Sunday, July 15, 2012

The cartoonist on the radio...

Sounds ridiculous, right? Like mime on the radio. But here's why I bring it up...

A couple of days ago I had a Twitter exchange with Montreal media blogger Steve Faguy. Steve was teasing me about tweeting that I had applied for a radio job, telling me "You'd be the first radio cartoonist." I reminded him I'd already been the resident "radio cartoonist" for many years on CBC Montreal, where I was the comic foil for the funniest broadcaster in the country.

I worked opposite morning show host Dave Bronstetter for a decade.What I did on-air at the CBC went way beyond my traffic reporter job description. Bronstetter is a true wit who tested my ability to ad lib to the utmost every single morning, much to the chagrin of a string of CBC producers and much to the delight of our audience.

I grabbed the papers every day and concocted a daily, unscripted running commentary on whatever was happening in the news and pop culture. I wrote, produced and performed What Happened, a weekly comedy takeoff on the news that was syndicated across the country. What Happened then spawned an online animated cartoon and a book. I was also simultaneously (no, not while I was reporting the traffic) drawing editorial cartoons for, respectively, alt weeklies Hour, then the Mirror.

So, yeah, Steve, I was a radio cartoonist.

But how did I get there? I've always been a writer. I've always been a cartoonist. I became a broadcaster by accident. A happy accident. The whole story was reported last fall on the CBC's 75th anniversary blog.

I drew a caricature of Morningside host Peter Gzowski (above) while listening to the show one day. (The crosshatch style, so different from how I draw today, was inspired by David Levine). I mailed it in on a whim, the CBC bought the art and started using it to promote the program. Eventually I met Gzowski while I was doing a book tour that saw me do a lot of media interviews, largely radio spots. Surprisingly, I discovered I was pretty good in front of a live microphone.

Now fast forward a bit. A year after I served on the jury of the Salon de la Caricature (and that's another story I'll get to some day), I got a call from the Salon's founder, the eminent Robert LaPalme, asking me to attend a news conference where the current prize winners were to be announced. I got there, looked over the prize-winning cartoons and did a string of interviews (as a cartoon "authority"), including one with a well-known CBC writer-broadcaster. After the interview she shut off her tape recorder and said "You should be in radio." I said "How do you do that?" and she gave me a phone number. Two weeks later I was working as a current affairs researcher for CBC Radio. Then I started working on-air doing traffic on the afternoon show. And, after many more twists and turns, ultimately wound up opposite Bronstetter on Daybreak.

Nowadays would anyone take a chance hiring a young person to work in radio whose main credentials were that they could write a bit (I freelanced for small magazines) and draw funny pictures? Probably not, which is a pity. Some of the best broadcasters I've ever met never "studied" broadcasting, they fell into it. Gzowski had been an editor at Maclean's.

Anyway, there I was, a cartoonist on the radio. And, later, radio cartoonist.

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