10 Questions with ... Mark Elliot
May 29, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
1972: Overnights on CHIC 790, Brampton, Ontario
1972/74: Morning Man on CFOM AM, Quebec City, Quebec
1974/75: Overnights on CFRW AM, Winnipeg, Manitoba
1975/86: Evenings on CFRA AM, Ottawa, Ontario
1986/87: Evenings on CFGO AM, Ottawa, Ontario
1988/95: Evenings on CKLW FM, Windsor/Detroit
1995/2000: "People Helping People" originating on CKLW AM, Windsor and carried on the CHUM Radio Network in Canada.
2000/2002: "People Helping People" originating on CFMJ Toronto and carried on CKLW AM, Windsor
2002/Today: "People Helping People" Saturdays on CFRB AM, Toronto.
2003/2007: Full time talk host of "The Nightside" on CFRB.
1. First off, how did you get into radio? What attracted you to the medium?
I was a little kid who had CHUM on my radio all day and under my pillow at night growing up! All of my heroes were deejays on CHUM, and I was determined I was going to be one! Never did work at CHUM Toronto, although I was with the company off and on over 20 years in other Canadian markets. I got into radio at the University of Waterloo and the rest is history, I guess.
2. Your current radio gig is hosting "People Helping People," a show about addictions on CFRB every week, which you started way back in the CKLW days -- in recovery, you've become a certified addiction counselor and you're using it on the air. What compelled you to take your personal experiences and use them to help others in this manner? What drives you to pay it forward, in a manner of speaking?
Warren Cosford told me that in 1994 I was among the people who would be getting fired due to the CKLW-FM format change. Their concern was that it was unlikely that I would get another job in radio and might do myself in. I was off the wagon when we first talked about The Show. They gave me 3 months and continued my salary to get straight. He told me that when Father Paul Charbonneau of Brentwood said I was ready we'd begin.
Likewise, in 2001, when CFMJ Toronto let me go, my father was convinced I would never get another job. He died a week later. Amazing how little confidence anyone had in me, huh?
My accreditation came with the fame from "People Helping People." Staying sober means giving back what was freely given to you by others. I sincerely believe that and have continued to give back whenever I can. I never turn down the chance to speak to recovering people. And the radio show is a unique forum to do it, where it's almost totally anonymous for the caller. The show is called "People Helping People," but the audience just calls it "The Show". I've overheard it being discussed in recovery meetings many, many times. I can't even begin to tell you how many times people have said, "it's like a meeting I can take with me." That's the greatest compliment I've ever had!
3. Besides confronting and treating addiction, about what are you most passionate these days?
Music was the passion that got me into radio. I love music! I think the best radio personalities have always been passionate about what we played.
Not much else. I avoid taking positions on political issues because they come and go and personal politics would alienate some of my audience. When I did a full-time general interest talk show on CFRB, I had to take political stances which I found uncomfortable. If someone really wants to know my opinion about Toronto Transit or garbage collection, they can feel free to call me. Otherwise, I keep it to myself.
I did take a public stand in favor of Gay Marriage in Canada because I've lived with my partner Jarrett for 12 years. I've also had three failed "straight" marriages and have five children. By the way, we won the right to get married in Canada, but Jarrett and I have not done so and have no plans to get married. You figure it out.
4. You get calls from countless people seeking help, but, in a general sense, what can you tell people -- family, employers, friends -- about dealing with someone whose addictions are apparent and becoming destructive? Should they stage interventions or does the addict need to arrive at that moment of truth on his or her own?
I always tell people who call about a friend or a loved one that they can't stop someone doing drugs until that person wants to stop themselves. When you are looking for help with someone who is addicted; you are the person who's looking for help. And, you're the person who will accept help. There are great self-help groups for people who deal with alcoholics (Al-Anon Family Groups), drug addicts (Nar-Anon), gambling (Gam-Anon), etc.... Get help for yourself.
