Don Cameron


00:00:02 Speaker 1 

This is Phil Stone, the guest on this tape is Don Cameron. Don Cameron started in broadcasting in 1943 when he was at McGill University in Montreal. 

00:00:11 Speaker 1 

In their radio workshop, which was conducted by a legendary figure of drama throughout the years, Rupert Kaplan, he won the audition and began to do CBC drama while at McGill. 

00:00:22 Speaker 1 

In 1944, he was a CB summer relief announcer and in 1945 became a staff announcer with this CD. 

00:00:28 Speaker 1 

See in 1946, he became the member of a soap opera called Laura Limited. He was with them for eight years, playing the role of a young husband. 

00:00:37 Speaker 1 

During that time, he was a busy man. 

00:00:39 Speaker 1 

He also worked for the CBC International Service when he had time free, and he did news for them that went to England and and he also interviewed the announcers who spoke in various. 

00:00:48 Speaker 1 

Languages. He did that for 18 months as a matter of fact in evenings which he had free, he decided he could do something else, and he joined CJAD Montreal as a staff announcer, working from 6 to midnight and eventually taking over their prime program. 

00:01:02 Speaker 1 

Make believe ballroom, which made him a very prominent figure in the Montreal entertainment scene. 

00:01:07 Speaker 1 

A musician he knew a lot about big bands, and he appeared with them and he emceed. 

00:01:11 Speaker 1 

And then he began to freelance as a commercial announcer. 

00:01:14 Speaker 1 

In 1954, he thought he should come to Toronto because television was here and he felt that was the place to be. 

00:01:19 Speaker 1 

He was the announcer for craft commercials, and he did the craft commercials on the Music Hall program on television. 

00:01:26 Speaker 1 

He freelanced in the MC Field and in the commercial field, and also at one point was on 22 radio and four television shows. 

00:01:35 Speaker 1 

Week in 1956, he decided to try New York. He was quite successful there, working as a freelance commercial announcer, but he still commuted to Toronto and was the host for some programs such as the GE Show, the General Electric Show and version, the Canadian version of to tell the truth, which was on. 

00:01:55 Speaker 1 

TV and also did the Billy O’Connor show and hosting it and doing the commercials. 

00:02:01 Speaker 1 

He moved to Toronto, then to open up the door on a whole new Vista, and it certainly worked. In 1967, Bill Ballantyne, who was with CK FM as an administrator, asked Don to come on and do a Daily Show for them, and he agreed, and he remained with them until a little while ago when he joined the present station. CJ EZ as an. 

00:02:20 Speaker 1 

An answer and my goodness, Don, that has been a busy life. 

00:02:24 Speaker 1 

Not different though, hasn’t it? 

00:02:26 Speaker 2 

Well, when you when you put it the way. 

00:02:27 Speaker 2 

You just did. 

00:02:29 Speaker 2 

I guess I never think of it in. 

00:02:30 Speaker 2 

A clump quite like. 

00:02:32 Speaker 2 

That, but my golly, it makes it sound like I was. 

00:02:35 Speaker 2 

I was awfully busy, which in essence I was, but I guess the fact that a lot of this happened, shall we say, about 30 years, 35 years ago when. 

00:02:45 Speaker 2 

Your energy was limitless. 

00:02:49 Speaker 2 

You could do an 18 hour day and not think a great deal about it. 

00:02:55 Speaker 2 

You could get by in four or five hours, sleep at night and I think the mere excitement of facing new challenges in various forms of the broadcast industry in all its forms as a matter of fact, the way it comes across in your summation. 

00:03:09 Speaker 2 

That alone generated the the enthusiasm you needed to keep the spirits going, as it were. 

00:03:16 Speaker 1 

Let’s talk about those early days because. 

00:03:18 Speaker 1 

That’s what we really want. 

00:03:19 Speaker 1 

To put lots of these tapes, 1943. 

00:03:21 Speaker 1 

You’re a young man at university. 

00:03:23 Speaker 1 

You’re doing this drama. 

00:03:24 Speaker 1 

What was that? 

00:03:25 Speaker 2 

Like, well, the the Hill Radio workshop. 

00:03:27 Speaker 2 

Of course, the kids in it, we used to write a lot of our own stuff and we’d go down to US studio and record it. 

00:03:34 Speaker 2 

Then we’d, we’d listen to it and criticize ourselves. 

00:03:36 Speaker 2 

But from this nucleus was born of people who really wanted to get into the business, maybe professionally. 

00:03:43 Speaker 2 

Although I was taking business administration and commerce at McGill, we thought that maybe it might be a nice little sideline. 

