Writer, Broadcaster

Tag: Q-93


One of a series of posts about working in radio back in the day.

(Here’s some more).

Photo by Barthy Bonhomme from Pexels

I missed being on air.

I was getting tired of being the tech. The bottom of the food chain. First came the talent, then the producers, then the mice, then the cockroaches, and finally the techs.

I had been the talent once. I wanted to be the talent again.

I began by applying for on air jobs within CBC. I applied to be host of the afternoon show in Charlottetown. It didn’t seem much of a stretch. I had already broadcast from three of the five radio stations on PEI (CJRW, CFCY, and Q-93). I only had CHTN and CBCT-FM left to go. I didn’t even land an interview. Instead I got a rejection letter addressed to someone else (who presumably got my letter).  

I applied for another host job, this time in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. They asked me to provide a sample of an on-air interview. As a disc jockey, I’d read the news, weather, sports, ferry reports, introduced records, and other, less pleasant tasks (“At this time we regret to make the following announcement”), but I’d never conducted interviews. I needed to get an interview on tape. Trish Thornton offered to help me.

“Who can I interview?” I asked her.

“Someone famous,” she suggested.


By then I’d already met several famous people, but I didn’t actually know any of them. We batted around a few names, but none seemed right.

“What about Ray Lund’s father?” Trish suggested finally.

Ray Lund was a fellow radio tech also in his twenties, a wonderfully laid-back guy who loved to fish. We called him “the fishin’ technician.”

“The fishin’ technician’s father’s famous?”

“Ray’s father is Alan Lund,” Trish explained. “He’s famous. You should know this. You’re from Prince Edward Island! He choreographed and directed the first ever Anne of Green Gables musical.”

I was impressed. I’d seen the Anne of Green Gables musical at Confederation Centre in Charlottetown at least twice. It was pretty good. I’d had no idea that the fishin’ technician was descended from such renowned stock.  

Ray spoke to his father. Alan Lund kindly agreed to let me interview him via phone. I prepared a bunch of questions, and one evening, Trish, Ray and I commandeered Studio C to record the interview. Trish operated the console. Alan Lund waxed loquacious about his illustrious career. He was terrific. Unfortunately, his tales knocked me completely off script. I could not figure out how to segue from his answers to my follow-up questions with anything resembling grace. Interviewing, I discovered, was a lot harder than it looked.

I edited the interview into something palatable and sent it off to the folks in Prince Rupert. I never heard back. At least Charlottetown had sent me a rejection letter, even if it had been addressed to someone else.  

Applying for host jobs wasn’t getting me anywhere. I needed to try something else.

Maybe, I reflected, I could start by freelancing. By which I mean producing content for CBC Radio on the side as a freelancer.  

CBC Radio is always on the lookout for content. That’s because radio is insatiable. It requires content twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year with no end in sight. You have to feed it constantly. It’s a goat with an insatiable appetite. We’re always looking for content to “feed the goat.” The goat doesn’t get fed? You wind up with dead air. You don’t want dead air when you’re working in radio. What is dead air? It’s unintended silence, an interruption of programming, and one of the worst things that can happen to a professional radio broadcaster. Those of us who do live radio often dream about dead air. When I worked at CFCY/Q-93 on Prince Edward Island I told one of my fellow DJs about such a dream.

“You had a dead air dream,” he told me. “I have those all the time.”

Once I had a dead air dream about working on Morningside with Peter Gzowski. Nothing went right because I couldn’t reach the controls on the audio console. The console was just a big sheer wall in front of me. I couldn’t scale the wall, so the faders remained just out of reach. Because I couldn’t make anything work, we broadcast dead air. It was horrible. Dead air dream? Dead air nightmare, more like it.

In the constant, unrelenting battle to ward off dead air, freelancers are a critical component. Back in the early nineties, when I was plotting my return to on air status, one of the best ways into CBC Radio as a freelancer was via a department called Infotape (later called The Content League, and then Syndication). Infotape produced and distributed short audio features to CBC Radio morning and afternoon shows across Canada to help flesh out their content.

