Chapter 2 – Crossing Labatt’s River without a paddle

Chapter 2 – Crossing Labatt’s River without a paddle

Postby Tom Jeffries » Mon May 06, 2013 6:25 am

I left CKDA, two days after Bobby Orr flew through the air, beating Glenn Hall and the St. Louis Blues, to win the 1970 Stanley Cup.

The usual method of applying for radio gigs, was an audition “tape” – on cassette and a cover letter making you sound like an eager beaver with more hustle than Red Robinson. (*Impossible),

I sent ONLY one tape, to of all places, Prince George, BC.

Prince George is half way up this massive Province of British Columbia – and was World famous as one of the most active paper mill towns in BC.

I am not sure if “The Center City”, is still “The White Spruce Capital of Canada” – but, when I arrived it was three mills and 24 hour shifts.

The first thing that struck me about Prince George was the rotten eggs smell from the Mills. It permeated everything. I never did get used to it.

I flew up to Prince George, to meet with the late Don Prentice, The Program Director, about doing all nights for CKPG, 550 on the am dial.

I took the gig and the massive $650 a month salary.

Don (who passed from us far too soon) was a force of Nature. He was the town’s big emcee – and most well known media personality, along with Bob McGavin, the ex CHAN Children’s entertainer – (and his St. Bernard named Shandygaff).

The City had ONE am station and connected to CKPG was a CBC TV affiliate, both owned by Bill Bellman and “Q” Broadcasting, out of Vancouver.

They used the plummy voice of Bill Phillips to do all the splitters and promos. Great talent. Made me sound like Mickey Mouse following God.

Six nights a week, I got to be the worst announcer in the world, in a town that wasn’t exactly Los Angeles.

Don was helpful, in trying to teach me the basics of being a “personality”, without becoming a caricature. Talent wins and CKPG might have been in the sticks, but Gary Arthur, Randy Seabrook, Bob Elphicke, Graydon McCue, Denny O’Neil (now known as Bob Magee) and even Brian Arnold, plied the airwaves.

Jim Nunn, the king of CBC news, in Halifax, for many years, was one of our news team. Not too shabby.

The station played what was called ‘chicken rock” – light rock tunes, mixed with Country.

I knew Buck Owens and that was about it.

Prentice did the Morning show and Terry Fitzgerald took care of Sales.

Prince George can best be described as a disaster for me on all levels, all self-induced.

Unfortunately CKPG was across from the Fraser Arms Hotel – which had a large Pub. We were four blocks from the Inn of the North – and the largest Beer Hall in BC. This is like handing a can of gasoline and a BIC lighter to a drunk like me.

I would do the all night show, from midnight to six, fielding complaints about the weather, and taking requests. Home for a fitful nap and then most likely back to the station. At one point Fitzgerald had to tell people to go home after work. The Station became a refuge for many of us single, poor and ambitious jocks.

I was sharing a fetid basement with Kirk Wilson – who did weekends and I won’t begin to describe it. We had a millworker friend named Big John that would come home and crash, after double shifts – he consumed more beer than anyone I ever met, and believe me, I was doing a good job of blowing my meager pay on alcohol at every given turn.

Prince George was quite a place. The Bars would open at 9 am, for the night shift workers. Places like the Empire would be something else, as it belched forward corned mill workers into the noonday sun, for ubiquitous fights and fun times.

The RCMP detachment was always running flat out, to try and keep a lid on a town full of crazed millworkers – and reconciling it with the majority that just wanted a good life for their families.

The climate was typical Canada. Hot, short, bug filled summer and cold, dreary, snowy winters.

I was lucky when it came to winter. I met Dara Wilder, whose Family owned and ran Tabor Mountain – one of the local (a few K out of town) ski hills.

I wish I could have a film of me on skis. Dara and his instructors used to fall over as I would careen down the baby hill, inevitably falling on my face. No easy task, on skis.

I was no Ken Read.

I was more like Goofy, with better earmuffs.

The skiing was social – and one of my best friends in Prince George, was also one of the City’s best-known characters, Glenn “Moose” Scott. Bound for the NFL, while at U of Washington, until he blew out a knee – Glenn was one of the servers at the Inn of the North. He was a great huge blonde, with a great manner – that belied his ferocious temper. I watched Glenn take obstreperous drinkers out of the Inn of the North with one hand – as he carried a tray of 20 cent lagers in the other.

One of Canada’s saddest Sports stories unfolded – while I was employed at CKPG.

Luckily for me, I was NOT at the Station at the time. (*Unlike my friends Glen Snow and Tom Haertel) - Brian Spencer was drafted in the fifth Round, 55th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1969 Entry Draft.. On December 12, 1970, when Spencer was called up to play with the Leafs in what would be his first NHL game on television, he telephoned his father Roy in British Columbia to tell him to watch the game that night on Hockey Night in Canada. Spencer was to be interviewed between periods of the game. However, a game featuring the Vancouver Canucks versus the California Golden Seals was aired instead. Infuriated, Roy Spencer drove 135 kilometres (84 mi) to Prince George, where the closest CBC Television station, CKPG-TV, is located. When he arrived, he ordered station staff, at gunpoint, to broadcast the Maple Leafs game instead. The station complied, but as Roy Spencer left the station, he was confronted by the RCMP and ordered to drop the gun. After a brief stand-off Roy Spencer was shot and killed.

The blood stains remained in the snow covered parking lot for about a week.

Terrible.

Life in Prince George, I can say with alacrity, was where I totally blew a tire and nearly finished my career.

