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This interview is with Greg Barnsley, a veteran on air personality at CQC Television in Saskatoon. While he’s been public service director for many years as well, he’s been the main stay of the supper weather right from the very first day the station went on the air in 1954 and since then he’s been the resident meteorologist at CF QC. He was born in 1933.
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In Saskatchewan, he received his basic education here, then went on to Ryerson for specialized training and broadcasting for three years Prior to joining CF QC Radio in 1953. That was just a little over a year before television began its operations.
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Do you recall if there was anything which fired your interest in getting involved in broadcasting a way back when?
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I think when one is young, one figures there are a number of things you’d like to do, be a football player, be a school teacher.
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And one ends up doing things in high school, like public speaking and so on.
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And so that seemed to be what I could do the best.
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And since I didn’t make the Saskatchewan.
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Roughriders and I didn’t become a teacher almost until 50 years later.
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I I wanted to be a radio announcer, so that’s how it was.
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Well, now, what were the circumstances that that prepared you for getting into broadcasting?
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I wrote to Ryerson when I.
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Found out from our.
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Teachers that that was the place in Canada to become an announcer.
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And they said you’ve.
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Got to have an audition to see if you’re any good and if you’ve got some potential.
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So I came to see how QC and Harry Decker did an audition and we recorded it and sent it off and they said, oh, yeah, we’ll take this guy in our class.
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So I dutifully went off to Ryerson with my one trunk and my one suit and my two shirts.
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On the train, which took 2 1/2 days and it was very cold and I was one of the few Westerners there, and that’s how it started.
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Toronto was a bit busy and dirty in those times and I’m Prairie boy.
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I wanted to feel useful at home, so I got a job with two stations.
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As a matter of fact, with our competitors and where I am today, very wisely chose this one.
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How was the station programming?
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Radio let’s talk with radio because I started in radio, radio was mostly programmed by the Dominion Network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
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You know what I mean?
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So they had reserved time the Bob hopes were still there.
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The great radio shows were still running and then we ran record shows between them.
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And programming in those days was a program so that if you listened to 2:15 every afternoon, you got Charlie coins playing the piano.
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Every day, Monday through Friday, 2:15 to 2:30. So as an announcer, you go and pull out the Charlie Koons and your play Charlie Koons.
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So programming I.
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Think was easier than it is today.
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Tastes are spread out.
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Was it a lot more informal in those days, or do you recall it at the time as being informal?
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And more relaxed.
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I don’t think it was contrary to what some people might think.
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No, I don’t think it was more informal than programming and commercials were important.
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They were listened to by people.
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People commented on them more directly, perhaps than today.
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So there was a great deal of pressure, but certainly the people you worked with and that I still work with, it’s always been informal.
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Subtle changes over the years.
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Getting back to the radio days again, how was the radio station administered?
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Do you recall the structure?
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The structure was very much like any business with Vern Dalen.
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Papa Murphy was here a Murphy and then burned.
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Allen was the.
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Manager Harry Decker was the station manager.
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Roy Curry was chief announcer and like that, so.
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Same as any company.
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Who made-up the staff personnel besides the people you mentioned? Obviously there were staff, there was support staff.
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The engineers, woodlynn Hoskins. Who?
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Our chief engineer, he had Jan Fander, took helping him.
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Jan had just joined us from Holland.
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Jan had been in the in World War Two and was an interesting character.
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The person in himself.
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And those were the engineers in the news department.
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Godfrey Hudson was our news director.
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The man that virtually invented much of how local news is done in Canada and had won awards in those times for his work.
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Les Edwards was in the news department with him.
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People that would go on to be news director and be known in this area for their excellence of news approach and Papa Murphy left them very independent and was very proud.
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So the news department was virtually sacrosanct, and that’s good and right.
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And that tradition has carried on.
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And I think other stations learned from it.
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I think other stations had smaller news departments.
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We probably had 12 people in there, even in radio days and they would go out and do.
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A full blown job of everything.
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ABA sweet television. Stand up story, stand up.
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Other people, all the announcers or I.