As a Group 4 Radio Technician, I often worked with Infotape producers. We helped freelancers produce commentaries, financial and historical columns, and so on. How difficult could it be to come up with some content of my own that I could sell to Infotape, to get my foot in the door?

Film reviews, for instance. I often recorded film reviewer (and author) Michael Skeet’s reviews for Infotape. I enjoyed his reviews, but as a movie buff myself I always rather cockily thought that I could do just as well. That is, until one day I recorded his review for the movie Nine and a Half Weeks. During his read, Michael pronounced the director’s name, which is spelled Adrian Lyne, as Adrian Lin. Now, I knew my directors.

“It’s pronounced “line, not lin,” I told producer Ian Hamilton.

Ian hit the talkback. “Joe thinks his name is pronounced Line.”

“No, it’s pronounced Lin,” Michael assured us.

This was well before the internet. We had no way of instantly verifying the pronunciation, but it turned out Michael was right. 

So, maybe movie reviews weren’t the way to go, then.

Rex Murphy frequently recorded commentaries for Infotape. That’s how I first met him (not that he would remember). He wasn’t “Rex Murphy” then, at least to me. I didn’t have a clue who he was. I assumed was a freelancer. He arrived at the studio, handed me his script, and I helped him get comfortable in the booth. I’d learned that many freelancers and guests come from backgrounds far removed from radio; anything you can do to help them get comfortable in a radio environment helps their performance. So, I asked this “freelancer” if he knew how to turn his mic off and on, whether he knew how to adjust the volume of his headphones, and so on. He did not let on that I might be telling him stuff he already knew.

To my surprise, he performed a single pass on the script with no pickups. This was unusual. Still, I had two issues with his performance. One was a slight vocal stumble. The other was a questionable word choice. I mentioned both when he emerged from the booth. When you’re working with mere mortals (and even when you’re not) everyone involved in the process usually wants to get things right. Pointing out mistakes so that they might be corrected is just part of the job. As former CBC Radio Drama Producer (and actor and director) John Juliani once said,* “When the doors to the studio close the job positions blur.”

Instead of responding to my constructive criticism, Murphy thanked me for recording him and left the studio. Only afterward did I discover that he was a well-established broadcaster in Newfoundland on the cusp of becoming a national personality. 

No doubt he had been bemused by my attempt to “produce” him.

Pursuing my own on-air aspirations, I pitched an idea for a “streeter” to Infotape producer Laurie Townsend. Streeters are short, snappily edited interviews with people out in the real world, “on the street,” as it were. I thought it would be fun to do a streeter about Prince Edward Island. Being from PEI, I had discovered that people “from away” had a lot of funny ideas about Canada’s smallest province. (Islanders refer to anyone not from PEI as “from away.” My parents moved to PEI from New Brunswick in 1966 and are still considered from away.)

Laurie liked the idea. Trish Thornton found me an SM58 microphone and a professional cassette recorder—this was before DAT recorders and long before digital. The cassette recorder was a professional Sony unit, the TCM-5000 Three Head Portable Cassette Recorder. Sturdy, reliable, easy to use. Comfortable shoulder strap. Pressing play and record on that baby was very satisfying, a solid mechanical two-finger crunch. Mono but that was all I needed for my modest purposes.

So armed, one evening after work I made my way downtown to the corner of Yonge and Dundas where I stood at the north-east corner of the Eaton Centre. The idea was to flag down passers-by to get their thoughts on Prince Edward Island. I was horribly self-conscious. I could barely bring myself to approach anybody.

“Excuse me… excuse me…”

People just ignored me, everyone in a rush, zero interest in talking to the strange young man waving a microphone about. But I couldn’t leave without getting a few interviews. Finally, a young woman consented to speak with me. Over the hustle and bustle of Yonge Street, I told her, “I’m with CBC Radio doing a piece on Prince Edward Island. What do you think of when I say Prince Edward Island?”

She thought for a bit. “Potatoes.”

Emboldened, I approached others.




“Anne of Green Gables.”

“Gorgeous scenery, seafood.”

I approached a well-dressed man in his late thirties. “I just want to throw something at you, get your immediate reaction. Prince Edward Island, what do you think of?”

 “Uh, I’m not familiar with him.”

