Tag: Jian Ghomeshi

Studio Q

Most of my time on the second floor of the Radio Building was spent in Studio Q.

Studio Q was a news studio. We did The World Report, The World This Weekend, The World at Six, and short four and a half minute long newscasts called Hourlies out of there.*

Like every other facility in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio Building on Jarvis Street, Studio Q was kind of dusty and dingy. It had an analog console, probably a McCurdy, in the control room. Directly behind the technician were a couple of industrial strength quarter inch Studer A810 tape machines. To cue up tape on these beasts the tech would have to turn completely around. Several news items during the newscast would rely on audio from these tapes, so the tech frequently had his/her back to the console.

This Studer A810 has seen better days

This Studer A810 has seen better days

A news editor functioning as show director would sit beside the technician to the right of the console. A glass window separated the control room from an announce booth big enough to accommodate two news announcers. Hourlies and World Report only had one announcer but a show like The World at Six had two. A small recording room to the right of the control room contained four A810s and a second technician whose job it was to take in audio feeds.

About ten minutes before every newscast, the tech at the console would “line up” with a tech two floors below in Master Control using a dedicated phone line. After checking tone to ensure continuity, the tech in Master would relay the time, counting up a few seconds, to ensure that the clock in Studio Q was correct. Shows switched according to a strict automated schedule in Master Control, meaning that if a tech started the news early, the beginning of the show would be clipped.

Shortly after starting at CBC Radio I found myself observing a particularly chatty technician in Studio Q who forgot to line up one newscast. The phone from Master Control rang: a Master Control technician wondering why the news hadn’t started on time. The tech cursed and leapt into action, hitting the news theme, but it was too late. We already had about a minute of dead air. Afterward the Master Control tech phoned back and asked for the tech’s initials, which would be included on the inevitable fault report. My initials were MO (JM was already taken) and they would wind up on a few fault reports over the years.

There was usually a fair amount of excitement in Studio Q before a major newscast such as The World at Six. Providing the most up-to-date news reports meant that reporters often filed their stories at the last possible instant. As soon as a reporter finished recording a “voicer” an editor would appear and snatch the tape from the tech’s hands to prepare it for broadcast. This meant editing out mistakes and inserting a piece of leader tape—tape upon which it was not possible to record sound—before the actual audio to be played back. This would make it easier for the technician to find the item on the tape and cue it up. Sometimes, if it was seconds before the tape was to air, the recording room technician would simply hand the tape to the tech at the console, who would cue it up as fast as possible before whirling around to stab at the “play” button when the news announcer finished reading the intro.

Studio Q wasn’t my first exposure to radio news. Before joining CBC Radio, I’d spent six years off and on announce/operating in private radio. At my first station, CJRW in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, I worked evenings alone hosting a disc show (country on Friday nights and Top 40 on Saturday nights). During the show I was required to read the news every hour on the hour. Before the news I would put on a long song and then go down the hall to rip the news, sports, and weather off the wire machine. Over the previous hour the news wire machine would have spit out reams and reams of cheap yellow paper. It was my job to scan that (sometimes) thirty-seven foot long piece of paper for the information I was looking for. Fortunately, the news always came in distinctive blocks of print that made it easy to find. I would rip off the sections I required and go back to the studio and read it live.

I never read the copy ahead of time. I was a pretty good sight reader and because I was busy hosting a show all alone I didn’t have the time. Usually this wasn’t a problem, but I did get into trouble twice. Once, glancing up from reading the news, I saw my friend Andrew Fortier (visiting me at the station) making a face at me. I immediately burst into a big belly laugh right in the middle of the newscast. Another time I was reading an item about a contest to come up with a name for a new sports dome in Vancouver. After listing several serious suggestions, I came to the suggestion “the Unknown Dome”, which, coming as it did from out of nowhere, struck me as funny, and once again I dissolved into gales of laughter live on air. I giggled my way through the rest of the news.

A few years later I hosted an overnight show at CFCY/Q-93 in Charlottetown.** There, instead of reading the news myself, I used a news service called CKO. I would open up a line and someone in Halifax or maybe Toronto would read the news for me, after which I would resume my hosting duties live.***

Back to Studio Q.

