This retired radioman’s first book paints a picture of life in the business during its heyday
Frank Cameron’s book, I Owe It All to Rock & Roll (and the CBC), a memoir—published by Pottersfield Press—is a rollicking good read. Cameron takes the reader through different stages of his life such as: aspects of his childhood, falling in love with radio and television, and into his busy-as-ever retirement.
The author is blessed with a natural wit and parts of this book are downright funny. Other parts are insightful as Cameron takes the reader behind the scenes at radio and TV stations.
The back cover of Cameron’s book states: “If you remember ‘Frank’s Bandstand’, ‘Bobby Curtola’, the CBC-TV news show ‘Gazette’, and, even farther back, CHNS Radio’s revolutionary move to Top 40 programming, Frank Cameron’s memoir will deposit you happily in Rock & Roll heaven.” The book delivers what it promises.
Atlantic Books Today‘s Sandra Phinney had the pleasure of asking the author a few questions.
When did the idea of writing a memoir start to perk? How did it all come together?
When I retired from the CBC in 1995 I began to think about writing a memoir. I believe everyone has a story. Although mine is not earth shattering, I began to formulate how I could present it to the public.
The book was dormant for a number of years until 2012 when I contracted bladder cancer. I realized that my very mortality was being challenged and that I should get to work on the book. I got a call from Lesley Choyce of Pottersfield Press (I had appeared in a film Lesley had shot where I played a carnie, and I was flattered that he would ask me to write a book).
It took more than two years of encouragement from Lesley and a crackerjack editor named Julia Swan to complete the book, not to mention my wife’s constant encouragement when I hit a dry spell. My son Mark kept up the barrage of flack by saying: “Are you gonna write that book or not?” The finished product is on the shelves and I am getting pretty good reviews.
Was it tough selecting what to put in/what to leave out?
It wasn’t difficult selecting material for the book. I just made it up as I went along. I don’t mean I made up the stories but I tried to present them with the same sense of humour that I inherited from my mother and father. The great thing about computers is you can insert stuff as you go along and you can be your own editor and censor. Julia worked with me and made suggestions and corrected my language mistakes and was responsible for much of the content. She also did a lot of research on some of the things I printed and I am in her debt. When I got the PDF copy I carefully read every word and yes, there were a lot of things I left out, only because I hadn’t thought of them at the time.
My son insists I have another book in me. He says I should publish a book of rants. I am writing rants for Frank Magazine and Mark thinks I should publish them. We’ll see. If I do another one I would try to be more structured. My wife works for a big university and in her position, she must have structure. I wish I could be more like her.
Unlike an autobiography where an author tries to cover everything, memoir is much more selective. Is there anything you left out on purpose?
There’s nothing I left out on purpose. No juicy bits, although I may have omitted some things that I didn’t think anyone would be interested in. There were some things I remembered after the book was published, but I can save those for another day.
In retrospect, is there something you wish you had included or would want to change? If so … here’s your chance.
A couple of things I would have changed. The spelling of my high school teacher’s name for one. It was Burchell, and not Burchill, as I said in the book. Totally my fault. I ran into Wilfred Burchell’s son at one of my book signings and he picked me up on it.
I would have liked to elaborate on some of the funny stuff at CHNS such as the time we were gathered in the main studio and the manager of the station addressed us because he thought we were getting a little too cocky. He explained our tenuous positions like this: Take a big bucket of water and plunge your arm into it. Remove your arm quickly and watch how the water displaces on your arm. If you leave the station, that’s how much you’ll be missed.
You mentioned that when you were in fifth grade, you fantasized about having a career in radio. What was the magnet?
I used to listen to radio as a kid. I would search the dial for “The Lone Ranger” and “Boston Blackie” and “I Was A Communist For The FBI”. There were so many more. I listened to the “Happy Gang” on CBC Radio from the time I was eight years old. I remember “Keep happy with the Happy Gang. Keep healthy with the Happy Gang. Cause if you’re happy and healthy to heck with being wealthy so keep happy with the Happy Gang.” I fantasized that I was Bert Pearl, the emcee and I would introduce Kathleen Stokes the organist as she played the songs of the day. I listened to the CBC Radio kids shows.
Radio to me was a place to go where you could use your imagination. It brought you to another dimension, where you could get under the covers with your flashlight and your comic book and your portable radio and be swept away with such phrases as: “If I had my way every fool who goes around with Merry Christmas on his lips would be boiled in his own oil and buried with a stick of holly through his heart” said by Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. The possibilities were endless. In radio we call it “the Bug.” You want to entertain and inform people and pick up literally thousands of listeners.
When you actually got into radio, did it live up to your childhood expectations?
Radio exceeded my expectations ten fold. I loved every minute of it, in spite of the people who didn’t want to be there, for example, those whose parents told them to get a job, or managers and program directors who weren’t fit to run a radio station and shouldn’t have been there.
Radio began to die when huge media companies bought up hundreds of stations and turned them all into honking the hits with no idea of how to get an audience. The consultants, mostly American, moved in and killed what was left of some very good broadcasting outlets.
The CBC claims to be the ultimate Canadian broadcasting machine, but it should leave the regions alone. Every CBC Manager who hits Yonge Street tries to reinvent the corporation, and the regions should have nothing to do with it. I’m told a recent edict out of Toronto says that CBC Halifax must now play two musical selections during their morning information shows. That shows a total lack of understanding of regional broadcasting and the regions should be shunning these power trippers and do their own thing.
In your book you write about 1964 being the best year of your life, you met The Beatles, Music Hop, Frank’s Bandstand. What was the next best year of your life and why?
I guess my next best year would have been 1967 when I became a staff announcer at CBC. That summer, because we lost half the staff to Expo 67, I was doing the morning show on radio, the noon hour show on radio and the supper hour news on television. My overtime cheque was larger than my regular pay cheque and I loved every minute of it.
If you could have a lunch or yack with one person today, who would that be and why?
If I could have lunch with one person today it would be my grandfather, Augustus Frank Cameron. I mention him prominently in the book, but I would like to speak with him, if only for a couple of hours. I so admired my grandfather because he gave me the inspiration to live my life as person with a personality and a sense of humour.
Do you have any regrets?
I have two regrets. I didn’t get to tell my father that I loved him before he died. And he didn’t live to see his grandchildren, just as Augustus didn’t live to see his grandchildren. I have lived to see six grandchildren and one great grandchild and I cherish them all.
Do you have a personal bucket list?
I have a short bucket list. I want to see as much of this world as I can before I bite the big one. I have been to England, Scotland, France, Belgium and Holland. I have seen the Caribbean and I will be visiting Italy this fall and Ireland next spring.