Writer, Broadcaster

Category: Radio (Page 1 of 6)

CJRW 1240 Radio in Summerside, PEI

An excerpt from an memoir about working in radio called Adventures in the Radio Trade, anticipated publication date sometime in 2022:


This is similar to the console at CJRW. At CJRW the turntables were situated on our left (photo from Jim Zimmerlin)

In July, 1988, CBC Radio acquired a twenty-three year old with a lot of growing up yet to do. I wasn’t completely green, though. I’d been in broadcasting since the age of fourteen. At that age I’d begun volunteering at the local cable affiliate, Cable 5, in Summerside, PEI.

I loved working at Cable 5. I learned to operate the cameras and the big clunky Video Tape Recorders (VTRs) and I was especially fond of “switching” the shows on the cool looking switcher. My friends and I produced our own shows and worked on other peoples’ shows, often about music. At the same time I also worked at Three Oaks High School’s brand new and exceptionally well-run radio station under the leadership of teacher Ralph Carruthers, who launched at least two careers in broadcasting that I know of, and probably more.

That was all volunteer, though. I needed a part time job that actually paid money. So I got a job at MacDonald’s. I hated it there. The managers, only a little older than me, were always yelling and screaming at the rest of us, especially me, it seemed. I’d curse them angrily under my breath. Luckily, after one month they fired me.   

“It’s not for everyone,” the franchise manager told me, not unkindly.

She meant that it wasn’t for immature fifteen-year olds who couldn’t be bothered to memorize what went on a Big Mac.

Getting fired from MacDonald’s was one of the happiest days of my life.

Had I not been fired from MacDonald’s I might never have got my first real job in radio.  One cold November afternoon I cruised down Water Street in an Oldsmobile with my friend Justin Hickey at the wheels and two other pals, the four of us probably listening to classic Genesis. We passed Summerside’s local radio station, a 250 watt day-timer with the call letters CJRW, located at 1240 AM on the dial. I’d grown up listening to CJRW.

“Stop the car!” I shouted to Justin.

He stopped.

I jumped out, crossed the street, and entered CJRW’s front door. I climbed up a flight of stairs to CJRW’s reception area, walls festooned with plaques attesting to the station’s long history of community activity. Elton John was playing on a set of speakers: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” the first time I’d ever heard that song. I’ve loved it ever since.

A lady greeted me at the reception desk (possibly Rose Anne Gaudet), super friendly (maybe she knew my mother).    

“I’d like to apply for a job,” I told her.

She furnished me with an application. I filled it out as best I could. A man took me to a studio booth and gave me several sheets of thin yellow paper with dot matrix type. News, weather and sports. I recorded an audition tape on the spot. A month later, at home, the phone rang.    

“Joe, this is Lowell Huestis, calling from CJRW radio.”

I recognized Lowell’s voice immediately. He was the first famous person I’d ever spoken to. Famous on PEI, anyway. “I’d like to offer you a job as a disc jockey. When can you start?”   

I could barely believe my good fortune. Lowell and CJRW hired me to host two shifts each week. I had a six-hour long country music show on Friday nights and a rock show on Saturday nights. I hated country music. I grew to like it in time. Well, some of it. I worked at CJRW all through High School. I would have done it for free. I almost did do it for free: I earned $3.35 per hour, minimum wage at the time.

I darned near didn’t show up for my first shift (I was still the same kid who couldn’t memorize hamburger ingredients). I got confused about which week I was supposed to start. One of my fellow disc jockeys was Peter Arsenault (he went by Peter Scott on air). Peter happened to drive down High Street—my street—in his gold Pontiac Firebird Trans Am shortly before the start of my shift. Spotting me, he pulled up beside me and rolled down the window.

“You do realize you start tonight, don’t you?”

“I do?”

“Get in the damned car!”

He drove me to the station and put me on the air before a big silver console with rotary pots and two huge turntables. I learned how to cue up 7” 45 single records so they’d start an instant after introducing them (about one quarter turn back from where the needle hit the first sound). We played IDs and promos on cartridges (called “carts”). There was a quarter inch tape machine that looked rather daunting. For my first few shifts I got the guy who worked before me to cue it up. His name was Jim Murray and like me he’d go on to work for the CBC (they’d call him James Murray there).   

I got nervous before every shift, but I was never nervous on air. I loved every second of it. I got to choose my own music. I played other peoples’ requests. Once, I sneezed on air. I learned not to do that. Once, introducing a record, I choked on a potato chip. I learned not to do that. I had two laughing fits on air—I never learned not to do that (I was a giddy teen-ager).

With a mere 250 watts, CJRW didn’t have a very strong signal, but it seemed to reach a lot of people. I grew close to my audience. I got calls from all over western PEI as well as Cap Pele, in New Brunswick, across the Northumberland Strait. They’d call to make requests. They’d call to say hi. They’d call week after week. They’d tell me I knew them but wouldn’t tell me who they were. Once, calling a friend during a show, I accidentally called the wrong number. A girl answered the phone. “Hey, you’re the guy on the radio!”

