Biography

Pioneer

Jennings, Charles

(1908-1973)

Charles Jennings was the first Canadian radio announcer to achieve public recognition from coast-to-coast for his presentation of the news. Reading a 15-minute news-and-weather package written by The Canadian Press for the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission's nightly 10.45 Eastern time newscast, Charles quickly established himself as one of Canada's foremost broadcasters, albeit in an era when it was CRBC and CBC policy not to identify newsreaders or announcers on-air.

Charles was born in Toronto and educated at North Toronto Collegiate followed by Trinity college, University of Toronto. But he said formal education irked him and, half way through college, he accepted the lure of the microphone, taking an announcing job in 1928 at CKGW Toronto. GW stood for Gooderham and Worts, the distillery that owned the radio station. His job, he said, was to broadcast "the glad message of Gooderham and Worts" across Lake Ontario to the United States, then under prohibition, where it arrived concurrently with moonlight cargoes of Canadian whisky.

He worked briefly in New York then returned to Canada and joined the CRBC (forerunner to the CBC) where after two years he became chief announcer. In 1939 he became supervisor of program planning; in 1943 right-hand man to Ernie Bushnell, director general of programs; in 1953 director of programs, and in 1955 assistant controller of broadcasting. In 1959 he was made general manager of regional broadcasting and became vice-president of the CBC in 1964. He retired in 1971, and died two years later, leaving his wife, Elizabeth, daughter Sarah, and son Peter, who even then was becoming a household name with ABC news.

The man with a voice to vie with Lorne Greene's, who started as an announcer and ended as a vice-president, always believed that programming was the one thing that mattered. He was a nationalist with an aversion to what he called creeping Americanism.

Among the major stories he covered during his career were the arrival of the first dirigibles in Canada from England, the maiden voyage of the first Empress of Britain, the inauguration of President Roosevelt and the 1939 tour by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. For years, Charles announced Toronto Symphony Orchestra programs. He pressured the CBC to provide the Toronto Conservatory of Music with an electronic music studio.

Around the CBC he was sometimes known as the squire because of his height, florid complexion and liking for tweeds. He was also known as a practical joker, especially liking to prick pomposity. After retirement, when he thought the CBC was getting over-serious about political correctness at the Toronto city council, he dispatched a protest telegram from his hobby farm at Lucerne, Que., saying the Donkey Association of Western Quebec objected to the use of the word horsepower in CBC programs. It was signed Charlotte and Apricot Jennings. Charlotte and Apricot were his two donkeys.

In 1978, Charles Jennings was elected posthumously to the Canadian News Hall of Fame.

Written by Jerry Fairbridge - April, 2002

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