JOHN WAS BRIEFLY THE PETES PA ANNOUNCER BEFORE ME
When 980 CKRUz snagged the broadcast contract for the games, we had the opportunity to provide the public address announcer. John was immediately tagged for the role and actually did a few games, but quickly realized that he would not be in a position to remain impartial, as a journalist, if he was working for them too. So I was asked to take over, “just for a few games,” they said. That was in the fall, 1996.
THE DAY HE RECORDED HIS ICONIC VOICEOVERS FOR THE WOLF
THE FLOOD OF 2004
Mike Melnik was off that day, and I was filling in. And like most early-morning workers, coming downtown that day, I drove into a wall of water. As I later described in a story I penned for the Toronto Star, King Street was a raging torrent of water running in an easterly flow towards the river. Unable to get into the building through the front entrance, I had to fight against the current, hanging onto parking meters to get to the driveway that would lead me to the back entrance which was, for the moment above water.
That’s when I saw John, standing by Jackson Square under an overhang, his pant legs rolled up, with his lunch Dot had packed for him in one hand and dragging on a cigarette with the other, surveying the unfolding crisis and wondering how he was going to get into the building.
I waved at him, motioned him over and together we got in the back way to find studios under six inches of water – up past our ankles. The phones were out, and we couldn’t even verify for the longest time if we were even on the air. We had to assume we were.
Thus, at 6am we began an attempt at describing that to which we were witnesses, informing the community about the crisis as it was unfolding, support emergency services. John was a thoroughbred at 67 years of age. He led the broadcast. I was just a bystander, really. Badham took charge and he was magnificent.
He also – as he always did – maintained his sense of humour, even in a crisis. At one point he looked out, as a river of water continued to rush along George Street early in the broadcast, to see a fellow waiting on the bench at the bus stop in front of our studios, waiting for a bus that would never come. John’s reaction was priceless.
Family came first, and you hear that from others. Friends and relationships came first, too. His community, and the issues that drove his community forward or, as the case may be, backward. Broadcasting was a job, which he did well and I’m sure he was proud to do it well, felt privileged to have the gifts bestowed upon him.
But he didn’t buy into his own press, and anything that appeared even remotely as ego was, in fact, a simple craving to be involved, to be part of the discussion and sometimes to lead it.
That’s rare, as in this business you meet people who have but a tiny fraction of John’s ability and yet present massive egos that border on the extreme.
In contrast, John had all the talent and credentials, but came across to others as just a regular guy who liked nothing better than to sit with a colleague or a friend over a coffee or a beer and talk sports, or chat about, well – stuff.
Too many broadcasters become what they do.
John, whether the mic was on, or off, never stopped being who he was: Generous. Involved. Engaged. Prepared (one of the most well-read individuals I have ever known). Just the guy next door who also happened to be in broadcasting. Yes, he took that seriously, and used it to communicate commentary and debate. To enlighten. At times, to stir the pot. But never taken lightly, and always with complete fairness and balance. You would know his opinion, but he was always careful to also highlight the opposing view, even if he didn’t necessarily agree with it.
He never held a grudge, even in view of some disagreements he and I had over the years (which, in hindsight, were completely due to my own ineptness). And I never found him to be pretentious. While he cherished the pulpit he was given to inform, or to expound on his views and allow guests to do the same – and he never backed away from the chance to quarterback a program – it was never, ever about him.
When he retired from Corus, he didn’t want a party. Or even a lunch. On his last day, following his initial year of ‘semi-retirement,' he simply came in to do his shift, as he always did. When it was over he walked through the studios, shook everyone’s hand, grabbed his coat and cap and trotted out the back entrance as he always did with no fanfare, with complete humility.
When I was over to the house last year I got the chance to see some of his clippings and awards down in the basement – not on John’s urging, but on Dot’s.
And we had all been urging John to write that book about his stellar career, the places to which he had travelled and the people he has interviewed, from Mohammed Ali to Wilt Chamberlain.
But he never did. And that’s because, I believe, John had no interest in telling his own story. The master storyteller was more intent, and interested in telling other people’s stories, or the story of his community – a story he told again and again, on the microphone, every single day. And he was just as comfortable quarterbacking a Grey Cup broadcast, as he was serving as in-house announcer for the local Wire Awards.
He thrived on the thrust, and parry of debate. His participation, and appearances on the Cogeco round table for so many years, is the stuff of legend, as are his collection of ‘Strictly Personal’ commentaries. He wasn’t just playing the part of a panelist. He truly cared about the community, and never strayed far from a platform that was the most appropriate for him to influence and spur much-needed and welcome debate in his adopted community of Peterborough.
I regret not reaching out to him sooner.
I called him shortly after hearing the news about his cancer and promised we would get together soon, after things slowed down a bit. There were so many medical appointments he had to get to. Also to collect his lifetime achievement award in Toronto, and not too long after that, the Grey Cup game.
But I discovered to my horror that he wasn’t well enough to attend either of those events in person, such was the speed at which the cancer had progressed. I found him at home, less than a week before he died, bedridden. Awake, watching Dr. Oz on television. We had a brief visit. I had brought some flowers Sherrie put together, who was too ill herself to come in person. The arrangement appeared to brighten, a little bit, what was otherwise a dark time. One of the last things he said to me was, “Thanks for the flowers – I like flowers.”
I called over on the weekend, spoke to their son Paul, and sounded like there was a houseful of people. The family was all there, and “Dad is having a good day,” Paul said on Sunday. I called Dot on Monday, no change in John. Meanwhile I set to work configuring a digital radio I have here, bookmarking various sports and nostalgia stations – with a special preset for one of the radio stations in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where he grew up. I thought he would enjoy listening to what was going on ‘back home.’
I had planned to take it over Tuesday, but work commitments got in the way. “Wednesday,” I thought.
Wednesday morning I called the house and got no answer. That was not a good sign. I found out later that day he had been moved back to the hospital, to which I drove after my airshift to find Dot, Cheryl, Shawna and Dan, with John heavily sedated. Graham Hart had just come in from Nova Scotia.
There were carolers out in the hallway, attempting to inject some Yuletide cheer in an otherwise sad and distressing time for all concerned. It was bittersweet. I promised Dot I would come in the next night after the Petes game to see how John was doing – perhaps to catch him awake, although I had a heavy feeling the end was near.
That last visit never happened. John passed away just before noon the next day.
This, I guess, serves as my eulogy to my friend, which I offer here because I would not hold it together at his Celebration of Life. As it is, tears are streaming down my face even now. I don’t mind telling you I am an absolute wreck.
I didn’t know what to make of this larger-than-life broadcast icon when he first hit town nearly 30 years ago.
What I have learned over the ensuing years is that John Badham was a man who put family first, embraced his community, was loyal to his friends and brought balance to both his profession and his approach to life. He was generous to his colleagues, patient with the newbies, and served as a teacher and a mentor to so many of us.
John was a man who never became obsessed with his own professional experiences, successes or attributes – which as we all know, were substantial. Instead, what he embraced were those things that remain, truly, the tenets and hallmarks of a balanced and generous life: family, friends, community. Humility.
A life well-lived, with a legacy that will live on for decades to come.
You have taught me so much, sir.
Thank you, partner – for your friendship over the years, for your kindness, your patience.
For the privilege of knowing you.