I recently spent time with two veteran broadcasters, both radio reporters. One was an old friend, the other a foe.
And they had the same address … 2502 Sparrow Drive, Nisku — site of a rural cemetery.
The sign is a bit misleading. True, the church is in downtown Leduc [just south of Edmonton, Alberta] … but the cemetery is in the sticks in neighbouring Nisku.
If you travel the Queen Elizabeth II Highway northbound towards Edmonton, approaching the industrial community of Nisku, you’ll notice on the East side of the road a two-storey factory that builds fitness machines, Flaman. High up on the side of the building is a very realistic mannequin — a man — that appears to be walking on a treadmill. Cute.
Just north of the building is a small grove of trees and on the other side of those trees, hidden from view of those zipping along the four-lane highway, is a tiny cemetery with fewer than 100 neatly kept graves.
Most cemeteries are quiet, but not this one. The traffic din is non-stop, 24/7.
WARREN HENDERSON THE JOURNALIST
It’s here where famed Edmonton newscaster Warren Henderson was ‘laid to rest’ on a cold day in early March 2006. He was only 50.
Warren was my work colleague and friend.
For several years, we worked together at 630 CHED Radio, a news and information station in Edmonton, which at the time was rated number one in a big market of more than two dozen stations. Combined with broadcast legends Bob Layton, Ed Mason and Eileen Bell, Warren had helped turn the former pop music station into a major news leader — a powerhouse in Western Canada, to borrow a term tossed about at staff meetings.
And before Warren jumped on board, CHED already had had two other legendary, award-winning reporters … C.R. Nichols and Eddie Keen.
That ends my plugs for CHED.
CHED was part of the Corus Radio Network, based in Toronto. Many staff members of Corus’ four stations in Edmonton [two AM and two FM] turned out for Warren’s sendoff.
Warren John Henderson, a native of Manitoba, was a veteran newsreader — and a darn good one. His newscasts were consistently clean without stumbles [and no screwups with those hard-to-pronounce names].
“Smooth and authoritative” was how David Kirkham of the CBC Radio once described Warren Henderson. “That guy is good!” exclaimed David, a silky smooth announcer in his own right. “He plays it right down the middle.”
David and I worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation … just down the road from CHED, actually. When it came to ratings, our AM outlet was about mid-way, not king of the hill nor in the cellar.
We constantly monitored the newscasts of opposition stations to see if we’d missed anything important.
Few CBC reporters had much good to say about our colleagues at the ‘private’ stations — the critics we were then — but Warren was an exception. He sounded like he could work in New York or Sydney.
Mind you, this was the 1980s when radio stations actually had newsrooms. Nowadays, few do. They may have one or two rip-and-read newsreaders, some who make phone calls from their desks … but not real journalists with beats who tear out of the parking lot in a cruiser, stones flying, in hot pursuit of a scoop.
WARREN HENDERSON THE MAN
Warren died on Tuesday afternoon, February 28 . He was on sick leave and had gone to a theatre on Edmonton’s south side. Warren was a big time movie man. When the flick ended, the cleaners moved in and found Warren slumped over in his chair.
He had died alone. Cause of death: heart attack.
We were all shocked. But no one was really surprised. Warren hadn’t been well for some time.
Warren suffered from severe diabetes which led to having a leg amputated. I went to the hospital to see him shortly after his big operation. “I understand you’ve lost some weight,” I said in my best medical humour. Warren smiled, adding he feared he might never ride his Harley again.
I went several times to see him in hospital … and once at the ABC Restaurant on Edmonton’s south side. This was about a week before he checked out. I arrived at the diner early and so to have privacy, I picked a booth at the end.
Warren finally arrived. He slowly made his way down the aisle, one step at a time. When he plunked himself down, he was out of breath as though he’d just run a marathon. That wasn’t a good sign.
“Hey,” I said, “don’t bother trying out for the Olympics,” and without missing a beat Warren shot back, “you don’t have to worry about that.”
