The Voice You Heard—
Meet the Royal Tour commentators who handled, without a hitch, the biggest broadcast job in the history of radio
THERE were millions, perhaps eight millions, of people in Canada who saw the King and Queen go by. Seldom in the world's history has there been such an audience. Never before has there been an undertaking of the kind on so grand a scale as that which brought the King and Queen where all Canada, and the world beyond, might see them.
There were tens and hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, who lined streets and waved flags, and cheered as the Royal Procession went by. But there were other tens of thousands, running into millions, who gained almost as vivid a picture of the moving events without stirring from before their own radio loud-speakers.
People on lonely farms and in lonelier lighthouses, in little red schoolhouses that are almost forgotten, on trap lines and in mines, listened to the broadcasts. In solitary police posts fringing the Arctic Sea, in Eskimo igloo and Indian encampment, in hospital beds and houses of detention. people paused in whatever they were doing, while a king went by.
Men and women and little children, in cities far distant from any Royal progress, in towns and villages on the fringes of the King’s ordered townships, and solitary folk in far distant places, still saw a great sight. That they saw it through other eyes, at the sound of a voice that was. perhaps, new to them, made little difference. They did see the King. And this is the record of the men who told the story so that all might see.
It would lxquite a problem to stage so graphic a picture of epochal events, even if it were just the events of one day and one place. But to tell the story of the broadcast of the visit of the King and Queen, is to tell a story that began on the bridge of a wildly plunging destroyer, out where the St. Lawrence joins the sea; that swept across Canada, pausing here and there to set up instruments among cheering multitudes, and on again to other multitudes, out to the Pacific and back again, and again on the broad Atlantic, watching a graceful liner slip into the distance beyond the last farewell of the beacons on Chebucto Head. A flying visit, if there ever was one. and to the broadcaster a visit crammed with nightmare possibilities of failure. One little slip, one unforeseen happening, and the millions of folk who must see through others’ eyes would have missed that sight.
To have done all this without one major mishap, sets a record indeed for anyone to shoot at. Of course there were minor incidents—plenty of them. One came to R. T. Bowman, who is head of C.B.C.’s Department of Special Events and so had the whole broadcast in hand. It was in Calgary, where Their Majesties were to visit an Indian village. As radio equipment hardly fitted into the picture, the mike was neatly hidden in the tepee of the chief. Peeking through the flap, “Bob” Bowman had just started the running comment on the scene that was to be his part of the show, when the chief’s squaw entered with a wailing papoose who was proclaiming at the top of small Indian lungs that he was anything but comfortable. A microphone is no respecter of persons, and it is just as attentive to a small uncomfortable papoose as it is to a king. It picked up the first frantic wails but, before the second or third wail was out. Bowman had closed his mike and had signalled to an announcer in another part of the village to take over.
Out in Winnipeg, for the formal reception, the announcers had a special stand in front. They had looked it over and everything seemed swell. It was just high enough to give a clear view over the heads of the crowd. But nicely in the middle of the ceremonies there came a spatter of rain. Immediately there appeared a sea of umbrellas, that completely shut out the scene. How was the announcer to know when his lively comments were jamming with Premier Bracken’s words of welcome? Well, if you haven’t eyes you still have ears. Bowman cut his phones in on the program on the main platform. Whenever there was a pause he’d give the announcer a nudge, and that longsuffering individual would burst again into his lively comments until a sudden kick on the shins warned him to stop.
At the official luncheon at Victoria, the announcer was perched in a precarious position on a window ledge looking on the banquet hall. There is no mention of how that hungry announcer felt, as he watched the favored guests enjoy their luncheon. But he had enough to keep him busy. There was the little matter of seeing that he didn’t tumble out of his lofty perch. There was the matter of looking in and grasping a few details, and of turning about and addressing his microphone, for there wasn’t much use talking into the window. And there was the ever-present horror that he might be still talking, and miss the cue for the King’s speech. It might have happened very easily, for after the toast to the King, His Majesty sat for maybe five minutes, quietly chatting and smoking a cigarette. That was all right for everyone but the announcer, who had to fill in those minutes and be definitely off the air when the King, without announcement, rose to speak.
