Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
Renowned newsman Lloyd Robertson will always remember his first on-air gaffe if for no other reason than it happened during his first time on the air.
Working for his hometown radio station, CJCS, the then 17-year-old mispronounced the city’s name– a minor mistake, but one he has yet to forget all these years later.
“While I’ve made many other mistakes in my career, that one stuck with me, both for the joy it gave my friends and the embarrassment it gave me,” Robertson said Sunday in Stratford, where he appeared on a promotional stop for his new memoir, The Kind of Life It’s Been.
Longtime fans and admirers of the veteran broadcaster, who retired last fall after 35 years as chief anchor on CTV News, came out to the library auditorium to hear Robertson read excerpts from and sign copies of his book – which has its share of light hearted accounts, more than one of which he shared with the appreciative audience.
He recalled one particular day at CJCS where his attempt to transcribe a written advertisement for a local auto shop wanting to warn listeners about the dangers of battery powders went terribly wrong.
“I somehow managed to misinterpret the message and began to talk about the wonderful performance you can expect from your car if you just put those powders into your batteries.
“Station owner (Frank) Squires was so angry he could only bluster that I had committed a fireable offence. Somehow I survived that day.”
A few years later, while working at CJOY in Guelph, Robertson overslept his morning shift, not arriving to work until 7:10 a.m., almost an hour and a half late. He arrived to find the phones ringing off the hook.
“I lifted the receivers off their hooks, dropped a record on the turntable and started it half way through. When the music stopped my voice was heard giving the time and weather as if we had been on the air for some time.
“I hoped nobody would know the difference and listeners would merely think there was something wrong with their radios,” he recalled, to much laughter.
That too put him in hot water with station management, but again he was given another chance.
Robertson said he learned a valuable lesson that day – “It’s never wise to try to bluff your audience” – one that surely benefited him in a career where he was voted Canada’s most trusted news anchor by TV Guide readers 11 consecutive years.
Robertson described his memoir as following the arc of his life, intersected by the beginning of television in Canada and of news in the broadcast spectrum. It also goes into detail about his mother’s battle with mental illness, and how radio and broadcast news turned out to be a nice distraction from his difficult home life.
Robertson’s autobiography begins at the exact moment he caught the broadcasting bug, January 1946, as he and his friends were standing on the supports of the CJCS booth listening to the announcers provide commentary during the Perth Regiment’s march home.
“As the commentators started up, the bands came into view, the soldiers appeared. I knew right then that I was in the midst of something that really turned me on and really set the stage for my future.”
After that, Robertson said he became a “radio groupie.” He was even given the opportunity to begin honing his famous deep delivery over the PA system at Shakespeare school.
“I don’t know where the voice came from,” Robertson joked. “I only know when I was young I was told that I had a good voice.”
After graduating high school, he was offered a full-time job at CJCS, where some of his regular on-air duties included the in memoriams, the stork report, Uncle Lloyd’s Birthday Club and reading the 6:30 p.m. newscast.
Robertson, of course, would go on to work for the CBC, as anchor of The National for six years, before jumping over to CTV in 1976. As North America’s longest running news anchor, he has had a front row seat to some of recent history’s biggest news stories like the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing and the 9/11 attacks, as well as major Canadian events including the two Quebec referendums and 14 elections.
His mantle, noted Bob Newland from Fanfare Books, who helped arrange Robertson’s stop in Stratford, is “groaning under the weight of the awards,” including the Order of Canada, Canada’s Walk of Fame and a myriad of broadcast journalism acknowledgments.
Robertson, who plans on returning in the the summer to participate in the Stratford Festival’s new forum series, said despite changes to the news business with the advent of the Internet and social media, he believes people still want their news from a reliable source.
He added, “When it comes to really knowing what is going on, I think they will ultimately turn to the professionals at the main networks and main newspapers who have spent their lives learning to to do that critical job.”