Me during the broadcast of "Much On Demand" outside in front of the Muchmusic building in Toronto, ON on September 25, 2003.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Toys In The Attic: The Aspirations And Regrets Of A Media Fan And Personality

I don't have a broadcasting degree.

I sort-of took a broadcasting course, the old NIB one, and at night, too (you can roll your eyes now, people), but got so disgusted with the place I never came back after the last official class and never officially graduated.

And the first part of that course was actually during the last few months of Hard Rock Heroes in 1993.

So, on occasion, I find myself wondering for a second of any possible regrets I might have about not taking a full-time broadcasting/journalism course - a real one - at the time most people take such courses, which is in the years directly after high school.

And the answer is always the same - no.

How could I? The world was different back then.

I was a teenager in the '70s. I graduated high school in 1980. On my show Hard Rock Heroes, I was like a Muchmusic VJ. In the '70s and early '80s, there were no such things as music video channels. There weren't even any specialty channels, as they're called in Canada, yet. (I prefer David Letterman's label "cable deal.") Winnipeg/Canadian TV was represented by three channels - affiliates of CBC and CTV and independent CKND - and "cable" was affiliates from North Dakota of U.S. networks CBS, NBC, and ABC. And that's it.

People on TV were very stuffy and intellectual older men in suits like Ray Torgrud, save for the occasional attractive weather girl. Men I couldn't relate to. Men whose words that came out of their mouths still mostly went over my head (Torgrud again), even after two years of Mr. Keddie lectures from his Glenlawn Collegiate history classes.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone even wearing a pair of jeans of television back then, never mind anyone talking about Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, The Hangover (both the movie and real ones) McDonald's Big Macs, or anything that comes out of the mouths of anyone, including hosts, of today's daytime talk shows and reality shows. Even look at just the studio audience of the more women's-oriented shows today like the Marilyn Dennis show or The Talk and compare it with '70s versions of shows like that. The '70s version had an audience that looked like war-torn babas from the Ukraine who had never heard of facial expressions. Marilyn's studio audience is all rocked-up gals in jeans, who no doubt partied until 5:00 a.m. when they were teens in the '80s at alcohol-fueled house parties laced with Van Halen played louder than God when someone's parents were away.

There certainly weren't any entertainment reporters back then, either. And that's about the only thing I would be cut out for in broadcasting. (I'm going to leave radio out of this essay, because I'd kind of be digressing if I discussed radio due to my long-time opinions about rock radio and all the great music they don't play that intertwines with this subject.)

Not only that, but even today, I would be over my head when it came to news reporting. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to the goings-on of the federal, provincial, and civic governments, or the American government. Certainly not the economy. I understand the most basic things, and I know how the parliamentary system works, and how a party's seats won translates to who governs and what majority and minority governments are all about. But a lot of the contents of, say, Tom Brodbeck's Winnipeg Sun column, or the things Marty Gold used to rant about on The Great Canadian Talk Show (and still does on his blog) that involve the inner workings of government and the police are things I just don't have the mental resources to ever come up with, or even comment on, myself.

So there was absolutely nothing that existed in the '70s and early '80s that would have made me aspire to being any kind of on-air personality.

The course I took did do one thing to me, however. Throughout the course, the instructor (if I can use that term) used the word "broadcaster" a lot. Well, yeah, because we're supposed to be there to learn how to be broadcasters. But I didn't get that at first. That's why I started off the eighth paragraph above by saying "people on TV," 'cause I'm trying to paint a picture of me in the '70s there. See, with Hard Rock Heroes, I wanted to promote myself from being just an ordinary concert audience member. It frustrated me that I couldn't go hang out backstage and hobnob with all the celebrities and media types back there. The routine of buy a ticket, watch the show from your seat, maybe buy food and hang out in the concession area checking out girls, socialize with your friends, and leaving the show afterward had started to get old to me. Doesn't matter if I went with friends or by myself. So I thought that, of all us audience members, if I had a forum for it, I could be the guy who COULD go backstage to talk to the band, as long as I had a microphone in my hand and a cameraperson to record it. Then I could air it in my forum, which, as it turned out, manifested itself in the form of being my own TV show called Hard Rock Heroes. I became the guy from that show. But.....a broadcaster? That word never entered my mind. I never thought of the VJs on Muchmusic as broadcasters, either. They were like me: Hot dudes and babes on TV, wearing jeans and talking about music, and awkwardly finding ways around using rock fans' favorite swear words. I spent the Hard Rock Heroes years so wanting to be a Much VJ - sending in tapes, having an in-person interview with Much's Nancy Oliver. My idea of a "broadcaster" was still someone like Lloyd Robertson. Then later, I became interested in the power of television, and tried to use my power, if I had any, to promote local bands.

