Experiences of a Radio Journalist
Heritage Group Meeting of September 18, 2014
What a pleasure it was to welcome Barry Burns as our featured speaker. A passionate former radio journalist, he regaled us with humorous stories of his checkered career and touching reminiscences of his time in Afghanistan. Clearly a sensitive man, Barry slipped from playful quips about his mixed Irish and Scottish ancestry, “I like to drink, but I hate to pay for it”, to tearful pauses as he remembered those, some now dead, that he left behind in Kandahar.
Barry kicked off his presentation with kudos for RRC’s Creative Communications’ program, “without question the best around”, whose graduates are sought out from across the country. Unable to benefit from such a program when he started out, Barry’s journey into radio and television followed a decidedly serendipitous path. His career was launched in 1974 when Garry Robertson, his then employer in Winnipeg, encouraged him to send an audition tape off to CKJX in Yorkton. “I was scooped up off the street” with no training whatsoever, soon taking over the vacant sports-anchor position at CKJX and then hired to be the voice of the Yorkton Terriers. Not bad for a 28-year-old grade-11 grad whose experience by that point included time in the army, working in a bank, waiting on tables in Hy’s restaurant and on the railways, and three years of odd jobs in Australia.
During his three years at CKJX Barry joined the Terriers’ executive and, in addition to doing their radio play-by-play, even drove the team bus to and from games. His Terriers’ experience paved the way to four years covering the Regina Pats and Saskatchewan Roughriders, followed by a stint with the SkyHawks (the Canadian Armed Forces parachute team) in 1981. As their PR Coordinator and show announcer, Barry travelled from coast to coast to coast. That same year at the Canada Summer Games in Thunder Bay he bumped into Don Wittman who asked if he would like to come back to Winnipeg. CTV needed a sportscaster and Barry was soon on his way back to Manitoba. He then worked with CBC and CKND, anchored the morning news on CJOB for 12 years and Global TV News from 1991-1996, finally retiring from CJOB/Power97 in 2013.
Most exciting for Barry was being embedded with the Canadian troops in Afghanistan in 2006. His 20 minute audio-visual presentation to the Heritage Group was actually a series of live reports originally broadcast from his tent at the Kandahar Airfield to radio stations across Canada. Through thoughtfully crafted vignettes and touching personal stories of locals caught in a hot, dusty war zone, he presented us stark pictures of ordinary people struggling to survive. All this against a backdrop of the ever-present coalition forces constantly on alert against a deadly, faceless enemy that intermingles with the local population. Enthralled by the goings on, kept awake at night by the constant drone of aircraft, gunfire, and helicopters, Barry’s goal was to “create interesting stories without being sensational”, leaving the body-counts for others to record.
Now a pensioner like the rest of us, Barry continues to be very busy. Currently, he is President of the Royal Military Institute of Manitoba., is a Governor of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, was recently appointed Command Sergeant-at-Arms for ANAVETS (Army, Navy, and Air Force Veterans) of Manitoba and Northwest Ontario (the oldest veterans organization in Canada, pre-dating even the Royal Canadian Legion). He sits on the Board of Southport and the Navy League of Canada, is parade marshall for the Remembrance Day parade in Winnipeg, and is the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of 38 Signal Regiment with squadrons in Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon and Thunder Bay. As if that wasn’t enough, Barry also manages to drive buses for Beaver Bus Lines in his “spare” time.
How encouraging it was to have Barry Burns share a bit of his colourful life and remind us how fortunate we are to live in this island of peace and prosperity that we call Canada