"Ideas… The Best Ideas You’ll
Hear Tonight,” intoned CBC announcer Ken Haslam.
With those words, spoken in his cultivated, baritone voice,
Haslam launched the first episode of what was described
as “the new look in CBC educational broadcasting,”
an hour-long show of “radio for the mind,” to
be heard each weeknight. It was Monday, October 24th, 1965.
The hosts of IDEAS over the years
original host ofThe Best Ideas You'll Hear Tonight
|Russ Germain, host
of IDEAS in the early seventies and mid-eighties.
||Lister Sinclair, host
of IDEAS from 1983 - 1999.
||Paul Kennedy host of
IDEAS since 1999.
The program was the brainchild of two
CBC Radio producers, Phyllis Webb and Bill
Young. Webb was a West Coast poet who had always
wanted to work in radio. She joined the CBC in 1964 and
began producing a lecture series called University of
the Air. In later years, she would win a Governor General’s
award for her collection of poetry, The Vision Tree:
Selected Poems. Bill Young was an
American who had come to Canada to study. In 1964, he was
doing graduate work in English at the University of Toronto,
when he was recruited to the CBC. His first job was to produce
The Learning Stage, an adult education program
with lectures and interviews on such subjects as theatre,
film, music, travel and poetry.
Bill Young recalls attending
a meeting at which producers were asked to consider amalgamating
programs with similar mandates. The CBC needed to save money.
Plus ça change. Webb was enthusiastic. She
felt the lecture format of her program was too constraining
and wanted to try doing something livelier. She and Young
worked together on a proposal to merge University of
the Air and The Learning Stage to create a
new nightly program that would take the best of each series
and present adult education on radio using a variety of
approaches. They sent the proposal to CBC management, and
it was accepted.
The new program was launched under the title, The Best
Ideas You’ll Hear Tonight, but within months
it was shortened to Ideas. Webb and Young hired
a third person to work with them, a young woman named
Janet Somerville. Somerville had been working on
her master’s degree in theology at the University
of St. Michael’s College in Toronto when she learned
of the vacancy at Ideas. She jumped at the opportunity
and applied. She didn’t expect to get the job, and
when she did, it was to her “absolute astonishment.”
The program also had a roster of freelance contributors.
Among the best known were Timothy Findley,
who became the show’s literary editor, and Bill
Whitehead, its science editor.
"Idea Number One for Monday,” Haslam announced
briskly, “Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution,”
and the show began with a discussion about Darwin’s
1831 trip to the Galapagos. Webb was disappointed with that
first show and says the series got off to a “horrible
start.” Janet Somerville says it
was “class-roomy” and “text-bookish.”
But the new series quickly found its feet. The second program
was much better and eventually won an award.
Ideas underlie every aspect of our lives.
They shape how we think and speak about the world, how we
behave, how we see ourselves, individually and in society.
Ideas drive imagination; they determine how we conceive
the past, the present and the future; they inform our political
and social arrangements, our arts and culture, science,
technology, and religion, our personal relationships and
Ideas is where I have learned the crafts
of radio production and journalism. I am grateful to have
found mentors—too numerous to count or name, including
many who never thought of themselves as mentors. They guided
me intellectually, professionally and personally—with
kindness and toughness. The experience continues to be a
privilege; it is a daily joy to work amongst brilliant and
talented colleagues, and to enter new universes of thought
and encounter some of the finest minds of our age. And most
important: the opportunity to contribute, however modestly,
to fostering intellectual delight in our country.
—Bernie Lucht, excutive producer
of IDEAS since 1984.