Day’s End at the Days Inn
The VLA neighbourhood or Prince George has a reputation for being poor and crime-ridden. Often when people come to the city, they are told not to live there. But when Reza Akbari was new to Canada, he was given no such advice. Here’s his story. ∞
This is part of a special series called “At Home in the Hood: Stories from Prince George’s VLA” starting Monday, January 20 on CBC’s Daybreak North.
When Bryce Lokken came across a Facebook page demanding a “special time just for Americans” he came up with a plan to infiltrate it. What he didn’t expect was international news crews would soon be asking for his home address. ∞
Our next story takes place on a logging road in northern B.C., and it involves and emu. ∞
When we got word an emu was wandering around the logging roads of northern B.C., we thought it would be an interesting story. But as soon as I called the guy who had seen it, Juan Huidibro, I knew I was sitting on radio gold. The above is the packaged, standalone version with music- I also had an interview version that aired on our own program, and a shorter version that aired internationally on CBC’s “As It Happens.”
I challenged myself to produce more tape pieces, and one of the things I came up with was finding kids sledding. I received very positive feedback on this one, including a couple of people telling me it was among the best radio they’d heard. I wrote a little bit more about how I presented it on my blog. ∞
As a truck driver doing long hauls from B.C. to Yukon, Darryl Smith has loved- and lost- more than once. But then an accident took him off the road and onto the streets. But as Daybreak’s Andrew Kurjata found out, the loss of his job has given him one more chance at love. ∞
Radio is great when you talk to artists, scientists, politicians and leaders. It’s even better when you talk to someone like Darryl. (I wrote a blog post about this one).
Over the winter break, Daybreak associate producer Andrew Kurjata realized he had a problem: he had no idea how to effectively tie a scarf so it would stay on his neck and out of the way. He then hit the streets of Prince George for scarf-tying tips, only to find out he wasn’t alone in his dilemma. So he did some research and brought the results into studio to share with Leisha Grebinski. ∞
Ridiculous subject matter, very well-received. This aired nationally on “The Story From Here.”
Favourite Story of 2012: Lucy the Goose
For the end of the year, every member of our team picked their favourite story of 2012. My highlight was an easy pick from January: the saga of Lucy the Canada Goose. ∞
“It’s tough fighting the crowds when you’re last-minute Christmas shopping… but what about when it’s your job to keep the customer happy? Daybreak’s Andrew Kurjata hit Pine Center Mall in Prince George to find out what life is like on the other side of the cash register.”
This was a fun little streeter- met some great characters.
“For the third year in a row, Dance North is teaming with Spirit of the North for “Boogie With the Stars”, a dinner and dance with an element of competition. Daybreak’s Andrew Kurjata went to a top-secret dance studio to find out how one team is preparing.” ∞
I was visiting my grandma in Dawson Creek when we started talking about tea flavours and wondering whether differences in tap water might affect it. This led to me comparing mineral levels in different neighbourhoods around Prince George, researching a 2,000-year-old treatise on tea, and calling up one of western Canada’s only tea sommeliers. ∞
Northern communities are worried about Greyhound’s request to reduce the number of routes it services, citing cost, convenience, and public safety. Daybreak’s Andrew Kurjata brings in voices from Greyhound, politicians and passengers to find out what’s at stake. ∞
I was happy with the variety of voices I brought into this one. I repackaged it as an election story the following year.
“Is it safe to walk these streets? It depends on who you ask. The new issue of Macleans magazine has placed Prince George in the position of number one most dangerous city in Canada.” ∞
“Prince George musician Jeremy Stewart started out with a love of Nirvana, and has since moved into scoring art gallery openings. He spoke with Daybreak North’s Andrew Kurjata about his music, ideas, and whether it’s more difficult to play with a computer or a live band.” ∞
“The people made homeless by the Victoria Towers apartment fire last month are finally getting back on their feet. They’ve found new homes thanks to a joint effort between the province, the city of Prince George, and numerous community groups and volunteers. But conspicuously absent from those who helped these displaced residents out, the landlords of the building they once called home. Daybreak’s Andrew Kurjata did some digging into who’s behind the company that owns and manages the building, and came up with over 50 court cases and an arrest warrant.” ∞
“It’s been called one of the worst urban disasters in Prince George’s history. Early this month, a fire at the Victoria Towers apartment building forced 100 residents out of their homes. In the weeks since, no one’s been allowed back to live in their apartment, and dozens of people are still homeless. Among them is Tony Wedinga. He invited Daybreak’s Andrew Kurjata along as he packed up his apartment in an effort to move on.” ∞
“It may not have been Noah’s Ark, but it’s a start: the blessing of the animals. Daybreak’s Andrew Kurjata sat- and stayed.”
