Rutherford shuts off his microphone

Dave Rutherford

Dave Rutherford, the king of Calgary talk radio, will quit his long-running show when his contract expires in July 2013. The 64-year-old broadcaster had been thinking about this for some time. His decision became final when the station, AM 770 CHQR, said it was looking for chatty on-air talent to provide “smart, stimulating and respectful conversation on a diverse range of topics.”

“I think the broadcast news industry, for lack of a better term, is dumbing down,” Rutherford told the Calgary Herald. “I don’t think there’s the desire to ask the next question, maybe to ask any questions.”

So what else is new? Rutherford knows better than anyone that, for the longest time, commercial morning radio in Calgary was about pandering to the lowest common denominator of public taste and intelligence. That was before he became the self-styled godfather of redneck broadcasting in the early 1990s.

Listeners didn’t want lumpy cereal for breakfast when Rutherford first hit the Calgary airwaves. They wanted instant junk food, pre-cooked and easy to swallow. Morning radio had to be banal. It couldn’t be otherwise. The alternative to banal was nobody’s listening.

In 1990, Rutherford was co-host of a top-rated breakfast program on QR77 that dispensed a lightweight combination of elevator music and vacuous commentary on stories ripped from the tabloid headlines. He characterized the format as “somewhat informational, somewhat humorous and warm, like a morning chat over coffee.” While sober CBC Radio gave its listeners tax tips and investment advice, Rutherford and his jolly sidekick, Jim Jeffries, talked about beauty pageants and pumpkin-growing contests. “Everyday information,” Rutherford called it. “Some of it entertainment, some of it trivia. You have to shake off some of the ivory-tower aspects of journalism when you do this kind of programming.”

Within two years, however, Rutherford had decided to trade triviality for substance. In February 1992, QR77 switched to an all-news format with a sharp focus on politics and current affairs. CFCN television news anchor Darrel Janz first accepted and then rejected a job hosting the QR morning show. Rutherford put away his beauty queen jokes and moved into the slot offered to Janz. Initially, he was paired with former CBC Radio announcer Sharon Edwards. But that combination didn’t work and Edwards was gone by July 1992. Rutherford was left to fly solo and The Rutherford Show was born.

At its height, the show was heard across Western Canada and simulcast on television. Rutherford became widely known for his rightwing views on topics such as welfare, justice reform and pay equity, and his ability to roast politicians and business leaders in the hot seat. His followers were proud to identify themselves as rednecks. When Rutherford asked them to define what they meant by redneck, one replied: “A politically incorrect Westerner stumbling around in the wilderness after being robbed by the people in the East.”

Now, it appears, the station that provided a pulpit for Rutherford’s right-wing rants over the past 21 years wants to return to something resembling the happy-talk format that worked successfully for it in the 1980s. No more depressing talk about carbon taxes, “radical environmentalists” and what the station calls “an undying commitment to keep listeners up to date on the latest crime stats.” Instead, opportunity knocks for a radio host in tune with the zeitgeist of the times; someone who can identify with those diverse segments of the population who voted for Naheed Nenshi.

If AM 770 wants to grow its audience in the future, it has to change direction and look beyond the rednecks who want tougher penalties for violent criminals, fewer immigrants allowed into Canada, and a radical reduction in welfare spending. It cannot do otherwise. The alternative to change is nobody’s listening.

Morning Dish 29/1/2021

“Back on the coffee, today?”

“Too cold for Malbec. They should be serving mulled wine in here.”

“So what’s new?”

“Conrad Black has been offered his own TV show.”

“This is a joke, right?”

“No joke. He’ll be co-hosting a Toronto talk show called The Zoomer.”

“The Zoomer? What the heck is that?”

“Who knows? Some made-up name to make His Lordship sound hip.”

“Sounds more like the name of a kid’s video game. Is Justin Bieber the creative consultant on this show?”

“Let me read to you what the Globe guy writes about it. He says the show will be, quote, salient, sententious, puissant, and even a little efficacious.”

“Cute.”

“And, like on Oprah, there’ll be giveaways at every performance.”

“Cars?”

“Dictionaries.”

“No shit?”

“That’s a joke. The Globe guy put that one on his Twitter feed.”

“What will the show be about?”

“According to the story, Black will be talking about such things as prison reform and the U.S. justice system.”

