Part 35: La Belle Provence

"Memories of nearly 50 years in the Biz"

Part 35: La Belle Provence

Postby Brian Lord » Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:56 am

Brian Lord's Radio Stories
No. 35, La Belle Provence

Many years ago the British and the French fought a war on the devotional sounding battlefield known as the Plains of Abraham. The Brits won but the French, being French, balked at speaking English and the price of such stubbornness has cost Canada billions of dollars since. Pick up a can of soup, its label is half French. The same with canned peaches. One could learn agricultural French spending six hours a day in a Super market. The amount of paper, microfiche or duplicate computer folders used to chronicle every word Canada's various governments keep track of must be done in two languages, many times requiring the use of two scribes. It is an unfortunate characteristic but will not go away. Ever.

For those West of Ottawa learn French of shut up about it. We have, each of us Canadians, reflected upon this social irregularity before now. The fact that half the time we have to flip the bottle, box or can over to read the instructions is done without conscious thought; sometimes the word nuisance enters the mind but for all intense and purposes the word is rote. Having cleared that up we can talk about Montreal. I guess there are some people who don't like Montreal. I'm not one of them. I spent a year and a bit working weekends and fill-shift at CKGM and I enjoyed the station, specially during the week. And I loved Montreal. It ain't beautiful the way Vancouver is beautiful, matter of fact Montrealers call Vancouver 'a postcard city', but it's a classic mixture of new and old. Four-hundred years isn't really old by European standards but it stands in well for North America.

The radio station was a good, old-fashioned rocker with good jocks and considering it was all English language broadcasting, it did well in the ratings. French Canadians can speak English in droves compared to Westerners and 'GM's music appealed to both 'phones (as in Angle and Franco--descriptions I don't like, far too Governmental-Eastern. Rock is not bound by language). The place had a loose feeling about it. There was nobody I can remember who was forever getting uptight about something or other. Most of the on-air and production staff were pretty 'hip'. I can recall sitting in a recording studio about nine o'clock one evening making a tape of some music, smoking a joint and having a good ol' time when the door opens and in walks the program director: "Makin' a tape huh? I got about 200." picks up the joint smoldering in the ashtray and takes a toke... "See ya..."

The folks who lived downstairs in our three floor walk-up (I had my girlfriend staying me) were French, younger and spoke good English. We took to hangin' out. And my friends from Vancouver, Lyle and Leslie lived there so there was not a shortage of company. The only problem was that Lyle and Leslie had one of these love-hate relationships--either cozy and sweet or one of those animal breeds that killed on sight. They are both creative, talented people--the kind, whom you may have noticed, are better as friends than lovers. Sometimes in the dark of night, one could hear them screeching obscenities at each other out in the street. There was really never quite enough room to have one of their fights indoors, be it 3AM or noon.

But between the six of us we did the town. If nothing else, Montreal is a party town. The party is spread around a bit but Mountain street was kind of the center of and old-Montreal. I can remember walking down one of the main drags, And I can remember walking down St Catherine probably around 2-3 AM and the sidewalks were crowded. Another time, I should have got a medal for beating a guy to the Lady's washroom in the Winston Churchill pub. Toilets were pretty much interchangeable in Montreal bars.

People from Montreal can be classically rude. I scored a free-bee on a flight to Boston, spent the day there. The plane was filled with French language personnel which makes sense coming from a French-speaking city. At lunch I was shown to a table with maybe five announce types...or maybe copy-writers. They looked more like copy-writers or folks who worked on the log. Anyway they never once spoke to me. At the end of lunch I asked the woman next to me a question dealing with Boston directions and she answered me in perfect accent-free English. I had not expected a running translation...just a word or two explaining what they were talking about. I felt like swearing at her, it got my goat, but swearing in English wouldn't mean much. They have their own list of swear words. It was once explained to me; the French hang-up is with the church, English with sex. Consequently our swear-words are often sex-related. I don't know French swear words but I was told never to use the word 'tabernac'.

It was while working for 'GM, the FM side that I developed a whole different news style. I was doing the FM morning news shift and the DJ was a very funny man. I have always believed that Newsmen should shadow the personality of the board man to a slight extent. No Newsman could have sounded anything like the Real Don Steele but to come on like Edward R. Murrow during the old Boss Radio days sounded ...well...discordant. (Except for KJR's Chuck Brass) But that's my own feeling. Anyway this guy at 'GM was the kind of jock who liked to talk to the newsman who, because the control room was such a beat up old place, faced him not through glass but face-to-face. He'd say "Hey, Lord, they got a hell of a storm in that freaky home town of yours, eh?" Now I'm going to sound ridiculous coming back with "...ahem, yes, Ted, I believe there has been a heavy snow storm and traffic is in chaos". I always felt that too many people relied on reading the news as opposed to telling people the story. The best example of the latter I ever knew, North or South of the border was Campbell McCubbin who seemed to slide in a five minute news cast and never noticeably alter the tone of the program. Anyway, I just started sounding differently. No more straight-man news..."G' morning everybody, here's what's news..." And used a lilt. Amazing what a lilt can do to an announcers delivery.

This pall who lived downstairs and I went together on an old beater of an automobile. I think it cost us 500 dollars. It was an AMC, one of those with the design that made it look like someone had cut the rear of the body off with a hacksaw. What with walking about three or four miles on weekdays and driving around getting lost in Montreal I got to know the town. I would have liked to have spent winters in Quebec and summers in BC. Montrealers are well equipped to look sharp in serviceable blizzard condition clothing. And besides, depending where you live you can go downtown, dressed in a jacket, and hardly stepping outside on the more than adequate subway system.

I may still be there if I hadn't spent too much time enjoying the night-life and being hung-over on the weekends.

'GM has changed format. Went Sports in 2002 and Montreal is a sports town so it probably does well. However we all know the way ratings go on sports stations. The Canadiens need another Stanley Cup, it's getting on 15 years since the last one. The Alouettes Football team have won the last two Grey Cup games but hockey is missing an entire generation.

Je ne sais pas is about all the French one really needs to know if they are completely hopeless at other languages like I am. I think the translation is "I don't know" and it's really all we DO need to know in French Canada. I've been told that Montrealers will help you out if you at least try to speak their language. Maybe. Most of them couldn't give a damn.

Next time: The East Looms Bonjour
Brian Lord
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Re: Part 35: La Belle Provence

Postby Steve Sanderson » Tue Jan 25, 2011 2:52 pm

Une autre belle histoire de Brian!
( Yes...I Google translated it! )
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