“You’ve never heard of Prince Edward Island?”

“Prince Allen? No, I haven’t, no.”

“Prince Edward.”

“Prince Edward? Yeah, I’ve heard of Prince Edward, right.”

“Prince Edward Island, it’s a province of Canada?”

“Oh, oh, I’m sorry, Prince Edward… Island. No, I can’t say that I have.”

 Turned out he was from the States.

I stood at Yonge and Dundas long enough to get plenty of tape. I talked to people about PEI potatoes (“they’re creamier or something”). Nobody knew who the premier of PEI was, though one man came close, guessing “Ghizzie.” (The correct response was Joe Ghiz). I asked people about the population of PEI. Guesses ranged from ten million to three or four thousand. The actual population at this time (late summer 1991) was about 130,000.

Back in the studio, I edited all the responses together. Trish helped me write a script around it. As usual, she operated the board as I recorded the piece. We mixed in a bit of Stompin’ Tom’s Bud the Spud for good measure, and I presented the finished product to Laurie. She liked it. She took it to her colleagues in Infotape. I waited for it to be fed to the regions for broadcast, and for my on-air career to take off.  

PEI Streeter

I waited, and waited, and waited.

One day during all this waiting the fire alarm in the Jarvis Street Radio Building went off. I stood in the parking lot with Ray the fishin’ technician waiting to be allowed back in the building. The host of a popular disc show waited with us. Both Ray and I had operated this host’s show for him. Ray and the host got to chatting.

“So, what do you do here?” the host asked after a few minutes.

Ray’s eyes narrowed. “I’m a radio tech.”

“Oh,” the host said. “What shows do you work on?”

Ray stared at him. “Yours.”

I wandered off and bumped into Laurie from Infotape. “There’s an election coming up,” I told her. “Ghiz might not be Premier much longer. If he’s not premier, my piece will be out of date.”

Laurie finally convinced her colleagues to syndicate the item, and it played on a few markets around the country. As luck would have it, I was visiting PEI when they finally played it in February 1992. I heard it broadcast out of Charlottetown, and was pleased as punch. Felt pretty good about myself. The day after the piece was broadcast, I drove Lynda (my future wife) to the ferry terminal in Bordon to take the boat over to Moncton to visit her sister. I thought I’d impress her by showing her a shortcut to the ferry terminal, one I often took in the summer. It was a dirt road. This was the dead of winter. In PEI they don’t plough all the dirt roads in the winter. Despite having been raised there, I didn’t know that. I got Lynda’s brand-new Pontiac Sunbird stuck in the snow. Stuck real good. We had to get a farmer with a tractor to tow us out.

Afterward, Lynda’s father asked, me, “You couldn’t see that it wasn’t ploughed?”

One minute you’re up, the next you’re down.  

Still, my first attempt at freelancing had been a success. Over the years I produced several more pieces: streeters, documentaries, and so on. A favourite streeter was about the impending retirement of cartoonist Gary Larson, the man behind the comic strip The Far Side. People enjoyed sharing thoughts about their favourite Far Side comics with me. I interspersed their reminisces with funny sound effects, and the item played in various markets across Canada, including Metro Morning in Toronto.

Gary Larson Streeter

The day it played on Metro Morning I was working for CJBC on the fifth floor. During one of our live shows the studio phone rang. It was someone from Metro Morning, who told me that Gary Larson had heard my piece about him on their show. He was upset about the item. So upset, in fact, that he was considering legal action. I would be hearing from his representative soon.

I hung up thinking, that can’t be right. There wasn’t a damned thing the least bit objectionable about the piece. I had quoted some of the gags from the comics, but that was it. Was Gary Larson crazy? I was seriously bummed.

By the end of the following day I hadn’t heard from anyone. I called an acquaintance on Metro Morning. Turned out it had all been a practical joke. Ha ha.

 All my freelancing eventually generated listener e-mail. Two, to be precise. After The Arts Tonight broadcast a radio documentary I produced about science fiction, an associate producer for the show told me about them and promised to forward them to me. Naturally I was keen to see them. Several days went by. No emails.