“This is a joke, too, right?”

“As you know, he’s an expert on both subjects.”

“Are you sure this isn’t a story that was supposed to be embargoed until April the first?”

“It gets better. It says he wants to have Henry Kissinger as his foreign-policy commentator.”

“The show will never work.”

“Why do you think?”

“The guy never smiles.”

Morning Dish 28/1/2021

“Still on the Malbec, I see. So how was your weekend?”

“Uneventful. Mostly I just watched TV. Did you see Justin pressing the flesh with those folks in that country restaurant?”

“I’ve no clue what he was doing there. He’s out there trying to win the leadership of his party, yet he spent his time doing the meet-and-greet thing with people who are not even Liberals. What was the point of that?”

“Maybe he’s practising to be prime minister.”

“Maybe he should practise winning the leadership first.”

“He’ll win that, no problem. He’ll win by a hair.”

“Oh, spare me the bad puns. It’s too early in the morning.”

“He got a haircut, didn’t you notice?”

“They didn’t take much off.”

“His father was almost bald at that age.”

“Why are you on about this hair thing, anyhow? Don’t you have anything better to talk about?”

“There is no substance, so we might as well talk about style. Hair of the dogma. His father was all about style too.”

“No he wasn’t. Don’t you remember the Just Society and The Land is Strong?”

“Those came later. When he was running, it was all about kissing pretty women and fresh roses in the lapel. Remember Trudeaumania?”

“I remember the newspapers could only think of one word to describe him: Charisma.”

“That’s all about style. And yet he was one of the brainiest politicians we ever had in this country. The only one I could ever imagine having over for dinner.”

“How about Ignatieff?”

“He would be my alternate pick if Trudeau couldn’t make it.”

“Too bad Trudeau was a communist.”

Morning Dish 25/1/2021

“What’s with the wine, today? The sun isn’t over the yardarm yet.”

“It is in Newfoundland.”

“Perhaps I’ll join you then. I like the coffee here but a change is as good as a rest. Did you watch Alison on the tube last night?”

“Why do you think I’m drinking today? Bitumen bubble, my ass. Between her and the Flames it’s not exactly a good-news week for Calgary.”

“At least the weather is warming up.”

“They’re softening us up for higher taxes, you know that.”

“Why do you think?”

“Do the math. The oil money is drying up and they made all these spending promises. The money has to come from somewhere. That means you and me, buddy.”

“If I was running this province, I’d fix the problem in five minutes.”

“What would you do, O Exalted One?”

“Cut the politicians’ salaries and take away their perks. That would save us a ton of money right there.”

“Nobody would ever run if you did that.”

“Au contraire, my friend. We would get a better class of politicians, devoted to duty and public service, not lining their pockets with taxpayers’ dollars.”

“You’re dreaming in Technicolor, buddy. This is oil-rich Alberta, not some fairytale province run by tree-huggers and do-gooders.”

“Not so rich any more. I like this Malbec. I think I’ll have another glass.”

Morning Dish 24/1/2021

“I see the Beebs is bigger than Lady Gaga now.”

“Bigger?”

“On Twitter. More than 33 million followers, if you can believe it. A new follower every other second. Bigger than Lady Gaga. Bigger than Barack Obama. Bigger than Shakira.”

“Shakira?”

“Another pop singer. It’s a generational thing.”

“How about Oprah? How does the Beebs compare to her?”

“She’s not even on the list. The Beebs rules.”

“And he’s Canadian.”

“Makes you proud, don’t it? The pride of Stratford, Ontario.”

“Just like Lloyd Robertson.”

“Indeed, just like Lloyd Robertson. I used to like old Lloyd when he was on the news. The most trusted man in Canada.”

“How long do you think the Beebs is going to last?”

“Probably not as long as Lloyd Robertson. But you never know. Paul Anka is still going strong.”

“He was older than Bieber, though, wasn’t he?”

“Not much. They were both young teenagers when they started.”

“I just can’t imagine the Beebs with grey hair playing for the seniors in Vegas.”

“Stranger things have happened. He’s already left behind the 12-year-olds who followed him in the beginning.”

“I’ve never listened to his music, myself. Is he any good?”

“Let’s put it this way. He’s very popular.”

“Is he as good as Elvis?”

“Now you’re dating yourself. You need another coffee, I think.”