Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Conversation with Ted Woloshyn

It was late December 2,010 when I get a call from broadcaster Ted Woloshyn inviting me to bring some of my “singing divas” to his Saturday radio show at NewsTalk 1010, and serve up a bit of holiday cheer. I corralled five singers – the young women from Real Divas and blues singer Shakura S’Aida. At the time, Ted was filling out four-hours of magazine style radio. Through the afternoon we shared plenty laughs and discovered an easy bond between the two of us. A month later Ted calls and asks me to write a theme song for him. That I did – “King City Stomp” – which has endured the past six years. A few additional conversations and I’m music director for Saturday’s with Ted.

Roll ahead to 2017 and Saturday’s with Ted is solidly into year seven, and NewsTalk, soaring in the ratings game.

It’s been a grand ride sitting a few feet away from one of Canada’s broadcasting icons. This has been my doctoral in radio. In some ways, we are like the Odd Couple – a lefty and a righty politically; absent partisan anger. In fact, much has changed since those first car rides to CFRB at St. Clair and Yonge. Ted has stopped hammering ex- premier Dalton McGuinty and former mayor David Miller! In fact, very little politics, and more human interest stories – that up-lifting stuff; fine foods, great music, and positive vibes.

The past years with Ted we have witnessed some compelling stories. The death and memorial service of much beloved political progressive, Jack Layton, the untimely deaths of pop icons Michael Jackson and Prince. The bizarre reign of the Ford brothers – the allegations, investigations, and passing of former mayor, Rob Ford. Ted through it all has been the consummate professional. A Charlie Rose as opposed to Rush Limbaugh.

I’m forever indebted to station head Mike Bendixen and Ted for the half-hour music segment sponsored by Slaight Music – one of a kind in main-stream radio. That’s 300 plus guests, with multiple visits from singer/songwriter Marc Jordan, and Amy Sky, Sylvia Tyson, Ian Thomas, The Lemon Bucket Orchestra, jazz great Roberta Gambarini sings Willie Nelson. Country singer Iris Dement sings the theme from the Cohen Brother film, True Grit. Cuban jazz icon Arturo Sandoval blows jazz trumpet in a taxi; walks off the street straight on air. Local guitarist Donna Grantis drops by for a chat and learns a week or so later Prince and company caught a video of her on YouTube and fly her to Minneapolis. She scores the guitar position next to the great one in 3rdeyegirl. And who the hell gets to play improvised piano selections live on the air, anywhere? Big thanks to Roland Canada for keeping 1010 keyboard friendly.

Saturdays begin early. Ted first dials me when in my territory; the pick-up and a bit of conversation. Honestly, who would do this week after week for six years? Ted! That’s the kind of kind-hearted, honest, thoughtful, humble, and generous soul he is. I get to hear what’s on his mind and a preview of what to expect on the show and am reminded the Green Bay Packers are his team – Aaron Rodgers his quarterback.

Occasionally, we drop by Tom’s Place in Kensington Market, one of Ted’s long-running sponsors, and that’s when you realize the man is the “reluctant celebrity”. Folks line-up to engage Ted and tell him of a devoted family member who has followed him throughout his career and his charitable efforts; possibly a celebrated sports figure, a councilman, or the mayor himself; John Tory. Big respect!

It’s taken a few years to get Ted to say something. I was fortunate to corner him this week. Here’s a bit of that conversation.

Bio facts about Ted Woloshyn. (born December 1953) is a Toronto broadcaster. He hosted The Ted Woloshyn Show, mornings from 5:30 to 8:30 on CFRB-AM in Toronto, Ontario, Canada from 3 November 1996 until 15 December 2006. He currently hosts Saturdays with Ted from 12 to 3 pm on Newstalk1010. He previously worked for Toronto-area stations CFNY-FM, CILQ-FM and CKFM-FM. Woloshyn currently lives in Mississauga, Ontario.