We had a good chat.

The name of the Friday night country show was The Ranch Party. I always opened it with Bobbie Nelson’s Down Yonder from Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. The station didn’t own that record; my father did. I always brought in a lot of my own stuff. I mixed the country up with folk music from time to time. Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers were favourites. I used to play this one song by them. One night after I played it a Ranch Party regular called up, an older Acadian woman.

“That song you just played?” she said. “You must never play it again.”

“Why not?”

“It’s too sad.”

She wasn’t wrong:

Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody well dead?
Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody good cry
And always remember the longer you live
The sooner you’ll bloody well die.

I had always gotten a kick out of it. Young and fully alive, it didn’t apply to me. I could see how it might be considered a little morbid, though. I respected my listeners. I never played it again.  

Another night, during the Saturday night rock show, a girl called up, not someone I knew.

“I love you!” she said, before hanging up.  

I laughed. I was always getting calls like that. It was just some kid in town having fun, probably hanging out with a bunch of other kids. For a few short years me and my fellow disc jockeys John Burke and Peter Scott and Mike Surette and all the rest of them supplied the soundtrack of these kids lives, and we all had fun together, so much more fun than grilling hamburgers.

How to Make an Audiobook

How to make a Soufflé. I mean, an audiobook.

Et voila.

How to make an audiobook.

A version of this roughly half hour presentation was originally delivered to The Creative Academy for Writers. Why? Because my esteemed brother-in-law, Brian Wyvill (author of the highly entertaining time travel/seafaring novel The Second Gate), asked me to whip this up. And who can say no to Brian? I mean other than his wife, my sister Shawna. Well, plenty of people, maybe. But not me, he’s just too charming, so I created this, and presented it to the academy. And then I thought, why not just make it available to everyone?

So here it is.

Make of it what you will.

Now look. I don’t pretend to be the last word in creating audiobooks. This is just some general advice based on my experience as a sound guy and someone who’s recently turned a novel and a bunch of short stories into audiobooks. My goal is simply to provide a practical overview of how to make an audiobook, based on my experience.

I talk about the equipment you need, the preparation required, how to record your audiobook, a bit about editing and mastering your audiobook, and a bit about what distributors like Audible are looking for in terms of quality control.

Here’s hoping it’s of some help.

Neil Munro and Barry Morgan

I stumbled across the following recently which had appeared on an early version of this blog (July 14th, 2009, to be precise), before the blog self-destructed shortly afterward (one of a handful of blog implosions over the years). I like to recapture this sort of thing for the modern incarnation of Assorted Nonsense so that it doesn't get lost to time and also because it keeps alive the memory of some important, interesting people in my life. 

Neil Munro

aka “Inspector Nickles” (Photo by David Cooper, Shaw Festival.)

Neil Munro has passed away at 62 years of age.

I was fortunate enough to work with Neil off and on over the course of two or three years. Although they don’t mention it in the notice at CBC.ca, one of Neil’s many accomplishments was starring as Inspector Quentin Nickles in The Investigations of Quentin Nickles , for CBC Radio’s Mystery Project.

Working on these plays I had the opportunity to observe Neil’s craft up close.

You had to be a skilled actor working on these shows. Producer/Director Barry Morgan was a one take wonder. Rarely did we ever make it up to take two. So the actors had to get it right the first time, and they almost always did. If we had to do a second take it was usually because one of us technical types had screwed something up, or one of the sound effects engineers was caught on tape snoring during a brief siesta (that actually happened once).

Neil also wrote/adapted several radio plays; I remember recording and mixing two or three wild and crazy examples of his work. The names escape me now, but I recall them as full of mirth and inventiveness.

I remember Neil Munro as not only a consummate professional but as a genuinely warm and friendly man. He deserved better than to have died at 62, it seems to me. As Truman Capote said, life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.

In Neil’s case, I’m afraid someone eliminated the third act altogether.

So long, Inspector Nickles.

My friend and colleague Barry Morgan, whom I referenced in the post, responded with a comment which I thought was gently chiding in nature. I realized that I may have irked him slightly with my remark about doing everything in one take. I hope not, because Barry was a great guy and I hate the thought that I might have annoyed him.

Anyway, here's what he wrote in response:

Barry Morgan

Writer, Producer, Director, All Round Nice Guy

 Joe, a really nice appreciation of Neil.

Perhaps I can clarify the “one take” reference.

It was because Neil brought his incredible energy and focus to the rehearsal session before we ever got to the studio floor. The work was already done. And beyond that his electricity energized his fellow cast members to the point that the performance bar was raised far above the level of `excellent`.

We have enjoyed a long history of fine radio actors from the days of John Drainie, Jane Mallet, Frank Perry and a great many others. Neil Munro was certainly among the front rank of those incredible talents.

It was a great privilege to have him around to make all of us look better.

I will always treasure his friendship.

Nora’s Mental Tune-Up

Here’s another fun bit I got to produce on the summer replacement show NEXT with host Nora Young and producer Alison Moss.

