I was deeply shaken by this week’s news that CJAD’s newsroom in Montreal was shut down. CJAD in Montreal is an English language institution and has been the voice of Quebec’s anglophone community for as long as I can remember. It was the radio station my parents, grandparents and relatives woke up to every morning.
CJAD was also the first company to take a chance on me.
I was a second year journalism student at Concordia University in 2002 and my ambition was to be a broadcaster. My Introduction to Radio professor, the late Ross Perigoe, told me about a shadowing opportunity with his former student and CJAD news anchor Richard Deschamps. I eagerly accepted.
Two weeks later, I met Richard at CJAD and watched and learned how he meticulously prepared and delivered newscasts every 30 minutes. He scanned through wire stories and reports from the CJAD news team, while making sure that his delivery was simple and digestible. It was clear to me that I wanted to be a part of that team.
Fortunately, I came across a flyer that night promoting an internship opportunity with sister station CHOM 97.7’s promotions team led by Kayla Elman. I wasn’t exactly sure what this kind of work would entail, but I was hungry and eager to do whatever it took to get my foot in the door, so I contacted Kayla and she agreed to take me on. I remember some of the bizarre jobs she and Jay ‘Walker’ Waugh assigned me. I was dancing at Montreal’s Carifiesta parade on the CHOM float (and I’m no dancer!), I was helping the CHOM sales team find leads to sponsor the ski team (which I was a part of), I was answering phones for contests…you get the idea.
And then one day, Kayla asked me what my ultimate goal was and I said sports or news. Within minutes, she introduced me to Rob Martier, a member of CJAD’s sportscasting/reporting team who gladly took me on as his intern. Rob was an amazing coach. After two weeks, he challenged me to write my own sportscasts and took the time to critique them and give me feedback. Several weeks later, he gave me my first ever real assignment. He sent me to cover a press conference, where Canadian Champ Car drivers Paul Tracy and Patrick Carpentier were announced as teammates in a new venture created by Craig Pollock. I was actually going to be on air at CJAD!
I remember when Rob aired my report during the 6:25pm sportscast. I was at home with my parents and we were all in disbelief that this really happened. Thanks to Rob, my dream had come true.
And it was only the beginning.
Weeks later, Rob was reassigned to reporting duties and the seasoned Abe Hefter became my new mentor. I was anxious at first, thinking that I would have to re-prove myself, but Abe picked up right where Rob left off. Abe, like Rob, was gracious with his time and feedback, while still giving me opportunities to cover stories and air my reports.
A few weeks later, in early 2003, I received a phone call from Claude Beaulieu, the Assignment Editor of the award-winning CJAD newsroom. He and News Director Derek Conlon had heard my sports reports on-air and asked themselves “if Dave is holding a mic for sports, can he hold a mic for us?” Later that night at Claude’s direction, I was covering an environmental information session at Montreal’s city hall. The following morning, Richard Deschamps and Jason Mayoff aired my reports during their newscasts.
Derek and Claude continued to provide opportunities for me over the next few months and in early May, Derek asked me if I would be interested in doing the evening shift on Victoria Day Monday. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t just a newscaster. I was officially a member of the voice of Montreal’s English speaking community. It was a humbling moment, but also a terrifying one!
Fortunately, Kelly Lapare, Caroline Phaneuf, Tim Parent, Shuyee Lee, Kristy Rich, David McKee, the late great Kathy Coulombe, the late great Tom Armour and many others were just as generous with their time as my other mentors and helped me gain confidence as I prepared for my debut. And before I knew it, May 19, 2003 had arrived.
Day 1 at CJAD
I arrived at the station just after 4pm and Tom Armour was finishing up his afternoon shift. Tom was a veteran broadcaster having been in this profession since the 1950s, but told me that he still got excited each time he entered the broadcast booth. For Tom, we had a responsibility to our listeners to keep them informed. It’s a responsibility that energized Tom for his entire career.
Tom went home after his 5pm newscast and all of a sudden I realized I was on my own. I had 25 minutes to finish writing my scripts and calm my nerves before entering the booth. By 5:28pm, my script was finished but I was ANYTHING BUT CALM.
5:30pm – cue the imposter syndrome!
Each newscast would begin with the following introduction: “CJAD 800 is Montreal’s newstalk leader. From the city’s most respected newsroom, CJAD News starts now.” All I could think of while the intro was being played was how I was so under-qualified to be the voice of the “city’s most respected newsroom.” I was about to be exposed as a fraud.
Fortunately, I made it through my first newscast unscathed and I was more at ease with each subsequent newscast from 6pm-11:30pm. Derek airchecked my performance with me later that week. It was far from perfect, but he was pleased with my debut. Pleased enough that by the end of that summer, I was offered my own shift on Friday night, along with freelance reporting work as required.
The next two years at CJAD gave me a new perspective on what it meant to be a true professional, in a role where the stakes were so high. The English speaking community in Montreal depended on CJAD and the news team offered one of the few clear views into how local and provincial officials were impacting them. I remember covering the 2004 demerger referendums in Beaconsfield-Baie d’Urfe, where longtime local mayor Anne Myles made it one of her final missions to reclaim her former city’s municipal status. This was a sensitive issue for the Anglophone community and we, at CJAD, did our part to ensure everyone was informed.
My most memorable experience as a member of the CJAD news team was covering a standoff in Kanesatake; a Mohawk community just north of Montreal. This was a tense three days involving the community’s leadership, which led to three consecutive -40 degree nights of me filing reports outside the local police station. Other than the fact that my car’s heat stopped working, I’ll never forget how much I learned during those three days.
I left CJAD in 2004 for what Derek Conlon called “the greener pastures of Toronto.” Three years later, I left the journalism world when I realized that my actual passions and aspirations had changed. That said, I always had a place in my heart for CJAD and each time I visited Montreal, I would be sure to tune in to listen to the local newscasts. It was comforting to hear my former colleagues continue to inform Montrealers.
To those who were impacted by this week’s newsroom closures, please know that I’m ready to help in any way I can. You were all incredible mentors, colleagues and friends.