on you,” my friend said.

The host—a former stand-up comic—wasn’t amused.

Down the hall from the cafeteria was Radio Master Control. Also down that hall were the Radio Operations Office, Studio B, Studio W, Tape Reclaim, the Delay room, the Recording Room, and Audio Systems. Tech Stores, the Mail Room, and the Sound Effects department were in the basement on the other side of the cafeteria.

The inhabitants of the Operations Office were genial front line supervisors who performed a host of technical supervisory functions and kept the radio technicians in line. If a technician was near the end of his or her shift and was bored and wanted to go home he or she would ask the Operations Officer on duty if they could leave early. Some Officers you could count on to say yes and others you could count on to say no. If you needed to call in sick, you called an Operations Officer. Operations Officers were usually well-respected, some even well-loved. It was almost a pre-requisite of the job. The night I screwed up in Master Control it was Operations Officer Malcolm McKinney who took pity on me and took me across the street to the Hampton Court Hotel to console me with a bottle of wine and good company.

Tape Reclaim was my least favourite place to work. In that hell-hole radio technicians would cut used quarter inch tape from audio reels to recycle the tape and free up the reels. They would hang the reel on a primitive slab of a machine and then haul down on a great lever to pierce the tape with a sharp steel point. Particularly feeble radio technicians usually had to yank on the lever once or twice to completely pierce the tape, which fell into a great bin of used tape. The process required a certain amount of strength and energy, energy I frequently lacked in the morning after skipping breakfast. I didn’t recycle much tape. Making matters worse, sometimes technicians had to work in there with a certain fellow with serious personal hygiene issues. Doing hard labour in a cramped space with a man with serious BO made working in Tape Reclaim the stuff of nightmares.

Studio B was a small control room with a McCurdy console and a tiny announce booth. It was used for simple production tasks such as two-ways and basic packaging. One day I found myself recording Patrick Watson in there. The broadcaster, not the singer. The man who created the Canadian Heritage Minutes. And who happened to be Chairman of the CBC at the time.

Patrick Watson (the original)

Patrick Watson (the original)

Before I go on you need to understand about reference tone.

There are several different types of tone. The tone I’m talking about here is 1 kilohertz tone. The idea is to play the 1K tone through the various broadcast equipment in the studio to line them all up (e.g., adjust playback and record levels). It’s also used to establish continuity, to ensure that the signal is travelling successfully from the studio to where ever you want to send it. For example, if you were doing a two way between Halifax and Toronto, you would want confirmation that the signal from your console was reaching Halifax, and vice versa. So 1K tone was quite useful. It could also be quite annoying. Especially if you were wearing a pair of headphones and some fool technician happened to blast tone through the board into your headphones, deafening you.

Which is the only thing I remember about the Patrick Watson interview: me accidentally blasting tone into his headphones, and Watson whipping off his headphones as fast as he could. I’ve probably accidentally done that to two or three people in my career, but it was particularly ill-advised to do it to the Chairman of the place where I worked.

Another memory of Studio B: working in Master Control and looking down the hall to see Canadian actor, writer, and director Sarah Polley hanging around the studio waiting to be interviewed. Seventeen years later I would escort her to studio 203 in the Broadcast Centre for an interview with Jian Ghomeshi. On both occasions I was struck by her charm and beauty.

Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley

Right across the hall from Master Control was Studio W. One day I was in Studio W conducting a two-way with a famous guest that wasn’t going well. The studio in Sydney, Nova Scotia could hear our guest but we couldn’t hear the interviewer in Sydney. Studio W had a weird one-of-a-kind console. I thought maybe I had done something wrong but that wasn’t it. Master confirmed that the problem was with the studio in Sydney, or perhaps the line itself. Meanwhile the famous guest proceeded to have a complete meltdown. He could not accept being kept waiting. The producer bore the guest’s rant stoically, professionally. I was astounded—astounded that this famous, well-respected person would behave like an ill-mannered child. I lost all respect for them. Until a handful of years later my father told me about a passage in this person’s autobiography in which they confessed to having serious anger management issues, issues related to events of their youth. The person was working hard to get these issues under control. Hearing this, I remembered that we are all fighting a great battle, and it behooves us not to judge others until, well, ever.

One wall west of radio master sat the recording room. Two guys alternated working in there. Techs like me would replace them on meal breaks and annual leave. The recording room was used to record everything we broadcast as well as “feeds” (audio content) from all across Canada and sometimes other countries to be used on our various shows. The job consisted of setting up tapes to do these recordings and box them up when they were done. In those days recordings were done on quarter inch tape and DAT tapes, obviously defunct mediums today (to this day Libraries and Archives is scrambling to transfer many of those recordings—the ones deemed valuable for posterity—to the digital realm, until that too becomes obsolete and it becomes necessary to transfer them to some other medium such as, oh I dunno, pure thought maybe). What little time I spent in the recording room proved most useful for getting a lot of reading done. I distinctly remember getting through a lot of Stephen King’s The Stand in there.