Intricate Directing Job
C I CH WERE the minor problems. They needed quick ^ thinking and prompt action, and a sound measure of ingenuity. But there were possibilities of failure that no amount of prompt action or quick thinking could forestall. Just suppose, for instance, that the King was speaking, and suddenly the mike went dead. The radio engineers scared themselves from their sleep with that one for weeks prior to and during the Royal Visit. But just suppose that had happened, how many people would have written demanding the reason why? And consider the possibilities. Wires stretched everywhere for the feet of the crowding multitude to kick about. Wherever it was possible, the C.B.C. protected themselves against this contingency by burying the wires. You can do that with grass, but pavement presents a difficulty, and there were miles of pavement to be crossed by wires.
Microphones, tóo, must be spotted in almost impossible places. Wind and rain presented problems here. Anything might happen. The unexpected was also a disturbing factor. Everything was on a schedule, and, in the main, the schedules were followed religiously. But there were times, when the King and Queen were to talk with disabled veterans and be on again in five minutes, where they just didn’t consider that schedule. And you can’t say, “Hurry up there!" to a king. So the time element was one of the biggest problems, a problem complicated by the fact that there are five different times in Canada. It’s such and such time in Vancouver, and such and such program is on the air; but it is hours later in Toronto. The King is to speak at such an hour, but one thing and another has delayed the procession. It’s later than expected. The program in Vancouver goes gaily on. Suddenly the King rises to speak. Again, you can’t say, “Half a mo’ while we get this thing arranged.” You’ve got to do something and do something quick. That’s the sort of thing that gives the radio engineers a haggard look.
True they prepared for everything in advance, and you might say that behind every announcer that you heard there were five other harried individuals watching to see that nothing interfered. In every case there were duplicate microphone systems, so that if one went dead, the flick of a switch, and the story would go on over an entirely different setup. That meant plenty of equipment. For instance, at the landing at Quebec there were eight separate locations. Each location had separate loops for both English and French announcements and each was completely equipped. Not only that, but each English and French pickup was equipped with a stand-by setup that every expert prayed might not have to be used at all.
Perhaps you wonder how all this was managed so that you listeners in your distant homes could see the picture of the scene. It was done just as you might direct a motion picture. Take that great gathering before the Memorial at Ottawa. How did you get that picture so graphically? There were a dozen microphones in that crowd. Microphones for the speakers; mikes to pick up the cheers; mikes that would relay the band music. Perhaps you noticed press pictures of announcers wearing headphone sets. They are not there, as you might have supposed, for the pleasure the announcer might have in listening to his own voice. As far as he’s concerned he can’t hear that voice at all.. But out in the crowd somewhere is the control board, and behind it are a director and an engineer.
The director is listening intently. He turns to the engineer. “Soften that band.” A moment later he is saying sharply, “Don’t w'alk away from the mike, Bill; talk into it.” And again: “Too much cheers.” You see, the cheers mustn’t drown the band, and the band mustn't drown the cheers, and neither must drown the announcer, if you are to have your living picture of the scene. And if that isn’t an engineering problem, we’d like to know what is.
It was the engineers' show ; all the boys of the announcing staff are quick to say that. If an announcer makes a mistake, people may laugh, but they’ll laugh and forget; but if the engineer slips, and your radio becomes silent, or begins to make strange raucous noises, do they smile and say: “Too bad. The poor fellow must be having some trouble”? They do not. They call down the wrath of all the gods on his defenseless head, and write stinging letters to the station, about their radio license fee and what they get for it.
