And you may ask yourself, "Well... how did I get here?"
There was a time in radio when knowing and caring about the music you played really mattered, especially at campus radio. We felt a responsibility to the audience. That tenuous connection gradually ebbed away through the forces of the marketplace. Not many noticed the gradual dissolution but I did. Back in 76 though, we were drowning in music and attitude. The thrill of radio is most sweet when you do things for the first time. It’s chilling, and it’s raw because the chance of failure is so outrageously high. I got used to the failure bits since I was having so much fun trying stuff out… It was trial and error in service to being a better communicator and getting to know the gear. We were not always in full command of our senses either as I recall. After a few years of this type of thrill riding and a few CKCU-FM On Air awards, it was time for me to ditch the real job. At the time I was a disconsolate clerk at a liquor store afraid to let go of his first serious job. But one day I got a call. It was a monday...the day we received our liquor shipments. We were pilling up the Smirnoff near the conveyor belt in the basement. It was an out of town major Rock Radio station on the line. I was asked after a little bit of awkward chit chat if I wanted to work in big league radio (for about half the salary I was earning at the time.) Aspects of radio don't change.
In my impressionable and unhappy state, it was the sign I had been waiting for. I had said no thanks to the low ball wage offer but my heart had sung a life changing YES.
- Back to school days
I quit my job and went back to school. Algonquin College was an important transitional experience as it threw me into something I had only flirted with at campus radio. It was 1980 and I was back in school studying Radio & Television.
Mike @ the Gonq
Norm Wright who was a tough old piece of broadcast gristle and one of the profs then, sensed that my 4 years at CKCU had obviated any need to spend time in first year radio and suggested I help him with the other students and maybe an A grade could be arranged. Fair trade I thought so I focused my energy on the Television component and helped out as best I could on the radio side. Funny how life is sometimes… I produced the Central Canada TV Broadcasting award winning show that second year at college and had a part time tech job working at what was known as Skyline Cablevision on weekends. I hyper focused on the television component. A group of us used to videotape and interview the latest bands too as I kept my involvement in campus radio on simmer… bands like XTC, the Jam, Stranglers and many more kept us hopping and editing. MTV and MuchMusic still didn’t exist. Nearing the end of second year I applied for a job at Global television but lost out to Don, a good friend from my grad year. It was decision time. I was graduated without job prospects. Fortunately a collection of CKCU mates had started a creative production agency and they needed a sound engineer. They were willing to hire me even though they knew of my desire to get into TV. The best way to describe our group is to say we were an alternative ad agency; no white shoes or shiny suits. Sound Venture Productions was a great testing ground for me. Once in a while, usually when the main voice was off, I would get to step behind the mic. I produced an ad that won a Clio award which was a big deal for SVP at the time. As intense as this time was, it became obvious at a certain point that it was time to move on up.
-The Clio Award from 1982
My ad voice got noticed and one day I got a call from another CKCU colleague who now worked upstairs in our building. SVP was creating on the 2nd floor at 126 York St. CHEZ was parked on the fifth floor. CHEZ-FM, the progressive 100,000 watt FM powerhouse was sniffing for on air people. I was a tough negotiator ( or so I delude myself) and made sure that I didn’t have to “sell out” and play the music I didn’t like. I laugh at it now ... what a quaint idea. Playing the music you liked. But the times being what they were, it was agreed that I got to pick my own music and in fact that would be the case more or less, for about a decade.
Back then I would start my afternoons with some new vinyl which gave me about 3 minutes to find and cue up the next song. And on it went song to song… it was my own seat of the pants party and it worked (mostly). It was the kind of flow you could never imagine in most jobs. I had it going on slipping from song to guest interviews, to live news, to spot clusters to live promos…and on it went for a decade. I got comfortable in the afternoons and CHEZ-FM was the right thing at the right time for Ottawa. About 5 years in, I began hosting a television music show with the local CTV affiliate for a few seasons and did many interviews with acts coming through town both live on radio and for television ... sometimes at the same time. The list of people I got to speak to was a who’s who of 80’s and 90’s bands : SR Vaughan ,Tears for Fears , Bryan Adams , R.E.M. , U2 , Midnight Oil and all manner of up and coming acts. I remember one schizo day I talked to Kajagoogoo and Dee from Twisted Sister on the same day!
