A single voice punctuating the dark. Light, bantering voices filling your head. Storytellers mesmerizing with pauses and intonations. Music lulling you to sleep. Radio has been my companion for so many years, in light and dark. I remember the Christmas I got my first (orange, battery-drive) transistor radio. The incredible feeling of freedom and power as I ran my fingers over the ridged button, zooming in and out of Montreal’s stations. For the first time, I could choose to listen to what I wanted to hear. Find my way in the dark, wander through sonar doorways, searching for light-filled voices and ideas.
When I left home in 1979 I left my mother’s kitchen and the influence of CJAD, a popular, conservative, anglophone AM station. Enter CBC on a new Christmas present, a brown rectangular plug-in that received both AM and FM stations. In the dark of my residence room, with my roommate sleeping, turned away, I would listen to classical music, slowly learning the composers and their works. In the daytime, I would always have CBC FM as my companion as I slogged through political philosophy and journal articles. Finding my own words and expression through drafting and re-writing. I was addicted. Seduced.
Enter Peter Gzowski and “Morningside”, a program I became slavishly attuned and attached to in grad school. My perfect morning – one day during the week when I did not have morning class – was sitting at my big, old, scarred-blonde desk with a cup of coffee and a stack of books, waiting for the opening jingle and Peter’s deep voice. If I could not hear the first run, I would make sure I was home to hear the one-hour review. Ottawa nights, slow-falling snow, a cold room, a futon, and a radio.
Most of my general knowledge and sense of Canadian culture has come through CBC. “Morningside”, “Ideas”, “Under the Covers”, “Quirks and Quarks”, “As it Happens”,”The Royal Canadian Air Farce”, “As You Like It”,”Tapestry”, “Deep Roots”, “Sunday Morning” to name just a few. Radio kept me relatively sane through the years of raising young children and it brought our family together. We would race from church on Sunday morning to pile into the car and hear Stuart McLean’s “The Vinyl Cafe”. There was a rhythm and a comforting predictability in Stuart’s opening monologue and the always quirky, amusing stories of Dave and Morley. Our children grew up with CBC.
Last night, the last weekday before Christmas, Paul, Liam, Mairi and I sat around the fire and listened to “The Shepherd”, Frederick Forsyth’s iconic story of a pilot, Christmas Eve mystery and miracle. We said nothing, but smiled and gestured at each other at familiar phrases from the story and Alan Maitland’s perfect story-telling. It was powerful and emotional. We are missing our youngest, Colleen, who is happy in Spain. We are missing Paul’s father, Frank for the first Christmas. It was on Christmas Eve in 1981 that I first heard “The Shepherd” in Frank’s big, brown Pontiac, wedged between Paul and his brother, Brian. The car was dark, the night cold as we sailed through the streets of Montreal carried away by Forsyth’s phrasing and imagery. At the end of the story, it was Frank who said, “That was pretty good, he has a way with words.” Frank was spare with words – that was a real compliment to Forsyth.
Thank God for radio, my portal to the wider world and others’ intelligence and creativity. It has freed me to explore other worlds, it has made me laugh, made me cry. Its seduction is in the power of the human voice and story. Radio brings us together in light and dark. It brings me back to sane and settled after a long day at school. As Frank said, “It has a way with words.”