But you didn’t miss this broadcast, and the real credit for that mighty feat goes to the engineers, so let their names be written into the record. At the head of them is Dr. Augustin Frigon, Assistant General Manager of the C.B.C., in charge of engineering activities. Then there was G. W. Olive, C.B.C.'s chief engineer, whose nose was somewhat more intimately associated with that particular grindstone; and after him again, J. A. Ouimet, head of the Operating Department. He, with his assistant, H. E. S. Hamilton, devised a lot of little tricks and gadgets that made the broadcast as foolproof as possible. And, just to make assurance doubly sure, Mr. Hamilton travelled on the Pilot Train as a last-minute trouble-shooter. Then there were the five regional engineers, each with his own particular headache; N. R. Olding for British Columbia, R. D. Cahoon for the Prairie Provinces, W. C. Little for Ontario, G. E. Serault for Quebec, and J. Carlisle for the Maritimes. These with their assistants are the unsung heroes, the orchestra for the soloists we are about to presentthe voices that breathed o’er Canada.
BUT BEFORE we get to personalities it might be interesting to stop for a moment to consider how these chosen few happened to be chosen, and how they happened to be so glibly perfect in their pronunciations, and such encyclopedias of information on Court procedure, military affairs, and what not.
The C.B.C. had a good deal at stake in this broadcast. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before. The Empire broadcast of only a very few years ago was one of the wonders of the world of broadcasting. But. here, an Empire broadcast was only an incident in the program. Here was a broadcast to run for weeks, under amazing conditions and covering half a continent. There were plenty of chances for a slip-up, and C.B.C. was determined that no one should say that they had slipped because they had played favorites.
So there was a general scurrying around to discover the very best announcers available. Newscasters, literary critics and advertisers who had any experience in radio, were approached. Regional Directors were urged to ferret out others— professors who had talked learnedly on learned subjects, vocalists who fancied their speaking voices, and a scattering of businessmen. Altogether it ran to a rounded total of about a hundred, representing the best material available.
Then there were elimination examinations, one for each region, and held in rather unusual places. In Halifax it was the Nova Scotia Hotel. In Vancouver it was the Vancouver Hotel. In Winnipeg it was the C.B.C. offices that look out on the neighborhood of Main and Portage Avenue. In Toronto it was the Royal York roof. Entrants were asked to be present at such and such an hour. There they faced a microphone, and were asked to do five minutes of running comment on whatever they happened to see in the street below them. It was all very realistic, except that it was a rather limited broadcast, for the words went only to the studio, where they were recorded on a phonograph record.
These record “exams,” duly collected, were sent to Ottawa, quite anonymously. There they were played before a wholly disinterested jury. They were judged not only for the quality of the voice, but also on the ability evidenced by the speaker to visualize a scene vividly and accurately and dramatically.
There is a sort of Horatio Alger touch that comes in just here; for, while none of the contestants were permitted to read their description from a script, there was no prohibition against visiting the locality and getting their own advance view of the setting, so that they could mull it over in their minds, get a clear picture of the background, its associations and its history. Some experienced broadcasters took the whole thing in their stride, came to the location just in time to begin talking. But—and here is where the Alger touch came in—the thoughtful ones spent maybe half an hour letting the scene soak into them, as it were, getting the feel of it. Checking back after the selection had been made, it was discovered that almost all the successful contestants had followed this practice, and all but one of them were C.B.C. announcers.
You see, you may be pretty smart, and have a lively wit and a ready gift of "speech; but you’re not going to think of everything just in the flash of a moment. For instance, here’s a building in Ottawa, say. It’s a good deal like any other building, but it makes for a more colorful picture for us hearers if we are told in passing that seventy-odd years ago a man, prominent in the life of Canada, died on that doorstep, from a Fenian’s bullet. But you have to know these things before you can tell them, and you can’t know them, except by the rarest chance, unless you have done a bit of studying of the scene. So one of the reasons why these broadcasts of the Royal Tour were so successful, was that the announcers had time to familiarize themselves with the various scenes.
No matter how poised you are, or how experienced, something is bound to arise at one time or another, to put you off on the wrong foot. Almost all the announcers admit that their first glimpse of the King and Queen brought an unexpected wave of emotion or excitement that, for a moment or so, at least, put them completely off their stride.
