The BCTV Tribute that Wasn’t

I can’t let November come to an end without paying REAL tribute to my old alma mater, BCTV, which first went on the air as CHAN in November, 1960.

BCTV was so good, so important to BC and more than 650,000 viewers throughout the province for more than 50 years, from 1960 to 2001, when it became Global TV.

BCTV was a bold experiment: a previously unheard of and untried journalistic adventure, bringing viewers right INSIDE the newsroom; bringing reporters right INSIDE people’s living rooms: and bringing real stories from real people’s lives INSIDE real neighbourhoods and INSIDE real communities …. right onto TV screens across the province.

The News was no longer just press conferences, briefings, spokespeople, government-produced charts and messages delivered from politicians, companies, bureaucrats to the citizenry, without much in the way of any instant responses, tough questions, skepticism … and, dare I say, even humour! Putting pomposity in its place.

On BCTV, British Columbians didn’t just watch TV News … they took part in TV News: their issues, views, attitudes, and questions reflected, included and put forward … the voice of the people TO government and authorities, and not just the other way around.

And British Columbians LOVED it!

It’s hard to imagine, watching ANY of the local or national news shows now, that unless you watched the BCTV NEWSHOUR back then, you would be out of the loop the next day when discussions took place around water coolers, in lunch rooms, at coffee shops, offices, stores, shipyards or schools … anywhere around British Columbia!

How did that happen?

Frank Griffiths, who owned CKNW radio, had long dreamed of a major national network of television and radio stations reflecting and based in the West … not Eastern Canada.

In 1963, Griffiths bought the independent stations CHAN TV in Vancouver and CHEK TV in Victoria … eventually turning them into CTV network affiliates.

But CHAN would be different: under the direction of CEO Ray Peters and President Don Smith, with News Director Cameron Bell and Assignment Editor Keith Bradbury at the helm, the courageous little broadcast station set out on a journalistic adventure and voyage into uncharted waters.

With a crew that really set them apart: not the usual teeth-and-hair TV “types”, but real journalists … many of them hired away from newspapers, most without any experience reporting on TV: perhaps the homeliest looking correspondents on tv newscasts anywhere in North America, BUT highly knowledgeable reporters with proven investigative and story-telling abilities.

And with that little bit of cynicism real reporters should have.

The rest became history … the Newshour eventually outdrew its closest rival station by five to one! Making CHAN/BCTV’s owners and shareholders LOTS of money in the process.

So when Griffiths died in 1994, he left behind a well-established, highly successful network of radio and tv stations all across the country … still owned and based in Vancouver, fulfilling his dream.

Having been hired by BCTV in 1979, I recall a few years later buying company shares at $8 each and was delighted to see them keep rising at a decent pace… hitting $16, but that apparently was not good enough for Griffiths’ successors.

After he passed, there were a whole series of corporate machinations … including trimming of operations and job/staff cuts … improving the company’s bottom line and boosting share price (up to about $36 if I recall correctly).

Then BCTV was sold off … a number of times over the subsequent decades to several different suitors, large corporations … each of them, in my view, slashing/destroying BCTV’s News quality, management, reporting, story-telling, coverage, picture-based journalism and eventually even the creativity and visual appeal of the editing of what now goes to air.

Slowly but surely, over the years, BCTV became more and more a Global TV station … in every sense…. and less what I would describe as BCTV.

And what better example of that, from my perspective, than the recent Global month-long “tribute” to CHAN’s 60th anniversary.

As a history of BC over the past 60 years, I quite enjoyed it!

Nice to look back, to remember, too see so many of the events BC has witnessed/experienced, and which I was privileged to cover in my years at The Vancouver Sun and then BCTV.

But if it was supposed to be a history or tribute to 60 years of CHAN/BCTV, it was a dismal failure!

It was instead a perfect metaphor for what BCTV has become since its various selloffs/takeovers began. There were interviews with managers, executives and anchors, but very few with those on the front lines who REALLY made BCTV into the force that it became.

It was like watching 30 days of “stories” commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Second World War, featuring interviews with Generals, Officers and their Adjutants, but hearing almost nothing from the soldiers in the trenches, the sailors at sea, the airmen who flew the missions, the home guard, the medics and nurses or the merchant marine.