After my stints in private radio I was rather taken aback by all the effort that went into making news at CBC Radio. I didn’t understand why it was necessary to have two people at the console (one operating, the other directing) while a whole other person—sometimes two—read the news. They made it all seem like such a big deal. There was a real sense of gravity. The work wasn’t actually all that difficult for the tech—the serious atmosphere made it feel harder than it was—but we did create quality newscasts.

Still, mistakes happened:

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In between news casts, when not mixing items and taking in feeds, techs would often create a makeshift tape reclaim around the console. Employing pencils as axles, we’d spin the reels with our fingers and easily spool the tape off. Or we’d take a few minutes to see who could cue up tapes the fastest (an experienced tech could do it in less than eight seconds). Or we’d listen to the yarns of older techs such as Studio Q veteran Fred Park, who once warned a couple of us junior techs about a curious phenomenon that we were bound to experience sooner or later: in the middle of a show we’d push a button or flick a switch and at that exact instant silence would descend—dead air, the arch-nemesis of all makers of radio—and it would seem to us as though we had caused the dead air by pushing that button. But in fact it would have nothing to do with us, and a second or later the show would resume as though nothing had happened, because, in fact, nothing had happened, the silence was just a coincidence, somebody had paused in the middle of a thought, un ange est passé. Fred was right—in the years to come I would experience this all the time, and I would like to say that every time it did I thought of Fred, but I can’t, because, well, I didn’t.

It’s no coincidence that the show q (formerly Q) hosted by Shadrach (Shad) Kabangois (formerly Jian Ghomeshi) is called q. When we were trying to come up with names for that show, one of the suggestions on the whiteboard was Studio Q, from which the final name of the show is obviously derived.

It was, at least in part, a deliberate reference to a certain hallowed news studio back in the Radio Building on Jarvis Street.

* At least, I think we did The World This Weekend out of there. (It was a long time ago.) We did some shows, like Canada at 5, out of Studio T across the hall.

** CBC news correspondent James Murray also worked at both CJRW and CFCY/Q-93. We went to high school together; he was one year ahead of me. There was a sign on one of the doors at CFCY/Q-93 when I worked there: please do not prop this door open with useless objects such as Jim Murray’s head. Jim and I are still pals—at least until he stumbles upon that little bit of trivia on this blog.

*** After completing my degree at Ryerson, I applied for a job at CKO. Someone from CKO phoned me up to offer me an interview. I was in the bathroom at the time. “He’s taking a shit,” one of my roommates told the caller. Despite my idiot roommate’s remark, they eventually offered me a job, but it was only part-time, so I declined. Shortly afterward I got the job at the CBC. A good thing, too—CKO went out of business shortly afterward, in 1989.

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:

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.

The Story of Q

This is a repost of a speech I gave to Ryerson students in 2008 about the creation of the CBC Radio show “Q”:

Q

How many of you think the CBC is a bank?

I’m told you’re going to make a radio show as a project. You might go on to work in radio. I should tell you right now that when you work in radio you don’t do it for the money – I only make two, three hundred thousand dollars a year. So anyway I’m here to give you some idea how to make a radio show. So I’m going to tell you a few things that might help you make your radio show here, and that also might help you when you’re working in the real world. If I’m really lucky maybe some of it will help you in the rest of your life too.

I think the best way to tell you what I know is to tell you a story. As far as I’m concerned the best way to convey anything is to tell a story. I could stand up here and relate all kinds of facts and figures and all it would do is put you to sleep. It’s true for this speech I’m giving and it’s true for radio. So that’s your first lesson – don’t be boring. You need to grab everyone’s attention! And then you need to keep it.

So the story I’m going to tell you is the story of Q.

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The story of Q is how you make a radio show from the ground up. There might be a tiny bit of dirt in this story, so before I go on I need to know if I can trust you. I might tell you a few things that could get me in trouble. So I need to know who in this room I can NOT trust. Point to them please. Okay those of you who are being pointed at I need you to leave the room.

This time last year I was happy making radio plays. Stuff like this:

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Making radio plays was what I did best. That and lasagna – I make a mean lasagna. Weekday afternoons on CBC Radio One around this time was a show called Freestyle. Traditionally in this time slot CBC Radio One had a listenership of about two hundred and twenty thousand people. It had been this way for years. It didn’t matter what you played in this time slot – you could play 1 K tone and the listenership would stay at two hundred and twenty thousand people. So they put this show on called Freestyle and the listener-ship promptly dropped to one hundred and eighty thousand people. Clearly, forty thousand people preferred tone.

Something needed to be done, and something was. There was a big study, they called it the Arts and Culture study, and based on this research the Powers That Be decided they needed to replace Freestyle with an Arts and Culture show. It would be a national show… a flagship show… they would pour tons of resources into it. It was a Big Deal.

Now as I mentioned I was toiling happily away in radio drama land at this time. But I had also worked on As It Happens, Morningside, Sunday Morning and all kinds of other live national shows. I had also helped create shows such as Nora Young’s Next, Here’s the Thing with Pat Senson, and I’d produced documentaries for the Current and the Arts Tonight. So my boss called me into her office and asked me if I would like to be the engineer for this new Arts and Culture show.

Those of us in the trenches knew that this show was coming down the pike. And no one I knew wanted to work on it. We all thought it would be a disaster. We had heard that Jian Ghomeshi was going to host it. Jian Ghomeshi was supposed to be the devil incarnate. He had been the host of 50 Tracks, a big success, he’d fronted the band Moxy Fruvous once upon a time, he’d hosted television and he’d done a stint on Sounds Like Canada. He had a reputation for being difficult to work with. And I thought, I don’t need that shit.

So I told my boss “No” in no uncertain terms. Well. She went up one side of me and down the other. She tore me a new one. And I wound up being the engineer on the new Arts and Culture show with Jian Ghomeshi.

I was really mad. I started the whole experience extremely upset. And this is lesson number two, folks: you have to be professional. I loved radio drama, that’s all I wanted to do. My boss in her wisdom took me out of something I loved and made me a part of something I wanted no part of. I wasn’t the only one. Of the staff that were selected for the new arts and culture show one promptly quit, one transferred to Winnipeg, at least two didn’t want to be there and they could not find an executive producer who wanted anything to do with the show.

But like I said, you have to be professional. You do not take your feelings out on your colleagues. You do not come to work sullen. There are two kinds of people in this world, those with good attitudes and those with bad attitudes. It’s easy to have a good attitude when things are going your way. The trick is to have a good attitude when things are not going your way. And I am here to tell you that there are people working on that show today who do not know how I felt about being there. I’m not saying you keep it all inside – you tell your wife, you tell your best friend.

But at work you put on your game face, the one with the good attitude.

So eventually they found an Executive Producer willing to take a chance and they filled out the rest of the staff. We had nine people in total to make this new national Arts and Culture show. One recording engineer, one executive producer, one host, three producers, three associate producers. They threw us all into a room in the Skydome, Skybox Three, if I recall, and said: “Make us a radio show.”

We talked. We talked for days. All we knew was that it had to be an arts and culture radio show and that it would be personality driven – Jian Ghomeshi’s personality. But we didn’t know what any of that meant. Low culture? High culture? Both? What is low culture and high culture? What about sports, is that culture? Recreation? Interviews were a given, but how long should they be? Are interviews on the phone okay or should they all be high quality lines? Would we be the arts show of record? What does that even mean? Do we break stories? Do we talk about Paris Hilton? If so, how much? What about Margaret Atwood? Haven’t we all heard enough about Margaret Atwood? How do we open the show? How do we close the show? What do we even call the damn thing?

To help us figure things out we took a bunch of courses. We all had plenty of experience making radio but you never stop learning. We took courses on critical thinking. Things like, do we trust this source? Is this story really news? We took a course on ethics. Things like, when are we in conflict of interest? And we took courses on interviewing. In case we wound up with a guest that sounded like this guy:

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Eventually we got it more or less figured out. High culture AND low culture. High impact guests when possible. Interviews about eight minutes long, longer when warranted. Live music every Friday, maybe more. Ixnay on the Paris Hiltonnay. Lots of energy. Plenty of short, flexible elements so we could mix things up on the fly. We had it all figured out. Everything except for a name.

