- Hi, my name is Andrew.
- This is
Bob Greenaway is retiring.
Almost every Wednesday for over 19 years, Bob has made juice, muffins and granola bars for students at Duchess Park Secondary School as part of a breakfast program aimed at making sure no students go hungry. He also runs breakfast and lunch programs at other schools throughout Prince George.
The principal of Duchess Park recently wrote Bob a letter of commendation, saying he has made a difference in the lives of generations of students by running this program. “Our students are seldom exposed to selfless generosity with ‘no strings attached,” it reads. “Undoubtedly, as a result of Bob’s example, many of them have made a conscious decision in their own lives to help others.”
Lecia Beetlestone lives in Prince George. She has always loved animals. Her husband Tony, not so much. But over the years, she’s got him to be more interested in helping them out. Right now he’s working on the road and while staying in Pemberton he found a stray, scraggly cat hanging around his motel room. A few years ago he would have never gone near the cat, but now he decided to help out. He started feeding him, and eventually got him to come for a truck ride to a shelter in Whistler, run by volunteers who give their time and money to helping animals in need.
I had never heard of Bob Greenaway, Tony Beetlestone, or the Whistler shelter before I started writing this. I found them by going onto community event announcements and Facebook groups to find out what else was going on in the world aside from what was in the news.
You’ve heard the news, right? Today it’s mostly focused on the 24-year-old who shot three RCMP officers in Moncton. It doesn’t take much digging to hear about him. I have heard interviews with friends on the radio. I have seen his image on TV. I have learned about his Facebook statuses from national publications, and that one of his former co-worker believes he wants to go “out with a bang”.
If he does go out, it will be in the style his former co-worker believes he desires. Already there has been more than 20 hours of near-continuous coverage, his image plastered on the front page of every national media site, a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter. “What is this world coming to?” reads one of the statuses in my Facebook feed.
34.87 million Canadians woke up yesterday and didn’t go on a shooting spree. One did. Guess whose name will be in the most headlines.
* * *
We (and I’m saying this as both a member of the media and a person who gets information from the media) pick and choose which stories and individuals shape our understanding of what the world is and the type of people who are in it. We pay rapturous attention to the actions of a lone gunman while Bob Greenaway, Tony Beetlestone, and the stranger who smiled at you in the grocery store are largely ignored.
Does this make sense? For the people of Moncton, I absolutely understand the up-to-the-minute coverage. This is a matter of public safety, and the reporters who are there are completely right to help the public understand what they need to do in order to best stay safe.
But why do I, here in Prince George, British Columbia, need to know every detail as it unfolds? What purpose does it serve? If I were to hop in my car right now, it would take me 58 hours to drive to Moncton. I could be halfway through Mexico before then. I have no idea what happened in Mexico today.
I’m not asking these questions because I’m absolutely certain the mass coverage of what’s happening in Moncton (or another mass shooting in Seattle that’s unfolded as I write this) shouldn’t be happening. I’m just not certain it should, either. Obviously there are people who want to follow along, but I have a sense that responsible media should strive to go beyond just chasing eyeballs. I believe there’s more to our job than that, and it involves weighing questions of ethics and responsibility and representation and so many other considerations beyond “will people click on this?”
We cannot offer a perfect summary of the world as it stands. The world is a messy, complicated place with so much happening at any given moment that it’s impossible to contemplate. And so we, as media, filter. We look around and we choose to present a few people and events out of near-infinite possibilities, and we call that the news.
It seems almost inevetiable that the tragedies and the horror stories will get more coverage than the mundane, everyday kindnesses of people just doing their best. But it is important to remember that the tragedies and horror stories are just one part of what the world is coming to, a part that has been filtered through hundreds of other stories that might have been chosen, as well. It’s important to remember that there are bad things in the world, but there are good ones, too, and the volunteers and animal-lovers and people smiling at you at the grocery store are just as representative of humanity as anyone else. Even if they never make headline news.
“Yesterday, I fixed that old steam radiator. Threaded a new valve into the side, removed the handle from the base, unscrewed the packing nut from the stem. This subpar toolbox only had one wrench, so I was lucky it was a three-quarters or I’d have been screwed.
“By the time I was done, this 100-year-old piece of American-made cast iron was singing like a bird. Now to most people, this story would seem boring. But to me, it was immensely satisfying because I enjoy fixing radiators.
“You like fixing this town, Leslie, you always have.
“You know it’s an uphill battle, but you love the struggle.”
- Parks and Recreation, Season 6, Episode 15: “The Wall”
The long weekend is (nearly) here. Last weekend we got a start on prepping our yard for the summer, which included an hour plus of cleaning up after those two dogs in the picture up there. It also involved repairing our cat jail from the weight of winter, but it was a pretty minimal task: just going around and angling it upwards again. If you’re looking for a way to keep cats in your yard, this seems to be effective.
I get why people don’t want pets wandering around, but with the right group of people it can certainly help create a bit more of bond between strangers. When I was growing up, the neighbours across the street from us had a dog who could leap over their fence in a single bound. She only did this so she could go for walks with us, and eventually she became a joint dog with both families caring for her.
More recently, my parents have had a neighbourhood cat decide it lives with them part-time. They are not sure where it comes from, but it is definitely cared for- it just apparently likes to come over in the morning and get some extra pets. Eventually they’ll find out where it lives, and that will be how the ice is broken between them.
There are so many people I only know in the context of the dogs I see them walking in local parks, to the point that if we see each other say, grocery shopping, we identify each other by our dogs names. But it turns out these low-level bonds are an important part of creating happy cities. Who says? Charles Montgomery, the author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design. I heard him on this episode of Tapestry a few weeks ago, and immediately put his book on my reading list.