The Delay Room was little more than a closet, its size inversely proportional to its significance. There was an A and a B tape delay system, or a main and a backup. Each consisted of a couple of heavy duty tape machines that recorded everything we broadcast to Atlantic Canada. They would play this content back an hour later for the Eastern Time Zone, where it would be recorded again and played back for the next time zone. It would be recorded again in that time zone and played back yet again for the next one, until the content had been played back for the entire country. In this way every Canadian would hear their favourite show at exactly the same time, subjectively at least, because in reality someone in Vancouver would be hearing Morningside and every other show (except for the news) three hours later than it was originally broadcast. Because in those days this content was recorded on the medium of tape, this process affected the sound quality. Probably most people couldn’t really tell, but the sound quality of the programs broadcast in Vancouver, multiple tape generations after the original broadcast, wouldn’t be as good as the quality in Newfoundland, where audiences heard everything live, straight from the studio.

On the other hand, Eastern Canadians heard all our mistakes. If Peter Gzowski made a mistake during Morningside, everybody in the Maritimes heard it. If the mistake was serious enough, we would try to fix it for the rest of the country. If we got to it in time, we might be able to fix it in time for Ontario. We tried hard to do this because most if not all of the English Senior Executive Team lived in Ontario. Producers wanted our programming to be the best it could possibly be for all Canadians, of course, but they especially wanted it to be the best for the Senior Executive Team. Depending on the nature and the timing of the fault, sometimes the best we could do was fix it for Vancouver. When I messed up Two New Hours, we were only able to fix it for Vancouver. If Gzowski accidentally spilled his coffee and swore on air during the first half hour of Morningside (just an example—he never actually did this) it might have been possible to restrict the damage to the Maritimes by starting the show over again live in the studio while the first part of the show played to western time zones via the Delay system. We called this sort of thing a “remake”, and we actually did it a lot. As It Happens producers were particularly fond of “remaking” their show if they got something wrong.

Peter Gzowski

Peter Gzowski

I don’t have much to say about the rest of the denizens of the basement. I never worked in the mail room. I would go on to become the Manager of Audio Systems, but that was years in the future. I would also eventually spend a lot of time creating and performing sound effects, but those days were also a long ways off.

And the second floor I will leave for another post.


One of a series of posts about working at CBC Radio back in the day.

(Here’s some more).

A year or so after I started at CBC Radio, after a stint in Radio Master Control, the powers that be made me a Group 4 Radio Technician, and started booking me in the studios.

The radio studios were challenging because there were a lot of them, and almost all of them were unique. They each had different consoles, different patch racks, different tape machines, different outboard gear. In them you would encounter different producers, different talents, and different requirements depending on the booking. You could be working on a McCurdy console, or a Studer, or a Ward-Beck, or an Audio Arts, or some weird one-off I’d never heard of before (or since).

It was about two years before I could handle myself in any situation in the studio without having to run to the tech lounge to find someone to help me figure out why the speakers weren’t working or why the microphone sounded funny. That’s just the run-of-the-mill studios—there was a whole other class of high-end studios used for recording music and radio dramas that I didn’t set foot in for years, with a completely different set of consoles, equipment, personalities, and expectations.

Karl Enke in Jarvis Street CBC Radio Studio

Karl Enke in Jarvis Street CBC Radio Studio

What I loved about working in the studios was that every day was different. If you didn’t like a gig, no problem: an hour, or a day, or a week later you would be on to something different. Many bookings in a studio lasted only an hour or two. Sometimes you’d be booked to a news or sports studio for a few days. Often a day consisted of multiple bookings for multiple shows. Only after you’d proven yourself would you get something resembling a regular gig with the same show and/or producers. In time I would become the regular tech for Writer’s & Company with Eleanor Wachtel, and Sunday Morning with Mary-Lou Findlay, and later for a series of French shows on CJBC, and beyond that a Recording Engineer for Radio Drama, and finally the Recording Engineer for Q, before joining the management team. But in the beginning I worked on everything they threw at me.

I recorded and mixed promos. I subbed for other folks who had regular gigs. I back-filled for Basic Black. I backfilled for As It Happens. I backfilled for Ideas and Morningside. I did many, many bookings for news and sports. I did Listen to the Music. Prime Time. The Inside Track. Quirks and Quarks. Shows for both Radio One and Radio Two. Shows I can no longer remember. Music shows, magazine shows, science shows, arts shows, French shows, sports shows, Venezuelan Beaver Shows. I worked on many remotes. I worked mostly out of the Jarvis Street facilities, but I also did time on Parliament Street, where they produced Metro Morning and Later the Same Day.

It was work but it was also fun and interesting, though not all my gigs were successful. For instance, I do not remember my time on Basic Black fondly. It was my first regular stretch. I was filling in for the regular tech for two weeks while she was on vacation. The show was produced in Studio E. I got along well with the host and two of the show’s producers, but the Studio Director made me nervous. He didn’t talk much. I never knew what he was thinking. I was clumsy and slow in his presence. I had trouble finding patch points on the patch bay. One day the console didn’t work properly so I called maintenance. All the maintenance tech had to do was breathe on the console to make it work again. I looked like an idiot. At the end of the two week stretch the Studio Director took me aside and critiqued my performance. Although not a disaster, it had left a bit to be desired. I was quite put off by his criticism. I was young and not great at taking criticism. But I got over it and learned from my mistakes.