There is the classic example one of the chief broadcasters tells of himself, that will perhaps make this point better than anything else. The day the Empress of Australia was to arrive in Quebec this
announcer was posted on the roof of the landing shed to broadcast the events of the immediate arrival. The great ship was being warped into her pier, coming nearer and nearer, and the words were flowing easily from the announcer's lips. Suddenly. seemingly only a few feet away, as the ship warped into her berth, the bridge of the Australia appeared, and standing there, the Queen. As gracious and unassuming at her first appearance in Canada as she was at her last, the Queen noticed the announcer and his assistant, and smiled and waved her hand. It was the big moment of the broadcast, but did the announcer mention it? He did not. His throat filled up. He was speechless. When the wave of emotion passed the biggest moment was over. And most of the boys could tell you things like that.
Weeks and months before the King and Queen’s arrival, plans were being laid for these broadcasts. A staff of about eighty persons, announcers, detail men, engineers, were working steadily to see that no slip-up occurred. Duplicate circuits, stand-by battery supplies, even to dry batteries, in case the regular electrical supply should fail. Locations were being selected, announcers allocated and trained.
Royal Visit Formalities
ONCE CHOSEN, the announcers still had plenty to do. There were a lot of places where embarrassing slips might occur. Matters of Court procedure, matters of military terms and names of regiments, matters of unfamiliar English names. The C.B.C. took no chances. The chosen announcers were called to Ottawa, there to be schooled in all possible difficulties and contingencies.
Now anybody might have been pardoned for giving every letter of Lady Nunburnholme’s name its full value, as is our Canadian way, but in England they make one mouthful of the “holme,” reducing it to a discreet “h’m.” It was that sort of thing the announcer had to know. So E. L. Bushnell, General Supervisor of Programs, under whose immediate direction all broadcasts of the Royal Tour fell, and W. H. Brodie, who has the tricky job of coach to the announcers, put them through their paces. When they could think of nothing further, Captain H. D. Walker, of the Black Watch, and Lieutenant R. Scott, R.N., aides-de-camp to the Governor-General, were called in to discuss naval and military matters, explain technical terms, and to outline the formalities associated with the Royal visit.
And so the thirteen picked announcers emerge, not as voices, but as the individuals they are. They are a youngish lot. Their average age is in the very early thirties. The head of them. Director of C.B.C.’s Department of Special Events, and chief commentator, is a gentleman who will this year celebrate his twenty-ninth summer. R. T. Bowman, better known as “Bob.” who hailed from Prescott, Ontario, and went from there to Ashbury School, Ottawa, is still near enough to his college days to wear his McGill blazer in his office on Church Street, Toronto.
His first break was into newspaper work—the McGill Daily, Canadian Press, the Hamilton Herald, the Ottawa Citizen. That took him into radio, or rather, he combined the two, as he has been doing ever since, when he went to B.B.C. as editor of the Empire News Service. That got him producing and announcing outside events. He covered the Olympic Games in Germany in 1936, became England’s bestknown hockey broadcaster, and took time to write a book of his experiences.
Bowman joined the Production Department of C.B.C. in 1936, and, a few months later, was made Director of Special Events. He is pretty well known in Canada and the United States and England wherever sport and radio meet. On his young and singularly sturdy shoulders fell a good part of the weight of these broadcast arrangements.
Next in line is Bowman’s assistant, T. O. Wiklund. He is only a year or two older—thirty-one, to be exact—and he has been just two years with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Born in Peterborough, and though he spent part of his early years in St. Catharines, much of his radio experience has been gained in the United States. He came to C.B.C. after several years spent with CKOC, Hamilton.
