February 5th, 1993. I was working the evening shift in the new Radio Master Control at the Toronto Broadcast Centre. At this time we were still linked to the old Radio Master Control on Jarvis Street. Joram Kalfa was visiting me during his supper break. We had some business to discuss as he would be working for me the next day so that I could attend my roommate Ron Koperdraad’s wedding. Also, we just liked to sit around and talk about things when we had the chance, and as shifts at this time in the new Radio Master were slack, it was a good time to chat.
My back was to the main door of the place and we were talking with our feet up on the table. At one point Joram, who was facing me, looked over my shoulder. I turned and saw Moses Znaimer of City-TV fame peering through the rectangular (allegedly bullet-resistant) glass beside the door. A couple of other men stood behind him, one youthful though prematurely grey and wearing a suit, the other a CBC Security Guard. They were just looking, it didn’t appear as though they wanted in, and in fact had started to wander off. I scurried around the racks of equipment to open the door, thinking that, hey, maybe they would be interested in a look around, and besides, it was an opportunity to meet Moses Znaimer. It’s my understanding that Znaimer used to be a CBC radio producer, and in fact started Cross-Country-Checkup before going on to his City TV and Muchmusic fame.
When I opened the door they turned back. I asked if they would like to look inside and sure enough Moses, just as his namesake led the Hebrews to the Promised Land, led his followers into Master Control Land.
Moses snooped around like a cat in a new house. He was quite inquisitive and gave the room a good looking over.
“Looks primitive,” he said, which struck me as an odd remark considering it was a brand new facility laden with state-of-the-art technology.
Joram and I looked at one another, and then Joram clued into the fact that Znaimer was referring to the plethora of purple patch cords strung along the patch bays. Just about every patch cord in the place was being used in an awful tangled mess. This was a temporary measure connecting the new Master Control with the old Master Control, as they were operating in tandem until we had the new facility running up to speed. So we could see why Moses labelled this mess of patch cords primitive in an age of digital technology, where you might think that few patch cords might be necessary.
We enlightened the man.
He wanted to know exactly what the room did, and what its relationship was with the old Master Control on Jarvis Street, and it took a few minutes to explain all that. I asked him how he thought it compared to his operation.
“Very pretty, very pretty.”
At one point he laughed at the boxes we kept our DAT tapes in. DAT tapes were very small and the boxes we had for them very large. In fact, they were kept in boxes that were originally meant for 2400” reels of tape, 12” in diameter. A DAT tape is maybe an inch and a half by two and a half inches, so the arrangement did look kind of funny. We stored them that way for ease of transport (the larger boxes were easier to carry with other tapes the same size) and also to recycle those boxes.
And then Moses and his small posse were off to finish their tour of the Broadcast Centre elsewhere.
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.
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 Finlay, 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.