Why Winnipeg? by Charles Adler

Why Winnipeg?

I know everyone of you is making important decisions every day based on the facts. We live in a fact-based society. We never get tired of getting more facts about everything we are looking at. Whether it’s a story on the web or on TV, you can’t take the story seriously without a serious downloads of facts and more facts. You need statistics.

In the horrible story of the Malaysian plane, you were given facts on the age of the plane, wing, and ages of the pilots. You were not given a single fact about why the plane changed direction and went missing and is still missing. That fact is missing. But you had lists and lists and lists of the possible things that could have gone wrong. And for several weeks we had facts on how much audiences were paying attention.

I hope you’re not disappointed if I speak to you for a few minutes without asking you to look at thousands and thousands of letters and numbers all jumbled up and packaged up to make it look like what we’re doing here is some kind of science class. I don’t want to do a science class. I just want to talk to you about why I’m nuts about Winnipeg. So I hope you’re not disappointed that I’m not doing the full Wolf Blitzer here. It’s just you and me. No chalk boards, no magic boards, and no stats to stare at. I hope I’m able to sustain your attention without deploying cutting edge software.

Fifteen years ago I was working in Toronto at Yonge and St. Clair at a radio station that for many years was considered the Vatican of Canadian Broadcasting, a radio station called CFRB. At one time that station so dominated the broadcasting market in the business capital of Canada, that when a fellow named Gordon Sinclair took to the airwaves with his fifteen minutes of irreverent broadcast, and when I say irreverent, I mean irreverent, he owned the ears of Toronto and southern and central Ontario. And when he was seated on the throne of Canada’s broadcast Vatican telling his audience that he did not believe in GOD, that he was an atheist, it was a big deal. I know that if you’re under forty years-old in Canada today, that’s no big deal. But in the Canada I grew up in, and especially in the Ontario that I lived in for a good deal of my adult life, going on radio back in the 60’s or even 70’s and telling people that God was dead, that God never existed, that this God thing was just a bunch of superstitious poppycock sold by con artists to a bunch of rubes who would give the con artists great big gobs of CASH, wasn’t just irreverent – it was risky. And most could not get away with it. But he could and he did and more than 50 percent of every listener who could pick up the signal within 100 miles of Yonge and St. Clair was listening to Gordon Sinclair. Nobody in North America had a larger market share than he did and nobody in North America had a larger market share in radio than the radio cathedral on Yonge and St. Clair.

It was every little boy’s dream growing up in Toronto to some day play for the Toronto Maple Leafs or to be a voice on CFRB. I didn’t grow up in Toronto. But I totally got that in our business whether you grew up in Toronto or not, being a CFRB personality was as good as it got. It was the Major Leagues. It was the New York Yankees, it was the Green Bay Packers, it was the Toronto Maple Leafs at a time when the Maple Leafs were always contenders. So you can imagine how the boss of CFRB felt when I told him I was going to leave the great cathedral for the United States. I was going to do some syndicated national radio in the US.

In 1991 the owner of CFRB was not happy with me leaving to pursue some new venture that involved me sitting in a ram shackle studio in a strip mall in Tampa Bay and putting my words into a high speed phone line that was sent to an earth station hundreds of miles away and then put up on satellite which would shoot that show twenty-eight thousand miles into space and then it would then come down in hundreds of radio markets all over the United States. Why would I choose to take a risk on all that nonsense, when I could sit in the same chair that Gordon Sinclair did for decades and tell the folks in Toronto and southern and central Ontario what I thought and felt about Kings and Queens and Popes and princes and Prime Ministers and Premiers, and Judges and juries, and corporations and unions. Anything I wanted to talk about including my three favorite topics: Money, Animals, and Sex.

Why would I even think about leaving that behind for talk radio in the US. So in 1991 he wasn’t happy that I made my choice to leave his broadcast cathedral for America. But I have to tell you that while he was severely disappointed about my choice to leave in 1991 for America, he was just out of his mind chaotically and demonically angry, enraged, and violently pissed off at me for leaving him again seven years later for WINNIPEG.

When someone leaves Toronto for the United States, you can somehow explain it to your friends over cocktails. How the hell do you explain your talent leaving for Winnipeg? If you’re a woman and you’re dumped by George Clooney, it’s explainable. He dumps everybody. And I know he loaned someone a ring the other day. But he’s George Clooney. Its one thing to be dumped by George Clooney. It’s another to be dumped by George Grabowsky. America was Clooney. Winnipeg was Grabowsky. America was the middle of the universe. Winnipeg was the middle of nowhere.