As a note, I forgot my headphones for this. So I was pretty pleased when I found that visually monitoring my recording levels worked out. ∞
“Earl Brown lives in the community of Toad River, north of Fort Nelson, where he has a unique piece of currency: a dollar bill decorated with the signatures of every premier from W.A.C Bennet onwards. Daybreak North’s Andrew Kurjata called him up to find out how he got so much political capital.” ∞
“If the price of gas is too high, perhaps we can interest you in a horse-drawn buggy? Prince George entrepreneur Alfred Seidl has one up for sale, and if you can find the right price he has some business ideas for you, too.” ∞
If you don’t like snakes, you probably shouldn’t listen to this story.
This story came to me through my Mom. Eric is a friend of my brother’s, and she’d heard about this through him and mentioned it to me. I immediately jotted it down in my head as a potentially interesting story– and it was. Eric was a great talker.
I’ve mentioned before my love of “This American Life” and I’ve been studying it lately to see how they use music to help with the narrative. The main problem I had was finding a good set of instrumentals to go with it. In the end, I just did a search for instrumental Canadian songs with the word “Snake” in the title. From that, I got (in order of appearance):
“No Smiling Darkness/Snake Charmer’s Association” by Broken Social Scene (purchase)
“Snake Road” by Bob Lanois (purchase)
“Snake Hips” by the Ken Aldroft Trio (purchase)
“Snake” by Sue Foley (purchase)
Sounds from Prince George’s second Tweetup.
Interview with Al Simmons about the Mr. PG Song
“Andrew Kurjata of CBC Radio interviews Al Simmons about his song ‘Mr. PG.’” ∞
Chainsaw Carving – Chetwynd vs Hope
Between Prince George and Dawson Creek, the community of Chetwynd has a bunch of chainsaw carvings and is home of an international carving competition. But between Prince George and Vancouver, the community of Hope calls itself the “Chainsaw Carving Capital of the World.” I figured there might be some animosity between them, but it turns out they’re actually pretty happy the other exists.
Mr. PG Hockey Jersey
As Vancouver makes a run for the Stanley Cup, Mr. PG is still decked out as a member of the Kiss Army rather than the Canucks Army. Now THIS is investigative reporting.
“With gas prices on the rise, we checked in with the biggest road-trip of all: the traveling carnival.”
I wish I could take credit for this, but it was someone else’s idea. While everyone’s talking about gas prices, we decided to find out what it was like for one of the biggest road trips around– the traveling carnival. I went to the set-up site in Prince George, and found the best possible guest (through luck, not calculation). I talked to him for close to half an hour, and could have done more– so many good stories within him, this guy whose grandparents founded one of the biggest carnivals in Canada and now wants to pass it on to his kids. I talked to other people, too, newbies and one guy who was on the carnival when he was 18 and had to sleep under the truck and just came back after his retirement. But I had to keep it on focus, so here’s what you get.
Rick Mercer at UNBC
UNBC won the Spread the Net student challenge, raising $18,000 to buy nets to protect people in malaria-risk zones from infection. The prize was a visit from Rick Mercer, who held a rally, filmed segments for his TV show, and put together some sequences for a rock video. It was nuts– more people than I’ve ever seen on campus. Rick Mercer is a pretty big deal.
Bonus, unaired snippets:
Paper cranes at UNBC – March 18 2011
In the wake of the tsunami in Japan, students at UNBC began folding 1000 paper cranes to symbolize their prayers.