-Huey and Me
CHEZ gradually gave the competitive market more credit than it likely deserved and it was decided we would reduce ourselves to one area of the music sandbox called Classic Rock. With the passing of time I can appreciate how this made perfect business sense but as someone who still loved discovering and supporting new music it was tough to get fully behind the decision. All at once my incredible passion was more like just a decent job. I was still busy voicing more than my share of ads for the radio station and at this point was popular enough as a voice artist that I was approached by the top agency in the city to be on their roster. I started working with all kinds of different creative people outside of radio. One of the best aspects of radio was the diversity of the day to day. I was kept very busy "being" the radio station in the 15 years I was on air.
Mike the interviewer
Public speaking and making conversation became second nature. One night, introducing Ozzy Osbourne at the Civic Center and the next morning part of a grade 8 classroom discussion at career day. Radio in most markets can be fickle. Hero to zero. One should always have his antenna tuned to this reality. Many peers had to move around a lot to hold onto their gigs. My time in radio was mostly great and I was one of the lucky ones to have landed at CHEZ-FM when I did. All things must pass though. The family connection of the place, forged over 2 decades and market forces could no longer be reconciled. Media consolidation came as a relief for me in the name of Rogers Inc. I was one of the first ones out the door. By this point another opportunity had already made itself known to me. I was rescued by an organization where music discovery would be valued and my love affair with music would be rekindled. Pay Audio was the link between Radio and the Spotify type delivery services today. Galaxie was just an idea when I joined the CBC. It was an embryonic concept that we developed into 30 channels of music. It would be sold to carriers like Bell, Videotron and Shaw cable. Galaxie was well outside the traditional media silos at CBC. In hindsight, I recognize what a lucky stroke that was. We would have been crushed by the rigidity and stricture of CBC Radio. Galaxie had a year’s grace to conceive, then test, then grow a team to support the ability to build a deep programmed catalogue of music of many genres for our customers. I got to be the architect of this music machine! When I think back, it was my good fortune that CHEZ turned “corporate” when it did. It forced me to get very good at programming music using software called Selector. In fact I ended up being a bilingual consultant for Selector for a few years. Selector was to become a key component of the success of Galaxie. Initially I had resisted being given a "playlist" by a machine for my afternoon show, but this is a classic example of how opportunity lies inside every moment. You just have to be open to it and let it happen. For the next 13 years Galaxie gave me the freedom to love music and work with like minded people out of my home studio. It also afforded me the flexibility to delve deeper into the voicework world. My non trad schedule allowed for out of town sessions as well. When you read script for a living, you invariably end up being an editor or script massage artist. I have written and edited scripts for clients over the years and my capacity to communicate in both French and English allows me to understand a message and deliver it in the best way.
-Mike the builder
-Mike the listener
The most fulfilling things I did while I worked in radio was to design and project manage the building of the CHEZ Radio group complex. We had grown to 5 stations when we were forced to relocate by a greedy landlord from the long standing 126 York Street in the colourful Byward Market. I have always loved architecture and I am also a bit of a handy man so I was taken off the air and entrusted with the responsibility of design and project management of the new facility. To this day I am proud to say we built the most comprehensive broadcast facility in the city on time and on budget. It was a crowning moment for me. Within 3 years CHEZ was purchased by Rogers Inc. who then decided to sell the property to a condo developer. I remember watching the wrecking ball tear into my beautiful dream. It was karmic closure for me. Radio was now behind me. I have the love and trust of Chuck Azzerello to thank for my great years at CHEZ and the chance to build this incredible media campus. Even though my building did not survive the Rogers accountants, it provided me the courage to design/build our own family home afterwards. Colleen and I thought about it for a long time and after a few false starts, we were able to find the right lot and come up with a design we could both love. By the time this home project began I was a few years into Galaxie. It was a hugely busy time in my career as I got to be the live OnCam announcer for the 2003 Juno Awards with Shania Twain, which turned out to be my audition to be announcer for the Ottawa Senators.
