Today, Jim Jj Johnston Salutes Ted Bird
Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018, we pay tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones”. Today we are shining the light on Ted Bird.
When we were just kids, Ted, 365'er Gerry Forbes and I were the young rats at CFTR and because we worked weird and changing hours, we were kind of on our own.
Ted and Gerry lived together, and I was constantly over at their place playing chess, reading books, discussing astronomy.... WRONG…WRONG… WRONG...none of that. Our time was consumed by partying, rocking out to tunes, attending events, and sports and on and on. Many stories to tell but not just yet-:). Ted was wide-eyed and on the scene. Very humorous and so much fun. And what can you say about 'Da forbsah', who often was the ringleader to our craziness. It was never a dull moment and being in the shadow roles we banded together, kept our spirits up and convinced each other that there were big things to come. And in time they did come.
Ted grew up in Fredericton, N.B. He says he was an excellent student until he smoked his first joint, and a mediocre athlete, so it was quickly apparent that his dream of succeeding his childhood hero Carl Yastrzemski as left fielder for the Boston Red Sox wasn't going to materialize. He wasn't a radio geek growing up and didn't give it any thought as a career pursuit until getting rave reviews for bastardizing George Carlin's Wonderful WINO routine at the Fredericton High School variety show in 1977 and a bunch of people said, "You should be a radio announcer!"
In September 1977, he enrolled in a journalism course at the Samuel Holland Institute of Technology and said they had the best school jackets ever - S.H.I.T.
After a few months of drinking crappy instant coffee and playing Frank Zappa records on the college radio station, he lucked into his first radio job in March 1978 through an internship at CFCY Charlottetown, where he cut his teeth as a reporter and newscaster for a year and a bit. He says: “For the most part I was terrible, but I read a mean funeral announcement and farm report if I do say so myself.”
In June 1979, at the tender age of 20, he landed his first major market radio job as a reporter and weekend newscaster at CKGM Montreal. After 5 months he was out of there. It was no fun being a naive English kid from the Maritimes in the run-up to the first Quebec referendum. He suffered from double culture shock: small town to big city and unilingual anglophone culture to a predominantly francophone (and at that time often hostile) culture.
Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, he says, he was hired as a news and sports reporter at CFTR Toronto in November 1979, as the golden age of Top 40 AM radio was on the cusp of its twilight years. In a memorable 5 year run at 'TR, he had the privilege of working with, and for, some of the most iconic figures in Canadian radio history. Among them the late and great Jim Brady and Tom Rivers, Mike Michael Cooper, Dan Williamson, Sandy Sanderson, Robert Bob Holliday, and 365er's Gerry Forbes Ger Forbsie, Evelyn Macko, Larry Silver, and the late and great Bill Gable, among others. Ted says he was only a bit player at CFTR but gained invaluable experience working at a level that he feels he wasn't really ready for when he first got there.
In late 1984, he got an offer to be sports director at CJFM-FM 96 in Montreal. The job title, a raise, and a Monday-Friday schedule for the first time in his career was enough to convince him to give Montreal another try. The referendum was five years in the rear-view mirror and social and political peace had returned. He had a 3 1/2 year run at FM 96 during which he eventually became morning show co-host as well as the sports anchor.
In May 1988, he jumped from FM96 to CHOM-FM, marking the beginning of his longtime friendship and professional partnership with 365’er Terry DiMonte that he feels defined his radio career. Terry and Ted went through a variety of incarnations on CHOM, MIX 96, CJAD from 1988 until Terry left for Calgary in late 2007. After Terry's departure, Ted continued to work the CHOM morning show from 2007 to the end of 2009 with Rob Kemp, Kim Rossi and Pete Marier.
Then Gary Slaight and family sold Standard Radio to Astral in 2007. Says Ted: “It ushered in a palpable change in day-to-day operations. The Slaights were professional broadcasters who worked collaboratively with talent because they understood that the creative and business ends of radio nurtured each other. They valued input and feedback from on-air people and left us to our own devices within the bounds of reason, trusting that we were diligent professionals who would perform to the best of our ability. They rewarded you if you produced and showed you the door if you didn't. That's eminently fair. The Astral philosophy seemed to be more in line with a scornful stepmother: ‘We're not interested in what you think, and you'll do what we tell you, whether you like it or not’. I didn't like it, so I quit.”
Ted says he badly misread the landscape by wrongly thinking he could land another plum gig in mainstream radio. He looked across the St. Lawrence River to the sovereign Mohawk territory of Kahnawake - home of The Monster by the Seaway, K103 (CKRK). In two years as one-third of the Ted, Java and Paul morning show (with James Java Jacobs and Paul Graif), he was able to get back to a more liberating form of radio, but above and beyond that, he forged deep and lasting friendships in a fiercely proud and independent community. One of his most rewarding moments? "For me both as a broadcaster and as a person, it came one morning when I exchanged greetings with a local man and his teenage son at the coffee shop in Kahnawake, and as I was leaving, I overheard the dad say, ‘That's Ted Bird; he's part of our community now.' That's high praise coming from inside a culture that can be a very tough nut to crack for outsiders. I'll never forget it.”
Ted says nobody got rich in his two years at K103, but he'd like to think they went a long way towards heightening the station's profile in the Montreal market, and more importantly, raising awareness about the community itself. He feels Kahnawake sometimes gets a bad rap, almost exclusively from people who've never been there or taken the time to get to know the people and the culture.