Winter in March Streeters – March 9 2011
Though it can feel like all my highlights for Daybreak are weather related (it’s snowing! It’s still snowing!), the fact is that people love to talk about the weather. My favourite part in this one is the guy who called me over so he could tell me about how people today are too spoiled to realize how little snow we actually have.
Iceclimbing on trees
After Groundhog Day, my first major “pack” — packaged piece. The whole time, I just wanted to make sure I didn’t mess up a great story. Full context here: http://andrewkurjata.ca/blog/2011/02/24/on-climbing-frozen-trees-and-killing-babies
What do you do if you like to ice climb, but don’t have the time? Freeze a tree in your front yard, of course.
My first PAK (aka packaged piece). PAK means that I narrate a story, rather than just have the host introduce it. I don’t love everything about this, including the pace and a few narrative bits that would have made it stronger had I had more time/been better at editing, but it got a good reception.
The Prince George Chamber of Commerce was going through their archives (in a closet) for their hundredth anniversary, and came across a few items that had some historical value. Included were the first minutes, “Spruce Dollars”, and Prince George-opoloy. I went to the Exploration Place Museum for the handing over of the items, and then put this piece together. It was challenging because the chamber president and the museum curator sound very similar, and I’m not certain I differentiated their voices enough. Still, it was fun — even though the minutes obviously have strong historic value, I think the Spruce Dollars and game are more captivating– they certainly got my interviewees talking more. This was picked up by All Points West, the province-wide afternoon show, which I’ve uploaded here
All Points West Edition
Daybreak North Edition
In the Daybreak North edition, I’ve left the beginning of my “arts roundup” in because the host used it as a segue-way, and I’d like to have it on the record that I use Wu-Tang clan in a CBC morning show.
On January 17 (my birthday, incidentally), Prince George was dealing with a record dump of snow– up to your waist, stuck buses. Once again, I went out to find out how people were dealing.
Music: Joel Plaskett, Snowed In
Tape talk — it’s when a reporter goes out and interviews multiple people about a single subject, then sits down with the host of the show to share what they found out. It’s used when there’s multiple angles to a story, and one guest won’t really present them all. My first experience doing this came with this piece about neighbourhood opposition to the expansion of a recycling depot. I talked to some really expressive people, and it was difficult narrowing down the focus. We stayed on the emotions here, rather than the clinical analysis, which works for the narrative, but it’s an interesting backstory, too. For more details on the city council meeting that approved this expansion, you can read
One of the hopefuls in the provincial leadership race has floated the idea of creating an extra day off in February called “Family Day” (something Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan already have and PEI and Manitoba have other versions of). To find out how helpful this would be in winning over the electorate, I hit the streets of Prince George, then added some appropriate music.
Note: it was easy to get people to talk about this, but since it was so cold I had a hard time finding them. A few came from me standing between the order and the pick-up at a nearby drivethrough.
On January 4, 2011 there was a huge dump of snow in Prince George, with more expected to come. I was sent out early with a cellphone to do an “on-the-spot” report on what the roads were like. I did it from the parking lot of one of the main bus terminals after being dropped off part way and walking. This was my first live hit.
I found a news release from the RCMP saying they were charging two young men with damage of public property after they attempted to cut down a public Christmas tree in Dawson Creek. In the past, my instinct would have been to talk to the RCMP, but after learning more about what makes a story, I wanted to go elsewhere. I found the guys who put the tree up in the first place and found out they were called in to save the tree when it was on the brink of falling down. It was a story on our show, and I then pitched it to the provincial news desk and worked up a script and a couple of audio clips from my pre-interview. After some adjustments from actual newscasters, it was the “kicker”– the quirky news story to end the morning newscast.
Photo by Caffinara
For a contest at CBC, we asked people to share their favourite holiday memories. Some read their own, others emailed them in and we read them– as I did with this one. It’s completely different reading a story, rather than a conversation, especially one that somebody else wrote, so this was a different sort of challenge.