There is no way you can understand why I made the decision to come back to Winnipeg 15 years ago unless I tell you about my first thinking about Winnipeg as a place to live forty years ago. It was my very first on-air job in radio in January of 1974 at a radio station in Calgary called CKXL. It was at an address not as prestigious as Yonge and St. Clair, but in my heart one terrific place to live and work – 804 16th Avenue Southwest. And the comptroller was a guy named Al Farquar. He was the one who made me fill out a bunch of paperwork in order to get my name on the payroll. No paperwork, no cheque. It mattered. Al Farquar said to the nineteen year-old version of me, “son someday if you make it in this town you might be good enough to go to Winnipeg”.

Calgary had about a third of the population it has now and Winnipeg was bigger – much bigger. Winnipeg was Al’s hometown and Al was homesick every day. Al told me about the friends he had in Winnipeg, “friends for life” he said, friends that never let you own, friends who don’t care what you drive, how much money you make, what part of the world you come from, what kind of church you go to or even if you go to a church. It sure didn’t sound like the town I grew up in. It sure didn’t sound like the country I was born in. It sounded magical. This magical town on the prairie where anything was possible. Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman believed that. And they were right. I could name dozens of people in the arts and in business who are household names in Canada and the U.S. and around the world who came from Winnipeg.

On radio we talk about a lot of stuff that annoys us, potholes, frozen pipes, how much we paid for the new police station and who got the money. We talk about stuff that local people care about because it touches their everyday lives. We don’t really talk about how much we love this community. How much we still believe that anybody who lives here and wants to work hard and be honest will have access to anything and anyone.

When you talk about the people who built this town, the so-called movers and shakers, the big families, you realize that every one of them was headed up by people who were open to ordinary people and their dreams. And when I lived in Winnipeg in the eighties and some people talked about a brand new truly NHL calibre hockey arena with great sound for concerts, there were many who said it would never happen. But there were others who said ‘this is Winnipeg and big things happen for people who dare to dream big and believe in their dreams’.

I left for a decade, went to Calgary and Toronto and Tampa and Boston and back to Toronto, moved up the ladder of my dreams to do talk radio, and when I chose to come back to Winnipeg we were still talking about a new arena and possibly some day the return of our beloved Winnipeg Jets. It may have taken a while, but it got done. And it changed the way many of us have seen our downtown.

For many years almost all of us avoided going downtown unless we worked there. We’d work there, but we wouldn’t play there. We wouldn’t invite someone to dine with us downtown (and we love dining in Winnipeg). In some communities people may have time for a cup of coffee with you. In Winnipeg we want to have dinner with you, but not downtown- for too many years, not downtown. But with the building of the MTS Centre downtown, that changed.

We went for a long time with nobody being able to spot a crane in this town. The crane was an endangered bird here. Calgary got cranes and Vancouver and Toronto got cranes. But in the last fifteen years, we have seen lots of cranes, lots of development and there is lots more coming, not only in the downtown, but also in the south and southwest. Real development, real money, a real Ikea, a real Marshalls, a real Bed Bath and Beyond and beyond all of that, what’s most important in Winnipeg hasn’t changed.

When my boss in Toronto lost it on me because I was in his mind dumping him for George Grabowsky, for Winnipeg, I tried to tell him what Al Farquar told me in Calgary four decades earlier was still true and would always be true in Winnipeg, and it was true for me. Friends you make in Winnipeg you make for life and you don’t have to be a king to be treated like one in Winnipeg. We treat everyone the same. We don’t suck up to the big guys, and we don’t look down on the little guys. Not in the Winnipeg I grew to love in eighties. Not in the Winnipeg I was homesick for in the nineties. Not in the Winnipeg where I feel incredibly lucky to be spending time with you right now.

If you’re someone who has lived in Winnipeg all your life, you known why you are here. Nobody has held a gun to your head to keep you here. Nobody built a wall of a barbed wire to keep you here. You’re wired like a Winnipegger. This place is home and it’s family and it’s been good in all the ways that really matter to your family. And if you’re not from Winnipeg and you’re thinking of bringing your body or your capital or both to our Winnipeg, to my beloved adopted hometown, I know I speak for everyone who is a Winnipegger in telling you that we will open our hearts and our minds to you. We will treat you like a billion bucks and we’ll help you make a few bucks too.

If you’re a Winnipegger who has chosen to build your dreams here and create opportunities here, thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in your community. We wouldn’t have a community without you. And if you’re thinking of joining us we want you to become part of our community and I thank you in advance of your very sound decision to come here. And yes, like a true Winnipegger, you can get distracted by things like potholes. But the distractions pale in comparison to the attractions.

There is nothing more attractive than enduring friendships, strong families, a powerful work ethic and a community where we treat each other like equals.

My name is Charles Adler. Born in Hungary, brought to Canada in my daddy’s backpack when I was only two. Brought to Winnipeg by CKY RADIO when I was just twenty-five. Brought back to Winnipeg by CJOB Radio when I was forty-five. Been to a lot of places in between, but there’s no place like home. Despite the opinions of my old friends at Yonge and St. Clair, this is my home. This is my Winnipeg.