But, fast forward to the present, and I have become more comfortable with the word "broadcaster." It's grown on me. I'm pushing 50 now, and, while I'm not your parents' 50, I'm way too old to be on Much now. But that's okay. Because, as I illustrated in the paragraph above where I talk about things like Marilyn Dennis' audience, the world has changed. '70s and '80s teens have grown up, but in a different fashion. They've taken their rock albums with them. The MTV/Much casual/rock music attitudes in which now everyone is an overgrown teenager, college degree in something or not, have swept North America. News departments at TV stations have entertainment departments and reporters and segments, and, beginning with Entertainment Tonight in 1981, there are now a slew of TV shows dedicated solely to entertainment reporting. And I love all of them. And I want to be on all of them. I'd love to be a Winnipeg ETalk correspondent for CTV, if there was such a thing. I'm a complete couch potato for those shows, but with the eyes of someone paying attention to who the reporters are and how they do their jobs and everything revolving around "if I was in their shoes in being given this assignment" when I'm watching one of their reports.

So, yeah, I would feel like, if the job was the right one that I could perform, like an entertainment-oriented one, that I would certainly feel comfortable performing it, and calling myself a "broadcaster." If I were in jeans or a suit. And hopefully it's an awards-show type of suit, not the one Lloyd's wearing.

Now the flip side: What I WAS doing in the years after high school.

I actually cover this pretty well in my biography on my Hard Rock Heroes website. In a nutshell: Throughout grades 1 to 12, I pretty much had the same curfew. I did "break through" to see my first rock concerts - Alice Cooper, then Aerosmith/AC/DC - in 1978, but I basically had a sheltered life due to a parent who didn't know how to parent. Good thing I had friends to teach me about life back then. Then I got so busy with homework in grade 12 (all 300 courses) I just did homework all night, every night. I didn't even watch TV. I might spend 1.5 hours figuring out one math problem. Then, through a friend at school, I got a job at McDonald's on St. Anne's Road. The crowd there was totally different than my high school. My classmates were like the guys on The Big Bang Theory. My McDonald's co-workers were all rock and roll partiers and Judas Priest/AC/DC fans. All denim and leather. So were the girls, and they looked like Playboy centerfolds, too. (Too bad it was still the era of jeans, white socks, and white runners for girls, and not today's minidresses and black high heels, but I digress.) The people were different because my classmates were from St. Vital, and my McDonald's co-workers were mostly from Windsor Park and Southdale, the suburbs across the Seine River that I still today refer to as "the party capitals of Winnipeg." So began a good three years of what most people experience during their high school years but I experienced AFTER those years, the ROCK AND ROLL PARTYING YEARS. And there were a lot of parties during those years, including in the McDonald's crew room. In fact, those years and the Hard Rock Heroes years are tied in my mind as being the best years of my life.

So it's kind of hard to regret not going to college - well, actually I did try twice, with other courses, but quit both times, and again, more details are in the "Beau's Biography" section of the Hard Rock Heroes website - when that would have taken the place of the best partying years of my life.