We talked about shop and about life, as people in the last half of their lives are prone to do. Warren had a positive attitude. We ordered light meal with juice, soft drinks … and water. It was something worthy of a write-up in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not … two old reporters and no one drinking booze. That only happens in Mormon movies.
For more than an hour we chatted. Some of it was ‘shop talk’ about Michael White, the Edmonton man and former Canadian soldier charged with murdering his pregnant wife, Liana. Warren had spoken with White on my cell phone. Without tipping his hat as to whether the accused was the culprit, Warren remarked that White “didn’t sound like a killer.”
Typical reporter conversations I guess.
We passed on dessert and continued to chat.
We then made our way to the reception desk — SLOWLY, mind you — where I picked up the tab. Warren wanted to pay but I remarked I was getting some good kick-back from drug dealers and so I could afford it. [Yes, that was a joke.]
Then something happened that spoke of Warren’s character. He asked that I go on ahead because he could make it to his vehicle on his own. I said screw that. I held onto Warren’s arm and we made our way across the dark parking lot to his vehicle, a shiny pick-up. When we reached his truck he rested both arms on the tailgate, taking slow, deep breaths. The man was so winded he could barely speak.
A middle-aged woman saw Warren in distress and rushed over to help. “Are you okay?” she asked. I did all the talking. “He’s fine,” I assured her, “he’s always like this when he’s drunk. He’ll be fine once he’s behind the wheel …”
Warren looked my way, was silent for a few seconds and with a slow smile, remarked, “That’s funny!”
I watched Warren open the driver’s door and sit down, gripping the steering wheel and firing up the engine. Before he pulled out of the parking lot he glanced my way and waved good-bye. I stood there until he was out of sight.
And yes, Warren made it home safely.
I’m not sure if the Good Samaritan reported the incident to the police.
I last saw Warren at the small Lutheran church in Leduc. He was in a coffin, dressed to the nine’s … but stiff and cold. It all seemed surreal. I took my place in line and when it came to my turn, I touched his arm — the same one I held that night — and thought, “You’re Home now.”
More than a few tears were shed that day. Some staff tried to hide their emotions — especially the tough reporters — but no one did a good job of it.
THE OTHER GUY …
There was another reporter in that cemetery. He’d died several years before.
I didn’t care much for him.
He was a news director who once ordered one of my journalism students not to give credit to newspapers as the source of the story he was writing. That’s wrong. [think Commandment #8.] And yes, lifting stories out of the newspapers without giving credit is unfortunately a big part of our electronic news business but … hell it’s wrong just the same. My feeling is that radio stations should either hire a sufficient number of reporters or get out of the news business.
And to make matters worse — according to the same student — the news director threatened to contact the school where I was teaching part-time, the Northern Institute of Technology [NAIT] and complain. Thanks a lot, pal.
The same newsman once phoned the newsroom of 630-CHED to complain about a newscast I’d assembled and read. My top story was the United States’ military attack on Iraq. I quoted a reputable news outlet as saying the U.S. assertion that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was false, and Washington knew it.
The journalist was furious. “That’s the worst newscast I ever heard,” he said, shouting into the phone. The criticism was a bit of a hit because the reporter was no rookie. He had been in the business for years. I wanted to tell him to screw off but I bit my tongue and let it go.
As fate would have it, we eventually worked alongside each other in the same newsroom. The reporter I’d fought with heard me out on issues like plagiarism and in the end … low and behold … he began to credit his sources as well.
I began to like the guy. I was grateful I hadn’t lashed out that night. He was not only a genuine reporter, but a gentleman as well. And he cared about the news business.
The man also gave me a HUGE tip — a story that led to my radio station getting blanket coverage in newspapers and TV stations across North America. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.
So the reporter had done a complete 180 and was no longer the man I first knew. We were now good teammates, we’d turned a negative into a positive and I guess we both grew from the experience. We became solid friends.
The reporter had my back and I had his, and you don’t hear that often in the news business.
Who was this journalist?? His name appears on the email below circulated to station staff in July 2005.
Rest in peace, Warren. Your fans have not forgotten you, nor have we.