My radio dream fulfilled

Last show on 89.7

I always dreamed I’d wind up working in radio. In fact with close friends, it was a running joke that doubled as an assumption: eventually, I’d have a role as an avuncular host on the CBC. I grew up listening to AM radio in the seventies and have been a radio fan ever since. It’s my favourite medium, and the one I always felt would suit me best.

I had about an eight-month stint on campus radio—-CKDU in Halifax—-back in 1994-1995, and loved it as much as I’ve ever loved a creative endeavour. I always assumed I’d do radio again, and at a serious level. The work I’ve done over the years as a stage host and performer, my time in television at Discovery and CBC, plus Roots Music Canada and my forays into the video and podcast spaces seemed, to me anyway, to be moving me always in that direction.

So when I was laid off from Adventure Canada on March 26 of 2020, due to the pandemic, I started working on a little podcast studio, as if getting my voice out there into the world was the obvious next step. I knew there was a good chance I’d never get my job back. What else could I do, where I was, with what I had?

I put out six episodes of my podcast Goodness Knows, and it was well received in terms of numbers and feedback. But I ground to a halt when the news of the world began to turn to the murder of George Floyd. I felt no urge to say anything in that moment. I only wanted to listen for a while.

I volunteered to coordinate the Summer Concert Series for the local community radio station, Northumberland 89.7. Before long I was pitching a show. Then in December of 2020, a slot opened up on the Morning Show. I jumped at the chance to host live radio.

As it turned out, I wound up hosting three days weekly, three hours per show, through 2021. What an absolute joy. I really felt I was in my element: programming music, hosting interviews, and developing features like Must Hear Music. It was lively, engaging, and filled a need in our community for company and connection during that dark time. The fact that it was a volunteer position didn’t matter: it felt like an avocation.

I “pivoted” the Summer Concert Series to make it a radio show, based on the pandemic predictions for that year, and successfully hosted twelve episodes of broadcast interviews and performances with local artists.

As autumn approached my day job officially ended, but two new opportunities beckoned. I was offered a spot at Trent University to do a Masters degree in English (Public Texts); and I interviewed for an Executive Director position at Northumberland 89.7. I shared my ideas with the management committee for making the station more reflective of the community, but I was not chosen for the position. So it goes.

In fact, I had already said “yes” to the MA, admittedly hoping there might still be a professional opportunity for me in radio down the line. But it was my academic journey that showed signs of leading onward.

As of January of 2022, I had to let go of my big commitment to the Morning Show. My studies required more time. I began hosting a one-hour weekly show, Spirit of the Song. I cut down on interviews, which require a lot of prep time, but continued to program the themed musical content I loved.

An opportunity arose at Trent University to apply for an internship at CBC Radio. It was my last chance, I thought, for a spot at CBC. I poured myself into the process. I put together a stellar application package, as the interview committee acknowledged. But I was not the successful candidate.

Again, the academic journey offered the way onward. I had applied for a PhD in Canadian Studies at Trent, and I was offered a spot in the program, with a scholarship, and stable funding for four years. The validation of my proposed topic meant a lot to me. I accepted the offer.

I did not realize then that saying “yes” to a PhD path meant saying “no” to radio, nor to music, or public speaking, or many other things I’ve loved doing. But after completing the MA and entering the program this past autumn, it became clear that this journey demands almost everything I have. I’ve taken down my calendar page. My commitments are to my family & home, to my PhD, and to my community. That’s about all I can do.

I always thought the radio dream might amount to more, once I finally had the chance to make it real. But then I’ve never known what life might have in store. My own dreams have often fallen short of what life has offered me. Anyway, maybe this was the dream’s purpose in my life: to carry me through these difficult years.

Whatever the case, it’s been a blessing, and an honour to live out the dream to this point. This past April, I was presented with a Cobourg Civic Award for Distinguished Arts and Culture. I will always cherish that distinction, which is really a reflection of the support I received, and the work put in by my fellow volunteers at the station.

My final episode of Spirit of the Song was last Thursday, and I’m now officially off-air. I will miss hosting, interviewing, and programming, a lot. But I have concluded that my radio dream, which was so fulfilling, has now been fulfilled. For now, anyway.

Now I am working on something that I never dreamed of. My PhD involves a deep consideration of settler relationships to land, right here where I live, as expressed in mapping and naming. I think of this work as a vision. I know it’s bigger than a dream because I find myself willing to give up many dreams to pursue it.

To everyone who listened, collaborated with me, shared their music, engaged in a conversation on air, or simply encouraged me with “likes”: from the bottom of my heart, thank you, for sharing my dream.

I’ll keep you posted as this vision unfolds. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll see you (again) on the radio.

3 comments on “My radio dream fulfilled

  1. You will be missed

  2. Benoît Charlebois

    January 4, 2023 at 10:03 am

    Dear David,
    Thank you for sharing so openly your journey. I was touched by this very insightful sentence you wrote: “I know it’s bigger than a dream because I find myself willing to give up many dreams to pursue it”.I too have had a longstanding dream of doing radio, since University (Ottawa U and Javeriana U), when I dabbled in student radio. But, at this point, my dream has been much less fulfilled than yours and I have found your tale very inspiring. I have been thinking of perhaps launching into community radio here in the Lanaudière region in Québec but, through your story, I realize all the time it would take to fully engage. I’ll think of contacting you if I do, one day, have the courage and determination to go “on air”. Benoît (PC YR 9 Canada QC)

  3. Thanks so much for being a wonderful listener!

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