Friday, April 27, 2007

CBC Radio Building falls silent today

It’s been part of the heart of downtown St. John’s for 54 years. And today, it all comes to an end.

The people and facilities at the CBC Radio Building on Duckworth Street are all moving to the TV building, up on the Parkway. The building has a long and colourful history, as we learned in the excellent retrospective series by Juanita Bates. It once hosted the Total Abstinence Society, the Capitol Theatre and was the location of the first public performance of the Ode to Newfoundland. But its most important role was no doubt home to CBC Radio, which has had a tremendous impact on the character of downtown St. John’s.

I love old buildings; love their convoluted passageways, uneven floors, dusty alcoves and locked rooms packed with artifacts. I have been in the building several times to be interviewed, or to meet with people there, and know that it is a special place (and quite haunted, according to some of the staff who worked late at night).

We will no longer hear Jeff Gilhooly talking about the brilliant sunrise over the narrows, or run into the staff on the street or in the lineup at Hava Java. The shows, of course, will continue and – who knows – they may even get better as a result of the move… though I know it won’t be the same for the staff, who move from the lively artistic and intellectual ferment of Duckworth Street over to the barrens of the parkway (say what you like, it is not the same environment over there).

If you want to learn more about the history of the building, go to the Total Abstinence Society site and this interesting tour of the old Capitol Theatre – with great photos – presented by the Newfoundland Urban Exploration Society.

Today, we mark the closure of an important chapter in our cultural and social history. You can expect to hear special programming all day long – the Morning Show had some great stuff, including interviews with former hosts of the show – so tune in if you can and, if you can’t, look it up in the archives later (go to the CBC site, click programs, then archives). Don’t forget Anne Budgell’s final show today on Radio Noon – it’s her retirement on top of everything else – and you can be sure On The Go will also bid a fond farewell to the building.

I tried to arrange an informal tour of the building, to talk to whoever I ran into and capture some quick memories (plus some photos), but my request was rejected by the public affairs people because there was too much going on with the move. I did pop in for a visit on Wednesday, to pick up something (a tape recording of an interview I did with Joey Smallwood that I lent On The Go, which aired last Christmas). During that visit, I snapped the photo at right of Ted Blades and Ingrid Fraser, host and producer of On The Go. I could easily have walked through the building and recorded a bunch of farewell interviews with whoever I encountered, but decided to behave myself. I already regret that decision.

Whilst standing on the sidewalk to take the photo above, the meter reader guy with the city walked by and said, “Downtown won’t be the same without it.”

I stopped, marvelling at how we all talk with the candor of neighbours calling over the fence, and said, "Yes, it’s gonna feel pretty empty around here.”

No comments: