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Jeanne Beker reflects on early days at CJON

I am going to tell you a story about Jeanne Beker (right), the internationally renowned host of Fashion TV.

Actually, Jeanne is going to tell you a few stories herself.

But first, I need to tell you this story

During the 1980s, I worked at The Newfoundland Herald, starting as a freelance columnist in 1980 and ending as managing editor when I resigned in 1988. From about 1984 to 1987, I lived in a house belonging to Geoff Stirling, owner of The Herald, OZ FM and NTV.

It was a small, one bedroom chalet located at Motion, a spectacular valley between Torbay and Middle Cove, of which Stirling owned 37 acres. With a driveway 700 feet long, it was very private but also very isolated, so break-ins were common. I volunteered to live there as caretaker, Geoff agreed and the break-ins stopped.

It was a magical place to live and I am eternally grateful to Geoff for the opportunity, which allowed me to live expense-free for almost three years and thus save for a down payment on my first house.

The ranch' at Motion included a large barn, where the family once kept horses. It was used for storage while I was there, with several of the stalls blocked full of old studio equipment, filing cabinets and storage boxes. One day, whilst in the barn fetching firewood, I noticed an old sheaf of paper taped to the side of a filing cabinet. I moved in for a closer look and discovered a staff phone directory for CJON (NTV's predecessor), yellowed with the passage of time. I was astonished at how many names I recognized.

I knew right away that this piece of paper had "curio" and "keepsake" written all over it. So I gently removed it from the cabinet and placed it in a file folder for safekeeping.

I discovered that old piece of paper not too long ago, when rummaging through old files. Click on the image at right, if you haven't already. If you've been around the local media scene for a few years, you will recognize many of the names: Brian Tobin, Gary Anstey, Jeff Blackwood, Tim Forsythe, Vince Gallant, Austin Green, Bas Jamieson, Dave Maunder, Jeanette Pelley and, yes, Jeanne Beker, the internationally renowned star of Fashion TV.

Just for fun, I sent an email to Beker's production company, explained that I had an "interesting artifact" from her days at CJON, and would like to do some reminiscing with her. To my surprise, she agreed.

I emailed her the file, we got on the phone and the tape started rolling.

The time frame was about 1975. Beker was quick to explain that she worked at CJON for less than a year, and thus didn't get to know a lot of people. "Roger Pope hired me, I remember him. I certainly remember Bas Jamieson. I remember Freaky Farrell. I remember Roma White, and was quite friendly with her she was a salesgirl, a beautiful person."

Interestingly, Beker was not an on-air person at this point. "I was not a journalist or a media person at all when I went there. I was in promotions. I was an actress and a mime artist. I just thought that maybe I could get a job in radio, and sold myself to them as a promotions girl, in on-air promotions."

Beker says she helped organize some "crazy" events including a kiss-a-thon at a local store. "It was supposed to be a little contest for Valentine's Day. I had some incredible prizes and couples were supposed to just show up and kiss for as long as they could one long, continuous kiss. This thing went on for, I don't know, like, a day and a half! People brought along sleeping bags and we were in some empty store down on Water Street I believe. At one point the Clergy came and they thought it was some kind of den of iniquity! It was really quite funny what's this mainland girl trying to do, corrupt us?"

But it wasn't all fun and games. Beker did lock horns with on-air personality and talk radio host Bas Jamieson.

"I remember I got really pissed off at him," she recalled. "This was when I first started working there. I heard him on the radio one morning doing a plug for a used car lot or something, and he said something on the air like this: If you don't like the prices the guy quotes, you can always Jew him down.' I flipped. I was so angry. I am Jewish and my parents are Holocaust survivors. And I went to Roger Pope, the program manager or station manager at the time, and I was just livid. I said I can't believe what this guy has just said. It's shocking, it's horrible.' He agreed that it was really bad and would ask (Jamieson) to put a retraction on the air."

Beker said Jamieson did run an apology the next day, but she was not satisfied with it. "It was so disgustingly stupid. Now there's this little girl that seemed to be a bit offended by the fact that I said Jew him down' and I want you to know that some of my close friends are Jewish people and' you know, it just made my skin crawl. I don't have very good memories of Bas Jamieson. It was probably innocent enough but (not acceptable) for a broadcaster. I thought, oh my lord, I hope that is not what this whole place is about."

Beker didn't actually go on the air until she was hired up the street at CBC Radio, where she did arts and entertainment reporting. Thus began a remarkable career that continues to unfold to this day.

Is your name on the attached list? Or perhaps just reading it stirs some memories for you. Perhaps you'd like to say a word in defence of Bas. Either way, feel free to leave a comment below

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  • fabian martin
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    met jeannie,at mush music,at 99queen yers ago ,just a lovely gal.p.s.jeannie call me ,lets do lunch, fabe aug 31 ,2007