Wiklund didn’t start out to enter radio. He began as a chemist and from there drifted into display designing. He was doing so well that it seemed as if it would be foolish to try anything else. But Wiklund is a man of many enthusiasms. One of them was the violin. It was the violin that got him into radio, and chance that got him into announcing. He and his fiddle were at a religious rally in a Syracuse theatre. I le was supjxjsed to be only part of the music back stage. But it just so happened that the announcer assigned to the rally overslept or something. Anyway, his absence wasn’t noticed until it became very noticeable indeed. What to do?
At this juncture up steps Wiklund and his fiddle. Official eyes look askance. Fiddlers, they seemed to say, had best stick to their fiddling. But Wiklund, with the courage born of knowing very little about it, announced that he could announce. There being no other applicants, he got the job, which included, he later discovered, introducing a famous Japanese speaker to an audience of 5,000 people. He must have satisfied himself, at least, for he has been broadcasting ever since.
Those two, Bowman and Wiklund, headed the two teams of announcers that leapfrogged across a continent and back. There wasn’t any chance of following the Royal schedule, and of being ready to do a job when you arrived, so the leapfrog method was adopted. It worked this way. While one group, under Wiklund, was in Montreal, Bowman was in Ottawa preparing for the Royal visit there. Wiklund didn’t touch Ottawa, but jumped to Toronto. Bowman in turn dodged Toronto and came to earth at Port Arthur and Winnipeg, and so it went across the continent and back. By this system each team of broadcasters had a couple of days to get their breath, and a chance to look over the ground, to plan their talks, as far as might be, and to arrange minor details.
DDWARD ‘TED’’ BRIGGS is an ■*-' inlander who loves the sea. Of English extraction, he attended preparatory school at Clifton. England, returning to Canada to enter Upper Canada College. The trip to England must have done it. for after leaving Upper Canada, he became a cadet in His Majesty's Schoolship Conway. He went from there to a year as midshipman in the Royal Navy, followed by four years with the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, in whose employ he had a look at many parts of the world. Momentarily discouraged with the sea, he became a construction engineer, did a bit in the advertising business, and spent a while in the Athletic Department of the University of Toronto.
In the fall of 1938 he joined the C.B.C. and was appointed to the Halifax studio. Naturally when it became urgent to find someone who could do a bit of announcing from the tossing bridge of a destroyer, without being sick at a critical moment, the lot fell on Ted Briggs. So it was his voice that you heard, broadcasting from H.M.C.S. Saguenay the story of Canada's first contact with the King and Queen, and of the long trip up the ancient St. Lawrence highway. It was his voice also that you heard telling the story of Their Majesties’ departure. The sound of
rushing waters died away, and there came the voice of Frank Willis reading Duncan Campbell Scott's lovely message of farewell.
If you were listening to the French broadcasts, then you probably heard J. J. Fernand Leclerc, or Rooney Pelletier. Both are bilingual, each dropping into English as readily as into French. Montreal is Leclerc’s native city, and he is associated with the Montreal studio of the C.B.C. He slipped away for a while for an experiment with private stations, but was back again in 1937. He is an enthusiastic sportsman, and is an ardent collector of travel books. If some day you miss his pleasant French voice, it will probably be because he is following his great desire to see if the books speak truth.
As you might suspect, Rooney Pelletier is of mixed Irish and French parentage, and he hails from Ottawa. He is a graduate of Ottawa University, with an added degree from Queen’s. He has been teacher, lecturer and newspaperman, and has just returned from a six months stay with
B. B.C., where he has been studying production methods. In 1933 he joined
C. B.C.’s Montreal studio, of which he is program director, was C.B.C.’s representative at the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial, and has been associated with the Empire and Christmas broadcasts. Again, if you lose him. look for him in any theatre where you hear they are employing radio technique in the presentation of the drama.
Gerald “Gerry” Mainwaring Wilmot, despite the Mainwaring, is a born Canadian. He was born in Victoria twenty-five years ago and began his radio career in Vancouver. Later, he jumped to Montreal where he has been active in the Special Events broadcasts of the Davis Cup matches, the arrival of the transatlantic clipper Mercury, and the airexpress flights of Trans-Canada Air Lines. He also broadcast the convocation for President Roosevelt at Queen’s LTniversity last summer.
