TV

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Broadcast MUSE

Winnipeg's CTV station marks 50 years on the air Friday and three longtime employees take time to reminisce about the fun-filled good, old days and the businesslike, uncertain new ones

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It's a milestone to be recognized. Reflection and reminiscence are most definitely in order.

But "celebration" seems too strong a term for what staff at CTV Winnipeg will experience this Friday when the local station marks the 50th anniversary of its on-air launch.

"I'd say it's cause for celebration because we're still here after 50 years," post-production editor Phil Rogers said earlier this week when asked to describe the mood at CTV, which took to the airwaves as CJAY-TV on Nov. 12, 1960. "That's pretty good for a media outlet in this day and age."

Rogers, a full-time employee at the station for more than 39 years, joined nightly-newscast director Tannis Trenaman (25 years) and local-TV icon Sylvia Kuzyk (36 years) for a casual conversation with the Free Press about CJAY/CKY/CTV's five decades as a local broadcast outlet.

The discussion was filled with heartfelt memories, funny stories and a bit of cold, hard realism about the state of CTV Winnipeg in 2010 and beyond.

"The company has weathered many storms in 50 years," said Rogers, who was part of the studio crew on many of the station's most memorable local shows, from Today's World with Ray Torgrud to Archie and His Friends to S'kiddle Bits. "I think the way we are now is the way it'll stay for quite a few years. I can't see it going back to what it was, in terms of local production and all that. This is what it is."

Indeed, CTV Winnipeg's ownership and management was front and centre during last year's public-relations battle over cable-fee payments and the future of local television. CTV, Global and CBC took the position that the financial model for broadcast television is unsustainable and that without a cut of the revenue cable companies collect for distributing their signals, local television could become a casualty.

But that's now, and we're talking about then.

In its early days, CJAY -- which would become part of the fledgling CTV network in the fall of 1961 -- produced a wealth of local programs and made stars of its on-air talent, including Stewart McPherson, Bud Sherman, "Cactus" Jack Wells, Al Johnson, Bob Burns, Peter Parker and others.

 

In 1965, staffer Bob Swarts used his ventriloquism talents to launch the iconic kids' show Archie and His Friends, which lasted (in its later years, under the title Funtown) for more than two decades, making "Uncle" Bob and his cast of puppet creations -- including Archie, Petite, Marvin Mouse and a half-dozen others -- some of CJAY/CKY's most beloved personalities.

Sylvia Kuzyk joined the station in 1974 as the supper-hour newscast's "weather gal," quickly becoming a favourite in the community and remaining with CTV through its next three-plus decades.

"There's no question it's a reflective time," Kuzyk said of Friday's milestone. "I'm reminded all the time, because the 50th anniversary is so public -- there's been a big celebration and a public open house; people are constantly coming up to me and talking about their recollections about when the station started (in 1960) and when I started (in 1974), and their memories of the station.

"It's amazing how many loyal fans we have, and you can't help but reflect on all the changes and how far we've all come."

In 1973, the station's call letters were changed to CKY, in an effort to align its identity with its owners' radio-station holding. In 2001, CTV purchased the station from Moffat Communications and changed the name a second time, to CTV Winnipeg.

The spring of 2006 saw the station move from its longtime home at Polo Park to its current location downtown, where its local-production component has been pared down to not much more than its daily newscasts.

"I think what's happened is that a higher-quality product has to be delivered with fewer people," said Rogers. "I think that's generally true wherever you look in the world right now. It's very true in this building; they've cut it back to skin and bones, less people doing more things."

According to Trenaman, working on the local newscast is much different today than when she started at the station a quarter of a century ago.

"Just like the rest of the world, computers have revolutionized the way we do news and the way we do television generally," she said. "What used to take hours and three or four people to do now takes only the touch of a button. Everybody in the newsroom is connected by computers -- there's no more running down the hallway with a tape like in Broadcast News. And because of that, perhaps there isn't the sense of urgency and rushing around to get things done, because you can do it by computer.

"That being said, computers have made things easier in a lot of ways, but you still need creative people behind them to find the stories and write the stories."

The history of early television, including here in Winnipeg, is filled with tales of larger-than-life personalities and outrageous behind-the-scenes pranks and misbehaviour. Rogers said he's glad he was part of that generation, because TV is a much more matter-of-fact business these days.

"Those of us who have been around for a while often say that we're glad we were in the industry when it was still fun," he explained. "It has become pretty formulaic -- we do news, and that's about it; there's not a lot of room to goof around. But give us a live kids' show like Archie and His Friends -- that was our playground; we could have a lot of fun doing something like that.

"I think that (fun) disappeared with the end of those local shows, and cutting back on the number of employees and the amount of local production. The good times kind of dried up with the end of those productions."

Still, there remains a note of optimism in these Winnipeg TV veterans' outlook. Even as the Internet makes all local television a globally accessible affair, there's an increased focus on telling stories that resonate with the community the station serves.

"I think the delivery systems have changed, but ultimately, the content is still being generated by the local newsroom and local reporters," said Trenaman. "And that connection, whether you're watching it on TV or on your computer, will always be there."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2010 D1

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