On May 30—after 3,000 hours of thought-provoking programming—Morningside with Peter Gzowski will broadcast its farewell to CBC-Radio listeners who have followed the show since its debut on Sept. 6, 1982. Recently, the many voices of Morningside shared their memories of Canada’s best-loved radio program with Maclean’s Senior Writer Joe Chidley:
Peter Gzowski, host:
“There was a lovely moment when [Morningside regular] Stuart McLean and I broke into totally uncontrollable giggles. Stuart had been sent out to see what he could buy for under 10 dollars. And his last thing was this little matchbox with a cricket in it—
'You can get a pet for less than 10 bucks.’ And he takes the cricket out and the thing just lies there.
And I said, That cricket’s dead, Stuart.’ And he said,
‘It’s not dead.’ And I said, Well, then, it’s playing the back nine of cricket life.’ And both of us started to giggle. They had to play music because we couldn’t talk. Then we came back on—and started giggling again. It was just a shameful performance. But the only criticism we got was from people who said they’d driven off the road from laughing so hard.
“The best interviews were the ones that surprised me. They’re not [necessarily] the ones with the prime minister or the great author but, rather, people like Elly Danica, a victim of sexual abuse, or a scientist whose work gives him pride. Donna Williams, the autistic woman, was very moving. She talked about the streetlights sparkling pink and the color of each blade of grass. It was quite wonderful.
‘With the show ending, the mail has just been overwhelming. It’s all very nice, and it’s all, What are we gonna do without Morningside?’ But what am I going to do without Morningside? This is a really difficult time for me. I intend to do more radio and maybe some television, and some writing, but right now, it’s just difficult.”
Shelagh Rogers, frequent stand-in for Gzowski and the show’s letters-reader for the past 12 years:
“I first encountered Peter while I was working at [the CBC Toronto show] Metro Morning, when he came to promote his first golf tournament for literacy. When he walked in the door, I felt really small. I went up to him and I said: ‘This is so weird, it’s like Oz coming to Dorothy.’ About a month or two later, I got a call inviting me to do letters on Morningside.
“I think [on Morningside] there were a lot of disasters that were always about to happen. It is such a killer of a job. That’s the fun of
it, too. It’s like jumping from lily pad to lily pad and hoping they’ll all support you. And if you like that kind of gambling, it’s a real blast. But it’s a grind, five days a week, 10 interviews a day. I just wonder how Peter’s done it for 15 years. If he hadn’t been as committed and talented as he is, it wouldn’t have worked. And it did work.”
Dalton Camp, political panelist:
“I always had the lucky watch on the panel, because I was usually here [in New Brunswick] and I was on—live—at 9 o’clock my time. But when [former B.C. premier and panelist in the 1980s] Dave Barrett was on from British Columbia, God knows what time it was. I remember we were all notoriously underpaid. One time we had a meeting in Toronto, and Barrett, who was very plainspoken, complained he only got paid $125 a show. And I said: ‘God, is that all they’re giving you?’ We all got paid the same, of course, but he was paranoid for weeks.”
Larry Scanlan, writer and Morningside producer, 1988-1989:
“I wanted to bring on the program three people who would talk about American Sign Language and the politics of the deaf. Now, when you’re deaf, you have to see both the host, Gzowski, and your interpreter, so the way you set up the people is very, very important. Judy Rebick, who was then the director of special projects at the Canadian Hearing Society, set up the studio in what she thought was the perfect alignment. We did this live—it was crazy when I think about it. Anyway, during a fiveminute news break, we brought in the six people. And suddenly there’s all this commotion—it’s them signing to each other, because they’re panicking, the sight lines are all wrong.
And Judy’s got about three minutes to reorganize. The producers are freaking out. Down to two minutes, one minute, finally we get it settled. And just as the studio door closes behind us, Peter goes into his intro. And it turned out to be just a wonderful piece of radio. So I remember that very fondly because it worked, because it could have been calamitous, and because it was a first.”
Steven Page, lead singer for the Barenaked Ladies:
“[Our interview] was just before we set off on our first national tour in 1991—this was back when we’d pile all our instruments and ourselves into a rented van and go west. And people would come up to us at shows—people from all age groups, grandparents included—and say, ‘Oh, I heard you on Gzowski so I had to make the two-hour drive and come see you.’ At first, you kind of think, well, geez, Morningside is for our parents. But then, as you cross the country, you realize that the show is kind of an anchor to remind you that no matter where you are, you’re still in Canada.’
Stuart McLean, contributing storyteller from 1984 to 1993:
“My segments were much more planned out than people realize— the art was to make them sound completely spontaneous and informal. But I couldn’t afford to have Gzowski ask me a question that would send me off to left field. So his questions to me would be scripted, right? Sometimes I’d write him questions of disbelief, like ‘Oh, come on,’ or ‘Oh, that’s not true,’ or You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ And the funny thing was, I’d get these letters back from listeners, saying Gzowski’s so mean to me.
"But he was really great, you know? Peter's a very good jour nalist: he's got a great memory, and a great mind for story treat ment, for what should be done next and how. He used to write his
openings on this beat-up old typewriter. By the time I came in, there'd be ashes all over it and the ribbon would be torn. I'd change the ribbon, and then I'd always type my bills on that typewriter, too. I figured if it worked for him, it might work for me."
Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow, panelist during a hiatus from politics in 1982:
“There are some people and some institutions who simply become focal points of what it means to be Canadian. And Peter has very admirably developed that persona. He’s a very gentle, compromising in the best sense of the word, accommodating, fair-minded and yet intellectually rigorous guy. Whether it’s the RCMP, or the CBC, or (God bless them) the Montreal Canadiens, or Peter Gzowski—we need these little touchstones. That will be a challenge for Morningside s successor. It will need to develop personalities around which Canadians from sea to sea to sea can say, Yeah, this is Canadian. This is Canada.’ It’s not going to be easy.”
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