My mother tells me I was the third. Yes, the third of her offspring, but she means the third unexpected resignation in the past year or so. Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Joe Browne was first, Danny Williams was second and, yes, a key Voice Of the Common Man, yours truly, was third.
It is never easy saying goodbye. As one listener told me, “For 27 years you woke me up at 5:30 each morning, and then you didn’t.”
But I needed a new challenge, after decades of heading to bed at 8 p.m. and rising at 1:15 a.m., and walking through the studio doors at 1:30 a.m. for a 12-hour shift. It was great birth control! It even saved on groceries; I became a one-meal-a-day guy, with a quick snack before bedtime. A pot or two of coffee a day, never a sip of the demon alcohol on work nights, and I loved it.
I had the best job in the world and I preached that to anyone who cared to listen. It wasn’t like work; it was what I was. And that was the problem.
Too much of a good thing is bad for you, and turning 50 last October helped me realize that the promises made to loved ones and myself had to bear fruit now. I have forever told journalists and students of our craft that if you don’t love it, it’s time to leave it.
It was so interesting giving a voice to our history as it unfolded. Stories like the Ocean Ranger tragedy and the Cougar helicopter crash were tough.
Witnessing signing ceremonies for offshore oil deals and getting to tell stories of local heroes were exciting times.
I will forever be affected by a visit with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment to Beaumont Hamel for the 90th anniversary, in 2006. I was so struck by the camaraderie of today’s soldiers, by the monuments and war graves and by the people in hamlets close to Beaumont Hamel, who still revere the Newfoundlanders who gave their lives. I had planned to make the 100th anniversary my final radio broadcast. Perhaps some broadcaster will hire me for the honour.
I had the job of having a conversation with the premier of the day every week for so many years. They were interesting, often more so before the tape started rolling. It certainly gave me insight into the person. Those were never meant to be hard-hitting interviews, just an opportunity to chat about the issues. There’s got to be a book there somewhere!
I worked through three decades of elections. The live broadcasts were fun! The shock one losing incumbent expressed on air still boggles my mind. How could they not have known? It was always interesting to tell a candidate on live radio that we were declaring them elected. It was embarrassing when the counts were off, or the computer fried, and anchors were set adrift to kill time. During one of my early broadcasts and a PC victory, I found myself singing a few bars of “Tory, Tory, Alleluia!”
So now what? I’m not independently wealthy. I did not win the lottery. I have told the many who contacted me on Twitter and Facebook that I am walking the winding road to see what lies ahead. I have no plan.
My broadcasting life was never about me, it was about you. I crawled out of bed to give you information on the airwaves and the phone lines. I mucked through storms to give you the kind of stuff you needed to help you through your day. I listened to your ideas and concerns, your pleas for help, your kind words, your unkind (but often true) criticism, and now, for once, it is about me.
I have spent 30 years ducking from opinions, walking the road of journalistic objectivity.
I am a storyteller, and now I have another shot at telling your stories. They are ever so more interesting than my own.
Please share them with me.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.