Another show that gave me a bit of trouble was Sunday Morning. It was a current affairs show that could be quite nerve-wracking to work on. Journalists would arrive in the studio with complicated mixes. These days you would do such a mix on a computer. Back then you did it all manually. You would pre-record sound effects and ambiance and voice clips onto carts. What are carts? Well, they resemble eight track cassettes, which are—well, never mind: look them up in a history book alongside pterodactyls and other extinct species. Other sound elements you would record onto quarter inch tape (also extinct). You had to be organized. You had to strategize how to make all these elements accessible for when you needed them. The journalist would sit in the announce booth and read his/her script, and you would play back all these various sonic elements at the appropriate times according to cues on the script. The entire process could be quite a juggling act.

Sunday Morning’s regular tech, Peter Beamish, was a genius at this sort of thing. He had tons of experience, so naturally all the journalists wanted to work with him. Guys like me looked like a klutz next to Peter. I remember making a mistake during a mix with one journalist—probably playing a sound effect late, or getting a cue wrong. “Why me, God?” she exclaimed, sighing heavily and laying her head in her arms. I felt like crap. Still, there were many friendly producers on the show, and the host Mary Lou Finlay was pleasant, and Peter Beamish was never anything less than friendly, humorous, and helpful.

Working as a Group 4 Radio Technician was trial by fire. You paid your dues until you got up to speed. Until you earned peoples’ trust, which took some doing. One night I arrived for a random booking in Studio F. “Who are you?” the producer asked. We had never seen one another before. “I’m your tech,” I told him. He turned on his heels and skulked off to scheduling to complain about having to work with someone new. I had the confidence of the folks in scheduling and they wouldn’t have any of it. The producer returned to the studio and we completed the booking without incident. I worked with this producer several times later, and it was always friendly enough, but we never became friends.

Fortunately the positive experiences far outweighed the negative. I became friends with many techs, producers, and hosts. Meeting guests was always cool: Joni Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Adrienne Clarkson, Dr. Spock, Pierre Berton, John Ralston Saul, Bob Rae, Jean Charest, Moses Znaimer, Clive Cussler, the list goes on and on. Lesser known guests were often even more interesting. Authors, artists, politicians, farmers, philosophers, home makers, all with something interesting to say. As a life-long fan of CBC Radio, I loved working alongside personalities I’d listened to on the radio for years. Peter Gzowski, Jay Ingram, Shelagh Rogers, Bob Johnston, Max Ferguson, Lister Sinclair, Arthur Black, Mary-Lou Finlay, Clyde Gilmour, Michael Enright, Alan Maitland, and more. And simply learning the basics of audio, how to use all that cool gear, and how to really listen to sound—that alone was worth the price of admission.

“How’s work?” people would ask me.

“Fantastic,” I’d tell them, and mean it.

Review of Thrice Burned: A Portia Adams Adventure by Angela Misri

Thrice Burned

Thrice Burned

Thrice Burned is the second book in an ongoing series of mysteries featuring the brilliant young consulting detective Portia Adams, who comes by her gifts honestly as the granddaughter of not only the great Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes’ friend and chronicler Watson as well. It is a nifty conceit for a series, and author Angela Misri makes the most of it. Portia Adams is utterly believable as the direct descendent of the iconic detective and his sidekick, inheriting every ounce of Holmes’ gifts for observation and deductive reasoning, but leavened with Watson’s humanity.

As with the first book in the series (Jewel of the Thames), Thrice Burned consists of three casebooks, or mysteries, each told in the first person by Portia herself. Each casebook concerns itself with at least one mystery, each one carefully crafted. The clues are tantalizingly distributed, drawing the reader in, allowing them just as much fun as Portia herself has in trying to solve the mysteries. But there is much more on offer here than mere riddles. There are elements of historical fiction too, as each casebook is set in nineteen-thirties era London, England, featuring Scotland Yard Constables and street urchins and reporters and clergy men and plenty of other skillfully drawn characters, right down to their authentic clothing choices and distinctive accents.

Each casebook features a stand-alone storyline and a neatly resolved ending, but Misri is not satisfied to let it go at that. Like many a modern era television series, each episode builds upon the last, throughout both this book and its predecessor, from casebook to casebook. As in real life, Portia and her friends continue to mature and develop. Relationships are never straightforward. Portia herself, although gifted, is no superhero, suffering from the same feelings and emotional frailties as many young women her age. Misri delves into Portia’s inner life just enough to make her real, but not at the expense of the adventures and mysteries that are the real appeal of this excellent series.

Already top-notch from the get-go, Misri’s plotting and characterization improve with each casebook, increasing in complexity and depth. This bodes well for future books in the series.

Eulogy for a Theme

They changed the Q theme song.

That’s okay, I guess. To all things there is a season.

Still, I will miss it. I was rather fond of it.

I liked it because it was a good piece of music. It got your attention. It had good posts. It finished with a bang. It made for a good bed at the end of the show. You could cut it up into little bits and make short, punchy little themes out of it. It wasn’t just a good theme: it was a good bunch of themes.

It was recorded by Luke Doucet and Chris Murphy (of Sloan) at (almost) the last minute three days before Q first aired. I had no idea they were doing it. I had been badgering the Executive Producer for weeks to come up with a theme package but I didn’t think he was listening. I wasn’t invited to the recording session and was stunned when the raw tracks were handed to me Friday afternoon. I was expected to mix the entire theme package over the weekend for the show’s debut Monday. Except I was working all weekend and didn’t have a chance to get to it until 7pm Sunday night. I was already fried before I even began mixing on ProTools in Studio SFX 3. It took me three hours to mix it. It speaks to how well the song was recorded and conceived that it came together as well as it did. It had little to do with anything I did to it.

