The Ruminations of Vic Waters

Stories and info about those no longer involved in the industry

The Ruminations of Vic Waters

Postby cart_machine » Sat Aug 03, 2019 6:26 am

I didn't really meet Vic Waters. I was introduced to him one evening at a get-together of former CJOR staffers. He seemed a little confused and unsure of where he was. He wasn't the vibrant and creative man of his radio heyday. He was, sadly, a shell of Vic Waters.

The Vancouver Sun devoted three full pages to Waters in its feature section of May 4, 1973. The piece skims through his career (neglecting his short-lived, Toronto-based TV comedy show in 1959) and spends more time on his thoughts. Attending the article is a nice old photo of Waters with Jack Cullen and Wilf Ray from bygone years.

Waters was no longer in radio when this article was written; he was pioneering cable TV, still a mom-and-pop business. A year after the publication of this piece, Waters left his Cablevision job. Jack Wasserman speculated Waters would end up on the air again, but it was not to be. No one wanted Vic Waters. He was from another time.

You can chuckle, if you desire, at the comment that radio was much better in the '50s than in the '70s. What is it that people who were in the business in the '70s say about today's radio?

I have censored part of this article. The words were printed in full in the Sun. However, someone who stumbles onto this story may have a violent knee-jerk reaction and immediately wreak hell and damnation upon the site's owner, which I do not want. Perhaps interestingly, I also grew up not hearing the words Mr. Waters refers to.


A man who finally heard humanity Is still, sad voice on an open-line radio program
Vic Waters is wired to the information media. He carries a radio with him around his house when he's doing odd jobs. When he gardens on Sundays, the radio is by his side. It's there when he's in his garage workshop.
"Radio is everywhere," he says enthusiastically. "It's in every room of the house, it's with you in your car, with you in your boat, it's with you while you walk, it goes to the ballgame so the commentator can give you a better idea of what's going on in the field." Vic Waters says he likes to keep tuned in to all the available information.
Vic Waters, who has been called the radio man's radio man in Vancouver, the man who spent 29 years broadcasting here on CJOR, doesn't have much use for fantasy anymore. Waters will watch the Canadian Sunday night public affairs programs on TV but situation comedies are "a bunch of crap, they have nothing to say, they're not important." He seldom reads fiction, preferring instead biographies because, he says, he's interested in people.
Other people's real life adventures are the bread and butter of the media professional. Somebody does something unusual, it's money in your pocket, adrenalin in the bloodstream. You yourself have no time for anything but recording and interpreting. You had adventures once, when you were a kid, but nowadays all you can do is talk about it. On your radio show.
"I was born in Vancouver and as a kid I used to race around the streets and haunt the waterfront, ride the freights out of the Great Northern yards and CPR, did all the kind of things that kids did in those days because they created all of their own entertainment," says Waters. "Today a lot of stuff is handed to children, there is no challenge in it, it doesn't require their imagination. Plastic airplane put together with some glue — he hasn't created anything, he's only assembled what somebody else has created. I used to talk about those things on the radio."
A man who has made his living for 29 years on the strength of the fact that people prefer to be passively entertained cannot, or will not, recognize the irony in such talk. Voyeurism becomes a way of life, whether the subject is your own past, before you got into the information business, or other people's lives, which keep you there. The high point comes when you record The Story.
The Story came for Waters when the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940. Five years earlier Waters, armed with a ham radio license, became very good at copying Morse code, which got him a job copying press material for The Province, material which was only available over a short-wave receiver, located at Sea Island.