Ted started his radio career in 1974 at CHIC in Brampton. He moved on to work in Peterborough, Montreal, Hamilton, and finally, Toronto. Ted began hosting the CFRB morning show in November 1996, following in the footsteps of the legendary Wally Crouter.

As of September 2016, Woloshyn writes an opinion column in the Toronto Sun Woloshyn hosted Saturday with Ted Woloshyn on NewsTalk 1010 (CFRB-AM) from 2010 and on.

What troubles you the most with the way news is disseminated today?
That depends on who or where it’s coming from.  I think our national broadcasters do a terrific job, whereas at times, some broadcasters are not in full understanding of their stories or their roles and they lack depth. What some people believe should lead a newscast makes me shake my head. The answer could be, you get what you pay for.

How would you describe the Ted Woloshyn Show?
It’s like a weekend newspaper…or what they used to be like; with a combination of news, current affairs, entertainment, food, and some opinion delivered I think in a comfortable style.  But then again, I don’t listen to it, so what do I know.

Have you always had an interest in far-reaching topics?
Yeah, I think so, certainly more so since I started working in talk radio. I’m often amazed at filmmakers who produce documentaries on topics I would never have considered and find them to be fascinating. I think the real trick for me is not so much in finding those far-reaching topics but turning them into compelling radio.

You’ve also tempered your on-air commentaries on political figures you see making a mess out of government. Is the pull-back more to do with accepting there are things beyond your influence and a change in the direction towards advocacy; with a smile and diplomatic touch.
I think that by the time my show rolls around on Saturday those who deserve to be dumped on have been. I don’t think I’ve ever hidden my dislike for what Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne have done to this province.  But, it does get to a point where the audience says, “Ok I got it now, move one.” Diplomacy, I’ll agree on.  Smiling at Wynne not so much. But I’ve probably mellowed.

What is the first section of the newspaper you read in the morning?
I start from page one, unless I’m looking for a specific story or if it’s available the fashion section.

You are a huge sports fan. When your team loses, do you take it to heart?
I used to but not anymore. Now, I take it to my wallet.

Life is complicated and you are always thinking. Are there moments you wish you could shut it all down and sit by yourself on a beach with a beer and a book?
Yeah, an I’m glad for that because if I didn’t I’d probably be living a boring life. And yes, a beach, and a beer and a book work for me. But not necessarily by myself, because then I would get bored.

If so, what would you be reading?
Biographies, mostly because I find people fascinating. How they plan, how they deal with adversity and how they engage with others.

You are strong ties with Toronto’s Ukrainian community and enjoy conversing with those who drop by your show of the same heritage. Are you terrified of the damage the Russians are doing in that area of the world? The Russians interfered in the recent U.S. election – there is evidence they are doing the same in upcoming elections in Germany and France. Do you have a theory what the end game may be for them?
Vladimir Putin is a frightening man with one main goal and that is to reunite the Soviet Union.  Part of that plan includes destabilizing other nations, creating chaos as he did with the Presidential election and as you mentioned, the upcoming elections in Europe. People need to pay attention to him because I think he’s capable of anything. I truly believe he is without a conscience or a soul.

Working next to you the past six plus years, one thing amongst many things that stick with me is your insistence on fact checking. No item should air unless vetted beforehand. Have you always been this principled?
Not in high school, but talk radio audiences contain many a stickler for facts and seem to be waiting for you to screw up and the idea of looking like a complete idiot, is not one I cherish.

When you first entered radio, what was your ambition?
At first, to work in top forty-radio at CHUM.  I never made it there but the old CHUM sign hangs outside our studio, so I guess I came close.

Comedy and you have a lifelong relationship. You have spoken many times you preferred the Johnny Carson style of late-night hosting to that of the politically partisan voices. In this current climate, have you views changed?  
Johnny would take on both sides in a measured way but in the last few years’, late night hosts too often sound like they are shills for the Democrats. I realize Trump is magnetic for comics but where were the Obama jokes all those years.  There weren’t any because the Obama’s were often guests.