In fact, I hadn’t mixed it properly. I had mixed it complete with lead guitars, leaving no room for voice-overs. I flipped MP3 versions to Jian Ghomeshi and the Executive producer before I left Sunday night, and when I came into work the next morning the Exec informed me that I had to remix it, leaving room for Jian’s intro. It was a classic “slap yourself on the forehead” moment. As I’ve written elsewhere, I didn’t think we had time to pull it off before going to air, but the Exec thought we did, and he was right.

I’ve always wondered what Luke Doucet and Chris Murphy thought of the mix. Luke was on the show later when I was still working on Q but I didn’t ask him. Maybe I didn’t really want to know. It doesn’t matter. It seems to have done its job. Long after leaving the show I would hear it on the radio and feel good that my little contribution to popular culture was still being heard. I figured it would last as long as the show lasted. But then… well, let’s not speak of that.

A few months after launching the show I convinced the Exec to spend a bit of money on an additional theme package. I thought it would be a good idea to have more music (based on the original music) to draw from. So we recorded a bunch more music with someone else, someone quite talented and accomplished, and I mixed those as well, but we never did use them. They just didn’t have the same magic. No, Luke and Chris had nailed it right out of the gate, and the truth was we didn’t need anything else.

A lot of people think the original theme sounds a lot like Spanish Bombs by the Clash. They’re right. I don’t know how Luke and Chris wrote the theme, but I strongly suspect Jian played Spanish Bombs for them before they started, because a loop of the opening bars of that song is what we used for a test pilot of Q that never aired:

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I don’t think this fact devalues the theme at all. It’s sufficiently different and let’s face it: all art is created on the shoulders of giants.

Anyway, I’m sorry to see the original theme go. It has taken a small part of me with it. Maybe I’m too sentimental — heck, I’m still mourning the loss of the original As It Happens theme song (Curried Soul by Moe Koffman).

Here’s the original Q Theme song:

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And here’s Luke Doucet himself teaching how to play it:


black eyeTook the bus home tonight.

In downtown Whitby a young woman got on. I noticed her right away because she had a big black eye. An enormous shiner. It was her left eye. She stood so that few in the bus could see it. But I was pretty close to her and I saw it. Along with the tears in her eyes.

It looked to me as though somebody had taken a shot at her and gotten her good. It was pretty fresh and it was pretty big. Right away I assumed a guy had done it. Boyfriend or husband. There I was, jumping to conclusions. But my gut told me I had the truth of it.

There’s been a lot of talk about violence against women lately. And that’s a good thing. Let’s get it out in the open. Shame the men responsible. Compel the rest of us to do what we can to stop it. Which is what, exactly?

That was the question that came to my mind as I sat there on the bus looking up at this poor young woman with the shiner. What could I do? What should I do? Sit there and exude sympathy for her? What if I had it all wrong? What if she just slipped and fell or ran into a door?

About a minute from my stop I got up and approached her. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she said. “Thanks for asking. Well, trying to be okay.”

I felt like I was really going out on a limb. “If somebody did this to you, you should report them.”

“I just don’t want to go through all the bullshit,” she said. “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have gone back. I knew I shouldn’t go back and yet I did.”

So she didn’t fall or hit a door. I was appalled that she felt it was her fault. It struck me as almost cliche that she felt it was her fault. How could being punched in the face be her fault? How could she think that?

I know there are lots of variables here. I made lots of assumptions. Maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe she started it. Maybe she attacked him with a knife. Maybe it wasn’t a him at all but a her. Maybe she was lying to me. Maybe a whole lot of stuff.

But I’m pretty sure a guy punched her in the face and I’m pretty sure she didn’t deserve it.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think what to say.

“It wasn’t your fault,” I told her. “If somebody did this to you they should be held accountable.”

I don’t remember what she said. It was time to get off the bus, so I did.

Writing this feels a little self-serving. Yay me for standing up and saying something. I’m sorry if it comes off that way. It was just unthinkable not to say something to her after the events of the last few weeks. I’m sure that had I run into a month ago I would have wondered what her story was and not said anything.

Did talking to her do any good? Will she take pictures of the black eye (and any other injuries) and report the incident to the police? I doubt it.

Did I make her feel any better? Probably not much.

But I hope I accomplished at least that much.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and the Truth? Not So Much

QHaving once worked on the CBC Radio show Q with Jian Ghomeshi I have been following the events of the past couple of weeks with a great deal of (morbid) curiosity. I feel terrible for the women involved. I also feel awful for the staff of Q, as well as for the CBC itself. I haven’t felt comfortable commenting on the affair much publicly because I still work for the CBC and I wouldn’t want anything I say to be misconstrued as anything resembling an official position; everything I write here is strictly my own opinion.
That being said, I would like to comment on one aspect of the story that I haven’t seen remarked upon anywhere else. I will not be talking about the specific allegations against Ghomeshi, which are overwhelming and in any case will ultimately be decided in a court of law. I’ll be talking about peripheral elements of that story that have got me thinking about the reliability of what we read and hear in the media.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve read most of the articles published about the Ghomeshi affair. Usually when I read news articles I’m reading about stories I don’t have anything to do with personally. I don’t know the people involved or much about the subject matter. I’m at the mercy of the journalist publishing the piece. I have to take their word for it that what they’re publishing is true. Maybe some sources are named that lend the article extra credibility. Maybe the newspaper has a sterling reputation, and readers are inclined to think heck, this is in the Globe and Mail. Therefore, it must be true. As such, my default has been to believe what I read in the newspapers.