We hired actor Andrew Gillies (Orphan Black) to do these bits. I’d worked with Andrew before on my adaptation of Tom Godwin‘s The Cold Equations. Andrew had played the captain of the Stardust for us. Now he played a Scotsman trying to tune up Nora’s brain.

I’ve pasted the script below, with the actual produced bits at the bottom of each one.

Photo by David Cassolato from Pexels

Part One

NORA: It’s easy to spruce up your body… okay, well maybe not easy, but you do have the option of going to the gym and hiring a personal trainer.  But what about your brain?  What if you could give your brain a tune-up too?

SFX: WOOSH! INTO NORA’S BRAIN

SFX: GRINDING, SQUEALING GEARS OF A BRAIN OUT OF WHACK

McSCOTT: (THICK SCOTTISH BROGUE) Och! Listen to that.

NORA: What?  What is it?

 SFX: OBNOXIOUS WHIRRING

McSCOTT: It’s nae wonder you cannae do arithmetic in a brain like this.  Your neural net… it’s all gummed up.  Och, and that basil ganglia. (BLOWS ON SOMETHING)  Tsk tsk.

NORA: Oh my.

McSCOTT: But dinnae you worry, lass, I’ve seen worse.

NORA: You have?

McSCOTT: Aye.  This monkey once.  Couldn’t count to two if its life depended on it.

NORA: What did you do?

McSCOTT: Lipid soluble molecules past the blood brain barrier.  Before you knew it that monkey could count to five.  Nae… you leave it to me, lass…

SFX: Power Tool Roars to Life

McSCOTT:    You’ll be doin’ math in nae time.

SFX: EVERYTHING OUT WITH A WOOSH

 

Scottish Brain Guy Part One

Part Two

SFX: POWER TOOL SHUTTING OFF

SFX: BRAIN ONLY SLIGHTLY OUT OF WHACK

McSCOTT: That should do it.  Tell me, lass: are ya feelin’ at all perspicacious?

NORA: Excuse me?

McSCOTT: Peripatetic?  Cogitative?  Erudite, scholarly?  The least bit sagacious?

NORA: I’m sorry?

McSCOTT: Are ya feelin’ any smarter, lass.

NORA: Uhhh…

McSCOTT: I’m guessin’ that’s a “nae,” then.  Nae worries, got a few more tricks up me sleeve yet…

SFX:      SWOOSH OUT

Scottish Brain Guy Part Two
 

Part Three

SFX: BRAIN HOPELESSLY OUT OF WHACK

McSCOTT: Och!  It’s nae use.

NORA: No?

McSCOTT:    I kin make ya smarter…

NORA: Uh huh?

McSCOTT: But… but not without changin’ the fundamental chemistry of your brain.

NORA:      I see.

McSCOTT: But if you dinnae mind me sayin’ so…

NORA: Uh huh?

McSCOTT:     I think you’re just fine the way you are…

SFX: BUMPER

End

Scottish Brain Guy Part Three

A Host of Data

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

I worked on a summer replacement radio series called NEXT once with host Nora Young and producer Alison Moss. They were so great to work with, and indulged my passion for high production radio with bits like this one, which introduced one of the episodes.

Boy I loved making stuff like this.

Here’s the script, with the actual produced version at the end.

NEXT: A Host of Data

SFX: OFFICE AMB BG

NARR: Indefatigable Nora Young surfs the net, quietly sipping tea.

NORA: (LOUD SIP)

NARR: She is thinking furiously:

NORA: Hmm… I wonder what today’s show should be about? 

NARR: Friend and colleague Alison Moss appears in the doorway.

ALISON: Hey Nora!

NORA: Oh!

SFX: KNOCKS OVER TEA CUP

NARR: Startled, clumsy Nora knocks her tea onto the computer.

SFX: COMPUTER SHORT CIRCUITS

NORA: Dag nabbit!

SFX: OFFICE AMB BG OUT

SFX: WOOSHING DATA STREAM

NARR: A freak chain reaction occurs.  Our hapless host is drawn inside the computer!

NORA: Noooooooo!

SFX: NORA LANDS WITH A THUMP INSIDE COMPUTER

NORA: Oof!  (GRUNTS IN PAIN) Where am I?

NARR: Nora is trapped in a virtual landscape of ones and zeroes.  Drowning in a sea of binary information, Nora comes face to face…. with herself.

DRONING NORA VOICE: Nora Esmerelda Young, born nineteen sixty-four, daughter of Clem and Doreen, brothers John, Alfred, Immanuel, postal code L2N 3G5, (CONTINUES BG) 

NORA: (OVER VOICES) All this information… about me!

DRONING VOICE: (CONTINUING) Favourite food: schnitzel, last purchased July 28th, 2004 at Loblaws on the corner of Dufferin and Brock…

NARR: Clever Nora can only to come to one conclusion:

SFX: OFFICE AMB BG

NORA: That’s it!  I’ll make the show about data!

END

Nora Young: A Host of Data

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