How ironic! A tribute to BCTV that, in my opinion failed almost every basic rule that made BCTV such a success. That says a lot.

So I owe it to the REAL BCTV to set some of that right.

Let’s remember/pay tribute to some of the real pioneers/contributors to the success of BCTV: Dale Hicks; John Gibbs; Clem Chapple; Gizelle Portenier; Jim Hart, Alyn Edwards; Mike McCardle; Andy Stephen; Neil Adams; Margo Harper, Tara Nelson, George Orr, Norm Grohmann.

And kudos to those BCTV alumni who went on to achieve great success in national and international broadcasting: Arden Ostrander (ABC/NBC); Keith Morrison (NBC); Russ Froese (CBC The Journal); Kimberly Halkett (Al Jazeera White House correspondent).

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to hear from some of them, recalling experiences/clips from their time at BCTV, talking about the behind-the-scenes challenges/accomplishments/fun they had as part of such a ground-breaking historical era in television news journalism … right here in BC!

All of them, of course, owed much of their success to BCTV’s camera personnel, the film (I still remember the old Kodak 7240!) and video editors, graphics artists, production experts … many of them with truly exceptional talent.

One of the first lessons I learned, in transitioning from newspapers to BCTV, was that PICTURES were paramount. Pictures told the story, not long-winded newspaper-style scripts covered over with “wallpaper” video.

I was amazed at how powerfully that worked! Viewers SAW the news, not just heard about it from some talking head, telling them what had happened. They WERE there!

I got it! And learned a whole new … and better way … of informing people what was going on. And I never forgot that to the day I walked away/retired in 2006.

In fact, it was the diminution of the use of fresh pictures, under “new” owners/managers, that first signaled to me that the decline of BCTV had begun.

They started re-using old footage so often, instead of getting fresh video, management ordered us to stop identifying/super-imposing the words “File Footage” or “Archives” or “Library Footage” over old video … something the REAL BCTV had disclosed, being transparent and truthful … always … with its family of viewers. Not any more.

Another victim of the decline: one of BCTV’s best accomplishments: it’s own Ottawa Parliament Hill Bureau for almost 15 years, staffed by Christine Hearn, yours truly, Mark Schneider and Mark Miller, with superb photo journalist Paul Nolan and editors Mary Brunet, Bill Luxton and Gavin Conway.

What a GREAT presence BC had in the nation’s capital under BCTV … until its successors killed it.

What a pathetic presence BC and coverage of specific BC issues viewers now get from Global’s “national” bureau in Ottawa. Not to mention, but let’s, some of the best away-from-the-Hill stories, features, series from throughout Ontario and Quebec that other CTV stations used to grab onto from BCTV and broadcast to their own viewers.

Now gone: another victim of the mindset running Global from corporate headquarters in Toronto. Frank Griffiths must be spinning in his grave!

I recently asked someone highly experienced in the news business why wouldn’t a month-long supposed tribute to CHAN/BCTV’s 60 years highlight the station’s accomplishments … instead of mostly the history of BC ?

The reply: Because if they did that, today’s viewers would wonder/ask Why don’t they still do that, report that way, deliver a quality newscast now???

Sad.

Yet, from my personal point of view, their worst omission? No BCTV over-the-decades commemorative tribute should EVER be done without remembering Geoff Fisher, the microwave truck operator killed on the job for BCTV on Feb. 13, 1999. I have written about him twice on here: http://harveyoberfeld.ca/blog/geoff-fischer-bctv-i-never-forget/.

In an entire month looking back at the history of CHAN/BCTV/Global … not a mention of Geoff!!!

Actually, little mention at all of what CHAN/BCTV stood for, what it accomplished and what it meant to British Columbians … every night.

Maybe that’s why Global BC’s Newshour viewing audience is now regularly only around 350,000 or less … DOWN a couple of hundred thousand from BCTV at its prime!

Even though BC’s population has grown from 4.04 million in 2000 to 5.15 million in 2020.

Perhaps fitting then that their “tribute” wasn’t much of a tribute at all … and fell short of how the REAL BCTV would have done it.

