Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why is CKCU important?

Paying back what’s owed: my debt to Radio Carleton

Why is CKCU-FM so important to so many people? Why do we continue to contribute to the fundraising campaign year after year, decades after leaving Carleton U? I know it is because we formed lifelong personal and professional friendships working at the station, and we had a lot of fun in those early days. But for me, it was a genuine turning point in my life: I owe any success I have had to my experience at Radio Carleton.

When I first came to Carleton in the fall of 1974, I was returning to university after more than a year working as a waiter. I already had a number of strikes against me: I had eked through CEGEP in Montreal and then dropped out of first year Ottawa U; I was a new father; I was studying for a BA, against my personnel manager father's best advice, as he saw it as a degree with no practical application; and although I aspired to be a journalist, I neither typed nor took shorthand, skills required for journalism school.

But Carleton had one thing few other universities offered: a radio station that welcomed volunteers. Although only carrier current at the time, its leadership also had a dream: to become a legitimate FM broadcaster.

So I walked shyly into Radio Carleton and was welcomed by the then-public affairs director, Chris Henry, asked about my interests (politics and sports) and quickly assigned to a weekly magazine program, Parliament in Review. It was a revelation: I was able to go to Parliament Hill every day and listen to Question Period and join with other professional journalists outside the House of Commons in the daily “scrums.” I had access to Members of Parliament whenever I needed a quote for a documentary or story. And I could apply what I was learning in the classroom to the issues of the day. I undertook documentaries on women in politics and capital punishment, among others.

I became confident in my own knowledge and learned more from the “pros” I rubbed shoulders with each day on the Hill. And working alongside brilliant students of radio like Randy Williams, Rob Braide, Craig Mackie, Andrea Thiel, Jeff Greene, Penny Macrae, Eric Dormer, and so many others, I honed my skills. From time to time, one of the journalism students at CKCU would slip me into a class and I would glean some knowledge from professors like Joe Scanlon and George Frajkor.

In November of 1975, we did get the desired FM license and we were broadcasting to the entire National Capital Region; my learning experience grew, as did my access. I covered the Progressive Conservative convention in February 1976, interviewing all of the candidates as well as former leader John Diefenbaker at his home with colleague Paul Park. I had special access to candidate Brian Mulroney, and was on the floor when Joe Clark was declared the winner. I branched out into sports, attending Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Alouettes and Expos games and doing interviews for the sports program of the time. I even attended the Stanley Cup parties with the “Habs” and Montreal media. That spring, I received the award for best reporter/researcher, and “Parliament in Review” won for best public affairs program. And in the process, I became a much more engaged student.

The next year, I went to Washington DC and reported on Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s meeting with President Jimmy Carter at the White House and his address to a joint session of Congress. I also produced a documentary on the impact of the 1976 Parti Québécois election for “Special Blend.”

When I money for tuition ran short, I decided to take my experience as a reporter and see the country, working in radio and television in Montreal, Quebec City, Calgary, St. John’s, and Corner Brook. This led to opportunities to work on the Quebec referendum campaign, and as assistant to the opposition leaders in Quebec and Newfoundland and finally as a press secretary on Parliament Hill. Then seven years later, I returned to Carleton to complete my degree.

Since then, I have branched out to write articles and op-eds for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald and others. I worked for CBC Radio in Montreal and ran for office, becoming a municipal councilor in the Montreal area. When I went to Geneva in 1995 as the spouse of a diplomat, reading the morning news as a volunteer at the local radio English language station provided me with a profile that led to job opportunities in the UN system, working in Africa, Macedonia and Bangladesh.

In 2000, I returned to Ottawa to study at Carleton and received a Master’s in Journalism with a thesis about the impact of the news media on the United Nations called “Like Moths to a Flame.” And now, thanks to that degree, I have been at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada since 2002.

I often think, “there but for fortune go I,” and know that I might still be waiting on tables if not for the support and encouragement of my colleagues at Radio Carleton. That small community was an island of sanity for me, and I always tell Carleton students looking for a challenge to go to the fifth floor of the University Centre and see if that is where they belong.

My story is one of many: there are uncountable numbers of CKCU-FM “graduates” who have gone on to positions of prestige and responsibility in broadcasting and elsewhere, and that is why we are so loyal to Radio Carleton. As for me, I will never really be ever to repay what it gave me, but my annual contribution is one small way of giving back.

Andrew Caddell, BA ‘86, MJ ‘02, is the global practice lead, forestry at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

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