“What, does she have to build a computer from the ground up before she can forward them to me?” I complained to another producer via email, and then hit send.

Moments later the associate producer from The Arts Tonight plunked a piece of paper down in front of me. Not the listener emails. My email.

“Maybe you meant to send this to someone else,” she suggested. 

I had accidentally emailed my griping about her to her rather than the person I’d intended. If she held it against me, she didn’t show it. It was better than I deserved. I have respected her ever since. (She finally forwarded me the listener email.)

Never did get that on-air job I’d been looking for, though.

A Time and a Place by Joe Mahoney:

“Unlike any other sci-fi you’ve ever read. This book was both comic and tragic, sad and funny, with a hero who tries to do the right thing but always seems to stumble. Recommended.” Lee Herman, Amazon 5 Star Review.

*Thanks to former CBC Radio Vancouver Recording Engineer Chris Cutress for the John Juliani quote.

The Audiobook

One day my publisher (Lorina Stephens of Five Rivers Publishing) suggested that I produce an audio book version of my debut novel, A Time and a Place.

This made a lot of sense. Audio books are a booming business these days, and it just makes sense to have your book available in as many formats as possible. Also, I’ve been an audio guy since the age of sixteen when I got my first job announce-operating at CJRW in Summerside, PEI, later making my living as an audio technician/recording engineer for CBC Radio for nineteen years.

Doing sound effects in Studio 212 back in my radio drama days at CBC Radio

For an entire ten of those nineteen years at CBC Radio I made radio plays and recorded and edited tons of short fiction re-purposed for the medium of radio. I remember recording a radio-friendly version of Brad Smith’s novel All Hat over the course of a week or two.

So you would think that I would know what is involved in such a recording. Unfortunately, all my experience did was give me a wildly over-inflated sense of my own abilities. Yes, I did (more or less) possess all the skills required to produce an audio book. But somehow I completely failed to appreciate just how much work was involved in doing it all myself, and how demanding some of that work was.

When Lorina suggested I do the audio book, I truly thought I would be able to knock it off in a couple of weeks. Because I could read, I could record, and I could edit. Thinking back, I was pretty sure we’d done All Hat in a week or two.

It’s laughable, really.

Because thinking back on it a little more carefully, I’m pretty sure that the version of All Hat we produced was an abridged version, and it took four of us to do it: a recording engineer, a producer, an actor, and somebody to adapt it.  Five people, if you include the casting director. And all I did was record it (I may have edited it, but I don’t really remember). I certainly didn’t read it.

Anyway, turning my novel into an audio book was a great excuse to gear up, so I went out and bought a mic, a mixer, and some other peripherals. I had a week of vacation time coming up and figured I could squeeze all the recording in then, and edit at my leisure afterwards, on evenings and weekends.

After one week of recording though, I only managed to record ten chapters. My wife attributed this to my propensity to get up late, linger over breakfast reading the Toronto Star, casually walk the dog, and then get started recording around 11am. All of this was true. Add to that trains going by, planes flying overhead, neighbours noisily draining pools, and mysterious noises with no obvious provenance interfering with the recording when I finally did get around to it, and you can see why the process took a bit longer than expected. Worst of all, though, was my inability to read more than half a sentence without making a mistake.

Turning a novel into an audio book was a much bigger deal than I’d realized.

In fact, what I originally thought would take me two or three weeks to accomplish wound up taking over two hundred hours spread out over eleven months.

Here are a few thoughts on the process while it’s reasonably fresh in my mind, in case anybody else out there is thinking of doing the same thing.

The Gear

To record my audio book, I settled on a Shure SM7B microphone. I chose this microphone because I had chosen it back in 2007 to be the main microphone for the radio show Q. I’d tested a lot of microphones and it had sounded the best with the host of that show, and it sounded pretty good on me (if I do say so myself). I would have preferred a Neumann U-87 but I couldn’t afford that (it’s about three grand). But the SM7B (at about $500 Canadian) is a fine microphone with an excellent pedigree. Michael Jackson famously used it to record his album Thriller. Its only limitation that I could see is that it’s a dynamic microphone and you need to give it a boost to get decent levels. But this is easily fixed by placing a Cloudlifter in the chain, providing an extra 25dB of gain.