I was taken off all nights (you have to be pretty bad to get the hook from all nights, when your main audience was trees) – and I was given the job of music director.

In the early 70’s – there were no cellphone and LD costs were something to be avoided, while dealing with the Record Companies that provided our product.

I would use a Telex Machine (you would type and a strip of paper would be punctured in sequence and it would be fed through a reader)– and I would order all the L.P.’s.

Pretty jungle telegraphish, when you think of the technology we use today, was it not?

The record Companies used sales teams and although we would rarely get a personal visit – in later years, in Vancouver and Toronto, the Record Reps and I became friends and allies. I met some fantastic reps.

The idea was simple. Since we were a one-station market – we ordered and played what we felt was palatable.

One of the funniest moments of my career occurred on one of the few days I was allowed to fill in for the station stars.

There was a feature called ‘Message Time”.

Because we were in an area with isolated communities – we thought it a good idea for people to be able to pass messages. Things like “Johnny French – your Brother is in Hospital in Dawson Creek, call your Mom”. There was also the occasional “lost and found” part of the ten minutes.

I started “ Lillian in Ft. St. James would appreciate it if you keep your eye out for her lost pet crow, Sparky”.

For some reason – it struck me as funny. Remember I am live on the air – and I start to laugh. Not just laugh, howl with laughter. I close the mike and try and compose myself. I started again three times, but it was no use, I was done. I got it together enough, and said “I apologize Lillian, but this is a serious matter and I hope you find your friend, and I gamely started reading the next bit.

The Control room where I worked overlooked the newsroom. Unbeknownst to me, the hilarious Gary Arthur had seen and heard my predicament and snuck out of the newsroom out of my sight and as I was talking, I paused and all I heard was “CAW”.

I fell off my chair. Dead Air. The worst. Arthur and Randy Seabook and the entire newsroom were falling about. I fumbled a record on the air.

“Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman – and the Newsroom convulsed again. I wasn’t even supposed to play the song.

It wasn’t all sturm und drang, that’s for sure.

The Station was also renowned for it’s fabulous staff softball team “The CKPG Whizzes”. We all played. Local business’s’ would take us on and it was a fun and cheap way for 550 to ‘be out in the Community’. That’s very important for any media outlet – to be seen as ‘interested and a vital part of the social fabric of the market’. Sure. On paper - most stations I worked for thought the whole exercise was a pain in the ass, but for the staff, it was a way to blow off steam and get to know the people you worked with.

We had fun – but if it hadn’t been for our ace pitcher John Rae – we would never have won a game. I think I hit -.104 for the 1970 season.

It’s hard to hit a softball with a beer in your hand.

That, sadly, was becoming more and more a part of my routine.

I met a lithe attractive Telephone operator from BC Tel (as it was called then) whose initials are LD. I moved into her apartment in the only high rise in town “The Queensway Towers”. It should have been called “Gomorrah Towers” – the place was a non-stop party – with most of the Station’s single staff living in the building – none of us did much sleeping. Even at 21 – it was exhausting, and I was not exactly lighting the world on fire with my broadcast skills.

I tried to emulate our drive jock, Randy Seabrook. He was BIG TIME, because he had been a star at CJME and his Family had their own station in Vernon. One of the nicest people you will ever meet, in the end – it would be down to Randy to tell me my days at CKPG were over. Why?

I decided that I could pick all the music at night, or in the evening, and so I would not show up during the day – I would be skiing or getting hammered at Tabor Mountain – while bewildered jocks at CKPG would keep wondering where their erstwhile Music Director was.

My relationship with my blonde friend was short lived and I wound up meeting and falling for a fascinating woman from Revelstoke. She was a great skier, she had been “Espoir” – one step from the National Team. She had a son from a previous marriage, but that didn’t stop ole Mr. Smoothie. Soon we were an item.

We had been going out for about a week – when I got a call from Randy Seabrook – *(who had taken over as PD, after the shocking passing of Don Prentice) – and was told to be at the Station the next day at 9:30.

When I walked into Randy’s office, my heart sank. Randy is a very kind and patient man, and I don’t think he enjoyed the fact that he had to tell me that I was basically a horse’s ass – and I was fired. He was polite, but the eyes told me, he was disgusted with my lack of effort.

I shook his hand, and walked out of CKPG, and walked to where my new inamorata was living.

“Well, I just got canned” – was not the news my friend was expecting to hear.

She was unemployed. I had NO money in the bank – the clothes on my back and two weeks severance.

I decided that skiing would be my future and I asked my friend Dara if I could take the Assistant Ski Instructor course at Tabor Mountain. I did – and actually passed it – so I was now (stifle laugh) ‘qualified to teach people to ski’.

My first student was the Chinese Maitre D’ of the Inn of the North. After he was just about being maimed a few times, Dara must have been watching because he flew up the side of the hill and told me that Gerry O’Saughnessy – the veteran hill manager would be taking over – and I was to wait until Gerry arrived so my poor bedraggled student could get some competent help.

Yes – I could screw up just about anything. I lasted two days and I was fired. Dara, who had befriended me, was not being his usual smiling self. He handed me an envelope. After deductions – it was a check for $1.72.

I hitchhiked back to Prince George; I even left my crappy Korean skis and boots. I never skied again.

Think of the lives I’ve saved!

Now what?

Maybe I could apply for the new Station – CJCI.

Unfortunately, a small town talks and my name was mud.

Next time – I get lucky – and an old friend rides to my rescue.
Tom Jeffries
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