Lady Luck smiled at Ted once again when a morning show gig opened at TSN 690 just as his time in Kahnawake was winding down. From May 2013 to September 2013, he co-hosted 6-10am on TSN with Elliott Price and Sean Starr, and their complementary styles made for an informative and entertaining morning show. But what goes around comes around says Ted: “When Astral sold to Bell in 2013, the management team from Astral took over the Bell cluster in Montreal and the same guy who blew me out before let me go. Karma's a bitch.”
Ted says being exited by the company controlling 80% of the Montreal English radio market left him with very few options, so he went back across the river to Kahnawake and hosted a show on 89.9 CKIC, marking his introduction to country music and spawning a new mantra: ‘You like country music, you just don't know it yet.' New country artists like Taylor Swift, Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney who cross genres into pop and rock make the country genre accessible across a wide demographic. Ted says “it's not your grandfather's country music where the truck breaks down, the dog dies, the woman leaves, and the guy gets drunk. In the new country, the woman still leaves, and the guy still gets drunk, but the truck runs like a charm and has an extended warranty, and the dog gets regular checkups at the vet.”
With Montreal being a multicultural, cosmopolitan city, country radio wasn't paying the bills; it was time to move on. Since March 2015, Ted’s been hosting the morning show at The Jewel 106.7 FM, which serves the suburban areas west of Montreal, including Vaudreuil-Soulanges and the West Island. Says Ted: "In an era when veteran professionals are getting flung out the door to cut costs and drive up share prices, I'm pretty grateful to have the gig. Above and beyond that, I feel my current employers at Evanov respect my ability and experience and leave me to my own devices for the most part. There are still airchecks and direction, but there's no micro-managing, and that's a blessing. Me and co-host, Tom Whelan, do what we think is a pretty relatable local radio show and have at least two or three good belly laughs per morning. It's still fun - always has been, always will be for me."
Ted shouts out to some of those that have had major influences in his career:
Ed Watters and Don Wilson. “Ed and Don were the two news directors I worked for in my first job at CFCY Charlottetown. As noted previously, I was terrible, but they encouraged me and let me make my mistakes and learn from them. One of my earliest blunders was when then-Federal Communications Minister Jeanne Sauve was visiting Charlottetown, and I pronounced her name 'Jenny Suave'. Don called me up and was laughing too hard to give me crap. That's when I learned ‘when in doubt, leave it out' or at the very least get a second opinion.”
Mark Burns. “Mark gave me my first major market break when he hired me at CKGM Montreal, where he was news director and was instrumental in bringing me back to Montreal at FM96 where he was the morning show host. Mark was the smartest, funniest guy I ever worked with and had great kickers. A favourite was about a guy who was trying to smuggle 22 pounds of hash across the border by hiding it in the engine compartment of his car, but the hash started to burn from the engine heat at Customs, and the guy was arrested. Mark's kicker line: ‘As for the car...well, if you just smoked 22 pounds of hash, you'd be towed away too’. That was the best kicker story for a newscast that I ever heard.”
Robert Bob Holliday. “He was news director at CFTR and the most intimidating person I ever worked for. The newsroom staff called him ‘The Chief’ and regarded him with equal measures of reverence and fear. He looked like Stalin and ran his newsroom about the same way Uncle Joe ruled - with an iron fist. The nicest thing he ever said to me was ‘Bird, you've got a brain - use the f***ing thing!’ There were three things the Chief would not abide: laziness, sloppiness and stupidity. One time at a staff meeting, he played a tape of a newscaster saying that a fire had caused ‘50 thousand dollars’ worth of damage’. Holliday turned off the tape machine and thundered ‘50 thousand dollars’ WORTH of damage? Damage ain't worth f*** all!’ He instilled work ethic and taught me broadcasting fundamentals that I still employ on a daily basis."
365’er Terry DiMonte. “Terry is the most natural broadcaster I know and sitting across the desk from him for the better part of two decades was without question the most rewarding part of my career. Whatever I've become as a broadcaster today is either to his credit or his fault, because I crafted my style from his example. Our chemistry was instant and enduring. We were and remain like brothers, but we never fought like brothers sometimes do. Our respective roles in the on-air partnership were unspoken and understood. Relationships like that are rare in any circumstance, but in a scenario where egos can and often do get in the way, we had an exceptionally good run.”
Over the years Ted has emceed many comedy shows and dabbled liberally in stand-up comedy over the years, including multiple appearances at Montreal’s renowned Just for Laughs comedy festival.
He also has a long-standing association with the Canadian military and in particular the Royal Highland (Black Watch) Regiment of Montreal. He travelled to the former Yugoslavia in 2001 as a NATO media observer during the stabilization phase of the peace agreement ending the war in Bosnia. More recently, he travelled to Sicily this past summer to do social media content for a military history project to honour the 562 Canadians killed in the battle of Sicily in 1943.
His passion for the military and military history comes from being named after his great uncle, Lance Corporal Ted Williston of New Brunswick’s Carleton and York Regiment, who was killed in action outside Ortona, Italy on New Year’s Eve 1943. One of the pictures you will see is of himself and his sons visiting his grave at the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in Italy in 2005. Ted says "Sam was six years old, and Charlie was four, but you can see from their body language that they already intuitively understood the concepts of honour, duty and sacrifice."
Ted is an icon in Montreal Radio and beyond. He has done great radio for so many years and is still doing it. He's got lots left in the tank and appreciates what he does for a living. Creative, hardworking, smart, and one funny cat. We didn't work together long, but I loved every minute of the time we did and have great respect for him! Atta be Ted!
Thank you, Ted Bird for being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share Ted’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.
– Jim JJ Johnston is the multi-award-winning CEO, President and Chief Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries.