Tag: Margaret Atwood


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.

Heather Mallick vs Robert Fulford vs Margaret Atwood vs Joe Mahoney

Last year I read an article in the Toronto Star by Heather Mallick about Robert Fulford of the National Post writing a critical review of Margaret Atwood’s latest story in the New Yorker, called Stone Mattress. The Atwood story is about a woman who was raped as a teenager by an older boy who gets away with it. This act sends the woman down a bad road in which she gets pregnant, becomes a prostitute, and then marries older men of ill health so that she can help them die prematurely and get their money. Ultimately she meets the man who raped her and exacts her revenge.

Heather Mallick

Heather Mallick

Fulford doesn’t like the story because he thinks it “comes across as a classic man-hating story.” Mallick doesn’t like Fulford’s review because she thinks Atwood is “entitled to fill her fiction with hateful men.” She also didn’t like that Fulford didn’t own up to once having been skewered in an Atwood piece, suggesting that his review of Stone Mattress was simply revenge, as if it’s not possible to dislike a story solely on its own merits, or lack thereof.

Mallick professes to have once adored Bob Fulford, “wisest and cleverest of older male journalists.” Now, she claims that Fulford has stopped regarding life with endless interest and even joy, and turned sour. This seems a harsh assessment based on a single review of Atwood’s story. When I read that line in her article it seemed so disproportionately harsh that I wondered what else must be informing Mallick’s revised opinion of Fulford.

As a reasonably decent man this whole episode struck a nerve. I’m aware that certain women don’t like men, or distrust them, and that because of the actions of some jerks they have good reason to feel this way. I have always tried to conduct myself in a way to give women reason to like men. I have three sisters, a mother, a wife and two daughters and many female friends and colleagues. I like women. I’m good to them. I treat them with respect. So it annoys me when I am confronted with women who think that, as Fulford writes, men are villains except when they are clowns. That’s just a different kind of hatred, and it’s no better than men disrespecting women. Understanding that there are men out there deserving of scorn, just as there are woman deserving of scorn because of hateful attitudes and actions.

Robert Fulford

Robert Fulford

So I am sympathetic to Fulford’s take on Atwood’s story, although Atwood is equally hard on women in Stone Mattress. The female protagonist, essentially a serial killer, is certainly no more sympathetic than the male schmuck she murders. But I’m more sympathetic to Fulford himself than I am to his take on the story because I’d like to know why Mallick has come to dislike him so much. Just disliking Atwood’s story, and not owning up to having been a victim of an earlier Atwood story, just doesn’t seem to justify it.

I once spent four days at Atwood’s house recording a series of interviews for CBC Radio. Surreally for me, the entire four days were spent conversing with Atwood and the rest of the crew in French, which I was in the process of learning at the time, having recently returned from several months of living in Aix-en-Provence, France. Apart from Atwood’s assistant at the time, Sarah Cooper, Atwood and I were the only anglophones. On the third night we all went to a restaurant together where circumstances contrived to place Atwood and myself alone together for about twenty minutes, and we conversed in English for the first time. The whole experience generated a certain camaraderie between us, or at least that was how it felt to me – I’ve met her several times since and she has never indicated that she remembers me. Although I consider this last point worthy of mention, I don’t hold it against her. I’m not sure that I would remember her much either if she were not one of Canada’s most famous authors, mentioned time and again on the CBC and in the rest of our national media. Impossible to forget, in other words.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

However, I’ve never forgotten her friendliness at the time. She did not come off to me as the least bit man hating. Her characters and stories are fiction, after all, not necessarily representative of the author’s own mind set. The truth is I haven’t actually read much Atwood, apart from some short stories in a book she gave me on our last day together (Good Bones) and the aforementioned Stone Mattress. And a handful of radio drama adaptations of her work such as The Handmaid’s Tale.

No, if I had one bone to pick with Margaret Atwood it wouldn’t be her stance against men, it would be her stance against science fiction, which she seems to regard as less than worthy. Yes, she writes it from time to time, but when she writes it is isn’t science fiction, it’s something else, something better, “speculative fiction” maybe. I find this attitude inexplicable and insulting, and no I don’t feel that way because she has previously skewered me in her work, at least that I’m aware, not that I would be aware not having read much of her work.

So neither Robert Fulford nor Heather Mallick have done anything to alter my opinion of Margaret Atwood. I’ve never given Robert Fulford much thought but I feel rather sympathetic toward the man now. As for Heather Mallick, whose work I have read from time to time in the Star, and to whom I haven’t given much thought either, I am now unduly curious about her.

Just what the heck does she really have against Robert Fulford?

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