A Father's Influence

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Early exposure to media
has quite an impact

The only job Mark Critch has ever had, outside of writing and performing, was mowing the lawn.

And he got fired from that.

I was mowing the lawn at VOCM, back when they had the call letters spelled out in these giant flower beds, Mark said, in an interview. I was mowing the lazy way, by tying a piece of rope to the handle of the mower and towing it up and down the hill. But the knot came undone and it rolled away right through the letter O. So what you had was a V, then an opened bracket, then a closed bracket, and a CM. They werent very happy. Plus, I was horribly bad at mowing the lawn. So I got fired.

The incident was tougher on his father, Mike Critch, one of the best known voices in broadcasting from the 1960s through the 1980s, on VOCM Radio.

Dad was shaking his head at me, the only Critch ever to get fired from VOCM, said the star of This Hour has 22 Minutes. But VOCM was quite nice about it.

The media, in general, has been kind to Mark Critch. Now a nationally-recognized TV star, he was exposed to news reporting at an early age, and surrounded by media people throughout his childhood.

This is something Mark and I have in common well, except for the star part as I was also raised in a media environment. My father, Ken Meeker, worked at CJON and The Newfoundland Herald during the 1960s, and CBC Here Now during the 1970s and 1980s.

I have vivid memories of visiting CJON studios at Buckmasters Circle, going in on a Saturday when dad had to work. The building would be empty, so my brother, Steve, myself, and sometimes a handful of friends, would slip away to explore, while Dad worked at his desk. We got into far too much mischief to recount here (though it has potential for a future blog post).

I remember visiting Creative Printers on Water Street West, in the building now occupied by Michels Bakery, and saw how they composed the pages with lead type. I was dumbstruck by the massive rolls of paper. But what stood out more than anything was the smell of printers ink. Its been in my blood ever since.

Of course, there was the adrenalin rush of seeing your father on TV, during News Cavalcade and Here Now, and hearing him on radio, and the buzz of meeting media personalities face-to-face on the roof of the boathouse during the St. Johns Regatta. It all had a tremendous influence on my eventual decision to become a writer and journalist.

It was much the same for Mark Critch.

One of my earliest memories was listening to the radio from my kitchen at home on Kenmount Road, Mark said. We lived next to VOCM literally right next door so we had good reception! Im sure there will be tumours all over my body as I get older, from living next to all those satellite dishes.

His father even had his own private short-cut to work. There were stairs built into the hill going down to our house, so it was just a hop up over the hill in the mornings, Mark said. And I was up there all the time. I spent a lot of time in that building.

Mark realized at an early age that his father was famous, though he had no idea what it all meant. I have an early memory of going to the mall with my Mom and Dad, and of course the mall was The Mall then. That was where everyone went, youd run into everyone, and it took forever for Dad to get through. One time, when I was maybe five, I was walking past the old intermission and heard someone doing an impression of my Dad: Late last night, details are scanty, Mike Critch, VOCM News Service. I remember I turned around and said Thats my father! I knew he was making fun of him, but I didnt know how or quite understand why.

But Mark was keenly aware he was being raised in a rarefied air, up there on VOCM hill.

Just being around the station, with the old reel-to-reels and microphones... It was very different from the (life) experience for a lot of other people, because I could feel and smell the building and see the people I would bring Dad his lunch, or walk over with messages for him.

I remember lying in bed at night with an early Sony Walkman, and there was one red light for AM and another for FM. I would lie in bed and the only thing you could see were these two little lights. So yeah, I was doomed from the start.

Mark has memories of interesting characters like John Reynolds, Bas Jamieson, Scott Chafe, Dick Reeves, Carl Sterrett, Ron Pumphrey, and others.

I met most of them, he said. I didnt just hear Ron Pumphrey doing Nightline, I knew what he looked like and saw him get out of the car and go into the building The great thing about Nightline was, youd get more guys calling who were having a couple of sips. And Ron would do what a lot hosts wouldnt. Now if some guy told Bill Rowe that he just saw the devil out in the street, Bill Rowe would say Thats foolishness and hang up. Ron would say, Oh really? What did he look like? and he would go down that road. It made for great radio.

His father had numerous media friends, and some would drop by his house. Rex Murphy was a friend of Dads and he often came over to visit. Maybe thered be a couple of drinks involved, and theyd be playing these John McCormack records, talking and solving the worlds problems. And Id be tucked around the corner having a great old listen. I didnt know what they were talking about but it sounded pretty interesting.

Mark tasted the performing arts at an early age, performing in 1990 with the comedy troupe Cat Fud. He was just 15, but the troupe received rave reviews. And the lifelong exposure to media and journalism all had a profound impact on Marks cultural awareness and career path.

I knew I wanted to do some kind of broadcasting because it was just very cool, he said, adding that his father did not attempt to steer him onto another career track despite some early misgivings.

He was always supportive, though I think he would have been happier at first if I had tried to get a job at the station, doing news reporting, that kind of thing. Its safer than being foolish for a living. I remember when I finished high school, me and Dad went for a walk up the hill behind VOCM, and he asked what I wanted to do next go to university, or what? I had already been doing plays down at the Hall, things like that. I said I wanted to continue down this road, the arts. And he said Well, you know, its a very hard road and all that stuff. Gave me that speech. I said yes, I know, but I really want to do this. And Id be happy not being successful at it. That is, if I was successful doing something else, I dont feel that Id be happy. Id always be wondering, what if'...

I told him I would give myself until Im 28 years old 10 years. At 28, if Im not doing well, just scraping by, I would probably give it up and walk away. I figured it would take that long to get halfway good. So he said, Alright, okay. And that was the end of it. He was very supportive.

Mark continued sharpening his skills, performing in comedy festivals, acting on stage, appearing on TV (in shows like All of a Saturday Night) and writing a column in The Express. Then, at age 28 in the nick of time he received the call from This Hour Has 22 Minutes. It was the career breakthrough of a lifetime.

I was saved by the bell, Mark laughs, adding that he wasnt intimidated by the Big Break.

At that point, because of all the stuff I had done locally, I wasnt freaked out. It was an opportunity. I was ready. Theres luck involved, sure, but its more a matter of being prepared when the luck comes.

If you check this Telegram profile of Mike Critch, you will note that he, too, had a flair for the dramatic and for doing impressions. As they say, the apple doesnt fall too far from the tree.

Dad has a very dry, sarcastic and funny sense of humour, Mark said. Hes a witty, guy, who knows exactly what to say. He tells great stories that suck you right in.

Incidentally, Marks brother Mike is also prominent in local media, as a manager and on-air personality with K-ROCK, but his name is Mike Campbell. Mike adopted the nom de plume because, when he started at VOCM, his father was still working there and they couldnt have a second Mike Critch on the air.

For my part, my Dads influence has also been enormous. Not only did he inspire me to pursue this career, I actually walked in his footsteps. During the 1960s, he was managing editor of The Herald a position I also held, during the 1980s. I expect we are the only father-son editorial combo at The Herald, outside of the Stirlings themselves.

Happy Fathers Day to Mike Critch, Ken Meeker, and every Dad who has offered a kind word and steadying hand to his children as they reached for their dreams.

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  • Stephanie
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Awesome story!!