Note: I cringe, listening to my delivery of this. But it goes to show improvements can be made.
For a contest at CBC, we asked people to share their favourite holiday memories. To get things going, the staff have recorded some of theirs. Here’s mine. The song is Fco_rmz – 03-jinge-bells-8bit-version, uploaded by @fco_rmz.
My parents live near a champion arm wrestler. Later, I found out that he was training a guy I went to high school with in how to be a competitive arm wrestler. When I found out thathe was headed to the world championships after a few successful national runs, I went to find out what it takes to be one of Canada’s top arm wrestlers. It was a fascinating interview, learning about all the strategy involved and how it’s treated differently in different countries. The sound was a bit off since we were moving around during the interview, so I added a musical bed underneath that I found using a creative commons search on Soundcloud for things similar to the “Rocky” theme. If you’re interested, it’s aStormcat – Durandal-theme-stormcat-extended-mix by a talented artist out of Nevada (where the world championships are being held!) going by the moniker of “@stormcat.”
This originally aired on November 7, 2010.
On November 16, Prince George was enjoying a very mild fall. Plants were still growing, even. Then on November 17 we woke up and everything had changed: high winds and lots of snow made for a big change. I went out on the streets to find out how people were reacting.
After reading a couple of stories about legions struggling throughout Canada, I spoke with second vice-president John Scott about what the legion does and where it stands now. He explained that legions as a whole act as advocates for veterans. When government doesn’t give out what they view as fair compensation for active duty or doesn’t recognize this or that after-effect of the war, it’s the legions who advocate on their behalf. They’re an established voice, and without them, Scott worries about who will see that those who have fought for their country are treated properly. They’re trying to expand their membership, but there don’t seem to be a lot of people taking up the cause. More at http://andrewkurjata.ca/blog/2010/11/11/remembering-the-legion/
On October 14, 2010, it was announced that Prince George had been deemed “Canada’s Most Dangerous City” by Maclean’s Magazine. The city and RCMP had a preemptive media briefing to highlight what they were doing to combat crime, which I attended, but not before hitting the streets to find out what residents thought about the ranking. I had a quick turnaround on this one, managing to get audio for the morning news, and more for the noon hour– this was when I realized how much my sound recording and editing skills have improved over the year.
In October 2010, I was sent out to do a story on the Hadih House, a community centre where people were learning how to prepare food for storage over the winter. It wound up being my first long-form (more than two minute piece), and it taught me a lot about putting together multiple voices with a soundscape and sounds from on-the-scene to create an on-location piece that really paints a picture. One of the most enjoyable stories I’ve done. More at http://andrewkurjata.ca/blog/2010/10/26/canning-at-the-hadih-house
At the beginning of October, I heard that the local brewery was sponsoring water cleanliness initiatives, in part because of how important water is to their brewing process. I went to speak with the brewmaster and gather some sound of the brewing process. It’s not a bad piece, though I learned the importance of getting sound separate from the interview– the brewery is a noisy place, and doesn’t lend itself well to interviews. If I were to do it again, I would conduct the interview in a quiet room and then gather sound.
In July 2010, Elton John was coming to Prince George. So, in a twist, a Vancouver radio station ran a contest to “get in and get out” of “the armpit of the interior.” I found out about it via Twitter, and “broke” the story by interviewing the two DJs behind the contest for Daybreak North. This caused a minor uproar, causing the station to (somewhat) change their tune and the story wound up being picked up nationally and was even the most read story in the Globe and Mail for a short time. You can hear the original and modified commercials, and read the full story here.
I made this piece during my first week at CBC in January, 2010 — a training week. It’s a story I discovered through a Facebook event invitation. To combat the January blues, a local couple had started a tradition they dubbed “International Souffle Day” which has been growing since its inception six years ago. I got in touch with one-half of the couple, conducted a phone interview, and then spliced it together with some music, taking my own voice out in the process, to make it sound as if she was giving one continuous narrative. I was pretty happy with it, and even happier when I learned it was picked up the national syndication service and broadcast on morning shows across the country including Yellowknife, Toronto, and Charlottetown.