It’s never wise to try and bluff your audience.
That’s something veteran broadcaster Lloyd Robertson carried with him throughout his 60 year career in radio and television.
It was a lesson he learned early on when he was on radio station CJOY in Guelph in 1953.
Robertson had overslept for his shift and when he made it to the station, the phones were ringing off the hook and there was nothing but static and silence over the radio station’s frequency.
“The phones were ringing like crazy, so I took them off their hooks. I did the radio station ID and played Doris Day …,” Robertson told a packed house at Roselawn Centre in Port Colborne, Ont. on Thursday, April 25, 2013 during the second to last Canadian Authors Reading Series.
He was reading from his memoir The Kind of Life It’s Been, sharing stories of his career, his life and answering questions from people in the audience.
The audience heard that it was an old radio trick to pretend like nothing happened, or make people feel like their radios weren’t working, but staff at the station didn’t let Robertson get away with it.
After being introduced by reading series founder, and local author, William Thomas, Robertson spoke about being at Roselawn eight years ago and being asked whether he’d write a book.
“It was a challenge … what kind of book would I write, something about journalism, politics or international affairs. I decided to make it a personal story,” he said.
When he brought up the idea about writing about his life, his friend and fellow newsman Craig Oliver told him “you don’t have much of a life.”
While sharing radio stories and television stories, Robertson brought out the personal side of his life, revealing the struggle he had as young boy.
“My father was 60 when I was born and was sick a lot in my early years … my mother didn’t know how to cope.”
Robertson said his mother had mental illnesses that made it hard for the family.
“I remember visiting her in the St. Thomas psychiatric hospital … that left a mark on me.”
He resolved then to try and help uncover the mysteries of mental illness, especially after hearing the screams and cries come from various rooms in that hospital.
With no drugs available to doctors at the time, his mother was given a lobotomy, which left her in a “perpetual marble calm” as described in Sylvia Platt’s Bell Jar.
“She had no emotional response to anything. She asked me why I was crying after my father’s funeral.”
Robertson also shared the fun times of his career, in particular one incident concerning his hair.
“We had a new set and the top lights made my grey hair shine, making it looking greyer than it was.”
In an effort to try and tone it down, Robertson went to see someone about dyeing it a lighter colour — he ended up with dark brown hair.
As he made his way into the studio, there were many sideways glances, giggles and surprised looks.
Robertson said many efforts to correct the colour were made, leaving him with blonde and blue streaks at times. Finally, a stylist at CTV was able to come up with a solution that worked and brought his hair back to a lighter grey.
Audience members heard that one question that was always asked of him when he wasn’t on the air was, “who is doing the news tonight.”
“My wife and I were in Venice, riding a gondola on the canals when I heard, shouted from a bridge above, ‘Who is doing the news tonight, Lloyd?’ I yelled back, ‘Why aren’t you at home watching and telling me,’” he said as the audience laughed.
Asked about the future of television, Robertson said, “We are in a revolution now.”
“There are so many media distractions these days … you can get your news from anywhere.”
But, he said, despite social media, people in Canada do care where they get there news from and will care more in the future. A survey showed 9 of 10 Canadians trusted television news and only 1 in 4 Canadians found social media reliable.
“Things like crowd sourcing can supplement news coverage,” he said.