Remembering John Ashbridge, 1946-2018

Posted by on Jun 7, 2021 in Brian's Blog, Journalism, Radio, Victoria | Comments Off on Remembering John Ashbridge, 1946-2018

He was a 24-year-old broadcasting wunderkind, a little guy with a big voice brought up from New Westminster to become the first news director of CJCI Radio in Prince George.

I was a 26-year-old weekly newspaper reporter in Smithers, BC, hoping to land a job at the new Prince George station but wondering if my Dublin accent might be an impediment.

Ash took a listen to my audition tape and promptly hired me as a reporter cum news announcer. “We can give you tips for smoothing out the accent,” he said.

John Ashbridge

For his age, he had an impressive résumé. After two years of watching and listening and learning, he had started doing evening and weekend news shifts at a Victoria radio station when he was fifteen. Three years later, he was hired by New Westminster’s top-rated CKNW, where his boss and mentor was Warren Barker, one of the pioneers of commercial news broadcasting in British Columbia. When Ash moved north to Prince George in 1970, lured by the prospect of establishing the first radio news network in the BC interior, he brought with him the values he inherited from Barker.

The competing station in town, CKPG, had a lazy approach to the news. The announcers assembled their newscasts from the hourly summaries issued by the Broadcast News agency, ripping the prepackaged copy from the wire machine and reading the stories without editing or adding local context.

At CJCI, this rip-and-read practice was strictly forbidden. To ensure our newscasts would sound fresh and different, Ash insisted that every piece of wire copy be rewritten before being read on air. The only exceptions were the breaking-news bulletins that occasionally interrupted regular programming.

Being up-to-the-minute with local news was another strategy Ash employed to draw listeners to our station. When I covered city council meetings that started at 9:00 AM, he told me I should take plenty of notes and be ready to file my first report, live over the telephone, at 10:00 AM. “But the meeting won’t be over yet,” I protested. “That’s how we stay ahead of ‘PG,” said Ash, “They won’t file until after the meeting. We file during the meeting. That way, we have the jump on them all morning.” He added that if I was recording any interviews with aldermen, he would show me how to dismantle the receiver of the city hall pay telephone so I could wire it directly into my tape recorder. This man was a veritable gold mine of big-city broadcasting tricks!

As for smoothing out my accent, he gave me one piece of advice that has stayed with me for forty-eight years: “You don’t say ‘far-ty far-est fires’ are burning out of control in northern BC. You say ‘four-ty four-est fires’ are out of control. Get it?” Fortified with those words of guidance, I made a conscious effort to change my vowel pronunciations to sound more like a Canuck on air. I felt I had succeeded when I went back to Ireland on holiday the following summer and a cab driver asked me if I was visiting for the first time.

Ash mostly did news while in Prince George. But one night I heard him filling in for a CKNW announcer, calling the play-by-play of a game between the Vancouver Canucks and the California Golden Seals. I was most impressed. This man has a future in sports, I thought.

Indeed he had. After three years in Prince George, Ash returned to CKNW, where he continued to work on and off for the next thirty-two years. Additionally, starting in 1987, he became the voice of the Canucks as public address announcer for the team’s home games. That’s the role for which he’s now being remembered in the hundreds of messages of condolence that have appeared on Twitter since his death from cancer two days ago.

Ash would have turned seventy-two tomorrow. Much too young.

[Excerpted, adapted and updated from my book Leaving Dublin: Writing My Way from Ireland to Canada]

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Copyright 2018 Brian Brennan - Author