One of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most well known journalists and broadcasters has died.
John Furlong, former host of CBC Radio’s “Fisheries Broadcast” and most recently the voice behind the microphone for “Radio Noon,” died early Wednesday morning in St. John’s at the age of 63.
According to CBC, his death comes mere weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer. His last day hosting “Radio Noon” was March 3.
A St. John’s native and brother of retired NTV news director Jim Furlong, John Furlong worked as a print journalist for the St. John’s Daily News in the 1970s before moving into his career with CBC.
Retired CBC producer Bob Wakeham first got to know Furlong as a reporter while writing for a competing daily newspaper, The Evening Telegram. As a producer for the “St. John’s Morning Show” in the early 1980s, Furlong hired Wakeham to cover the provincial legislature. A few years later, as an executive producer for CBC-TV, Wakeham brought in Furlong as a producer for the documentary program “On Camera.”
Wakeham said Furlong’s death leaves a void in both local journalism and the lives of those who knew him. Wakeham calls Furlong the best journalist he ever worked with.
“John was a remarkable journalist, a man of profound principle, and he had a backbone like no one I’ve ever known,” said Wakeham, now a columnist for The Telegram. “He was an even better person — an even better friend.”
Furlong also worked as a producer for “Here & Now” and “Soundings” before moving into the host’s chair for the “Fisheries Broadcast” in 2005. Speaking with The Telegram in 2011 as the show marked its 60th anniversary, Furlong commented on its sustained relevance.
“It might be even more relevant now than it ever was,” Furlong told The Telegram.
“People tend to congregate around their radios and their telephones in times of crisis, and I certainly hear more from people these days when things are not going well, in terms of expressions of hope, expressions of desperation and expression of ideas.
“The fishery is going through probably the biggest change it’s ever gone through, notwithstanding the moratorium, and change is always hard. People in the fishery and people in rural Newfoundland are going through incredible change, and that’s difficult.”
He continued to host the broadcast until last year, when he took over hosting duties for “Radio Noon.”
There was a mixture of emotion in the CBC newsroom Wednesday, according to Peter Gullage, executive producer for news and current affairs in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some had a working relationship with Furlong spanning decades, while others looked up to him as a mentor.
“Walking around this newsroom today, there are tears and there’s laughter,” said Gullage. “We keep stopping each other. We all have memories of John Furlong.”
As a reporter, Furlong had a nose for news, was ready to jump on stories, and “a great gauge for bullshit,” according to Wakeham.
“He was afraid of nobody. He was afraid of no institution. He was unintimidated by anybody in authority. He was never hindered by political correctness, that’s for sure. He would take on the most sensitive kinds of stories and just plow ahead, and invariably the kinds of questions that everybody thought they might like to ask but were awkward to ask, John would ask.”
Gullage backed up that assessment, noting Furlong was always willing to ask uncomfortable questions.
“He had this reputation for being a crotchety guy (with) an acerbic wit, but John Furlong had a giant heart and a deep soul, and he cared for people. He understood the underdog and he fought for those people.”
Wakeham had his own battle with cancer 10 years ago and says Furlong was there to lend support, rarely leaving his bedside. He talked with Furlong often in recent weeks.
“I told him at one point about a week and a half ago, I said, ‘John, I can’t put a spin on this,’ and he said, ‘I know.’
“He knew he was going to die.”