Go Sens Go
I was with YOURRRR OTTAWAAAA SENATORSSSS for 4 years. In the same period I was the host of a popular television show called BUY ME out of Montreal which ran for 10 seasons on HGTV. Looking back I frankly don’t know how I squeezed it all in. By this point in my voice work career I had also built up my imaging and promo work for radio stations across Canada to over 25 stations. Clients included TheEDGE Toronto and TheFOX in Vancouver. I was also getting to travel to do richer audio projects for National Geographic, Discovery and the IMAX movie platform by this point. With my CHEZ years and now as Director of Programming at Galaxie, I had built enough cred to serve as judge/jury for the Juno awards, the Polaris awards, the Governor General Performing Arts award, Rising Stars, CMW panels and many more. It was all so totally joyous and consuming. When I needed to regroup or take a pause, I could always find refuge in my studio.
In spite of the busyness, I made room for family and community although if I am honest Colleen carried a lot of that responsibility. Career can be a time eater. I do have some fond memories that I will always hold of our beautiful 3 kids as they flashed through their childhood, into their teens and beyond...Anyway, I mostly had a life outside of career, and continue to be part of many charitable efforts in the city. I am past president for Citizen Advocacy of Ottawa and help locally where i can. We support many charities locally and internationally including long term efforts to SOS Children’s Villages, Can GO Afar, UNHCR and the local United Way.
Mike @ Galaxie
-The Galaxie Farewell
The constancy of good friends and solid family have provided the balance I would not have had otherwise. The steady growth and solid team of people at Galaxie led by Alain maintained a steady connection to the people and the music that still fueled my passion. The overwhelming success of Galaxie led to its purchase from the CBC by a consortium in Montreal. I joined Stingray briefly as VP of Content.
After a few years of intense transitional work and forward thinking development with a great group of technicians and programmers there, it became obvious that it was time to move on. Working for somebody else at this point in my life was to be a challenge. It was now 2012… After having the time of my life, I now had time in my life. That was a new vibe for me. Initially this caused me (and others close to me) plenty of anxiety. But, I came to realize that free time was a luxury I had earned. I got over myself eventually. I could now help a friend with her home building project. Get to a nagging reno at home or walk the west coast trail. I could cycle to the Gatineau Park lookout if the weather looked promising or listen to music I loved but could never indulge in the past because of the amount of “must listen to” CD stacks. I started reading books in the middle of a sunny day with Satie or Eno bubbling in the background… or taking a long weekend to paddle a new river with good friends. I joined the Canadian Ski Patrol which brought me into contact with another great group of people. I got involved in many things that my former life would never have condoned. Between the cross country skiing regimen and the cycling with my new and old friends I am probably more active than ever. A few years back I completed the Canadian Ski Marathon again and this time with my daughter Marley who is becoming the entrepreneur she was destined to be. It's great to witness our eldest daughter Wallis, now based in Vienna with her first child and husband Alex now navigating a worldwide career in Opera and Macallan has jumped into a great job indulging his "GEO and stats" brain with the federal gov't. He's married now with cat, dog and all the trappings of a happy life post University.
Mike & Marley at CSM
My partner Colleen and I continue our life adventure together. We still look at each other and wonder out loud sometimes... "did we plan this or just get incredibly lucky!" We now travel wherever her many and varied yoga retreats take us. She has organized groups and traveled to Bali, Scotland, Italy, Spain, India, Ireland, the Caribbean, the Azores and soon Croatia & other exotic places. Always with new and old friends. My main drive now is to serve others which may include carrying your yoga mat, helping you or your product tell a story or maybe recommend your next favourite song. Life is good and still getting better,
- The adventure continues....