Henry Pike, 85, wasn’t chasing a lifetime in radio when he showed up at VOWR in 1959 — he was chasing a girl.
“I was working at Central Exchange, and this girl worked in the office outside. I liked her, she was very friendly, and I decided to phone her up one Wednesday night for a date,” said Henry. “She said, ‘No, I have choir practice.’ I said, ‘Oh, how about Friday night?’
“‘No, I go to Young People’s Friday night.’
“‘How about Saturday night?’
“‘No, I sing in the choir Sunday morning, so I usually wash my hair and do myself up the night before.’
“So I said, ‘How about Sunday night, after church?’ And she said ‘No, I’m taking hymns request until 9 o’clock.’
“I never gave up, you know.”
His persistence paid off. Frances Martin eventually allowed Henry to meet her outside the VOWR station at 9 o’clock that Sunday night. But when he pulled up in his car, she was with the station manager.
He took one look at Henry’s car and immediately asked him to help get set to broadcast the service next week at Cochrane Street Church.
“Now, wanting to impress Frances, what else could I do but say yes?” said Henry.
They were married a week later.
Henry and Frances volunteered together at the St. John’s radio station for the entirety of their 46-year marriage, right up until Frances died 10 years ago.
In his 55 years as a volunteer, Henry has done everything there is to do at VOWR. In his early years, he helped mainly with setting up equipment and broadcasting church services before moving on to help operate the station.
“I was appointed chief operator for pretty well every woman that came in here to announce. My instructions were to make sure they got in through the door, and they got out safe. So every night, at 11 o’clock when I closed the station down, I would have to walk the lady to her car, make sure the car started, and make sure the car was moving out of the parking lot before I could go.”
One of the women Henry operated for was, of course, Frances.
“When she was on with me she used to pick out the music, and between the two of us it was a selection of music that we liked. You know, Al Martino, Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand. It’s that era of music that I grew up with.”
Time passed, and it was not long before Henry was also operating the radio for his daughter, Sandra.
It was truly a family affair — his son Trevor served on the VOWR board for 15 years.
After Frances died, Henry was “forced into announcing” on air, moving from behind the scenes to host his own programs.
At 85, he still hosts about three times a week, making him the longest-serving volunteer at the oldest radio station in Newfoundland.
“They kid me now and say I’m the oldest DJ in North America,” said Henry. “I’d like to see it continue for another 55, if they keep me here.”
Founded in 1924, 23 years after Marconi received the first wireless signal at Signal Hill, VOWR is completely run by its more than 60 volunteers and funded nearly entirely by donations. It is hoping to digitize in the coming years — a transition that will cost more than $50,000.
VOWR celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. The station is hosting an open house today, where the station’s oldest volunteer, 90-year-old Ladd Bursey, will cut the cake.
VOWR airs 24 hours a day at AM 800, online, and on Rogers and Bell digital television.