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I was lucky enough to work with the best, I think of the old announcers and in a way, the best of the new wave of announcers.
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The older fellows like Will Gilbey you at a voice that still would shake the Earth.
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Harry Decker, Roy Curry, excellent technical announcers.
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And still are at this time.
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You know, one of them still in the business.
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Cornell Sawchuck, one of the new guys, Bill Hicks, Ian Bickle, Bill London, Laura Korchin were all along with myself, sort of the new announcers, and we had the best help from these older guys and I bless them for it.
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I was the youngest guy at the time.
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I was just a little over 19.
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And you know how to Ryerson and what I didn’t know about announcing didn’t need to be known.
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But I very rapidly found out that Harry Decker and Wilf Gilby, and and these people knew they’re announcing by darn.
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And they still do.
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And there was also a gentleman called Bill Hicks, who would who would correct if you?
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Were wrong, dear bill, funny fellow.
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That was part of the fun of being young and answer he talk in your ear so that you would have your microphone here and you’d be pitching away for Clark’s fabulous rug room where Bill would mutter just loud enough for me to hear it.
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And not for.
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The microphone which was there, don’t say that, Greg.
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The mass of mooses or some such silly thing that would would throw you, but it never threw me too often.
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But it was good training to not be thrown.
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Maggie Morrison, I’m sorry. We should have mentioned Maggie because she was one of the first women reporters. I mean, we’re talking 1953.
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She did everything and news and feature reports, which were we ran in with with other programs. Oh yeah, and still in the business. I believe in 1989.
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In those days, obviously a lot was being done, but what sort of equipment were you working with and what sort of problems did you have because of that or did that limit?
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What was done?
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No, we we had no limitations, Dale.
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Yeah, we had lots of turntables.
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We had lots of microphones, mobiles and remotes required.
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Fairly large tape recorders.
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The old Magna cards.
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You get 2 suitcases.
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Yay by yay by.
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To attach to a telephone line, but we did whatever was needed.
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We were never limited.
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I don’t think that anybody ever looks at limitations.
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You look at ideas and how to express them and we were never limited that I recall.
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We even had a wire recorder and there aren’t many people who ever worked with wire recorders.
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I didn’t like it because it was too hard to find a spot on it again, but we still had one.
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I wonder if you can think back to the time and the feeling you had when you first heard that a TV licence was a possibility.
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Yeah, I I was quite excited.
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I was very excited because that was my intention in coming.
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To get hired by the radio station and when television came to move on over because at Ryerson we had a couple of old TK 11 field cameras by RCA and I wanted to be in television, I didn’t what I wanted to do in it, but I wanted to be in it.
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So I arranged to transfer, but I wasn’t the first.
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There were other people.
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Transferred ahead of me, they hired John Lumby, Nick Seminoff, Ted Bissland as an announcer before me.
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Cornell Sawchuck went over to television, and then I went over, went over next to join them.
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So there were very few of us.
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In those first few months who work fun.
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You were actually employed there by the television side at the time you went.
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On the air, yes.
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Before we went on the Air, Dale by a number of months.
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Those months we used under the tutelage of Spike Romano, our first manager, Walter Romanou, as he’s known in formal circles.
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But Spike as his parachute friends come, and as I call.
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Trained us all in the arts he wanted, which were stagecraft building sets, painting them.
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Because of black and white television, where texture was very important.
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So we used to invent constant ways to put texture on a flat with sponges or paintbrushes, or your left ear, or an old pair of socks.
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Whatever worked, and we rehearsed the programs that he’d envisioned.
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We did newscasts, we did sportscasts we did weather we did commercials as the equipment was being built by Lynn Hoskins and his people, so that we were ready to go when we were supposed to go on the air.
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We didn’t go.
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So we just used that time to rehearse.
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Additionally, and we felt pretty confident about going on, we were well, confidence is the best word, but not overconfident.
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But we we knew what we’re up against.
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We’re almost bored with rehearsing.
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In fact, we were bored with rehearsing.
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We want to get at it, you know, get on the air.
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And then when you did get on the air, was it like you thought it would be or was it something totally beyond what you could imagine?