While shares of the current owners: Corus Entertainment closed Friday … at only $4.14.

Harv Oberfeld

(Reminder: You can get First Alerts of new postings on this BC Blog by following @harveyoberfeld on Twitter. No spam, just FREE Alerts to new topics up for discussion.)

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13 Responses to The BCTV Tribute that Wasn’t

  1. Rainclouds says:

    Well Put.

    The superficial self congratulatory pap of a bygone era which they are still riding the coattails was embarrassing.

    BCTV is a shell of its former self. Prattling inane sidebars that add nothing but chew up time before the next 10 min of RE/Finance shilling commercials.

    Took your advice a few years ago: Thank You! I now PVR the 6 o’clock news. watch PBS. I can “watch” BCTV sans commercials and feckless prattling in about 10 Min (which includes the sports) . Very little investigative reporting done. Don’t even mention CBC TV .

    I did a back of the napkin calculation. PBS budget 500 million serving 330 million Americans with original programming. CBC Budget 1 Billion serving 39 Million with mostly repurchased sitcoms.

    I feel sorry for any journalists constrained by corporate budgets and are unable to dedicate time and energy to issues that may take weeks/months to investigate. Sam Cooper is an outlier, there should be armies of people like him him digging into the rot we know is out there. When the press is merely a lapdog for their corporate masters, the public isn’t stupid, they leave.

    Listening to CKNW as I type this, not perfect by any means but better than the pap on TV.

    (Response: Yes, I PVR both the Global and CTV newscasts and then “watch” them afterwards …speeding through and stopping when something looks interesting. Neither takes very long to watch that way. Some days, Global “wins” and some days CTV “wins” …which is in itself quite interesting: BCTV used to ALWAYS win with viewers all around BC … not any more. Which says a LOT! h.o)

  2. r says:

    Tony Parsons?

    (Response: I think Tony and other anchor/management types were mentioned in their pieces. h.o)

  3. e.a.f. says:

    omg, I remember when Geoff Fisher died. Its was such a shock.

    Margo Harper I remember her well. Here was this young woman reporting! Not what you saw a lot of back then. What is she doing today? I remember almost all the names you listed. Norm Grohman, he was fun! Cameron Bell made a real difference to news here in B.C. almost all of the people you listed you could write a book about, on their influence of B.C. News. Watched it from the time it came on, with rabbit rears. told you I was old.

    Don’t watch Global anymore for the news. Watch CHEK island news at 5 p.m.–they still have fun and do a lot of community things. Catch CTV and CBC. Global I find just doesn’t cover the news, news. More the bleed and lead stuff and that isn’t always what I want.

    Thank you for writing this piece. Reminds me of what news used to be in B.C. to bad the station didn’t give credit to all those who worked the station and made it what it was, at one time.

    (Response: Your reaction is exactly what a celebration or commemoration of a TV station should evoke: memories of the special stories (not just events that every station carried), the people who did it and what their work and the station’s uniqueness meant to the viewers and contributed to the station success. h.o)

  4. Richard Skelly says:

    Every word of your overview is sad but true.

    Add in the similarly corporate-directed shrinkage of the CKNW news department and The Vancouver Sun…it is to weep.

    (Response: I know these are tough times for media newsrooms, due to revenue cuts and pressure to cover more platforms. However that is no excuse to pass off poorer choices for what to cover, how to ask questions and generally lower quality reporting and story telling. h.o)

  5. HARRY LAWSON says:

    Harvey

    What a trip down memory lane, we had platinum level news departments and staffing., this made everybody else raised their game , we were truly fortunate.
    The sad reality is as we allowed the centralization and corporatization of our media sources , our democracy has truly suffered, for what? as few bucks in a few pockets.

    Just think how our governance and society would be if we still had our independently
    owned media

    i really miss those days

    (Response: Exactly what a TV station 60th anniversary series should be … “a trip down memory lane” for viewers of on-air people (even “friends”) stories they remember and miss. Looked to me like what Global put on air was a product of management from back East or called the shots from back East on how to mark the 60 years … and were simply incompetent, beyond their depth or didn’t have a clue about what BCTV REALLY was or what/who/how made it so special! Whatever it was … it sure didn’t meet BCTV standards in my opinion! h.o)

  6. David Berner says:

    Thanks, Harv for your excellent (and oh so sad) report today on BCTV.

    As you well know, CKNW is an identical tragedy. I was so lucky to join the Top Dog in its last great years. While talk show hosts like myself got all the limelight, the real core of the station was the newsroom. People like Ted Field and George Garrett, to name only two of a wonderful team, kept us honest with the immediacy of their work. And they were doing exactly the same thing in radio as you’ve described today at BCTV – bringing broadcast and the people at home and in their cars together.

    Both outlets are now unrecognizable – shadows and whisps or their pasts.

    Ah, well. We soldier on finding joy and excellence wherever we can.

    (Response: Thanks, David! Still remember listening/enjoying to you on ‘NW mid 1990s to mid 2006 evenings driving in my car…. and never got the feeling you were pushing any agenda, ideology or political party. Neat! And yes, I recall NW had a FULLY STAFFED Newsroom … ran into them reporting IN PERSON from every event. Terrifically reliable LIVE radio news source. Sure don’t feel that way tuning in their hourly news these days! h.o)

  7. nonconfidencevote says:

    BCTV and CKNW today are empty husks compared to what they used to be 10 – 20 years ago.

    The inane patter of the newsreaders is particularly grating. An uninformed opinion on every story they cover.
    The fumbling and stuttering over words and sentences on every show, every night, by every experienced tv news reader makes my teeth grind. ( slow down and talk….. for the love of god)
    It seems like they have tasers tied to their backsides and must race through every word, every sentence, every story, so the endless, interrupting commercials can be played.
    The editing of the video clips and interviews is a joke.
    I can count the flawless tv news hours over the last 5 years on the fingers of one hand. News Hours with wrong feeds, wrong stories, wrong interviews, no sound, etc etc etc that have occurred in the last 5 years is a joke.
    I guess moving the editing to Calgary wasnt such a great idea when its live tv?
    And as they are all gathered in the final seconds of 6:59:55pm ……..to be cut off mid sentence and the National news feed takes over………

    Classic.
    Not Classy.

    I highly doubt Global will be celebrating a 25 year retrospective let alone a 60 year celebration.

    (Response: It’s not the edting that moved to Calgary on Global: as I understand it, it’s some control room functions …like rolling some shows, going to breaks etc. Apparently from one location, a small team now runs several shows on several stations across several cities. It’s cheaper! But yes, goof ups sometimes show. As for the editing of stories, I believe the problem is multi-fold: some reporters now edit their own stories on laptops in the field…. very mundane production values; other stories are often just edited in house, but wallpapered, where a recorded script is just covered with fed-in footage or old video from their library (LOTS of that it seems these days!). It’s supposedly also cheaper: the REAL cost is the number of viewers (affecting ad value/revenues?) is now down by hundreds of thousands of viewers … and the journalism, choices of stories …well, that’s a whole other story! h.o)

  8. D. M. Johnston says:

    It is good to hear David Berner again and his quote: “Both outlets are now unrecognizable (BCTV and CKNW) – shadows and whisps or their pasts.”

    CKNW has been reduced to commentators talking among themselves and pretending news releases are news and BCTV has been turned into an American “Breaking news” station, recycling old news as “Breaking”! FOX news North!

    Both have been reduced to an accountants efficiency and have largely lost a real audience.

    Not much more to say, as it has all been said previously.

    Adios BCTV and “Dead Dog 98”, it was good knowin ya, but now the kiddies have taken over and have forgotten about us, the audience.

  9. DBW says:

    Harvey, I don’t watch Global; haven’t for a while but it does seem pretty pathetic if the reporters and behind the scene crews didn’t get a share of attention. I was glad you listed the people you did. I checked out some and was glad to see that Norm Grohmann is still doing well (at 87) based on a Feb 2020 interview I watched. You might want to talk to George Orr. He sounds like he supported the Greens in North Van Seymour last month.

    But having said that I don’t understand why people here are so upset, sounding like some guy who can’t get over being dumped by a girlfriend 10 years ago. Move on. Change the channel. Oh wait. They are all crap, so it isn’t just BCTV or CKNW or whoever you used to love. Viewership is down all over. Walter Cronkite had far more viewers than anybody on TV today. It’s a changing market.