We’d been racking our brains for weeks trying to come up with a name. It was really important to us that we choose the name as opposed to management. ‘Cause it seemed like the front runner for management was the name Radar, and Radar just didn’t work for us. We needed something better. The problem was the show was so broad that we couldn’t come up with a name that encompassed everything the show was about. And then one day, out of the blue, someone had it:

“Awesometown.”

Yeah, that lasted about five minutes. So we did a pilot with the name Radar and found ourselves getting down to the wire. It was pretty clear that if we didn’t come up with a name ourselves by the end of the week one would be foisted upon us and it would probably be the dreaded Radar. So we hunkered down and for the umpteenth time wrote our top choices on the white board. Names like Studio Q, The Cue, Skybox Three. And, of course, Awesometown. Suddenly looking at the names on the whiteboard the letter Q kind of leapt out at me and I said, what if it were just the letter Q? Jian went for it and nobody really objected so we had a winner. Later I learned that journalist Jesse Wente had suggested the name Q for an Arts show two years earlier so there was a kind of weird synchronicity about it. Of course, some people absolutely hated it, but it was enigmatic, it stood for nothing and everything, and most important, Jian could make rhyming couplets out of it.

A week before we went to air we still didn’t really know whether the show was going to work. I remember tense meetings with the team and Jian. Jian felt like there was too much interference from management; he didn’t feel like he was able to make the show that he wanted to make. There were different sensibilities at work. Jian and the Executive Producer weren’t quite clicking. And there were still a whole bunch of issues that needed to be sorted out that hadn’t even been addressed.

As the engineer, I was responsible for the sound of the show. From the beginning I had been advocating for a theme package. I wanted to hire a composer and a band and get them to write all the music for the show. In drama we hired composers all the time, it was no big deal. This show was supposed to be a big deal so it was a no brainer for me. But for some reason the team balked at the idea. For the pilots we’d been using this music for the opening theme:

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It wasn’t bad. It was basically a loop of the first four bars of the Clash’s Spanish Bombs. But it didn’t have the panache we were looking for. Much more classy to use something written especially for the show. At the last minute the Executive Producer agreed with me and hired Luc Doucet to write a theme. Now, the show debuted on a Monday… and Luc Doucet’s band recorded the theme on the Friday. They recorded it… they didn’t mix it. And they didn’t record it to the proper specifications. We needed an intro, beds, backtime music. On Sunday – Sunday, the day before we debuted — I got a CD with all the raw tracks, unmixed. I was working on something else that day, teaching U of T students about radio drama, and I didn’t even start mixing the theme until seven o’clock that night. By ten o’clock my ears were gone, I could barely tell what I was listening to. I printed out a few versions, emailed them as MP3s to Jian and the executive producer, and went home to bed.

The next morning, the day of the show, the first thing the executive producer said to me was, “We got some remixing to do.” It was two hours before show time. Fortunately my mix was in the ballpark, I just had to swap a couple of guitar parts and create a bed for Jian to speak over and then recut it to the proper length. And this is where some stellar leadership came into play. Rule number three: Go for the gusto. Because I really didn’t think we’d be able to get the theme done in time. I told the executive producer that we should go with the Spanish Bombs theme. But the exec had nerves of steel and he said, no no, we’ll pull this off. I really didn’t think it was possible but he stayed the course and lo and behold we pulled it off. The finished theme sounded like this:

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On your program today, I wanna rock, Dee Snider, the frontman of outrageous 80s metal band Twisted Sister has a new gig. We’ll talk to him about his new TV series “Dead Art” about finding beauty… in cemeteries. And… get happy! (Or not…) North America is home to some of the most contented people on Earth. But is that a good thing? Not according to Eric Wilson. He’s here with his new book “Against Happiness”. Plus, a look at the threat facing Utah’s Spiral Jetty… and its Canadian connection. Six words of love for you… this is Q.”

