Don Jackson, July 2010
Former host of one of Canada's most popular radio shows spanning three decades.
Author, broadcaster, storyteller.
The Golden Age of radio was a stimulus to what I had in mind when I created the original idea for 'Lovers and Other Strangers'. My radio career has spanned over 40 years.
When I was 16, I worked for a small FM radio station in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, that featured block programming in the evenings. One hour was devoted to light classical music, another hour featured show tunes, one hour was devoted to travel and another devoted to comedy. The Program Director at the time had a huge personal collection of old radio shows from a time before television. We have a hard time remembering what life was like before the Internet, let alone TV, but it was during that time that radio was 'golden'.
Families would gather around the huge receiver that was the focal point of many living rooms. In the evenings, after homework was done and the dinner dishes put away, the family would retire to the living room. Mother might do some sewing, father might think back on his workday and the children would prepare to dream with radio shows like 'The Shadow', 'The Jack Benny Show', 'Dragnet' and others. As the tubes inside the set warmed up and the station tuned in, a familiar theme or sound effect would sound the start of that night's episode.
These radio shows were often produced live as were the early TV shows. Some, like the comedies, were aired before a live studio audience. Others emanated from a studio a little larger than the one I did my radio show in. There would be a small orchestra or pipe organ to provide the theme music and a whole host of technicians to produce sound effects. The actors would stand before microphones, scripts in hand, and bring the characters to life with nothing more than words, sound effects and music to augment the mood. The 'pictures' created were only ever in the mind of the listener.
Today, movies like 'Titanic' and 'Avatar' have multi-million dollar budgets for special effects. If what we see on the big screen isn't realistic enough, we leave the theater feeling cheated. In the days of radio serials and dramas, you only had yourself to blame for a poor mental picture.
Every member of the family had a different mental image of the players and each created their own setting. Some of those actors and their roles eventually made it to the silver screen and radio listeners were either pleased or disappointed with their appearance. Some may have preferred the mystery created by radio to the film adaption.
One of the most effective radio programs ever aired was the one that scared an entire country out of its wits: 'The War Of The Worlds' with Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater Company. The program aired on the eve of Hallowe'en night, Sunday October 30th, 1938. It was a radio adaption of the H. G. Wells' classic story. It was presented as 'breaking news' during a so-called 'live' program of dance music. Listeners who tuned in late, the ones who didn't hear the disclaimer at the beginning, believed the Martians had invaded in UFOs and an extraterrestrial war was underway. People rioted, switchboard operators at police stations were flooded with calls. It was pure mayhem. The fallout from the broadcast lingered long after the microphones were turned off, and made Orson Welles a star.
While working on that radio station in Oshawa, we featured old-time radio programs. They were probably one of our most popular evening segments. Being born during the TV age, I missed the vintage radio pograms when they originally aired. I became a fan playing the transcription discs and tapes on air. Sitting in my studio, I did what a generation before me did; I created images in my mind. I began to write short stories and aired them complete with sound effects and background music. Looking back, they were not all that good, but, in essence, that was the very beginning of 'Lovers and Other Strangers' on radio.
I've always tried to create a mood with my evening radio program from the moment it aired every night to my final "Good night, sweet dreams" sign-off. In between, I hope I was able to transport you to many exotic locales inhabited by some of the most interesting people from the past, present and future.
In later years, the show developed a more inspirational and spiritual nature, but at its very heart and soul was a tribute to those old-time radio shows. Through the careful use of music and well-chosen words, I tried to transport you to a place deep in your mind, a place reserved for your imagination and memories. You had the temptation of prime time TV to lure you away from the radio, but I was heartened to discover that you were there most nights when I turned the microphone on.
When the show first aired, there was really nothing like it on radio. A few programs had paved the way for my first foray into the medium. 'The Paul Reid Show', on AM radio in Montreal, demonstrated there was a huge audience for poetry. His voice was legendary and a whole generation grew up listening to his Christmas program in summer. I worked upstairs from him on the FM station doing the same evening shift. We sometimes met after work and discussed his craft. He was a tremendous influence and inspiration to me in the beginning. He showed me the way to my dreams, and yours.
'Lovers and Other Strangers' first aired some years later on 92.5 CFQR in Montreal. It began life as a fifteen-minute feature during my six-hour-long evening show. I had a wonderful Program Director/General Manager who saw great potential in this very original idea. At this time, during the early 1980s, there were very few other programs like it on radio in Canada. He gave me carte blanche in its creation with complete artistic freedom. The show was so well received that it eventually expanded to a three-hour-long special feature.
During this time, I hosted a few 'Lovers and Other Strangers' trips with listeners. One featured a Caribbean cruise to Cancun, while the other included a trip to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The latter afforded some of us a chance to explore a small part of the Amazon rainforest.
These trips gave me the opportunity to spend time with listeners and to gauge whether or not I was headed in the right direction with the program.
Late in 1989, I made the decision to bring 'Lovers and Other Strangers' to 98.1 CHFI in Toronto. It was not an easy decision since the show had been such a success in Montreal. It was one of the toughest 'goodbyes' I ever had to make on air. I felt like I was saying goodbye to friends, because of the incredible loyalty to the show by listeners. The seven years that the show aired in Montreal were some of my most memorable because the show was being developed and changing with the times. This was the city that encouraged me to explore the program to its fullest potential. But, it wouldn't be the last time it was heard in the Montreal night...
Upon my arrival in Toronto, it was like starting all over again. From three hours back to an hour-long feature at 10 p.m. starting in January of 1990. I hosted the entire evening show and we were testing the waters to see how the idea would be accepted in Toronto. I couldn't pick up where I left off in Montreal. I had to start again from the beginning to slowly introduce the idea of 'Lovers and Other Strangers' to new listeners on 98.1 CHFI in Toronto. It would never regain its former status of a three-hour special feature, but the two hours it aired nightly were some of the most listened-to hours at night in the city in the station's target audience. Even when the station changed formats, the show was still relevant and held its own.
Over the years, my listeners would turn the TV off at nine p.m. and listen to the radio. Throughout the 20 years 'Lovers and Other Strangers' aired on 98.1 CHFI in Toronto, we shared some smiles and a few tears. Listeners were inspired by some of the heartfelt stories of courage in the face of adversity. They were introduced to romantic poetry written for lovers throughout the ages, because there was always a romantic element at the very heart and soul of the program. Listeners told me the show was like an heirloom. It was handed down from one generation to the next. Families would listen to the program together, just as they did years before during radio's Golden Age. This was the show's greatest achievement, that it could be listened to by people of all ages and backgrounds. There was something in its 'soul' that touched the hearts and made a spiritual connection. It was a very important part of the reason why it became a 'heritage' show.
The main reason for the success of 'Lovers and Other Strangers' was very simply -- you, the listener. If it wasn't for your loyalty, this program would have been retired years ago. Your continued support - even through the difficult times - proved its continued relevance in this troubled world. We shared so many evenings together throughout these past twenty-seven years. During that time, you celebrated along with me at the births of both my children and offered me support at other times when death claimed my loved ones. Your e-mails and letters resembled ones sent between friends. It was a single thread that united us that had its beginnings in a little radio show...
If I have one regret, it's the fact that we are no longer able to share our evenings on the radio. I can't even begin to thank you for the friendship you afforded me through the radio. You have provided me with some of the most memorable moments of my 40-year broadcasting career...
And now, the page has turned and a new chapter begins.
Over the years, listeners have asked me time and again for a book that featured the essence of what I tried to create on radio. This book is still being written and will eventually be a companion volume to our new webcast on this site.
Don Jackson, July 2010 (updated Feb 2013)