For some, it is the beloved Mother Corp. Others wish it would just become the Mother Corpse.
If you’re Canadian, you have an opinion on the CBC.
But few have lived it like Ron Devion of Brentwood Bay. The former chief of CBC Sports, who ended his career heading its duties as host broadcaster for the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games, has pulled back the veils in From Stardust, Book II: Personal Memoir of Ron Devion to allow an enticing glimpse into the world of the CBC that few of us see.
Barry Kiefl, in his influential blog Canadian Media Research, calls it the “best 2012 book on the CBC … 2012’s must-read book about the trials and triumphs of managing and programming the CBC.”
That’s quite an accolade for a self-published memoir.
The book is certainly filled with vivid recollections of a life lived by a warm-hearted and generous man in the cutthroat media capitals of this country, starting rather humbly in the accounts department of the CBC in 1955.
The flag Devion flies every Canada Day is the one flown from the tail of the Goodyear blimp that hovered over the capital region during the 1994 Commonwealth Games and given to him in appreciation following the Games by the blimp’s captain.
During his time as head of Hockey Night in Canada, Devion would sneak down to an adjacent Toronto bar in 1980 to research and observe how patrons reacted to a between-periods analyst he had invited on-air on a spot basis. This fledgling but opinionated commentator was a career minor-league player with a brief stint as an NHL coach who, as Devion recalls, was then working the jackhammer on road crews.
Between periods is the time when TV hockey watchers hit the pool table, dart board or the washroom.
“I would rush down at the end of the period and sit in the back of that bar and notice that whenever this particular guest came on, everybody would start watching again,” recalled Devion, during an interview earlier this year in Brentwood Bay.
That informal bit of research was all the hunch Devion required that he was on to something. So he hired that increasingly bombastic guest — Don Cherry — for $50 an appearance.
“Don was nervous on-air at first, but I thought to myself: This guy has a gift … he has that X-factor,” said Devion.
The rest is Canadian sports broadcasting history.
Fourteen years later, Devion’s handling as head of the 1994 Commonwealth Games host broadcaster earned the CBC a $5-million profit against all expectation.
“It was a wonderful way to end my career,” said Devion, who retired to the Saanich Peninsula following the Games.
“They [CBC management] thought we would lose $11 million. We called ourselves The Crazies. We didn’t think the way CBC thinks. We did it like the private broadcaster model.”
Devion proposed putting that $5-million Games profit back into establishing a CBC Radio station in the capital, which at that time didn’t have one. That innovative idea was rejected, although CBC Radio eventually came to Victoria.
Devion, who also worked non-sports for the CBC in several high-level capacities, left his imprint on the corporation’s coverage of everything from the CFL to the Olympics.
“In terms of sovereignty, public broadcasting is as important as F-35 fighter jets and ice-breakers” said Devion, who admits to being worried about its prospects. “CBC Radio is OK, but I despair for the future of CBC-TV.”
He noted the current per-person taxpayer subsidy for the entire CBC is $34 per year.
“For $20 per-capita more per year, the CBC could operate commercial-free,” he said.
Now as just a retired citizen, from his Brentwood Bay balcony, Devion has an opinion on the CBC like any other Canadian. But it’s an opinion more informed than most.
Copies of From Stardust are available from firstname.lastname@example.org