Youngest member of the announcing teams is William J. O’Reilly, born in Ottawa, 1916. He started in Hull, Quebec, three days after his first audition. For three years he was the only Englishspeaking member of the staff, as well as being announcer and engineer. He joined the C.B.C. in 1937, at the tender age of twenty-one. As a member of the Toronto studio he has been Canadian Press news announcer, also the announcer for the program, “Melodic Strings.” He holds a bit of a record for speed, once having done thirty messages in six minutes in a Northern Messenger broadcast.
John S. Peach is a native of Calgary. He weighs less than 130 pounds, but what he lacks in stature he makes up in personality. He has made quite a reputation for himself as an ad-lib commentator, continuity writer and humorist.
If John Peach is the shortest member of the announcing team. Reid Forsee is
the tallest. He stands six feet five. Ridley College. University of Toronto Schools, and Toronto University, turned out this substantial figure, that went promptly into a brokerage office. You wouldn't suspect that as a jumping-off place for radio, but one day somebody asked him to recommend a man to broadcast stock quotations; he recommended himself, got the job, and went on the air twice daily for almost a year. He remained in radio as a news commentator, commercial announcer and interviewer.
Patrick Freeman is the only outsider among the Royal Tour broadcasters, outsider in that he was on loan to the C.B.C. from station CFAC. Calgary. He is also the only Englishman. When he decided to come to Canada he also decided on Calgary, and he hasn’t changed his mind since. His first position was on the city’s clerical staff, but soon his knowledge of English football got him an assignment to broadcast for CFAC. He’s been there ever since, climbing steadily up the ladder until he is now production manager for the station.
HERBERT “BUD” WALKER is Toronto born, thirty-two years old, and an out-and-out radio man. He started broadcasting in 1930, after a brief career in the insurance business. He has interviewed innumerable notables, but he’d rather interview a horse. That is his great hope, or at least he wants to have a home in the country where he can breed and train horses. This hobby made him a “natural” to announce the King’s Plate and the Royal visit to the Woodbine track in Toronto.
Robert E. M. Anderson was born in North Dakota a matter of twenty-five years ago. He came to Canada in 1926, and while a second-year student at the University of Saskatchewan, he inaugurated a series of University radio programs. He became so interested that he went to the Regina studio and asked for a job of announcing. The manager agreed to give him a chance provided he could supply an acceptable program idea. Not only did he do that, but he wrote, announced and performed as vocalist on his first program. That made him definitely radio minded. In 1936 he was moved to the Maritimes, where he broadcast a sword-fishing expedition, Pictou’s lobster carnivals, and similar Maritime novelties. He was made senior producer at Ottawa in 1938.
John Kannawin entered Western University at London firmly convinced that he was called to be a doctor. Economic reasons qualified that conviction and he ultimately graduated in finance. The violin, singing and glee club work blossomed into acting, and he played leads in “stock” until 1930. About that time he became interested in radio, and was associated with studios at Hamilton, North Bay and Toronto. In 1938 he scooped the world in announcing the fall of the Honeymoon Bridge at Niagara Falls. Going to Winnipeg, he produced the “Ventures in Citizenship” series. John Kannawin was at Sioux Lookout when Their Majesties stopped there, and it was his voice that you heard giving the graphic picture of that northern stop.
There was, of course, a notable group of announcers in the French tongue covering the Quebec network. These included such names as Jacques Desbaillets, L. Francoeur and Gerry Arthur.
The ceremony of Trooping the Color at Ottawa brought a new commentator, G. A. Browne, to listeners; while last but by no means least, the deep resonant voice of Frank Willis, of Halifax, just returned from a study of Australian broadcasting, was welcomed back on the Canadian air on several of these broadcasts.
There, ladies and gentlemen of the radio audience, is the cast of the most amazing dramatic production, of ours or of any time.