“Good afternoon everybody. This is the 411 Seniors Radio show and we come to you every week at this time on CFRO radio, 102.7 on your FM dial.”
So goes the introduction to the seniors radio program broadcast every Thursday at 2 p.m., as voiced by long-time host Roger Allford, 75. From their modest studio at the 411 Seniors Centre located at 411 Dunsmuir Street, Roger and his team record their shows for broadcast weekly. The idea for having seniors put on their own radio program - by seniors and for seniors - was the inspiration of GET NAME, around 1988.
In the beginning, GET NAME got the program up and running and hooked up with co-op Radio. After a few years of success, the group decided they needed a bit of polish, so they advertised to attract some new talent.
“I saw the ad and went in for an interview,” says Roger. “They had some people already running things, but they had no one with any broadcast experience. They wanted someone with experience.”
The radio program benefited greatly from the talents of Roger, John Kennedy, who had worked high up at CBC, and Norma MacMillan, who had been the cartoon voice of Casper the Ghost and Gumby. They also had a team of producers, who worked behind the scenes booking guests and helping prepare the topics for the shows, among other tasks.
“We got the radio show into a more professional mode,” says Roger. “We knew a little bit more about what we should be doing and it became a better show after we got involved. As a bonus, we all became friends along the way.”
Though he has called Vancouver home for many years, Roger was born and raised in Edmonton. His career was in sales, first with Imperial Oil and later with a few different breweries and liquor companies. Aside from better weather, a transfer to the Canadian Breweries facility in Phoenix led to Roger’s second career.
“I did catalogue [modelling] work for the GWG jean company in Edmonton,” he says. “When I went to Phoenix, they had a relatively active media business due to the climate. I got an agent down there and got into television commercials and some photo shoots.”
From there, the family settled in the Lower Mainland, where Roger’s five daughters and 12 grandchildren all live today. Even though his sales career continued, Roger found another agent and continued to stay busy doing commercials for radio and television, along with some small parts acting in movies and television programs. He also retained an agent south of the border and did some work in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles.
“I was hoping for the big break along the way and got close a couple of times, but it never came,” he says. “It’s a tough business. It was a lot of fun and when I worked in that business, it paid pretty well. I got a couple of commercials that went national, so the residuals were quite nice. I still get the odd job, mostly voice work. It was a lot more fun than the old nine-to-five stuff.”
But Roger is not the only member of the team. The other on-air voices belong to Ray Wagner and Carol Graham. Carol runs the equipment and books the guests, in addition to providing some of the on-air voice talent. She lived in Toronto until her husband landed a job in Vancouver in 1980, where she raised her two boys and worked in the ticketing department for Air Canada. It was here that Carol realized the importance of post-secondary education. In addition to attending Ryerson College for Journalism, she received a library technician diploma, a Sociology degree from Wilfred Laurier University and a Masters Degree in Library Sciences from UBC.
“I was going to my classes at UBC at the same time as both my sons were going there,” she says. “This was great as far as I was concerned, but I don’t think it was so cool for them to have their mother going to university with them. But I didn’t care: I was going!”
Carol got involved with the radio program nearly 10 years ago when they needed someone to operate their equipment and she knew how to do it.
“I was probably the only person they could find who could run it,” she says. “Eventually, we knew we had to upgrade the equipment and that day came when we sent our cassette down to the station and the person who received it at the co-op said he didn’t know what to do with a cassette. Our microphones were probably CBC castoffs. We had a computer given to us by WEAC, an organization we share it with. We got a new mixer, at that point, that just suddenly appeared.”
At least twice a year, they run their show live and do extended broadcasts as part of co-op radio’s annual fundraising drives.
Since the show is on co-op radio, rather than regular commercial radio, the half-hour show is a true half hour without any commercials or advertising. On most shows, the team selects at least one song to play and, while they have to comply with Canadian Content regulations (35 per cent of the songs have to be Canadian), they do not have to pay for their music. Nor do they make any money from the program.
“All our work through the 411 is volunteer,” says Roger. “We usually play one song by an artist that is appropriate to our audience.”
But who is the audience for their radio program? The fact they do not entirely know is one of the frustrations faced by Roger and Carol.
“The CRTC does not rate any of the co-op radio shows, so we don’t know much about our audience,” says Roger. “We have no way of knowing how many people are listening. We get feedback, so we know there is an audience, but we don’t know how many there are.”
Most shows feature a guest interview, a little music, some introductory remarks and other assorted announcements about events in the community.
“There is no specific organized plan to do our shows,” says Roger. “Carol does most of the bookings of guests. We get people to interview from anywhere we can find them. We run into people all over who are involved in interesting things. We find it works quite well. We’ve had Dal Richards, Grace McCarthy, Rafe Mair, Bob Lenarduzzi and some of the high-profile Vancouver people, who are of interest to our audience.”
Carol adds, “We had one woman who just loved to phone people and ask them to come on the radio program. She created relationships with people. When she was ill, I took over and I have inherited it ever since. I’m willing to give it away, but no one seems to be jumping on it. Usually, it is topic driven. We find an interesting topic and then find someone to interview.”
The topics run the gamut from entertainment to serious, and Carol finds her librarian skills helpful when locating guests.
Both Roger and Carol insist they intend to stay with it for as long as they can - and as long as there are topics to be discussed and broadcasted.
DECEMBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
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