"I was sitting on my keester out on Sea Island at my wireless set out there and I got a notification to all press operators to prepare for a long story.
"Send out for cigarettes, send out for coffee, alert your editors, a very significant story coming and so I phoned the editor of The Province and said: 'I think we've got something coming up here on Transradio Press, I don't know what the hell it is' and so when they gave me the first couple of lines indicating the German forces had invaded Norway[.] The Province sent their motorcycle messenger out and I had a motorcycle messenger there every 15 minutes and I would tear off whatever I had copied and give it to the messenger and he'd run it into The Province so they could typeset it and that story lasted from 4 in the morning to about 8:30 in the morning and I was typing 35 words a minute from code. We covered the whole front page of The Province and the whole rear page — it's kind of an interesting job when you're a press operator. That's how I got into CJOR."
That's how Waters got into CJOR. As you can see, he tells the story non-stop, there are few periods in his sentences, mostly dashes and semi-colons and commas and he's liable to suddenly throw in a question mark after a long dialogue, just as you'd expect from a radio man's radio man who, among other jobs in broadcasting, also, inevitably, had his own open line program. It was in that slot that he honed to a fine edge another pre-eminent trait of the media man: enough gall to publicly opinionate. To give you an example, here are Vic Waters' public views on that hugest of television successes, All in the Family. Even if you think he's missed the point, you'll have to admit he does it with verve.
"There was a time 30 or 40 years ago that we used to run out into the street and call Jewish people k**s and y**s and we called Italians d**s and we called Hindus t**l h**s and things like that but my children never used those terms because they never heard them in their lifetime. They're terms of disrespect. Carroll what's-his-face has brought all of these words back into street use again — kids think it's very funny to sit in front of a television and for the first time hear a black man called a c*n. They didn't know enough to call him a c*n before but now they do and they start using the word. I think man's respect for man begins to disappear when he finds euphemisms for a guy. I don't like it. I think that's terrible television. I can't find anything to excuse it, anything at all. Can you?"
Waters did a night time radio show from 1948 to 1956 on CJOR. Then he switched to day time radio, in a number of guises we'll come to shortly. The distinctiveness of the Vic Waters show was that he interspersed what is referred to as "comment" between the music he played. He describes the music he chose as "tasty, nothing cheap." In 1949 that meant, to Waters' mind, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. In the mid-50s it meant Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. By 1960 he was into Perry Como, Tony Bennett and Doris Day. Waters' initial reaction to the arrival of Elvis Presley around 1955 was that he was "bloody awful, he was buggering up popular music." He's since come round.
And the commentary?
"I was in competition with Jack Cullen on CKMO and there was nobody else around who could touch us. Cullen was very high on stunts, very high on interviews, very high on the kind of zany radio which he did very, very well. I did a kind of cool disc jockey show. I tried to appeal to the intellect rather than just the emotion of the moment. I used to interpose social commentary between records, too, which Cullen never did. He always spoke the jargon of the disc jockey. 'A piece of wax just out of Detroit' sort of thing. Sometimes I wouldn't talk about records at all, I would just talk about life . . . and women, stuff like that. Off the cuff."
In 1966 Waters got his open line show and it changed his life. The open line radio show is a phenomenon in mass media because it is one of the very few formats which gets (indeed, depends on) direct and contiunous [sic] feedback from the audience. The kind of events that change the life of a radio man are very poignant.
"I suppose I was slightly left of ultra-conservative in almost every respect. Politically, certainly, things were black and white. It was comfortable during that long period when I was a disc jockey to let other affairs fall into this comfortable mold. At the beginning, when I first started the open line show, America the Brave was over there in Vietnam defending the world against Communism; when I finished the show those God damned monsters were slaughtering people in Asia in their own bloody backyard on their own farms. I changed that much about the thing. And it all happened inside me. I didn't have anybody really coaching me but I was hearing other voices.

"Somebody, I think it was the poet Wordsworth, talked about the still, sad voice of humanity. I began to hear it after a while. I heard it in these people's voices who were phoning up and talking with me. I was listening to people more than I ever did before."
(Then Waters took some time off and among other places visited Greece and Spain, where he witnessed overt political repression first hand. Sunning himself on the beach, he chanced upon people who had been political prisoners. He talked to them. When he returned to Vancouver, CJOR gave him another open line slot. His old audience phoned him in droves and accused him of being far left. Then they stopped phoning him. Waters thinks he frightened them. The show survived only seven months, because the line had gone dead. Waters had goofed. He'd listened too carefully.)
The radio game was not always so . . . what? Unjust, perhaps? Unfair? Talk to anyone involved in the media of 20 years ago and they'll tell you how much fun it was, how much more human than today. The reason radio lost its innocence is that advertisers today want to know just exactly how many heads they're buying for every thousand dollars they put out. Since about 1950 in Vancouver, an official, very specific ratings system has helped them do it. The modern radio man tends to quiver and shudder before these ratings, finally prostituting himself altogether in their service.
"But back in the old days," Waters begins, "we had this guy J. Stanley Miller, for instance, used to blow tenor saxophone on CJOR between 9 and 9:15 every morning and people used to come right into his office and say 'we sure like your radio program.' He had immediate feedback on his program so he was satisfied. You could have come along and said 'well, nobody is listening J. Stanley' and he'd say 'I don't care, I still want to have the program on every day because people are coming in my door and telling me they like it'."
Radio, in other words, was more fun when there was no way for your employer to find out how big your audience was.
"I've seen a lot of strange disc jockeys go through this town. Real weirdos. We had a guy called Mac Thomas at CJOR in the '50s and Mac played a record only occasionally. He would sometimes talk from midnight to 4 a.m. without playing a single record. He very frequently had nothing to say really, but he had this extraordinary gift for being able to talk and make sense somehow. He was also unable to manage his personal affairs very well and he was always in trouble. I've seen him leave his shift at 5 in the morning, walk down to English Bay and swim across to West Vancouver just because he thought today he would like to swim to West Vancouver.

"We once had a nightly symphonic concert hour on CJOR which, instead of calling The Symphony Hour or whatever, we called Aubrey, Aubrey being the name of a slightly disinterested janitor who would come in when I was playing the symphony records and talk about them. So instead of one guy talking about somebody's inspiration for composing such and such a piece this guy used to talk to me in lay terms about his feelings on music. He didn't really care for music either and it was a question of me trying to sell him on the idea. It was a good program.
"I was known as Jody in this town for a while and it came about in a very peculiar way," Waters continued. "One day in 1963 I had to substitute for Joe Chesney, who did the Uncle Joe show in the afternoon — country and western music. Chesney is now owner-manager of CJJC (Langley), a good guy. I didn't want to be identified with country and western music so when the program came to an end, just out of some sense of caprice or something, I said 'I'll be looking for you here tomorrow about the same time and I ain't nobody's uncle and I ain't nobody's cousin, I'm just Jody.' And that's the way I signed the program off. That goddamn name caught on in this town. I still meet people who call me Jody. We kept this show for about three or four years and then it faded away."
Vic Waters tells a few stories about some of the radio people now at work here whom he introduced to the business. "I can't remember all the people that I hired and introduced to radio but there must be 25 or 30 of them kicking around somewhere," says Waters, and he considers this his greatest contribution to Vancouver. Barry Clarke [sic], Red Robinson, Brian Forst, Bruno Cimolai, Doug Campbell. And Jack Webster.
"I didn't actually hire Jack Webster but I was the guy who stood by him for the first few nights and held his hand, got him started. That was 1954. He was a hell of a good reporter but he was a very poor broadcaster. I finally found out what was inhibiting him. When Webster sits and talks to you he uses his hands, but when he sat down to broadcast he folded his hands across his lap. I said 'Jack, take your hands off your lap when you're broadcasting. Even when it's from a script, use your hands the way you ordinarily do.' He did and he became his natural self. "
After Webster's first broadcast he said to me: 'I promise you one thing above everything else. In all the time that I am a broadcaster there is one thing I will never be and that is a professional Scotsman.' Can you find any more professional a Scotsman in the world today than Jack?

"And I was Jack Wasserman's first radio coach, too. He used the first 35 minutes of his first open line program to tell people about the kind of radio broadcasting ' he hoped to do; thoughtful and serious, probing, analytical, valuable. He went on and on, spelling it out at great length and then he said: 'And now the telephone lines are open; as an open liner I want to receive my very first call — I wonder what it'll be?' It was a little old lady who phoned to complain that her feet hurt and she couldn't find a decent pair of shoes anywhere in Vancouver, nor anybody who gave a damn about fitting her properly. That was his first call after that great opening," laughs Waters.
If you ask Vic Waters why he worked for one radio station for 29 years, he'll tell you it was because he was scared.
He came from the sort of background that puts no premium on risk-taking, only security, on hanging onto a good thing. Waters spent the first 21 years of his life in one house, in east end Grandview, one of four children brought up on the $47-a-month Civilian Widows and Orphans Allowance his mother drew. He married a Grandview girl, a girl he went around with for four years and would have married sooner except they didn't have the money. By 1941 CJOR was giving Waters $20 a week, they'd saved $70 and figured it was enough. In 1948 Waters bought a house in Dunbar and they've lived there ever since. Waters is a man of constancy and economy.