00:03:51 Speaker 2 

When Rupert Kaplan said that he would put himself out sufficiently to interview 1/2 a dozen of us, I was one of the people that wanted to be interviewed by him, and he sort of said I’ll, I’ll be in touch with you, which led to the opportunity to work with professional actors and actresses. 

00:04:10 Speaker 2 

In radio doing in those days, maybe basically juvenile roles for me because I had a very young voice at the time, but it did lead to, for instance, during the victory loan shows where which Rupert produced in Montreal appearance with Katherine Hepburn, which was a thrill. 

00:04:27 Speaker 2 

Edward G Arnold or Edward Arnold, the who’s long deceased, of course. 

00:04:31 Speaker 2 

But these people would come in from Hollywood, and their mere presence almost guaranteed a radio audience coast to coast. 

00:04:41 Speaker 2 

Whether you have to keep in mind there’s no television. 

00:04:44 Speaker 2 

And it was the whole purpose was to raise money for the victory loan. 

00:04:49 Speaker 1 

We should explain what those are. 

00:04:50 Speaker 1 

Those were bonds designed to raise money for the Canadian war effort. 

00:04:55 Speaker 2 

And in order to draw attention to the fact that they were for sale, of course, the big stars were brought in and appeals were made. 

00:05:05 Speaker 2 

I remember 1 show we did in Montreal. 

00:05:07 Speaker 2 

I think the one with. 

00:05:08 Speaker 2 

Katherine Hepburn, Austin Willis, who was then alluded to Lieutenant in the Canadian Navy full uniform, but he was on stage and he was the pitchman. 

00:05:16 Speaker 2 

Jack Bennett was also the announcer on the show. These were the names that they had in those days, and these men would come down from Toronto at Rupert’s invitation. 

00:05:25 Speaker 2 

To to participate in this kind of thing. 

00:05:28 Speaker 2 

But the end result was that. 

00:05:30 Speaker 2 

When I joined the the CBC full time, after about a year, as you mentioned, the chance to act in a daily soap opera came up. 

00:05:41 Speaker 2 

And the reason I left the CBC was in those days the the rules and regulations stated you couldn’t work outside the corporation as an actor, even though the soap opera. 

00:05:51 Speaker 2 

On CBC Network, that was considered an outside job, but I think the thing that hits me about those days in radio. 

00:05:57 Speaker 2 

Though there was no unit and there is no unit to this day for the benefit of professional announcers such as that that can compete with the CBC, I hear pronunciations today that I cringe about. It’s as though anybody under 45. 

00:06:18 Speaker 2 

Learn their English as much from watching American television. 

00:06:21 Speaker 2 

You’ll hear pronunciations that you know darn well are American. 

00:06:26 Speaker 2 

Where did prestigious come from? 

00:06:28 Speaker 2 

Sure, there’s a WordPress. 

00:06:29 Speaker 2 

Prestige, but I think it’s prestigious. 

00:06:32 Speaker 2 

I hear people who should know better saying zoology instead of zoology, things like this. 

00:06:37 Speaker 2 

Now the CBC had probably to I know, to this day they still have a director of broadcast English. 

00:06:43 Speaker 2 

Well, in those days it was Steve Brody and you had to work with this man two or three times a year he’d he’d visit. 

00:06:49 Speaker 2 

Every CBC station and he made sure that you you could speak good English, good Canadian English and in addition to that, in those days. 

00:07:00 Speaker 2 

Block programming had not arrived in radio, so the end result was that working as a staff announcer in the CBC’s 115 minute period, you might be announcing a musical quartet. 

00:07:13 Speaker 2 

The next show you might be sent to the Mount Royal Hotel in Montreal to do a dance band remote. 

00:07:19 Speaker 2 

The next thing you might be interviewing a minister of the. 

00:07:22 Speaker 2 

Search the the opening the experience that you gained. 

00:07:27 Speaker 2 

I’ve heard some announcers, kid, what we did everything except sweep the floors. 

00:07:30 Speaker 2 

Well, that was about true radio in those days threw everything at you. 

00:07:35 Speaker 2 

There was no television. 

00:07:36 Speaker 2 

There’s no competition from that area. 

00:07:38 Speaker 2 

So radio created all these things, the drama. 

00:07:43 Speaker 2 

It’s interesting now to watch old shows on TV where they try to show people how the sound effects worked. 

00:07:51 Speaker 2 

Now that of course we took for granted, and as you have mentioned before, we started the interview formally today. 