This despite my father’s advice when I was a kid that I should believe nothing of what I hear and only half of what I see. I’ve always thought that was a pretty good rule-of-thumb (not that I’ve been able to stick to it). A few years ago when a friend told me one story about Jian Ghomeshi’s despicable behaviour toward women (the now infamous “hate *uck” incident) I was appalled but not inclined to take it at face value. It was a rumour. Hearsay. Having worked with Jian, I did not want to believe that he was that sort of person. My eight month working relationship with Jian had been punctuated by two episodes that could be called confrontations (and several positive interactions, I am compelled in the interest of truth and balance to add) but overall our relationship had been fairly neutral. I decided that there was probably something to my friend’s story—where there’s smoke there’s fire—but beyond that I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think it really mattered because by this time I was in a different role and didn’t have anything to do with Jian anymore, other than saying hi to him in an elevator now and then.
Two weeks ago the big story about Ghomeshi broke and suddenly the newspapers were filled with articles about people I knew. Not only that, every now and then they would refer to events I was a part of. It was fascinating to read those bits, and on one particular occasion I was reminded of my father’s advice: believe only half of what you see.

There was an article on Friday October 31st in the Globe and Mail written by James Bradshaw and Greg McArther. The article is called The Story of Q. That in itself is interesting because it’s the title of a speech I gave to Ryerson Radio and Television Arts audio students in 2008 about the creation of the show Q. I published the speech on my blog shortly afterward, where it’s still visible (I’m not suggesting the Globe got the title of their article from my blog post; I just thought it was interesting).

In the article, the authors state the following:

“When Q launched as the new afternoon arts program in the spring of 2007, it had a core group of young and ambitious producers, almost all of them in their 20s and 30s.”

Nine of us created Q. I don’t know everyone’s exact age, but I do know that at least two, and possibly as many as four, were in their forties. Jian himself turned forty within months of our debut, in June 2007, so that’s three (and possibly five) of the creators in their forties by June, and of those in their thirties, only one was in his early thirties. So I’m not really sure that you can accurately report that “almost all of them were in their 20s and 30s.” At best it leaves an inaccurate impression, and at worst it’s factually wrong. (I readily admit that we were all ambitious and at the very least felt young.)

The authors go on to say:

“Mr. Ghomeshi had a very specific idea of what Q was going to be, and it was not typical CBC. The aim was to land big-name guests, and not to adhere to the usual CBC mandate: promoting Canadian content coast-to-coast.”

I would suggest that this is also misleading. Although these two sentences don’t state it explicitly, they suggest that Ghomeshi’s ideas took precedence over the ideas of the rest of the producers present, and this was simply not the case. We all had equal input into the conception of the show. I can’t comment on what the show evolved into, because I wasn’t there later on, but in the beginning we all contributed equally, and if we all thought an idea had merit, we adopted it for Q.

It also suggests that Ghomeshi came into the planning sessions with preconceived ideas about the nature of Q, and maybe he did, but I don’t remember him imposing his ideas on any of us in any untoward way. The planning sessions were expertly facilitated and in the very beginning we were remarkably cohesive in our thinking about what the show should be. Really all any of us knew as we started discussing it was that the show was going to be an arts and culture show with Jian as the host. Everything else was up for debate. We even debated what arts and culture meant (e.g., did culture include sports, and if so, under what circumstance?) We did agree early on that landing big-name guests was a good idea, but not to the exclusion of Canadian content. We didn’t care what nationality the big name guest might be: Canadian, American, Martian, whatever. The point was that the show itself was by its very nature Canadian (i.e., we were Canadian, operating out of the CBC) and the content we would produce would be for Canadians (and whoever else chose to consume it).

More from the same article:

“A couple of veteran producers who objected ran up against Mr. Ghomeshi’s star power; they were weeded out. The five that stuck around…”

Etc Etc.

People left, but were they weeded out? I don’t know. Conversations perhaps happened that I wasn’t a part of. Certainly there was a bit of musical chairs but you get that everywhere. The line that really got me was, “The five that stuck around…”

I had to stop and think when I read that. There were two producers that left before we even started to create the show but I don’t think they were weeded out; I’m pretty sure they left of their own accord. And only one of them could have been considered a veteran producer. Ultimately nine of us remained to create Q, one of which was Jian, so that leaves eight, not five.

Maybe the authors were talking about after the show had been created. After the show debuted one producer left for a job in print. After a while the executive producer left as well, leaving… six, not five. Maybe I wasn’t counted because I left myself after eight months, but it certainly wasn’t because I was weeded out. I left due to a promotion; it had nothing to do with any tension with Ghomeshi.

I’m making mountains out of molehills here. The distinctions I’m pointing out are pretty minor, significant to nobody other than me, probably. Still, they have changed the way that I will consume news in the future. Especially when viewed in conjunction with other articles (and recently published books) about the CBC that contain, at least to these eyes, additional (and arguably more important) factual errors or at best misapprehensions about the internal goings on at the CBC. I’m referring to another article in the Globe and Mail that I just cannot take at face value, one published Friday October 10th by David Shoalts called Hockey Night in Canada: How CBC Lost it All, and yet another one in the Globe by Patrick Lagacè published Thursday Nov 6 called “Enabler to a Media Hatchet Job.”