My weapon of choice, the SM7B

An advantage of the SM7B is that it pretty much records what you point it at and rejects most everything else. This was really helpful recording in my basement. When I turned off the air conditioning,  made sure no other appliances in the house were running, and closed the door to the basement, the noise floor was almost non-existent, but there could still be some extraneous noise, so it was helpful to have a very directional microphone.

You do have to work the SM7B pretty closely to get a nice, plummy sound. The host I used to work with on Q worked it so closely that I wound up sticking two pop filters between him and the mic to avoid popping. In my case, I used the A7WS windscreen that comes with the mic out of the box plus one pop filter.  I still popped a bit, but I had ways of dealing with that, which I’ll come to later.

My fairly straight-forward home studio in my basement.

The rest of my setup was pretty simple. You can see it pictured here. Basically the SM7B plugged into the Cloudlifter, the Cloudlifter plugged into a Steinberg mixer, which in turn is connected to a MacBook Pro via USB. And a pair of decent Sennheiser headphones and a mic stand. I read the script (just a PDF version of the novel) right off the MacBook, flipping back and forth between Adobe Reader and my audio software as required.

I recorded almost everything in Cubase, which came with the Steinberg mixer, but I never really got to like it. I’ve used a lot of audio editing software in my time (D-Cart, Dalet, DaletPlus, Sonic Solutions, ProTools, Audacity) and Cubase just didn’t compare in terms of immediate usability.  Probably if I’d taken the time I would have gotten used to it, but when it came time to editing the audio book, I switched to Audacity, which can be downloaded free and is much simpler.

The Recording

Earlier I mentioned that I couldn’t seem to record half a sentence without making a mistake. This was true in the beginning, and it surprised me. One of the reasons that I thought recording an audio book wouldn’t take too long was because I figured I’d just sit down and read it and do some light editing and that would be it. I’ve had some experience acting and I’ve worked professionally as an announcer/operator at two radio stations (CJRW in Summerside and CFCY/Q-93 in Charlottetown). I thought I could read. Heck, I even thought I could perform. But I couldn’t. Not in the beginning.

The problem was I would read a little bit and then, convinced it sounded horrible, I’d stop and start again. I thought, well, not a big deal, I can edit it all later. But the more mistakes you make, the more editing is required, and eventually all that extra editing adds up to one big editing nightmare.

I got much better with practice and experience, but even at my best I couldn’t get through a chapter without a fair amount of mistakes.

Typically, I recorded each chapter twice. I would get to know the chapter on the first read, and read it better the second time around.  If I made a mistake, I’d stop, go back, and correct it right away. This made the editing process much easier later (making up somewhat for the amount of mistakes).

Because I didn’t have a producer, someone standing over my shoulder correcting me, I needed to be careful. If I thought I made a mistake during a passage, I always stopped and re-did it (sometimes the first time was perfectly fine, but better safe than sorry, although it did make for more work).  Whenever I hit a word I wasn’t entirely sure how to pronounce, I looked it up online. Most online dictionaries allow you to listen to the word you’re looking up.  Interestingly, I included words in A Time and a Place that, although I know perfectly well what they mean, I either didn’t know how to pronounce, or have been pronouncing incorrectly. They are correct in the audio book version, though. I made sure of that.

Sometimes I mangled words or sentences but didn’t discover this until the editing process, which was a pain in the butt, but far from insurmountable. One of the advantages of recording an audio book yourself is that afterwards the actor’s still hanging around if you need him or her.

A typical waveform, this one from Chapter 22 of A Time and a Place.

One of the fun parts of recording this novel myself has been doing the voices. I didn’t have unique voices for all of the characters, but some characters cried out for special treatment. One of the characters, Gordon Rainer, is supposed to speak with a British accent. He was by far the most difficult to get right. I’d once done a play for which I’d been trained to speak with a British accent, but I have no illusions about how accurate I’m able to do it (my British brother-in-law is only too happy to provide reality checks on that point).

I’d always thought of another character, Doctor Humphrey, as having a gruff voice, so I played him that way.  And so on.  I tried not to overdo it, as it could easily get silly, but I enjoyed the performance aspect of it all.