00:07:59 Speaker 2 

What a thrill it was for audiences watching the big names in those days on radio, when a Bob Hope or a Bing Crosby or an Al Jolson at the end of the the Half Hour radio broadcast would just pitch his whole script out into the audience, it was like. 

00:08:15 Speaker 2 

A ball being hit by a Blue Jays into into the Bleacher, a blue Jay player into the bleachers and the fans reached out for that ball. 

00:08:23 Speaker 2 

Or in this case, the. 

00:08:25 Speaker 2 

I think that’s the one thing that hits me about those. 

00:08:27 Speaker 1 

Days that just jump in a minute. 

00:08:29 Speaker 1 

Please do. 

00:08:31 Speaker 1 

It was live. 

00:08:32 Speaker 1 

Live radio, yeah. 

00:08:33 Speaker 1 

And so if you made mistakes you did and you had. 

00:08:35 Speaker 2 

To cover right that would be in the in the essence of, let’s say a newscast or that type of show. 

00:08:43 Speaker 2 

Now on drama, sometimes they put them on the big 15 inch. 

00:08:46 Speaker 2 

Transcriptions but it meant that if somebody made a bad goof 13 minutes into the transcription, you had to start the whole thing over. 

00:08:54 Speaker 2 

You couldn’t say it wasn’t like a tape you can erase and edit and so on. 

00:08:57 Speaker 2 

You had to start the whole thing over again. 

00:09:00 Speaker 2 

So of course you’re on tender hooks. 

00:09:01 Speaker 2 

It was almost like you were alive. 

00:09:04 Speaker 1 

And Michelle explained it was the audience was there for a live radio show. 

00:09:08 Speaker 1 

Oh, yes. 

00:09:09 Speaker 1 

Which they don’t do today. 

00:09:10 Speaker 2 

But they did the yes, definitely. 

00:09:12 Speaker 2 

Many of the drama shows musical programs. 

00:09:16 Speaker 2 

Certainly the remotes there was definitely an audience for all of those. 

00:09:21 Speaker 2 

Some of the radio stations were set up in such a way that. 

00:09:24 Speaker 2 

The this some of the studios were on the street or or could be seen from through a window from the. 

00:09:30 Speaker 2 

And you felt like a a fish in a in a in a bowl at at the time. 

00:09:34 Speaker 1 

But you were a star in those days, weren’t you? 

00:09:35 Speaker 1 

If you. 

00:09:36 Speaker 2 

Were a broadcaster. 

00:09:37 Speaker 2 

Well, yes, there was. 

00:09:38 Speaker 2 

There’s no question that you became a household name. 

00:09:43 Speaker 2 

People wrote you with their problems. 

00:09:44 Speaker 2 

They phoned you like you were one of the family. 

00:09:48 Speaker 2 

They could get easily mad at you if you said something that they didn’t like. 

00:09:52 Speaker 2 

But I I remember I did. 

00:09:53 Speaker 2 

From a little show in Montreal, about 19 early in 1953. Now at this stage I’ve been doing the Make believe ballroom, the prime time drive home show in in the city at that time and had built up a good name. But it was it was all radio for six weeks. I did a television show. 

00:10:14 Speaker 2 

That didn’t go out Of Montreal at all. 

00:10:16 Speaker 2 

It was just they were. 

00:10:17 Speaker 2 

The CBC was experimenting with television in Montreal at the time. 

00:10:21 Speaker 2 

In six weeks I got more recognition on the street than I had in 10 years of radio, and it shook the Dickens out of me. 

00:10:26 Speaker 2 

I couldn’t believe that this television had that impact that quickly. 

00:10:31 Speaker 2 

And so as I as you mentioned, there was a tremendous interest on my part that if an opening should come up in television that maybe that was the way to go. 

00:10:43 Speaker 2 

And therefore, when I I had the Kraft radio commercial account and when Kraft television theatre started up in the fall of 53 here in Toronto, I was asked to commute each week to Toronto to do the commercials coast to coast. 

00:10:58 Speaker 2 

And after six months of commuting, I just that’s when I moved to Toronto and decided to pursue a. 

00:11:03 Speaker 2 

Strictly, freelance commercial career is that I felt I was beginning to see then that my my future lay in in commercials because I was. 

00:11:11 Speaker 2 

I was making money and I seemed to get the response I wanted in auditions. 

00:11:16 Speaker 2 

I was winning maybe more auditions than I lost. 

00:11:19 Speaker 2 

That changed when you get to New York, that’s the big time. 

00:11:23 Speaker 2 

You have to be. 

00:11:23 Speaker 1 

Before you get there, let me ask you about television in your early days. 

00:11:27 Speaker 1 

Camera jobs, largely in the early part. 