Read all this stuff with a major grain of salt, folks. Unless you were actually there, participating in these events, you do not, cannot, know the whole truth.


I’m being featured on CBC Radio One’s DNTO this Saturday Nov 1, 2014 sometime between three o’clock and three thirty (at least, I think that’s the slot). The piece is produced by Rosie Fernandez. You all know Rosie, don’t you? She’s the one with a wine named after her. And poetry written about her. And she’s really nice too.

Here’s how DNTO describes the piece:

After a night of fun with a babysitter, Joe Mahoney’s young twins, Erin and Keira, were way too riled up to listen to dad. So Joe tried to take control of situation… but only ended up making things worse.

To put it another way, I’ll be telling the entire country via national radio what a terrible parent I can be.

It Begins…

My publishing Journey (graphic courtesy of

My publishing Journey (graphic courtesy of

All right, I’ve finished the novel. Now what?

First step, seek representation. I know in this day and age you can self-publish but I don’t want to do that. I’ve spent so much time getting the writing portion of it right that I would prefer to do the rest right as well. And I’m in no hurry. I will take my time querying agents and publishers and if I’m lucky, perhaps I’ll find one. I will do so with no real trepidation. I’ve long since come to terms with the reality of the publishing world. There may not be a place for my novel out there. But if there is, I will find it. Slowly, painstakingly.

I was talking to my nephew last night. Not the same one as in the novel (I just made that one up…the one I was talking to last night I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up). Anyway, my nephew loves writing as much as I do, if not more. (He stayed up ’til eight this morning writing.) I was trying to express an idea to him. The idea of savouring every part of the writing process. If you write, and don’t sell what you write, you might feel like you’ve wasted your time. I will not feel that way. Every minute I spend writing, even now, writing this blog post, I enjoy. I know not everyone feels that way, but I do. I’m not saying it’s not hard work. Sometimes it’s excruciating. But it’s always my favourite part of the day. (Well, right up there with spending time with my girls, and eating lunch. I like those times a lot too.)

My nephew was afraid that I was telling him to “settle.” He says people are always trying to get him to settle. I understood right away what he was talking about. He thought I was trying to tell him that he probably won’t be successful, so he should be happy with the process itself, and settle for the satisfaction that brings. But that wasn’t what I was suggesting at all. You should absolutely go for the brass ring, which I intend to do, and which I would expect him to do. I will do my utmost to get my novel out there. Whatever it takes. But I will also completely enjoy every part of the process, from the conception to the writing to the selling process.

Years ago the inevitable rejections I’m about to receive would have bothered me. No longer. Now it’s just a part of the process. Just business. The trick is to keep the book on the market, while writing the next one.

Am I going about this properly? Don’t know.

I expect I’ll learn a lot as I go along.

Knowlton Nash and the Picture

Knowlton Nash

Knowlton Nash

Once upon a time I lived next door to a little old lady. Her name was Mrs. Reilly, and she was a widow. She liked to talk to me about what I did, where I was from, and how I kept my yard.

She told me the last people to rent my town house kept their yard in an abominable state. They didn’t mow for months on end. Her game was to shame me into keeping my yard in good shape, and it worked, for the most part.

Mrs. Reilly was no hypocrite. Her yard was the best on the block. She was often up before the crack of dawn watering her lawn. There were a lot of water alerts those days. Warnings that the Toronto water reservoirs were dangerously low, that we shouldn’t use any more water than we absolutely had to. Yet Mrs. Reilly’s sprinklers would remain on full, Mrs. Reilly going thirsty herself no doubt so that her lawn wouldn’t suffer.

Sometimes my square metre of grass would get past me, but I managed to stay in Mrs. Reilly’s good books. After each time I cut it she would dart out with her broom, calling “Joey, you can use my broom to sweep the grass off the driveway,” and I would. (I have no idea why she called me Joey instead of Joe–the only people left in the world who call me that are my mother, who’s entitled, and some of my mother’s friends, who aren’t. But I didn’t really mind, because how could I? She was a nice old lady.)

One day Mrs. Reilly spied me in the driveway and emerged from her house carrying a large yellow envelope with something bulky inside it.

“Joey,” she said, “you work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, right?”

That’s right, I said.

“Would you mind giving this to Knowlton Nash for me then?”

I told her that I had never met Knowlton Nash, as in those days I worked for CBC Radio, not CBC Television.

Mrs. Reilly didn’t know the difference and didn’t care.

She showed me what was in the envelope. It was a framed picture of Knowlton Nash smiling up from behind his newsdesk. Judging by the famous newscaster’s spiffy clothes, the picture had been taken sometime in the early seventies.

Mrs. Reilly explained that her husband had been distantly related to Nash. Seems Nash had given the picture to another relative and eventually it had wound up in Mr. Reilly’s hands. After her husband passed away, Mrs. Reilly decided she wanted to give the picture back to Nash.

Perhaps I should refer to him as Mr. Nash, out of respect, and seeing as I didn’t know him. I reminded Mrs. Reilly of this fact, adding that I didn’t think Mr. Nash even worked for the Corporation any more. He had retired.

The truth was, I figured the odds of me being able to return the picture to Mr. Nash were about as great as me getting up early one Saturday morning to mow the lawn: nil, in other words.