And they’re still using that theme today.

Just so you know, that opening over the theme is usually pre-taped so that we can make sure Jian hits the post, the guitar at the end. Sometimes it’s not possible to pre-tape it and Jian has to do it live. Nine times out of ten when Jian does it live, he hits the post.

So the show debuted and everything that could go wrong tried to wrong but didn’t. There were many heart stopping moments but it all worked. This is what I took away from that day. Rule number four: Know your studio like the back of your hand. Check it thoroughly before you go to air. Know your patch bay, your wall boxes. Test everything. If you’re going to have phoners test your phones through the board. If you have lines book your lines at least fifteen minutes early so that you can test them long before your guests are supposed to speak. If you’ve got a band, get them in early for a sound check. Make sure you know how to use your timers, your talkbacks. And finally, know what time you’re supposed to go to air. Because on that first day, believe it or not, we didn’t.

Someone – me, probably – should have double-checked all the times of the show. Lo and behold the third hour, part three, started one whole minute earlier than we thought it was supposed to. We were just sitting back enjoying our cigars during the newsbreak when all of a sudden the countdown clock started counting down and we had to scramble to get on the air. We made it, somehow.

When we finished the show that day, the first day, it was clear to everyone that Q was going to work. It wasn’t perfect but it was pretty much there.

I told you before that Jian was supposed to be the antichrist. Myself, I only ever had one run-in with the man. For the first couple of months we sort of circled one another warily. I was suspicious of him because of what I’d heard. Then one day we had a band in, Stars. Q goes live to Sirius Radio at 12:06. The sound check with Stars was scheduled for 11:00. Stars showed up at 11:30. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to sort them out, and their lead singer was being difficult. Jian showed up at 11:45 full of piss and vinegar wanting to pre-record the opening, like I mentioned before. We didn’t have time. Jian got angry and he let it show. This really pissed me off. I was in it up to my elbows and the last thing I needed was someone making my life more difficult.

I got Stars sorted out.

(Incidentally, although they were late, they weren’t the worst. The worst was Ryan Adams — Ryan, not Bryan. He showed up with a drummer and two guitarists after the show started. I had to really scramble then. And it actually turned out to be one of my favourite recordings:

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But I digress. After the Stars thing I was pissed at Jian and he knew it. The next day he sought me out and we had a little chat. I explained where I was coming from. He apologized and we were fine after that, for the most part.

The thing about hosts is that they’re under a lot of pressure, more than anybody else on the show. It doesn’t give them the right to be assholes. It doesn’t give them the right to take their moods out on other people. But it does mean that they have to be given the right information at the right time. They have to know that you’re watching their back. A host is all alone out there in front of several hundred thousand if not millions of listeners; the rest of us are anonymous. And when they screw up, it’s their clips that we play to embarrass them in front of Ryerson students:

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So we have to make sure that the hosts don’t find themselves alone; we have to be right there with them, paying attention, watching their backs. As an engineer I never took my eyes and ears off the host if I could help it. If he or she got into trouble I tried to be there to feed them information or go to a tape if need be.

Same with the show’s director. On Q the director is Matt Tunnacliffe. As director Matt also keeps a close eye on the host. Among other things it’s Matt’s job to make sure everything times out. If an interview goes too long it’s Matt who has to figure out how to fix it. Do we drop an item, do we go to a different item, do we get the host to wing it? I remember Jian getting lost once or twice. Misplaced a bit of his script or had a brain fade or there was just some miscommunication. When this happens it’s crucial that the people in the control room are paying attention, so they can bail him out. Otherwise it can get pretty ugly pretty fast, and when you’re live you only get one shot at it.

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I wanted to talk about the roles of the others on the show, the associate producers and whatnot, but when I started to write about them it started putting me to sleep. So I’ll spare you, except to say that they’re generally the ones who pitch the ideas, hunt down all the guests, do the research and write all the questions. So the work is crucial but boring to talk about, so I’m not gonna. You’ll have to get one of them in here to talk about it.