00:11:29 Speaker 2 

Pardon me. 

00:11:32 Speaker 2 

It so happened that the the on camera shows that I was involved with. 

00:11:37 Speaker 2 

As far as the commercial was concerned, yes, they for instance the Billy O’Connor Show would maybe have two or three cameras, but when it came time for me to do my little bit that I would probably be working on one camera. 

00:11:49 Speaker 2 

Similarly with the General Electric show even, and it used to be scary because the GE show was done in a monstrous studio on Young St. 

00:11:58 Speaker 2 

And much of the action of the singers and the band would be at very the very far end of the studio. 

00:12:04 Speaker 2 

And you knew that one of those cameras down there had to clear time to clear, get himself all the way up to your end of the studio so that when you got the queue, he was there and there were times that they didn’t make it. 

00:12:17 Speaker 2 

And there’s sort of a dead air effect, which we couldn’t do anything about. 

00:12:23 Speaker 2 

And there once again. 

00:12:24 Speaker 2 

If you made a mistake, it it was frightening. 

00:12:29 Speaker 2 

We didn’t have teleprompters. 

00:12:31 Speaker 2 

You had to memorize and you just had to hope that you didn’t forget your lines. 

00:12:36 Speaker 2 

And of course, with the hustle and bustle that were going on the whole time you were doing your commercial life. 

00:12:41 Speaker 2 

In the background, you were well aware they were changing the scenery. 

00:12:44 Speaker 2 

The ORCRIST was moving to another spot. 

00:12:46 Speaker 2 

The dancers were putting their makeup on them. 

00:12:48 Speaker 2 

It was, it was wild. 

00:12:50 Speaker 2 

It it really was wild. 

00:12:52 Speaker 2 

And when I looked back at it, I don’t know how to handle a lot of it survived. 

00:12:56 Speaker 2 

I I should be in a in a an asylum by now. 

00:13:01 Speaker 2 

Quietly so you don’t. 

00:13:02 Speaker 1 

Only need talent. 

00:13:03 Speaker 1 

You need composure. 

00:13:04 Speaker 2 

An awful lot of composure. 

00:13:06 Speaker 2 

You really have to feel. 

00:13:08 Speaker 2 

You knew what you were doing or that you were in charge of yourself because, and maybe the fact that with a radio background. 

00:13:16 Speaker 2 

Where you had probably for years been ad libbing, whether it was dance, band, music or but you could work your way in and out of things as a daily announcer on a on a musical show. 

00:13:25 Speaker 2 

Particularly, therefore, if you forgot your lines or something went wrong on the television set, you probably had enough Moxie to fall back on. 

00:13:35 Speaker 2 

To fake your way out. 

00:13:36 Speaker 2 

Of it. 

00:13:37 Speaker 2 

And that that did happen. 

00:13:39 Speaker 1 

You went to New York. 

00:13:40 Speaker 1 

Did you need New York to establish yourself in Toronto? 

00:13:42 Speaker 1 

Or did you? 

00:13:43 Speaker 1 

Did you go there because of opportunities? 

00:13:46 Speaker 2 

I felt that I had at the at that stage gone about as far as I could go in Toronto. 

00:13:52 Speaker 2 

And if I was ever going to go, if I were ever going to go to New York, that was the time I had. 

00:13:58 Speaker 2 

Covered the scene here and with only one one television network, it was very, very easy for you to become. 

00:14:04 Speaker 2 

Overexposed. That was a CBC. 

00:14:06 Speaker 2 

CBC you could. 

00:14:07 Speaker 2 

You could become overexposed. 

00:14:09 Speaker 2 

On camera and therefore people wouldn’t hire you because I saw you two or three times last week attitude. 

00:14:15 Speaker 2 

So I thought, well, let’s go to New York and actually looking back at it, it was a fantastic experience because where I was maybe in the top four or five commercial announcers in Toronto, all of a sudden I’m just one of thousands in New York, you’re just another. 

00:14:29 Speaker 2 

You know you’re knocking on doors and looking for work and they don’t know you from a hole in. 

00:14:32 Speaker 2 

Ground and all you can do is just make yourself as well known as you can and keep auditioning and auditioning and down there. 

00:14:40 Speaker 2 

I found that I had had to satisfy myself with maybe winning one out of a dozen in New York, but the satisfaction in the sense was was as great because the the one audition you won would probably reach 40 million people. 

00:14:53 Speaker 2 

Instead of maybe 400,000. So it was. It was one of. 

00:14:57 Speaker 1 

Those things, not every announcer who started in the business when you did, became a commercial announcer. 

