The final sign off

You can hear a smile on the radio. It's a secret Ron McFadyen learned after a lifetime in broadcasting. The CKRW news anchor is retiring, but his radio won't be.

You can hear a smile on the radio.

It’s a secret Ron McFadyen learned after a lifetime in broadcasting.

The CKRW news anchor is retiring, but his radio won’t be.

“I’m going to have a hard time turning it off,” he said, sitting in his cluttered office on Tuesday.

A 2006 snow-carving poster was on the wall, hanging beside a Run For Mum placard and territorial election results that were three years old.

“I think I could have just put this off forever,” said McFadyen.

“But the stars aligned. I was tired, and I want to be out in the sun walking my dog Bailey.”

The job was stressful, he said.

“Every job has stress, but our stress is different—your head always has to be in the game.”

McFadyen was on his way home from work one evening and saw a rip in the wall tent that sits in front of the SS Klondike during the summer.

“If you wonder why, it means there’s probably a story there,” he said.

The next morning, he called Parks Canada.

There’d been thousands of dollars worth of damage by vandals.

McFadyen broke the story.

“You have to have a nose for news,” he said.

McFadyen’s been in the business for 51 years.

“I built a complete communication receiver when I was 13,” he said.

“I’ve always been interested in electronics and radios.”

McFadyen credits his father—a Second World War Spitfire pilot—for his mechanical bent.

He actually wanted to be a pilot himself, but at 15 started wearing glasses, and the dream disappeared.

By that time, McFadyen had already started working at the local Cranbrook, BC, radio station on weekends and after school, playing music and reading the weather.

Three years later, he was pilfered.

A radio producer in Lethbridge, Alberta, heard the youngster on air and called him up.

“Normally, you go to a station and you’re on air the next day,” said McFadyen.

But the manager took the teenager under his wing and taught him the ropes.

“I went to the school of hard knocks,” he said.

A couple years later, he was doing radio and TV in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, then moved on to work in Regina.

That’s when he got wind of a radio station starting up in Whitehorse.

“I had no idea where Whitehorse was,” he said.

But in November 1969, McFadyen came north and helped put CKRW on air.

Supporting the fledgling station took a lot of work, and by 1971 McFadyen needed a break.

He went to work for a friend at Murdoch’s Gem Shop, and ended up making gold nugget jewelry.

“I visited mine fields all over this territory, and saw jars of gold nuggets that were so heavy you could barely lift them,” he said.

Tripping over mastodon tusks was common back then, and McFayden saw plenty of them washed out of hillsides through hydraulic mining.

Although the new job was an adventure, McFadyen couldn’t shake the crackle and static of broadcasting.

In 1973, he started working for the CBC.

“It was something I always wanted to do,” he said.

“I’ve been to every Yukon community, and covered the Arctic Winter Games from the mid-1970s until 1996.

“I learned how to interview sports people, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”

McFadyen was so good at “getting behind the game,” CBC made him its sports reporter in the mid-‘80s.

“I found a niche market speaking to children,” he said.

McFayden pulled up an audio file and handed me some headphones.

A little girl was talking about building birdhouses with her dad at Swan Haven on the weekend; there was hammering in the background.

“I like chickadees and magpies,” she said.

McFayden was beaming.

“Kids know what they’re talking about,” he said.

“Often people ask them ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, but I want to hear what they have to say.”

McFadyen has been back at CKRW for the last nine years.

He still does sports, but he also got into news.

“Live radio is so interesting,” he said, remembering a teachers’ protest in front of the territorial government building.

McFadyen had just interviewed the premier and came out and played it live for the teacher’s union president.

With jeering and cheering in the background, he got the union’s live response.

“That was cool,” he said.

“But you have to be on.”

And you need to be in the right place at the right time.

“You have to be at the ballpark and hear that final ball thud,” he said.

Covering the territory’s news and sports didn’t leave McFadyen much time for his wife and two kids.

“I missed my children growing up,” he said.

“I was in town, but I wasn’t home.”

Now his daughter is living in BC with a family of her own, and his son is in Toronto.

“Sometimes they’d come to watch games with me, but I was always working,” he said.

McFadyen’s work ethic was passed on through his father.

“He always said, ‘If you’re going to do a job, do it right,’” he said.

McFadyen is going to “have trouble letting go” of radio.

But he’s not fully out of it yet.

The founder of the Yukon Amateur Radio Association will continue to ham it up on air.

Always interested in radio’s technical side, McFadyen and his ham-radio friends put their first receiver up on Haeckel Hill in the 1970s.

“There are 19 in the Yukon now,” said McFadyen.

“I even have one in my house.”

McFadyen has flown into Mount Decoli slinging receiver equipment up 2,500 metres.

And he’s hiked up Montana Mountain with a 27-kilogram pack full of receiver parts on his back.

It was all worth it.

When forest fires were ravaging the territory several years ago, McFadyen was contacted by Yukon emergency measures.

They needed to contact a microwave station near Swift River, and they needed to do it immediately.

McFadyen got on his handheld radio, copied a few codes and had the guy on the receiver.

“When they needed us, we were there,” he said.

McFadyen was awarded a volunteer award this month for his work with the amateur radio association.

Although ham radio will keep him on the airwaves, McFadyen is going to miss the news.

It will be hard to sit and just listen, he said.

And his watch is not coming off yet.

“It’s always on, and it’s accurate to the second,” said McFadyen with a smile.

“It’s also going to be difficult to go to a really big event and have to sit in the crowd, because I’ve always been down there where the action is,” he added.

“I guess I’ll just have to volunteer.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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