“Take the picture,” Mrs. Reilly insisted. “Maybe you’ll run into him someday.”

I was stuck with the picture.

Two years later I moved, and never saw Mrs. Reilly again. Her yellow envelope languished in my locker at work, where I saw it just about every day.

Several years went by.

Every time I opened the locker I felt guilty. Once in a while I took the picture out and looked at it just to make sure Mr. Nash’s smile hadn’t turned into a frown. Okay, it never did, but damned if he wasn’t looking at me as if to say, “When are you going to give me the picture, Joey?”

“Don’t call me Joey,” I would tell the picture, before putting it back in the locker. “It’s Joe.”

One time I caught a glimpse of Mr. Nash in the CBC Atrium and I thought: quick, run, get the picture from the locker! But I knew that he’d be long gone by the time I got back, so I didn’t.

I hung onto the picture. I thought about visiting the people at the National and asking them how I might get the picture to Mr. Nash. But I figured they’d probably just say, what would Knowlton want with an old picture of himself, anyway? So I didn’t. I was afraid they wouldn’t understand the obligation I felt to this little old lady. I didn’t understand it myself.

Fast forward a few more years. One day a production assistant told me, “Hey, you’re going to be working with someone interesting this afternoon–Knowlton Nash. He’s coming in to do a phone-in show.”

No way.


Finally, I could unload the picture. I didn’t think twice about it. Friends said, why bother? I tried to explain: I didn’t feel right keeping the picture for myself, I couldn’t throw it away, and I couldn’t live with the darn thing in my locker any more.

I carried the tattered yellow envelope with me all day. It came time for the phone-in show. The production assistant introduced me to Mr. Nash in the announce booth. It was my job to adjust his microphone and make sure he was comfortable, after which I would sit in the control room and tech the interview, riding the levels and whatnot. I had brought the envelope containing the picture into the booth with me.

Feeling stupid, I explained the situation to Mr. Nash:

“Mrs. Reilly knew that I worked for the CBC and asked me to give this to you,” I told him. “I’ve had it in my locker for years.”

“You kept the picture for HOW long?” Nash snarled, before breaking it over his knee.

Okay, that would have been the more dramatic ending, but it’s Knowlton Nash we’re talking about here, a genuine gentleman by all accounts, and my experience with him was no different.

He examined the picture with genuine interest, then opened the card Mrs. Reilly had included and silently read it. Afterwards, he smiled, nodded, and thanked me.

Silly? I thought so at first, but I don’t think so any more. Getting the picture to Knowlton Nash had been important to Mrs. Reilly, and regardless of what I had originally thought of the mission, it felt good to finally see it through.

You’re welcome, Mrs. Reilly.

The Writing Process Blog Hop with Author Susan Rodgers

I’ve been tagged by Author Susan Rodgers to participate in a Blog Hop. This is nothing like a Sock Hop, which I once participated in back in nineteen seventy-six. This Hop involves writing, not dancing, which is good, because I’m much better at writing than dancing.

Susan Rodgers, as well as being a talented writer, is my sister. She’s one year, one month and three days younger than me, but a whole lot smarter and better looking. She’s a film maker with several films to her credit, some of which have been broadcast on the CBC and Bravo, and the author of the Drifters series of books, available online and in fine bookstores in Prince Edward Island. I am honoured to participate in a Blog Hop with her.

Susan Rodgers, Author, Film maker

Susan Rodgers, Author, Film maker

The way it works is she asks me a bunch of questions, which I answer here in my blog, and then I somehow convince two other bloggers to do the same for me.

Here are Susan’s questions and my attempts to answer them:

1. You grew up in Prince Edward Island, Canada, but you’ve lived your adult life in Toronto and Whitby, Ontario. You work in Toronto, one of the busiest cities in Canada. It’s a far cry from the serenity and natural beauty of PEI. How do you feel these two worlds affect your writing? Do they merge in any way?

I moved to Toronto when I was nineteen and lived there for eleven years, then moved to Whitby to raise a family, although I kept working in Toronto, where I still work. Somewhere in there I also spent the better part of a year in France, which you may have heard of. Believe it or not, there is serenity and beauty to be found in Toronto and Whitby. I love Toronto, and have loved it from the moment I set foot in it. When I lived in France, I missed Toronto terribly. My friend Lisa Trimble sent me a copy of the Toronto Star after I’d been in France a while, and I devoured every single word in it, including the Classifieds, because I missed Toronto so much.

My wife Lynda and I actually moved to Whitby because downtown Whitby reminded us of downtown Summerside PEI. So we obviously miss PEI too. Though now that I live in Whitby, I miss France terribly. I miss wherever I’m not.

Downtown Whitby

Downtown Whitby

Prince Edward Island has had a tremendous impact on my writing, though. My damned-near-complete novel (2500 words left to revise out of 115,000) is set on an island which is a fictionalized version of Prince Edward Island. I’ve retained some place names (like Evangeline) and changed other locales completely (Charlottetown became Farfuston, with a completely different down town core). I did this because I couldn’t remember Prince Edward Island accurately enough, forcing me to make stuff up. I do most of my writing on the Go Train travelling back and forth to work where there’s no internet connection, so I can’t research anything. Also, I like making stuff up, so it doesn’t really bother me. Curiously, people who’ve read portions of the novel think it’s a real place in Great Britain. But they’re wrong. It’s Prince Edward Island in disguise.

I don’t think Toronto has affected my writing at all, so far. Or Whitby. They’re just where I do my writing.

2. It seems you write mostly in the fantasy and science fiction genres. Did you consciously choose these genres or do you feel it came to you somehow? Do you think you will always write in these genres or might you branch out some day?

It’s true that all of my short fiction and my damned-near-complete novel are either fantasy or SF. I have also written and co-authored several plays, none of which is SF. (They’re murder mysteries.) I read many genres, including non-fiction, and enjoy them all, but for now I’m happy writing SF and Fantasy. I have several novels in mind that I’d like to write, all of which are SF. I do have a hankering to pen two memoirs. One would be about my career at the CBC, and the other would be about my time in the magical land of France. Or I may fictionalize those experiences with a dash of SF. We’ll see.

3. Tell us about your process. I’d be interested to know where you do most of your writing as well as what comforts you like to have around you. I, for one, must have my large iced mocha to ‘jumpstart’ my brain. Do you have any such habits or creature comforts when writing? Does it help you to sink into that fantasy world more fully?

As I mentioned earlier (what, were you not paying attention?) I do most of my writing on the GO Train. The GO Train carries me back and forth from Whitby to Toronto, and each ride is between half an hour to forty-five minutes long, depending on whether it’s the Express. The longer the better for me. I like nothing better than for the GO Train to break down. Then, while all about me are losing their heads, I get more writing done. It’s a sad time for me when the train pulls up to the station, and I must put away my headphones and close my laptop. Especially when I accidentally close my laptop on the top of a USB key, which I did once, which broke the screen. But I digress.

I have no rituals on the train other than to start writing as soon as possible and not do anything else, like read, or talk to people. I’m rather rude on the train, or at least I feel like I’m being rude. Sometimes people will try to talk to me. If it’s someone I just met, I will talk to them the first time I ride with them. During that ride, I will tell them that normally I write on the train, and that if I ever run into them again on the train, I hope they will forgive me, but I would prefer to write instead of talk. I explain that it’s pretty much the only time I have to write, and writing is extremely important to me. I have never met anyone who doesn’t understand. Most people who take the train regularly wind up doing their own thing on the train anyway. My friends know better than to try to talk to me on the train. It took me years to build up the courage to tell people that. But now that I have, I get a lot more writing done.

Joe's Writing Garrett on Wheels

Joe’s Writing Garrett on Wheels

Long ago, I read that Madeleine L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, trained herself to be able to write while raising kids. Sometimes she would only get a few seconds in. Time for a single sentence, or to correct a single word, before having to change a diaper or manage some minor crisis. But that was enough. It was progress. I’ve trained myself to do the same. I can write anywhere. I’ve written in Doctor’s offices, by swimming pools, at my kid’s art lessons, piano lessons, on the train, on the plane, buses, outside, inside. I don’t have any rituals other than ignoring everything around me and starting to write.

4. What are you working on now and what are your hopes and dreams for future writing projects?

As I mentioned before (you really aren’t paying attention, are you?) I’m finishing up my damned-near-complete novel, with the working title of A Time and a Place. This is a one hundred and fifteen thousand word novel about a man by the name of Barnabus J Wildebear whose fifteen-year old nephew has been conscripted into an alien army. Wildebear, the boy’s only living relative, sets out to protect him, but to do so, Wildebear must pass through an alien portal that transports him not only to other worlds and times, but into the very minds of alien beings.

My next novel, which I plan to start the day after I finish this one, will be set in the same universe. It’s working title is Captain’s Away!, and it’s based on a radio play I wrote which was broadcast on CBC Radio back in 2003. It’s about a woman who is mistaken for the captain of an interstellar space ship and is forced to play the part as the ship heads for war.

Then, if I’m still capable of writing (when I finish that one at the age of one hundred and fifty-seven), I may attempt one of those memoirs I mentioned earlier. Or I may just take a well-deserved retirement, perhaps in France, which is almost as beautiful in parts as your beloved l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard.


Here are the bloggers I’ve tagged:

Robert Runté:

Editor and Writer Robert Runté

Editor and Writer Robert Runté

Robert Runté is Senior Editor at Five Rivers Publishing, a freelance editor at, and an Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge. He is best known as a critic, reviewer, and editor of Canadian speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), for which he has won two Aurora Awards. His first short story was published in the first issue of On Spec magazine in 1989; his most recent story, “Split Decision”, appeared in the Tesseracts 15 anthology and was reprinted in Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. He in the process of revising his own first novel, and will be the first to concede that editing a novel is a lot easier than writing one. (See the Writer, the Editor, and Human Nature to read about Robert’s experience being on the author-end of the editing process.)

Angela Misri:

Author Angela Misri Signing her new book Jewel of the Thames

Author Angela Misri Signing her new book Jewel of the Thames

Angela Misri is an award-winning journalist, writer and mom based out of Toronto, Canada. Her first book Jewel of the Thames was published in March 2014 by Fierce Ink Press. This is the first book in the detective series called ‘A Portia Adams Adventure‘ and Angela is hard at work editing books two and three right now! She has spent most of her career at the CBC making radio content extraterrestrial through websites, live streams and podcasts. These days Angela also freelances locally and nationally for magazines and newspapers and teaches at Ryerson University.