Signing off: radio broadcaster retires from career that spanned 70 years
It was the final day of class at John Shaw High School in 1945 when Gordon Theedom got the news he had been dreaming about for years.
“The announcement came on over the school just as we were picking up our books and the women announced that the Bastion News announcer for next year will be Gordon Theedom,” Theedom recalled. “I knew nothing about it. Everybody in the class clapped. I was thrilled. It was like being Mickey Rooney in one of the movies or something like that.”
Now nearly 70-years later, Theedom, 86, is calling it a career. The long-time Nanaimo resident is one of Canada’s oldest active radio hosts and currently hosts a weekly program called Music from the Past on 101.7 CHLY. On April 21 at 11 a.m. Theedom will make his final broadcast.
Theedom, who had broadcasting stints with CHUB and CHLY, is glad to be retiring from the industry on his own terms. “I think I could have left a long time ago. My memory is going,” Theedom said. “This is on my own terms. They tried to talk me out of it but I said no because I’ll be 87 in a few months.”
Theedom was born in Saskatchewan in 1927 and fell in love with radio at an early age. As a kid, he would spend hours listening to the radio, particularly the broadcasts of legendary Toronto Maple Leafs broadcaster Foster Hewitt.
“I listened to the radio all the time. I got to like Foster Hewitt,” Theedom recalled. “That’s what got me going. We only had the radio back in those days. Listening to the radio was the only entertainment we had back in those days.”
Theedom’s journey into the radio business began in the early 1940s when he was in Grade 7 at Nanaimo’s John Shaw High School and had aspirations of becoming the school’s senior student announcer.
“The Bastion news announcer, as they called them, had to be a Grade 12 student and I went to that school when I was Grade 7. I got a liking to radio. Every morning they would have a broadcast for about 15 minutes about news of the day, if there was anything happening the school, like if there was a dance going on or something like that.”
However, becoming the Bastion news announcer wasn’t something anyone could simply do. The announcer could only be a senior student and was handpicked by the teachers and staff members at John Shaw.
“You had to wait until Grade 12 until the announcer [for that year] was chosen. You don’t get the choice, the teachers have the choice of nominating the person,” he said. “I got started by about Grade 10 by doing war saving programs ... so I would try and talk the students into buying 25 cent stamps for war savings.”
After spending his senior year being the school’s top announcer, Theedom wanted to pursue a career in radio. Unfortunately, for Theedom there wasn’t a radio station in Nanaimo when he graduated from John Shaw in 1946.
“I did other jobs,” Theedom said. “I took movie tickets, I worked in an architect’s office and they were boring. From 1946 to 1949 I floated from job to job.”
In May of 1949 CHUB was opened in Nanaimo by the British Columbia’s premier at the time, Byron Ingemar Johnson. Theedom, who wasted no time applying and was hired on as a broadcaster, recalled his very first day on the job.
“The first day one of the chief announcers, as they called them, showed me the controls,” he said. “We only worked with about three people and at 10 a.m. in the morning I never saw the guy again. By 10’ o clock at night I was still working the board and I had no idea what I was doing. I had no training, no nothing and I bet it sounded like that to my listeners. I am still waiting for that chief announcer to come back.”
Over the course of five years, Theedom had the privilege of interviewing some of the best musicians at the time, including Gene Autry, Lindley Armstrong “Spike” Jones, Stan Kenton, Wilf “Montana Slim” Carter, Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey. He recalled the time he met American jazz musician Phil Harris in 1951.
“Everybody was very envious of him because he married a very popular lady from the '30s, Alice Faye. So, I stayed with him and talked with him for about an hour or so,” Theedom said. “He was in Qualicum fishing.”
In 1954, Theedom left CHUB after a dispute over the dismissal of a fellow employee.
“It was the dumbest thing I ever did,” Theedom said.
During his time at CHUB, Theedom happened to acquire the one of the two microphones Louis Armstrong used during his 1942 performance at the Pygmy in Nanaimo, which happened to be his only performance in the Harbour City.
“That microphone was still on the stand,” Theedom recalled about the purchase of the microphone. “I gave him [the owner of the Pygmy] $20 and took the microphone. I came prepared because I thought it might be about that much.”
In the years following his departure from radio, Theedom would go on to work at various jobs, which included selling real estate with Frank Ney and working at a telephone company. However,
Theedom’s love for radio came roaring back in 2007 and landed his current radio gig at CHLY after simply wandering into the station.
“I was lonely because I just lost my wife. I had to do something to keep me occupied. So I went downtown to see if I would bump into anybody I knew and I saw a little sign there that said CHLY,” Theedom said. “I walked in and sat down and told the lady at the reception that I was lonely and wanted somebody to talk too. She was very nice and I asked her what CHLY did and what they were all about. She told me and I told her I used to be in radio in back 1949 and so for $25 I joined CHLY.”
Following Theedom’s final broadcast, the almost 87-year-old plans to spend more time in front of his recent purchase.
“I went bought a flat-screen TV two weeks ago,” he said. “I never used to watch TV because I was too busy with this program [Music from the Past].”
To listen to Theedom's final show, please visit http://chly.dailysplice.com/musicfromthepast/