It was one of those life moments – changing me forever.
I was in Toronto looking for work as a radio or television producer.
My short career – a mere 10 months as a television producer in Vancouver – was a bust.
A move to Toronto was the only viable option , if I hoped to stay in broadcasting.
I applied to the CBC for a producers job in either radio or television and at CTV TV News.
A few days later, taking a red eye flight, I was on my way to Toronto.
Arriving in Toronto at 8:30 a.m., having a 10 a.m. interview at CTV News, and a 1:30 p.m. interview at the CBC Journal, meant I had a hectic day ahead of me.
I was early for the CBC Journal interview with Mark Starowicz.
His secretary said have a seat, Mark will be with you shortly.
A few minutes later I was told he was ready to see me.
I opened his office door and there he was, sitting behind his desk.
We exchanged the usual pleasantries and then the interview started.
His questions were all open ended – they were not specific – requiring yes or no answers.
At one point he started to hone in on why the Vancouver job at CKVU TV had not worked out.
My response – Daryl Duke the mercurial owner of CKVU was an impossible boss to work for. For the first few months, the praise was constant, a job well done, followed by a barrage of, you are totally ineffective.
Finally I had enough of Duke’s bullying, quitting three months before my one-year contract expired.
Mark listened intently, watching me carefully, his dark eyes intensely focused on me.
At that point we were several hours into the interview and then, in retrospect came his pivotal question, “why,” he said, “if you had such a terrible time in television do want to stay in it?”
My answer – “television is exciting, there are so many new things that can be done, I want to be a part of it and want to learn as much as possible.”
He looked at me and said two words – you’re hired.
I was floored and said, “thank you so much.”
Then he explained that in hiring me he had to circumvent some bureaucratic processes.
But I was not to worry, I was aboard.
Traditional CBC hiring policy was that all job finalists had to submit a board review, consisting of a panel of CBC employees giving the final yay or nay to an applicant.
After that he said – “would you like me to show you around.”
We left his office and the tour started of the Journal offices and studio facilities (which were in another building), introducing me to various people as, “this is George Froehlich a new producer who will be joining us.”
At the end of the tour he said – consider the Journal as your Television University and I will make sure you get as much experience in the various departments.
And it happened. During my three years I rotated through various departments, new responsibilities, new challenges, always learning.
After the tour was over I left to go back to my hotel and the first thing my wife Linda said, where were you, you were gone for about 3 1/2 hours.
Subsequently I was told by that Journal staff were perplexed and wondered who was that person who Mark spent all that time with.
But working at the Journal was different and not what I expected. For several weeks I sat at my desk in the Journal newsroom doing nothing, observing, watching and paying attention to what was going on.
Finally I couldn’t do it anymore.
I walked up to the senior producer, Beth Haddon, and said to her – “please give me something to do, it’s driving me crazy,” she looked at me, and said – “ okay” and the next day I was assigned to my first, story, booking a guest for Barbara Frum to interview.
I quickly developed a reputation as being tenacious, never giving up when given an assignment, often going against conventional approaches.
For example, the weekly newsmagazine, Newsweek, had done a cover story on a major drug epidemic hitting Los Angles.
My assignment – find people who could give perspective and context to the story for Barbara Frum to interview.
I suggested to the assignment producer that we do two things – talk to the reporter who had written the story and find a Los Angeles drug addict. The producer liked the first guest idea but expressed doubts about getting the second guest.
Within 30 minutes I had both guests nailed dow.
And that sealed it – gradually I was given many difficult assignments – finding and getting the right people to interview
Through all of this Mark often would come up to me and just chat.
One day I was called into his office and he said he wanted me to move to another apartment and how did I feel about that? My answer was simple. “I remember what you told me about The Journal being my Television University.”
Once in a while I came up with far-out ideas, some worked, some totally bombed.
On one really bad bomb Mark told me not to worry, it’s better to try things differently, even though they don’t work out.
However, that didn’t mean he wasn’t critical of my work. Every once in a while at the daily story meeting – all staff attended – the previous day’s show was assessed with everyone asked what they thought.
During those times he, senior producers, all attendees, would provide much-needed critical and valid feedback on my work and everyone else’s.
Once a year Mark would have a big party at his so-called hobby farm outside of Toronto.
All his friends were invited – including some Journal staff members. I and my wife Linda were part of it.
Another time he wanted me to go into another department but I was worried about whether I could do the job.
His response – “don’t worry about, we all have to start somewhere.”
Words that still stick with me today.