    So why don’t I watch Global anymore. Because I don’t have to. Before it was the only show in town or at least Vancouver news was the only show in town for the rest of us BCers. Why do I need to watch Vancouver traffic reports brought to me by some Vancouver company. Or Vancouver Canuck reports when I can watch TSN and learn about every team. Or some problem with the DTES. We have our own problems. And I can watch whatever news I want to watch at anytime. We have all day news channels (which aren’t bad) like CTV and CBC. And if we have cable we have a plethora of choices – maybe too much.

    And that isn’t even counting the internet. I get in depth reports listening to podcasts from CBC, the New York Times and the BBC while walking my dog. And then there are bloggers like you. If I am reading 5 minutes of your stuff that is still 5 minutes less for me to watch BCTV.

    My concern is trying to figure who to trust. It is too easy to fall into a bubble of right wing radio or left wing bloggers or CNN/Fox talking heads. How can you take a “”””journalist”””” (multiple quotation marks necessary) when Geraldo Rivera says we should name the vaccine after Trump.
    https://www.youtube.com/embed/3_sxFMfbXqc

    I get people missing the good old days, but lots of good information is out there if we look.

    (Response: You are certainly correct stating no one has to watch the news on any channel or from any source. But you seem to have missed the whole point of the blog: it was not about how/where to obtain information or news in general. The blog was like a movie review, or critique of a television drama series that BC’s largest television station ran and promoted EVERY night for an entire month; covered a 60-year period in BC history; but suffered from serious flaws, historical errors and inexcusable omissions. Glad I was able to correct the record for posterity … and apparently, so are many others. h.o)

  10. HARRY LAWSON says:

    Harvey,

    this so called fluff tribute left so many out, so many , there was lighting, producers, . sound , security . the cafeteria workers the janitors ,receptionist and more they all could have told interesting memories.

    i used to be a regular guest on some CKVU shows and the occasional BC TV show, l have fond memories of the cafeteria and all the hot lights BCTV never mind the lack of public transportation getting to the interview lol

    the camera men ,and tech guys truly put themselves in harms way.

    and regretfully a few never made it home,

    can we dedicate this post to them.

    to those who went before us

    (Response: To everyone who made the REAL BCTV such a success! h.o)

  11. Michael Stein says:

    I wished they would have mentioned the hard work of the staff in the control rooms over the decades as well.

    (Response: Of course, any company’s operation involves several departments: yes, control room, but also accounting, sales, maintenance and don’t forget the cafeteria! I wouldn’t criticize a tv station doing a retro on its history for to mention them all, but what I saw wasn’t even a history of CHAN/BCTV …more a history of BC, which I feel missed the mark completely. The REAL BCTV would have done it head and shoulders above what Global put to air. How appropriate! h.o)

  12. HARRY LAWSON says:

    harvey

    i miss the press club, the marine club , and of course little mountain at 2 am when the job died down and we would all have a beverage and then the the details would come out

  13. Howard says:

    Like you assert, I remember how connected the station was to the community. Back in the late sixties an ecology group of graduate students at UBC set me up to do an item for the TV news out at Lake City. I remember pulling into the parking lot and going inside where Al Clapp and the crew were flying around getting things ready for TV later that afternoon. Everything was so well organized, and I was out of there and on the road with a reporter and a cameraman within minutes.
    Glad you mentioned Ron Morier! So many more looking back: Buddy Clyde and on occasion Barrie Clark doing the teen favourite Dance Party on Saturdays, Ted Peck,
    Robert Malcolm, and so many more. It really is a pity that the station has fallen so far.

    (Response: I really do believe now there was something to the fact that, although they were supposedly marking the 60th anniversary of CHAN/BCTV, they concentrated more on BC’s history, not what/who/how the station used to report. You would think someone in charge would recognize something is very wrong when the province’s population goes up a million but the Newshour’s viewer numbers at 6 p.m. apparently drop a couple of hundred thousand. And I doubt adding in all the repeats on their 24-hour station would make up the difference, let alone show growth! h.o)

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