Broadcast Legend: Celebrating 50 Years on Radio

Fall 2001 CSANews Issue 40  |  Posted date : Apr 01, 2007.Back to list

Sitting around the dining-room table in his compact Toronto bungalow, veteran broadcaster Earl Warren suddenly surprises me with a secret wish. If he had to choose another way to make a living instead of a career in radio, "I'd come back as an interior decorator," he announces without skipping a beat. "I just love interior decorating!"

We're surrounded by what he describes with gentle self-deprecation as a "mish-mash." But to an outsider's eye, the tasteful blend of jade sculpture, elegant Chinese water-colours and high-end craftsmanship provides ample evidence of his ulterior talent. "Every time I've bought a house, I've always been hands-on," he says of his efforts to fashion a living space that's both comfortable and inviting.

In much the same way as he makes a stranger feel at home, Warren has welcomed, and in turn been warmly welcomed by, radio audiences over a career that spans 50 years. "The best part of the whole thing," he says looking back, "is the rapport I've been able to build up with my listeners and the fact that most of them consider me to be an old, good friend."

Throughout a good chunk of that career, listeners identified with his affable everyman personality while tuning in to his highly rated House of Warren show on Toronto's CFRB. For the past 10 years, a large and loyal following has listened to him host a weekly newsmagazine for seniors on CHWO in Oakville, Ontario.

The power of the medium started to exert its pull on him during his early school years in Regina. "We had a ritual," he begins, savouring the still-vivid memory. "I'd come home from school, my grandmother would pour me a glass of chocolate milk and make me some potato pancakes. I'd sit in front of the radio and listen to a request program on CHAM Moose Jaw and I always kept saying to myself, 'Gee, I'd like to be on the radio.'"

While attending university summer school in Winnipeg, he decided to give radio a shot and applied to a new station in the city. The station manager at CKY - who'd been a judge for the high school public-speaking contest that young Earl had won with his impressive oratory - put him to work in the newsroom. After two months, he was allowed to read two 90-second newscasts each day. "So I did that and I loved it!"

Despite his father's concerns about his schooling, Warren never did go back. Instead, he went on to work at announcing jobs with various radio stations across western Canada. Along the way he met and, at age 18, married his late wife Dorothy. He eventually joined CFRN Edmonton, where he became chief architect of the dynastic House of Warren. The program rocketed to the top of the ratings and attracted the attention of CFRB's then-program director Jack Dawson who offered the 27-year-old a job.

"It was a hell of a decision, one of the biggest I've ever had to make," Warren recalls. "I was on the verge of going back to Edmonton a couple of times because I felt I was in over my head." But the person who made the difference was Gordon Sinclair. "He kind of Dutch-uncled me and told me I was as good as anyone working there and that I should stay. And I took his advice."

His stint with 'RB lasted for 22 years until 1983 ­ when he was unceremoniously fired. The news of his departure made the front page of The Toronto Star. Being the ever-resourceful type, Warren bounced back and created the popular Saturday Seniors show at CHWO.

When the station switched frequencies to the more powerful 740 AM, Saturday Seniors became The Earl Warren Show broadcast on Sunday mornings. It bears all the hallmarks of what his audience has grown to expect - an inimitable folksy style mixed with useful information and classic tunes from the 1940s to the 1970s, a package that he refers to as "mature radio that entertains and informs."

It's also a program of which he's fiercely proud. Not only does he produce and host the four-hour show, but he handles all sponsor accounts as well. "It's a formidable job," he points out, "for a guy who can hardly walk...."

In the last few years, health problems have slowed his pace. He lost a kidney to cancer in 1990 and later underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker. More recently, a fall damaged his vertebrae, leaving him with a significant loss of feeling in his hands and legs.

But such setbacks haven't brought on self-pity nor diminished the 68-year-old's passions. He still gets a thrill watching his standardbreds win at the track. And there are "the boys," as he affectionately refers to his hounds Lewis and Burnsie, who have the run of the house. Most of all, there's a loving devotion to his partner, Marilyn Slater, and his family of four children and eight grandchildren.

And there's his lifelong passion. "Once I get sitting down in front of the mic, I go into a zone for four hours and nothing bothers me," he says with a satisfied smile. Then he adds in that sonorous voice familiar to so many for so long, "I just figure that I'm damn lucky to have picked a career that I love and I've never had to do a serious day's work in my life!"

Pic 1: Earl Warren and wife Marilyn were presented a cake by friends and sponsors at the AM740 studios in Toronto.

Pic 2: A 1960's billboard promoting the top-rated House of Warren show on CFRB