Instead let me talk a bit about this:

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Sound design. That clip was one of the first IDs we ever did for the show. The day I was teaching U of T students, the day before we debuted, I got the students to do a bunch of IDs for the show. They gave me tons of raw material. I also hunted down all sorts of interesting clips off the internet. I gave it all to an associate producer on the show, Tori Allen, and she put together three or four great IDs like that one. And you’ll notice she did not use the students getting the IDs right, she used the students getting the IDs wrong. It was brilliant and I don’t mind saying that I learned a lot from Tori… every ID I made for the show after that was with her sensibility in mind.

I don’t think sound design is top of mind for many show producers. For them it’s all about the content. I guess there’s something to be said for content. But for me it’s all about sound design and production… you can have so much fun there. For instance, when we were figuring out the show we talked about how we should open each show. Everybody wanted to do something unique and different. I suggested something like this, which is something producer Alison Moss, Nora Young and I did up for an episode of Next:

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That was a lot of fun to produce but it took an entire day to write, record and mix. So it’s not something you’re going to do every day on a daily show like Q. We settled on an opening monologue that would contain some production elements when we felt up to it.

The next opportunity for some fun production was, as I’ve already mentioned, in the show IDs. Show IDs serve four main purposes. One, they give the host a break during which he or she can figure out where they’re at. Two, they separate the various elements of a show. And three, obviously they identify the show you’re listening to, the network, and whatever other information you want to put in them. But a lot of producers don’t take advantage of the fourth purpose of show IDs, which is to help define the sound of the show you’re listening to:

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That’s me completely taking a page from Tori’s book. It signals that Q is a show not afraid to have a little bit of fun, and that at it’s core it’s a show about creativity. And the sky’s the limit. Whenever we had a musical guest we got them to record a little ID for us. You have to be a little bit bold with your guests. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you need. 99% of the musicians I approached to make an ID all just wanted to talk until I pestered them to pick up their guitar or play the piano. Then when they saw what I was after they got into the spirit of things. And we got a lot of great show IDs that way.

Yet another opportunity for sound design came about when Jian would have long spiels about one thing or another, letters or just something he wanted to talk about. So I began to make loops for him.

Whenever I found a piece of music I thought might be appropriate I’d take as much instrumental as I could out of it and loop it all together, five or six minutes worth. Jian would finish extro-ing an interview (for example), I’d hit the music, let it establish, then Jian would come in and do his thing over it. He’d finish, I’d bring up the music, then fade out and we’d be onto the next thing. Simple but effective.

There’s about eight thousand other issues I could address but I’ll finish with this one. If you take nothing else away from the stuff I’m telling you today, take this away: Know your tools. You can get by without really knowing your tools but you’ll be making your life unnecessarily difficult, and you’ll be limited in what you can accomplish.

We use many digital audio editing platforms at CBC but the main one that most people use is called Dalet. It dates back to about 1998 and it’s soon to be replaced with something called DaletPlus, which itself will be out of date by the time we start using it but that’s another story. Anyway, I used to hate Dalet. My weapon of choice is ProTools, but when I began working on Q I had no choice but to use Dalet. I thought, my God, this is like editing with your elbows.

I soon realized that I would live or die by Dalet, so I resolved to learn it as well as I know Protools. I got myself some training and within three months I knew it inside and out. Now you might think, well that’s all fine and good for you, you’re obviously a technical type. Well let’s just flash back twenty-two years. I’m sixteen years old working at my first radio station, a two hundred and fifty watt daytimer called CJRW in Prince Edward Island. Before I started my shift, I got the DJ working before me to cue up all my items on the reel to reels because I was afraid of it. I was frightened of the scary looking reel-to-reels. I am not by disposition a technical type, I am an artsy. To me gear is a means to an end not an end in itself. But I decided one day – one day here at Ryerson, in fact, working on a second year project – that I would no longer live in fear of the scary looking reel-to-reel machines. I would master the reel-to-reel and any other piece of gear or software that comes along.

But before I say goodbye, let me play you this:

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That’s my favourite ID because the woman trying to say Jian’s name is so charming. Also it tells a story from beginning to end.

And that’s all she wrote. As my former professor Jerry Good used to say…

Questions? Comments?

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