But there have been times when his faith in life's eternal verities has been shattered. CJOR fell upon bad times in 1962, when its owner, George Chandler, died. Mrs. Chandler, the new owner and nominal manager, was eventually ordered by the Board of Broadcast Governors, in an unprecedented ruling, to sell the station because of blatant mismanagement. Pat Burns was responsible for broadcasting during this time and, says Waters, "we had any number of different station managers brought in at Mrs. Chandler's orders. Some of them were drunks, some of them were despots, some of them couldn't differentiate between power and authority."
The result was that in at one point in 1965, between 1 and 6 p.m., the station had but a single commercial to broadcast. Which was nice for listeners, the few there were, but not too good for the station's financial coffers. Pat Burns was fired. Vic Waters, who started out as a studio operator for CJOR In 1939 and, besides his numerous announcing duties had also been program director, news director, and executive assistant to the boss himself, and who was at this time production manager, was run ragged.
"I had a mistaken sense of loyalty. I had lost sight of what I was really loyal to, which was the spirit of an old radio station that I once knew but was too dumb to realize had changed. I was scrapping night and day to hold a station together that wasn't the same station I was thinking about. It was another station altogether it was a totally alien, foreign thing that I realized I didn't have any love for at all."
Whan [sic] a discussion of the relationship between a man and a radio station gets to this level you must introduce a new vocabulary momentarily, to stay in the spirit of the narrative:
A divorce was arranged, a breaking-apart that Waters never would have had the courage to go through with before. He'd recently had a heart attack which turned out not to be a heart attack at all — a sequence of events that charged each new day with vivid meaning for Waters, he says. And he'd had his head turned around and his moral forces liberalized by that open line radio show of his, when he'd begun hearing the still, sad voice of humanity. Which is why (when, inevitably, he went back to CJOR a few months later on a part time basis, to ease the pain of separation) he was once again forced to repudiate the marriage on a point of principle.

Pat Burns came back in June of '69. Waters quit CJOR forever. "I just didn't want to walk in the same fields as Pat Burns. We're good personal friends, we sit and drink often, but there's no way I'm going to be officially associated with Pat Burns' attitudes. Philosophically we're 18,000 miles apart."
Eighteen thousand miles is a long way between two people, considering that both started from about the same point. Waters was now beginning to think about some really adventurous things. He told his wife Thelma that he was prepared to take every cent they owned and spend it. He told her money wasn't something to worship. He told her he thought he was crazy for having stayed at that one radio station for 29 years.
Well, nobody knows better than Vic Waters that talk Is cheap, and fortunately he came to his senses and didn't actually do anything about those rash excursions of the mind. What he did do was become program director for Channel 10, the community cablevision channel for local public affairs programs. One of the first things he did there was televise a series of programs on how to make money on the stock market.
During his tenure at Channel 10 Waters tried a lot of things that hadn't been seen on local television before, and he's got other fairly radical ideas in the making. His most difficult adjustment was to the CRTC's admonishment that the size of Channel 10's audience was unimportant; what was required was a distinct, locally-oriented alternative to the nine existing commercial channels. When Waters captures five per cent of the available audience, therefore, he now realizes he should be pleased, considering his budget for an entire year ($130,000) is less than that for one Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.
A short while ago, Channel 10 cameras were taken inside a city council meeting at the Jewish Community Centre and 3,000 people watched, most undoubtedly for the first time, local politicians fulminating over the neighborhood pub issue. Waters oversaw a series of telecasts of John Juliani's Savage God theatre productions in which, says Waters, certain heavily obscene words, never before acknowledged by Canadian broadcasting but essential to Julian's plays, were heard. Waters is not unwilling to go out on a limb.

Waters stayed at Channel 10 for three and a half years, and just last month was made director of corporate relation for Premier Cablevision of Vancouver, the biggest single cablevision system in the world, he says, and owner of Channel 10.
He retains executive control of programming at Channel 10 and, for the first time in his life, Waters has an office with a window in it. Public relations flackery may dim his creative impulses a bit, but Waters isn't even considering the possibility.
Waters likes talking about cablevision, about how it's going to revolutionize the world. At 54, he's adjusting to the newest medium and he's doing it enthusiastically, even rapturously.
"I believe when you come into a person's home you should present yourself properly and I think you should present yourself as close to the state of the art as you possibly can. I'd like to be totally in color and . . ." And so on. He's talking about a television signal, you understand, not a woman. Make room once again, Thelma, your old man's got a new mistress.
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Re: The Ruminations of Vic Waters

Postby Jack Bennest » Sat Aug 03, 2019 4:21 pm

Redacted Jim - then we could see it in black and white - no pun intended. :bag:
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