Intervention can work if you do it with a trained professional, but doing it on your own can help too, inasmuch as the addict will know they are not hiding their addiction from you. Leaving the addict to discover recovery on their own is dangerous because addiction is a killer.
5. Over the years you've hosted "People Helping People," would you say that the extent of addiction you've witnessed among the general public has increased, stayed the same, or decreased? Is the problem still growing?
The problem has only gotten worse. When I began there was no OxyContin and Crystal Methamphetamine was strictly a West Coast phenomenon. Time has shown that the problem only gets worse and the war on drugs is a colossal failure. Drugs are now cheaper and more plentiful than ever. The problem is continuing to grow.
6. Of what are you most proud, career-wise and personally?
Everything else fades against "People Helping People." I didn't want to do the show. And, I mean I REALLY DIDN'T WANT TO DO THE SHOW! I wanted anyone to tell me not to do it! I even went to my recovery sponsor, Father Charbonneau of Brentwood, and begged and pleaded not to do it! But, he looked at me and said he thought it was a good idea. I had just come off a relapse when it began, but he said: "Good. So you can talk about relapse in the first person." Then I reminded him of AA's 11th tradition that calls for anonymity at the level of press, radio and film. But, he said I wouldn't be representing anything other than myself, and, "Besides: The only requirement for membership is the desire to stay sober."
Then he added: "I think it will keep YOU sober."
He was right.
7. Who were the most important people in your career development, on the way up and getting you back in the game?
Bob Laine of CHUM was my hero growing up and when I got to work for him at CFRW Winnipeg he helped me develop the personality I've had on air ever since.
Al Pascal of CFRA had a standing agreement with me: If the ratings went up, we did it my way. If they went down, I did it his way. (Does anyone have that freedom today?)
Dave Shafer of CKLW gave me a chance to get back on the air after rehab when nobody else would touch me.
Dave Alpert of ABC News made me a star in Canada by putting me on ABC Radio. (FYI: You haven't made it in Canada until you've made it in the U.S.A.)
Wayne Stafford came up with the idea for "People Helping People" and Warren Cosford made it happen. (Warren and I date back to 1980 when he was VP of Special Projects at CHUM and began guiding my career. I still don't make a move without consulting him.)
Iain Grant of CFMJ brought the show home to Toronto.
Gary Slaight and Steve Kowch of CFRB who picked me up after I was cancelled on CFMJ (They read the ratings, which the folks at Corus did not... I was number one in my timeslot)
But, the person who deserves the most credit of anyone wasn't in broadcasting at all. It was a Catholic Priest named Father Paul Charbonneau who taught me everything I know about addictions and recovery. I often tell people that "if you like what I say, he probably said it first."
8. Your life's been an open book for years, but what would surprise people most about you?
I'm always edgy and nervous before a show. I hate public speaking and I'm terrified of failing in front of an audience. I always have been and likely always will be.
I think that fear gives me an edge on the air that I wouldn't have otherwise... so, despite the discomfort, I'm glad I have it.
9. This may encroach on the "most proud" question, but let's ask it anyway: Thinking back on your career so far, from being a DJ to hosting "The Nightside" to doing "People Helping People" for all these years, what was the one single moment that stands out as the pinnacle, as the one moment when you thought, yeah, it doesn't get more fulfilling than this? Was it an interview, or a particularly compelling call, or none of the above?
When I was cancelled by CKLW in 1998 I was devastated. I was given a month's notice, and two weeks to say goodbye. The first two weeks were hell to get through, and it was a relief when I walked into the studio to announce the show had been cancelled. The outpouring from the listeners was unbelievable! I understand the next day they couldn't get a phone line "out" from the radio station because of the irate calls from listeners. People really love this show! They saved it!
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
They are both the same thing. The advice was "Be yourself". Bob Laine taught me that when I was a kid working for him. But, being myself and being honest about it has always gotten me in the most trouble. I understand that I am a difficult person to have working for you because I have a big mouth and say what I feel. That's gotten me my biggest rewards and my biggest disasters.