Like just about every other part of this project, the editing took a lot longer than I expected.

I edited one chapter at a time.  It took me on average three to four hours to edit the first pass of each chapter. My chapters average twenty pages. The shortest is seven pages, the longest thirty. Transformed into audio, my chapters run anywhere from eleven minutes to thirty minutes long, averaging about twenty minutes. (Unedited, the raw files for each chapter run anywhere between one hour to two hours long.)

As mentioned earlier, I did all my editing in the free version of Audacity, which worked just fine. It’s easy to learn and I found that I could edit quite quickly and effectively with it. It’s also got a nice little suite of tools for mastering, EQ and so on.

Before editing each chapter, I would do a little processing. A little noise reduction, a little limiting or amplification as required to ensure that I was peaking at -3dB with a maximum -60dB noise floor as required by Audible. I did this at the beginning because if doing any of that introduced any problems, I wanted to catch those problems as I was doing the edit. I didn’t want to complete an edit, then do processing, and have it accidentally introduce issues such as clicks or pops or digital distortion that I might have less chance of catching near the end of the process.

Every chapter required multiple passes to edit. The first edit was mainly to get all the right takes in the right order and clean it up as much as I could. To help speed things up, I created a special template in Audacity’s EQ plug-in to eliminate popped Ps as I encountered them (I found the default EQ template for this too aggressive in Audacity).

Sometimes I encountered mangled words or sentences for which no good takes existed, that I had not noticed during the recording process. These I re-recorded right on the spot. Sometimes it was a bit tricky getting these re-takes to match, but it got easier with practice. It was a matter of getting the inflection and level right. I would tweak the level in Audacity using the Amplify plug-in (always careful not to peak at higher than -3dB), and try to use as little of the re-take as necessary, often cutting halfway through a sentence, or a word, even.

After the initial edit, I would go through the chapter again to clean up weird, extraneous noises such as bits of mouth noise, the cat knocking into the mic stand, or other weird noises such as bumps occurring elsewhere in the house that I hadn’t noticed during recording.

I popped the odd P or two, so I created a specific EQ that I called Subtle Bass Cut to deal with that (and a few popped Bs too)

I took a lot of time to address issues with pacing. I tend to read fast. Left unedited, few would be able to keep up with my reading. I worked hard to address this in the edit. I know that some audio book listeners want their audio books read fast. In fact, they will listen to their audio books at enhanced speeds to get through them quicker.  I tailored my pacing for people who listen at normal speeds. If I ever record another one, I’ll try to get it right during the recording. A lot easier than having to fix pacing in the editing process.

Once reasonably certain that I’d addressed all issues in the edit, I would play the entire chapter from beginning to end to make sure that I hadn’t missed any edits, and to ensure that there were no other problems. Only when I felt that the edit was perfect would I consider it done, and share it with my publisher via Drop Box (who will subsequently submit it to Audible).  One of my mottos is “If it only exists once in the digital domain, it may as well not exist at all,” so I always sent a safety version to myself via Gmail.

I didn’t keep a really accurate record of how long this project took me, but I estimate each chapter took on average two hours to record, and six hours to edit, master, and double check. That’s 8 hours a chapter times 27 chapters, plus little bits like intros, acknowledgements, and so on. I figure the entire project took about 220 hours. That’s 27 eight hour days. The book itself is ten hours, sixteen minutes and fifty-five seconds long, all told. I took three entire weeks off work and devoted several evenings and weekends to this project. Probably much longer than it should have taken. I read in this quite informative blog post that “your narrator will put in six times more production hours than the final length of the book.” Yeah… took me a bit longer than that.

But I think it was worth every second.

For further thoughts on audio book production, check out this post.

A Time and a Place, published by Five Rivers Publishing, is now available on Audible.

Cover Art for A Time and a Place, by Jeff Minkevics
A Time and a Place

Studio Q

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

(Here’s some more).

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:

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 two 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.

It’s no coincidence that the show q (formerly Q), hosted by Tom Powers (formerly by Shadrach (Shad) Kabangois, and before that, 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.

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