Arthur Black comes to 50Plus

Well, well. Here I am pecking out my 6,945,331st written commentary, albeit my very first one for 50Plus magazine.

Wasn’t supposed to play out like this, you know. I’m supposed to be sniffing roses full time. I’m a retired guy. Turned in my front-door key to the CBC building back in spring of ’02 after 30 years in the radio biz.

People still ask me why I packed it in, and I don’t have a good answer, having held, after all, the best job in Canada. I was host of Basic Black, a weekly national radio show consisting of rare and quirky tunes blanket-stitched to interviews with the most oddball Canadians we could find.

I didn’t have to interview politicians, movie stars or monosyllabic hip-hopsters. I had my own office, complete with stuffed iguana on the filing cabinet and black-velvet Elvis portrait on the wall. I also had a staff of three, a free parking space in the heart of the city and periodic paid excursions to all corners of the country to do live shows in front of adoring fans.

Workload? I was required to fill 90 minutes of air time once every seven days. Which meant that I sauntered into the office about noon on Wednesday and beat t weekend traffic by leaving just after lunch on Friday.

The job paid well, the dress code ran to slacks and T-shirts and I got to share the water cooler with a raffish clutch of well-known Canucks like Shelagh Rogers, Bill Richardson, Jurgen Gothe – all the bright and amiable nutbars who are drawn to the CBC like fluffballs to the lint screen of a Maytag. Best job in the country. And yet, and yet …

I just wasn’t enjoying it any more.

It was an Age Thing. When I started with the CBC, I was in my twenties.

The music on the hit parade was my music – Moe Koffman, Beatles, Stones. The country had a prime minister who canoed white water and slid down banisters. And I could skate faster than Wayne Gretzky (he was only about seven at the time).

Then suddenly, that prime minister was dead as were half the Beatles. And The Great One was too old to keep up.

I, too, was having trouble keeping up. Not only did I not recognize the songs on the hit parade, I had never heard of the artists who performed them. I just assumed that Vanilla Ice was a dessert and Swollen Members was a porn flick.

And the radio business was changing I was an obsolete hunt-and-peck typist awash in a tsunami of silicon-chip technology. I spurned the cellphone, avoided the pager, ignored the digital camera. I never figured out what a Palm Pilot or a BlackBerry actually did. The folks I worked with were younger and covered for me as best they could, but clearly something had to give.

My moment of truth: I’m reading the Dagwood comic strip in the Globe and Mail. Blondie is in a dress shop, uncertain the frock she’s trying on looks good on her. “You look like Faith Hill,” the sales rep tells Blondie. I pull my head out of the paper and ask the gang in the CBC lunchroom, “Who’s Faith Hill?”

My executive producer coughs defensively. Everyone else looks away.

Clearly I was drifting apart from my colleagues and my listeners. My mother ship, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was chasing a 20- to 39-year-old audience demographic, and there I was pushing 60.

It was nobody’s fault of course but everyone around me was just getting too damned young.

So you can imagine my delight when the editor offered me bunk space here in the pages of 50Plus. Suddenly I’m surrounded by folks who remember Ben Wicks, Marilyn Bell and Harold Ballard. Who know what I’m talking about when I mention the Penticton Vs, Front Page Challenge or The Small Tykes Club with Byng Whittaker.

Nice to be here. Feels just like home. Okay if I put up my Elvis portrait?

Arthur Black has been nominated and received just about every award for writing, humour and journalism available in Canada and maintains that he wanted to be a cowboy.