At one point in the interview, he talks about what happened to him when he started walking around more and bumping into neighbours:
“Not having deep conversations, just ‘hello, how are you?’ It turns out these superficial conversations are really good for well-being. They’re much easier than the conversations we have with fellow employees and family sometimes.”
He goes much deeper into this concept in the book, but anecdotally I’ve definitely found it to be true. Stopping for a chat with someone while I bike, having brief conversations with the panhandlers near where I work, and knowing my neighbours in the contexts of their dogs have all added to a sense of connection and belonging in the spaces I spend my time.
Just over a year ago, I sat down in the host’s chair for the CBC Radio program Daybreak North. I’d already been working on the show in various roles since 2010, and more recently had filled in as host a couple of times when someone was away. So when there was an opening, I was asked to step in for a longer duration. Now that duration is coming to an end, and tomorrow is my last day as host.
This isn’t an unexpected change. In fact, the unexpected part is that I’ve been doing this so long. Initially, I was only going to be filling in for a few weeks. That few weeks turned into a few months and, ultimately, thirteen of them, almost to the day. It’s a bit of a complicated shuffle: we have a two-host show, with one person in Prince George and one in Prince Rupert, and there have been multiple bits of leave throughout. Suffice it to say my time on-air was always limited and has far exceeded my initial expectations.
Some people move into radio with the goal of getting on air. That was never me. I enjoyed (and enjoy) researching stories, finding leads, and putting together produced segments. I didn’t think I would have much fun coming in and reading scripts other people wrote, all while having half my work day taken up conducting interviews and reading weather.
But it’s an undeniably fun job and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of growing into the role. Doing an interview-based morning drive-time program, you have to be aware of many things at once: how much time is left? What’s happening on the roads? Do I sound relaxed? What question am I going to ask this guest next? Is it interesting to the listener? At the same time you’re thinking about your cadence, queuing up musical stings, communicating with the rest of your team, and a half-dozen other tasks. All while trying to sound spontaneous and effortless.
There is also a certain amount of celebrity that comes with being the voice on the airwaves. I’m not super in to being recognized, but it is gratifying when someone knows who you are and likes what you do. For better or worse, the person on air gets most of the credit for what gets heard. The fact that I am, even on a small scale, a “CBC personality” is something I still can’t quite wrap my head around.
That being said, there are things I don’t like. The hours, for one. Getting up before 4 in the morning is not something I’ve gotten used to even after this long. I never really settled into a rhythm and have consistently oscillated between napping, going to bed early and, more often than I’d like, simply functioning on five hours of sleep or less. This lack of sleep spills over into my eating habits, my exercise schedule, and my overall ability to be “with it” for the rest of the day. As the days get longer I’m already finding myself unable to get more than a few hours of sleep at night, and I can’t say I’m sorry to move back to working the day shift.
There are also things about being behind the scenes that I miss. There are dozens of ideas for stories I have that require more investigation than I have time for while hosting. I also have various bits of raw audio that I haven’t had time to flesh out into fully produced pieces. I look forward to being able to delve into these projects more.
I was asked recently whether I found it more rewarding to put together a well-timed, beautifully produced piece of radio or if I got more satisfaction out of improvising something live on-the-air. There is definitely a satisfaction that comes with being able to pull off something live- executing a challenging interview or chasing down a breaking news story- but in my heart of hearts I’m proudest of the work that took time for me to create. Maybe it’s just because I spend more time with them, but looking back over the past year I remember the segments that I edited and crafted far better than any of the live interviews I conducted, and I think of them more fondly. In part it’s because you’re only ever half of an interview- you’re dependent on the guest to bring something to the table- but in a produced piece you have the final say. If an interview is good, it’s part you and part the guest, but if a produced piece works it’s all about the choices you made. Or at least that’s how I feel.
The one thing I will miss about being on-air that can’t be replicated off mic is the relationship I have with the listener. As a radio fan, I’ve long known that audiences can develop a relationship with the hosts of their favourite programs, feeling like they actually know them. What I didn’t know is that this is a two-way street. Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know the people who listen to this show, and it really does feel like I’m saying goodbye to a group of friends. Through emails, phone calls, and office visits I’ve gotten to know the truckers, students, ship captains, construction workers, city councillors, musicians, bankers, lawyers, street cleaners, retirees and families who tune in every morning. I have family and friends throughout the province who know bits and pieces about what’s happening in my life simply because of a remark I made on-air. I’ve learned all sorts of things from grammar tips to weather patterns to hidden swimming holes thanks to people who would be total strangers if it weren’t for my time on-air. Ultimately, I work for a show that focuses on things I’m interested in, and so connecting with this audience is connecting with people who share many of the same passions. I’ve been connecting with my tribe for the two-and-half hours I’m on air every weekday morning, and I will genuinely miss that.
So what’s next? Well, back to where I was supposed to be all along. I am still in Prince George, still with CBC, and still working on Daybreak North. I will once again be an associate producer, tracking down stories, researching topics, and crafting the most compelling bits of radio I can. I hope you’ll tune in.
Note: this change happening at the same time as the equivalent of 657 positions are cut at CBC is entirely coincidental. I’ve known my time as a host was coming to an end for a long time, the news of today is completely unrelated. As for the future of both my job and CBC in northern B.C., I will direct you to these quotes from CBC management: “CBC/Radio-Canada will maintain its presence and news-gathering capabilities in the regions”, and “We will retain our presence where we are now.” For more information, see here and here.