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I think it was totally beyond what we could imagine.
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It was very exciting.
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You got direct feedback from the audience.
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You knew you were doing something new.
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It felt good and short.
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It felt good, and all of us felt useful.
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That’s why I’ve stayed in the business all these years.
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You always feel useful that you’re doing something that people want or need, or at least they can hear it or reject it.
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But at least it’s.
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It’s reasonably important.
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That may be part of an answer that I was hoping to get from you, and right now, because my question was going to be the pioneering spirit that existed in those very early days, can you, can you recall as sort of the atmosphere there was beyond what you already said?
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I think it’s hard to put into words.
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It was just exciting.
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There was a certain amount of tension, but not much, mostly excitement.
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But we were so well prepared that it just kind of happened.
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So when you got on the air, it wasn’t what we thought it was going to be.
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If if you get any of that from what I’ve said.
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It was exciting.
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People were interested in it.
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You talked to them directly on the street and they’d say we liked that.
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We didn’t like that, and so the things they liked, we would do more of things they didn’t like, we’d we’d drop her.
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That’s all I can.
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Say, and you suddenly had to learn.
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I suppose that no longer were you anonymous.
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Yeah, that’s that’s been a bit of a bother.
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That’s the only bother there’s been to the whole thing is the loss of of privacy, which you know as an announcer and any of you that are announcers, you lose some of your privacy.
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And I understand what our.
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Native and other indigenous peoples feel about people taking your picture that you take something away.
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I now understand that, you know, I’m a little on the hefty side, so you can’t go.
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To a, perhaps a public swimming pool as easily as somebody else.
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I mean, of course you can go.
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And of course I go.
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But people stare and say how how’s that?
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What about that?
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What about this?
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But that’s all we live with.
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I think you’ve talked earlier about television commercials that were done live in the studio.
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I wonder if there are any antidotes that you could think of that would be related to to the type kind of television commercials that were done spontaneously.
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Ohh sure, lots of them.
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We had a fridge in our studio kitchen.
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One of our cameramen, who shall remain unnamed.
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Oh fooey Murph clouston.
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I had a half a dozen beer in the thing and Papa Murphy was dead set against liquor in the building.
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Nobody was going to consume it, but he’d parked it in the studio fridge.
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The studio fridge had to be used for a live commercial which had escaped everybody’s attention somewhere along the line, including the announcer who was supposed to be rehearsing.
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But you didn’t always rehearse.
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So he opened the fridge door and there at camera height was the beer.
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Everybody realized that the cameraman and the announcer he started ad libbing and saying and you’ll find that over in this part of your footage, taking the camera away from the beer to something else that worked good.
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Another one that happened on me that was terrifying for a few seconds. Sunday night 11:15 Saskatoon Motor products selling.
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Used grain truck with a lift box hoist.
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If I’ve described it correctly.
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Anyway in the rehearsal the thing worked fine for me, but when I got on the air I said and it’s very simple and convenient and I grabbed the handle and pulled it down.
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You know the arm with a little row.
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Green box didn’t go up and I just gave her another jerk while I started ad libbing about something else, and I gave her the third jerk and I decided this thing is not going to lift.
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What am I going to do?
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So I’m thinking, and I finally came upon a saving line, I said, but this city announcer can’t make it work.
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But you farmers all will be able to and.
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I’d saved it.
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There were there.
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Were lots of lots of others too.
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We had a cameraman who would normally half go to sleep when he was in on a close up.
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You got a studio card beside you, one camera show, pull off the studio card.
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Well, he didn’t, and I kept babbling away and I decided, OK, I’ll fix this.
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I’ll put my foot in the front of the camera pedestal, which was like, 2 feet away.
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Give it a shove.
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And I said as he pulls back and give it a kick and he woke up and focused and that worked fine.
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Been a few of those MJ Caldwell were interviewing him and a light fell crashed about four feet from the great old man and all of us jumped about this high off the ground.
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I thought we got a heart attack here for sure and certain, but he was reasonably cool, just kept on and going.
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Things like that happened.