Who makes you laugh now?
Chris Rock, Louis CK, Jann Arden are a few but there are so many now that are very good.

You have read extensively about the Kennedy’s and in some way or another researched every aspect of JFK’s presidency, from butlers to mistresses. Why the fascination?
I think it’s more of a fascination of all Presidents and the intricacies of the White House. We’re missing that in Canada I believe, not so much in our leaders but our version of the White House is a topic for a home improvement show.

Tom Mihalik of Tom’s Place and you have a long-running friendship. Tom is a sponsor of your show. The Mihalik’s arrived from Hungary in 1956 during after the Hungarian Revolution. Does the history of the region of the world link both families?
To a certain degree, but I think our friendship has many aspects it to it, especially respect for one another.

Both Tom and you are no strangers to charitable causes. You with the Breakfast Club, golfing event, Sports Hall of Fame, organ donor programs. You always make time for the least vulnerable. Has service to others always been a motivating factor in your life?  
Yes, and I think that anyone who has the great opportunity to be on the radio needs to utilize that opportunity to help others. I think it’s the responsibility of everyone who sits behind a microphone.  It doesn’t matter what the cause may be.

You’ve interviewed the greatest names in sports. Your favourite or best interviews? Red Kelly, Cito Gaston - Don Rickles was a lot nicer than you may think. Dozens and dozens of musicians.  But, I can’t say I have a favourite. I do however have moments in my career that will stay vivid in my mind; like the attacks on the World Trade Centre

I was on the air when the first tower was hit and for weeks after I spoke to witnesses, first responders and one man who was in a group who were split on their decision to leave or take the stairs to the lower level. He left and on his way down heard a man yell from under rubble.  He pulled him out and helped him down to ground level. He was totally beside himself in tears as he told me the story and then went on to say that he and the man he saved had become close friends.

On the first anniversary of the attacks a number of shows were broadcast from New York including the morning show.  We stood outside the Carnegie Deli talking to people on the street about how the last year had been for them. The sun was shining brightly on a beautiful New York morning just as it had been one year ago. Afterward, Mike Bendixen my producer at the time and I went to the Verizon building with its broken windows and twisted metal frame staring out over Ground Zero.  CBS, with whom we were affiliated had taken the second floor and set up a broadcast row for their affiliates, including CFRB along with a main set for Dan Rather and various anchors.  It was surreal to say the least.

I’ve been there when a George Chuvalo, a Sandy Hawley, the late sports broadcaster Bill Stephenson, Cito Gaston, - great baseball, football, boxing, horse racing figures recognize you in a room and they make a point of coming over for the big hug and “how’s Teddy” doing. How does that make you feel?
Very special and honoured to be honest.

You inherited the most difficult job in radio – morning man at CFRB in 1996 replacing icon Wally Crouter, who sat in the seat a good fifty years. You held on for ten. Any regrets?
I’ve always said I didn’t replace Wally, because no one could replace him. I simply followed and it was the greatest honour I could have ever imagined, and he was such a great supporter, as was Bill Stephenson. I’m very appreciative to the Slaight family for the opportunity. As for regrets; I don’t have time for regrets.

How would you describe the Ted Woloshyn show and your biggest champion - the relationship between you and program director Mike Bendixen?
Mike’s a very good friend whom I first met when he was an intern and I guess about 20 years old. To see what he has accomplished makes me very happy, but I’m not surprised.  He claims I did him a favour because I pushed for him to be my producer, but honestly, I did it for my own good and the good of the show. I could tell this guy was going to do well. I believe he possesses a great radio mind. And I don’t think that’s a very large club.

With nearly a half century in radio approaching – how would you like to see the years ahead play out for you?
It is literally something I’ve wanted to do since I was about nine years old and playing radio with a Seabreeze turntable and the base of a lamp without a bulb that I pretended was a microphone. I think I’ll always want to have some involvement in radio, it’s a very special place for me.

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