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Radio veteran Rick Cluff announced on December 4 that he’d be signing off of CBC’s The Early Edition for the last time on December 22, 2017. In an exclusive interview, VanMag sat down with Rick to talk to the outgoing host about 20 years of early mornings, talking with Mr. Rogers, and life after journalism.
Q: You’re often associated with being “the sports guy” who became “the morning guy.” But you didn’t really want to go into sports, did you?
A: My dream job was to be a parliamentary correspondent. I loved politics. But sports was down a guy when I arrived, and before you knew it, I had a two-year assignment—travelling the world on the CBC’s dime. A two-year assignment became a 20-year commitment.
Q: The career turning point was your last Olympics, 1996 in Atlanta, when you were called into action to cover the Centennial Olympic Park bombing.
A: We got a phone call, around midnight, that there had been an attack—we need you right now. So, with no sleep, we drove from our motel to where the bombing had occurred. Because they’d clamped down on security, television reporters had been pushed aside; us radio guys, with our small tape recorders, could sneak through. I remember opening my mic and having one piece of paper with the facts on it—no intro. We were on the air for over two hours. When we came back, that’s when one of the vice presidents at CBC said to me, “It’s time for you to do a show.”
Q: In 20 years at Early Edition, you’ve done over 50,000 interviews. What was the most affecting one?
A: Mr. Rogers. In my early days at CBC, Ernie Coombs—Mr. Dressup—became a friend. When my producer came to me in 2001, the day Ernie died, and asked, “Who do you want to talk to?” I said Fred Rogers. When Fred had started in kids’ television in Pittsburgh, Mr. Dressup was his puppeteer and artist. Anyway, we found Fred on Nantucket Island. It was one of those surreal moments, where I’m interviewing Mr. Rogers about Mr. Dressup’s death—and Fred, who had heard from my producer that we were friends, is consoling me on the air.
Q: Your father—a producer who worked for CFRB in Toronto—told you “don’t work for the CBC,” yet it’s clear the public broadcaster has been good to you.
A: I talked to Peter Mansbridge about this recently. The opportunities we’ve had—we really did work during the golden age of broadcasting. I walked across Checkpoint Charlie, I stood in the DMZ in Korea, I was behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s. It really has been a remarkable career.
Q: Unlike Mansbridge, you also didn’t drag it out for a year.
A: On his last show, he said, “I hate long goodbyes.” I texted him: “You told us the fifth of September that you were going to retire on July 1st the next year!” I looked statistically at it: there were 144,000 babies conceived and born during that time.
Q: You had quadruple bypass surgery this past June, which played into your decision to retire. What’s next? Are you going to start hawking investment opportunities, like Bill Good?
A: No. I’ll do something else, but I don’t know what. The first thing I’m going to do is nothing. I just want to sleep in.