I should acknowledge somewhere in here that, while MTV started in 1981, it didn't seem real as a career aspiration because 1) it was new, and 2) it was American. The odds are too overwhelming against coming up with the idea to do something like Hard Rock Heroes and doing that for three years to use it to springboard to being a VJ on an American music video network. No way in hell can a Canadian with what would still be seen as too-little experience become an MTV VJ. I don't think MTV can convince the U.S. government that they can't find, among 250 million U.S. citizens, someone to be a VJ, causing them to have to hire a Canadian like me. That's the way it works in getting a U.S. job, unless a particular field has shortages, like nursing. Plus we couldn't really see MTV on our Canadian TV screens. Red River College showed MTV in their lounge in 1981 via satellite, and fortunately, I had a friend then who attended that college, so I would drop him off and pick him up all the time, giving myself an hour either before or after to watch MTV in the lounge. So I did see original MTV VJs Nina Blackwood and Mark Goodman. Muchmusic started in 1984, but as Winnipeggers like me residing on the west side of the Red River (I moved from St. Vital to Osborne Village in 1984) that had cable company Videon back then know, Videon could not provide us with Much or TSN until September 1987. In fact, a popular hangout in the '80s for my crowd was the bar at the Marion Hotel, on the east side of the Red River, first because they presented on their huge TV screens in 1981 this new invention called rock videos, then later because they had either Much or TSN on their screens, even though it was just the pictures only due to the DJ music in the bar. I first saw Much VJ Erica Ehm do her thing on the Marion screens, and I remember when we were in the bar early one night, before the DJ started, and we could hear the TV sound, and I was fascinated watching her and hearing the sound of her voice for the first time. When we finally got Much in September 1987, I remember watching her in my living room and being thrilled that I could finally hear what she was saying on a regular basis.

The point being that music video channels, although they started in the '80s, remained on the peripherals of our lives for most of the decade, not really ingraining themselves into our lives, or my life, until the last years of the decade. With the exception of the frustration of reading about the goings-on on MTV in U.S. rock magazines, especially the Headbangers Ball, and not being able to see any of it. (Hey, there's something I should look for on You Tube.)

So here I sit, a former cable access Muchmusic-style-oriented TV show host, having bombarded the appropriate people in my city of Winnipeg with the appropriate materials - and yes, over the years I have done that - in hopes of parlaying my unique broadcasting experience into some kind of full-time paying gig, and receiving little real interest. Well, at least they know me. Both from that and, by now, all my internet stuff.

I am a fan of Red River's CreComm, though. Saw their pamphlets in the early '80s, thought they were too intellectual for me back then or that the course was more for the print journalism or advertising industries, or to teach people how to be Ray Torgrud. Basically, in some form, those may have been a combination of truths and excuses and that I wasn't ready. Now, it seems closer to what I'm interested in, maybe partly because I've grown and matured as a person and can relate to the material more. It's also fun now, with the internet, perusing the blogs online of both the students and instructors and following what avenues students have gone on to. Which students? The ones I saw at one of their yearly Independent Professional Project (IPP) presentations that are open to the public, this one held at the Park Theatre. And heck, the way the world seems to be today, you can't just be a fan of media anymore - if you are, everyone tells you you should be in media, and/or in this course. I'd love to take the course. But I have to work to make a living. I can't work and take a full-time course at the same time. And if I were to take CreComm, I would not want to work anywhere, even part time. I would want to devote my entire life to that course and to the media.

But the elephant in the room for me is - well, besides the fact that Red River College might not accept a 49-year old (this July) man into CreComm - that I don't know whether a course like CreComm, or the Academy Of Broadcasting course, will do any good for me. Maybe TV stations in Winnipeg just "don't want that Hard Rock Heroes guy" regardless of whether I have official broadcasting credentials or not. Maybe I've pigeonholed myself with my Hard Rock Heroes persona. If so, then taking those courses are just a waste of time. All I can do is speculate, because when there's no interest, you don't get anything in the mail as a response. Well, I did get a couple of responses from news directors, but they were short and didn't say much about what they thought about my personal broadcasting experience.

If I won the lottery, then I could quit my job and take CreComm, even if it were just to entertain myself. I'm sure I would just love it. Maybe make some new friends. But that will never happen, because I don't buy lottery tickets.

And that again brings me to: Do I have any regrets over how things have turned out up to this point? And I have to mull it over, think of all the things you have just read, and conclude yet again: "No."

Was I born too soon? Maybe, but I loved growing up when I grew up, so I wouldn't change that, either. The Archies, The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch when I was 7 to 10 years old. Kiss, Happy Days, Welcome Back Kotter, Aerosmith, disco, north Portage Avenue record stores when I was a tween, then a teen. No, man, I wouldn't change a thing.

My being ahead of my time is just the way it turned out.

And life isn't over yet.