The Born Freelancer on the Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation, Part 2

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments. 


The Born Freelancer recently sat down with CBMF Executive Director and “long time broadcast person” Kealy Wilkinson, a lifelong freelancer,  to discuss a wide range of topics of particular relevance to freelancers in Canada seen within the context of our broadcasting heritage. Ms. Wilkinson’s impressive freelance career has included system and service design (with a number of years as Special Advisor, Strategic Planning to the CBC – during which time her assignments included designing the CBC’s Parliamentary Channel and the unsuccessful CBC-II/Tele-II.) This is the second part of our conversation. Part One is here.


You started your professional career in local radio on Baffin Island of all places after you graduated. Is that kind of experience, starting in a small town station somewhere, an experience you’d recommend to freelancers today?

For somebody who was very young, it was a fabulous experience to do all the things you’d never have gotten a chance to do anywhere else… I learned how to produce, how to do offsite recordings, how to develop programs that would interest people. That’s something I would never have had the chance to do so quickly anywhere else.

Do you think that kind of opportunity to break in at a small station somewhere still exists today?

It doesn’t exist any more in many places. But there are still commercial radio stations looking for new people, they’re often very small and in the outback, but they’re a great place to learn. It’s a great place to make all those awful mistakes that you will make in public no matter what and you won’t be all that embarrassed! It’s an ideal way to learn on the job if you’re going to do that. Now most people coming out of broadcasting schools today have had some kind of training… but I always suggest to them that they look for their first posting in a small community somewhere – partly because it gives you a chance to become part of a community. In a smaller community you get involved with everything. You have to, and that adds to your skill sets and especially to your social skills.

Is that a potential drawback of going to broadcasting or j-school?  You may learn a lot about broadcasting or journalism but how much will you be able to learn about living real life?

That’s exactly the point. If you don’t have the social skills you will probably get a job but you may not have success. Being on air, the genuineness of your interest and concern has to come through and has to reach your audience… I think it’s the ability to make a link to each individual audience member that makes you successful.

You’re knowledgeable about some of the greatest Canadian freelancers of all time. What other qualities should aspiring freelancers work to develop?

Wit! I think wit is the ability to look at the world with a smile behind your eyes. To be able to see the absurdities and sometimes the fun in things that other people may not be able to spot… Canadians are very successful at certain kinds of humour. Satire, for example. Which is something most Americans don’t get at all. Their humour is much more face front and confrontational. We’re not as witty, as erudite as the Brits, neither are we quite as slapsticky as the Americans. The type of satire people like Rick Mercer does is the kind of humour that Canadians certainly appreciate. That’s one thing.

What else?

I think the ability to research and reading – not online reading – and the kind of knowledge you get from assembling a reading program for yourself about whatever it is you are interested in, and spending time with books and making the connections between a whole variety of sources to help you develop your own perspective on an issue, is something absolutely key. There’s no room for superficiality on radio and television any longer. Most of the people you will be talking to will know as much or more than you do.

Any other qualities?

A sensitivity towards what Canada has become. We are so large, so stretched out that it is very difficult for a young person coming out of school, for instance, to really know what it’s like in Vancouver or St. John’s or Halifax or Montreal – what it’s like to be there. You have to be there to get the feel for the environment of that place. You can’t fake it. If you try, the people who live there and know will catch you out. I think it’s really important for young Canadians if they can to travel within Canada. I know it’s expensive but it’s worth it. With a country as diverse and as extensive as Canada I think it is absolutely key to get as much of a feel for what’s out there as you can. I always encourage young graduates from broadcasting schools to go from one small town to another while they are getting their feet wet and while they are learning their craft because it’s a great way to get a sense of the different regions of the country. They are all so different. And they’re all so terrific!

Why should Canadian freelancers today even bother to acknowledge our broadcasting heritage? What’s in it for us, professionally?

If you don’t know where you’ve been, you’re never going to know where you are going. You are going to make the same mistakes over and over and over again. We have lots of triumphs and mistakes to learn about… Canadian policy makers are no more infallible than those in any other country. We’ve made some disastrous mistakes, decisions, that have set us back massively in different ways… That’s why it’s so important for people who want to work in this industry to keep an eye on it. You need to know and you need to speak up. Look at what is happening at the CBC.

So let’s talk about the CBC. The major employer of freelance broadcast talent in Canada. Where do you see things going?

At this present moment I am not optimistic… When I watched the CBC president make his announcement to CBC staff I got the impression that corporate priorities were to change, that radio and television would be at the bottom of the priority list and that web-based activity would become the number one priority. More recently, interviews with the president have indicated that that priority may not be as clearly defined as he had originally given us to understand. So maybe there is hope! The content you develop for radio and television, as a freelancer or anyone else, is not identical. If you are developing an interview for radio you do it differently than you do it for television. I’ve done both and they are not the same. If you put a radio piece on television, it will fall flat. And they’re doing that now at the CBC.

Q” – a CBC Radio show which I listen to almost every day is also on television now.

Do you watch it?

No, I haven’t.

I tried an experiment with a number of young people. They didn’t know what to make of it [radio on TV]. It’s not good television. It’s not even bad television. It’s not television at all.

When Air Farce first went on TV they just filmed their radio show. It wasn’t a success.

Of course. Roger Abbott would’ve been the first person to say it didn’t work. So what you have are the blind leading the ill-informed. I know that’s not politically correct but it happens to be true. If you look at the leadership at the CBC at the moment, very few senior managers have any extensive actual experience in broadcasting. They are managers. They may have business degrees. They may have experience in the management sector but not in broadcasting. You end up with people who don’t get it. That’s why you have people suggesting you can put radio on television. Sorry, it doesn’t work.

So how are you feeling about the future of the CBC?

I’m feeling a little bleak. However, recently the CRTC embarked on a process called “Let’s Talk TV”. They’ve encouraged people to think about certain issues around Canadian television and to let the Commission know what they think about where Canadian television should go. So on September 8th [2014] there’s a new public hearing called “Let’s Talk TV” which will go on for two weeks. They’ve received over 2700 plus submissions from people all over Canada talking about how they’d like to see the system evolve. So maybe something good will come out of that.


The CBMF website is 


To be continued.


Posted on September 16, 2014 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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