00:15:02 Speaker 1 

What is it that makes 1? 

00:15:04 Speaker 2 

Are a good question. 

00:15:06 Speaker 2 

I think that looking back at some of the executives that I’ve seen over the years radio broadcast executives, I think many of these men had desires to forge ahead in the industry and at the same time make a fair amount of money. 

00:15:22 Speaker 2 

Somewhere along the line, they realized that as an announcer, they were not going to make the big time, so they better get into another aspect of broadcasting because most of us have been at it. Obviously we’ve been in it 3040 and 50 years. 

00:15:34 Speaker 2 

Love it, but they wanted to stay with the industry, so they maybe went into the executive and administrative end of broadcasting. 

00:15:41 Speaker 2 

Therefore, those of us who decided to try our hand at the odd commercial, some of us found that we were. 

00:15:50 Speaker 2 

We were getting more demands for our services. 

00:15:54 Speaker 2 

And somebody heard us do that one and said would you audition for this one? 

00:15:58 Speaker 2 

And when all of a sudden this starts to mount? 

00:16:01 Speaker 2 

And you realize that you’re making more money freelancing on the side as an announcer doing commercials than you are as a staff announcer. 

00:16:09 Speaker 2 

You begin to toy with the idea of dropping the staff work so you can make yourself much more available to the freelance people. 

00:16:16 Speaker 2 

And of course your your your fee goes up considerably surely. 

00:16:20 Speaker 1 

Back when you started. 

00:16:22 Speaker 1 

Commercial radio. 

00:16:23 Speaker 1 

Was the announcer the same kind of announcer that you have today in commercial? 

00:16:28 Speaker 2 

I’m not quite sure I feel that I I follow the trend of your thought there. 

00:16:32 Speaker 1 

I’m wondering if he had to have a very, very smooth voice back then, whereas today you can have a personality voice. 

00:16:38 Speaker 2 

There was more of the the smooth voice back then, less the personality. 

00:16:43 Speaker 2 

You’re quite right. 

00:16:43 Speaker 2 

If they wanted a personality in those days, they hired an actor or an actress. 

00:16:49 Speaker 2 

The announcer was. 

00:16:51 Speaker 2 

Obviously supposed to whether he would be deep voiced or the higher voiced, but the the versatility was where you could make the money because you could do the hard sell the soft sell the in between sell. 

00:17:04 Speaker 2 

You had to be able to take direction because sometimes producers and directors. 

00:17:11 Speaker 2 

In trying to tell you what they want, don’t make it particularly clear. 

00:17:15 Speaker 2 

The end result is you might do four or five readings because they’re not too sure what they want, and you might do four or five different readings, and maybe one of them hits him as that’s what he wanted. 

00:17:25 Speaker 2 

But he couldn’t explain that to. 

00:17:27 Speaker 2 

So you you have to be prepared. 

00:17:29 Speaker 2 

I’ve gone in. 

00:17:30 Speaker 2 

I remember one cigar commercial I won in New York. 

00:17:32 Speaker 2 

They were very happy with the audition I went in. 

00:17:36 Speaker 2 

And because the the director and the writer were so unsure of themselves, I had to do 27 takes of a very brief commercial because they they weren’t sure which one they liked, and eventually it ended up they asked me which one I like. 

00:17:51 Speaker 2 

And I thought to myself, my God, they’re paying these men fantastic amounts of money, and they end up asking me as the the announcer, which one of 27 cuts I like for this white owl cigar commercial. 

00:18:03 Speaker 2 

You know, of course, this is New York and the business hasn’t changed a great deal, I don’t think. 

00:18:09 Speaker 2 

There are aspects of it that the announcers today will never know and never see. 

00:18:15 Speaker 2 

The early days have gone. 

00:18:17 Speaker 2 

God bless them and they were a challenge and a lot of fun, but there are are young men and women today in the certainly in the announcing end of things, who can only read about what it was like in those days. 

00:18:29 Speaker 2 

I think it is. 

00:18:30 Speaker 2 

Become bottom line a radio bottom line broadcasting is where it’s at today costs and. 

00:18:39 Speaker 2 

Keeping keeping track of the accountants and what goes in the book and what goes out have tended to, I’ll maybe loosen some of the free spirit that was more evident in the earlier days of broadcasting, when people did make money, but it didn’t seem to be the end all and the be all of everyday work. 

00:19:00 Speaker 2 

I mean that that that’s a personal reaction that maybe, maybe completely fallacious, but it’s worth my I I felt I’d like to get that across. 

00:19:09 Speaker 1 

This has been an interview with Don Cameron recorded in Toronto in April 1988.