Cabin Radio's Jesse Wheeler, left, with Loren McGinnis during filming of the mockumentary Curlfriends in Yellowknife. Photo: Supplied
After announcing he will leave CBC North next month, broadcaster Loren McGinnis spoke with Cabin Radio’s Ollie Williams about the decision to relocate south.
McGinnis will host The Trailbreaker for the last time on December 9 before moving to host the CBC’s Calgary morning show, ending almost a decade at CBC North’s flagship radio show.
He spoke with Cabin Radio shortly after a whirlwind half-hour of publicity about the move: an announcement to end Wednesday’s edition of The Trailbreaker, then a live appearance on CBC’s Calgary Eyeopener to advertise his forthcoming arrival.
Below, you can listen to the full interview or read a transcript.
This interview was recorded on November 23, 2022. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: I’m sure it feels strange to have the news come out. I’m sure you’re still processing that. What’s it like inside your mind right now? How do you feel?
Loren McGinnis: Yeah, the processing. Some people have said to me, “Loren, I’m in shock.” And I’m like, “Hey, you’re in shock? I’m in shock!” And it was my decision, or our family’s decision. So it has not settled in, in a lot of ways. It’s still in process, for sure.
And I feel, it’s a cliché to say, a mix of emotions. I feel overwhelming excitement about the opportunity and about going on a family adventure to a new part of the country. I think that’s all going to be quite wonderful, exciting and challenging. But it’s really hard to think about leaving.
You’ve built an attachment for a decade with an audience across the NWT. How would you describe that connection?
It’s a whole bunch of friendships. Which is maybe not the most professional characterization, as a journalist talking about the communities and the people we serve, but I have felt so much care from the people here. And I feel that to them as well. It’s caring, trusting friendship.
And you know, they’ve grown me. I’ve lived in the North since 2007, mostly – we went away for a bit for my wife, Raegan, to go to school. This place and the people here have helped me become who I am.
I think anyone listening to your voice just then will know from it that this must have been a really hard decision.
It was a very hard decision. Yeah.
It’s a family decision, for sure, for us. We’ve got two kids, my mother-in-law lives with us, and my wife and I are equal partners in our careers and in all of the plans we make, so it was a big decision. And honestly, I would have told you with a straight face in July that I would never leave the North, and that I might host the Trailbreaker until they had to take me out of there, you know, in a wheelchair or whatever. But that changed over time. Calgary, the station there, somebody reached out to me, and they didn’t say, “Hey, do you want the job?” But they said, “Would you consider it?” And at first I said… you know, basically, I said no! Because I just couldn’t imagine it. And I wasn’t wanting for anything in my life here and in my career here.
But I got to spend two weeks hosting that show in September and I had lots of conversations with my family, for sure, but then also my closest friends and people that work at the station in Calgary. And it just… I almost don’t know what to make of it, but it just grew legs. And that’s sort-of why I feel shocked, because I’m like, “Oh!” I very recently didn’t ever think any of this was desirable, or possible, or whatever. And now it’s happening.
It is very emotional to think about leaving here and to think about saying “thank you and goodbye” to the audience and to our community and our friends here. But I am, to be sure, very excited about this opportunity. It’s a very different kind of show. It doesn’t make me any less proud of what we do at CBC North or on The Trailbreaker, but it’s a show with a much bigger team and kind-of more horsepower as a result of that. It’s going to be fun and I’m excited about going to a new place and then trying to fall in love with the people, the land and the water like I have here, like the Rocky Mountains, and the Prairies and the people.
When you are asked to look back at what you have done over the past decade or so, across the North, what are the first moments you think of?
The last two years of covering floods, so both in Hay River and in Fort Simpson, and with the people of Jean Marie River. I wasn’t in Jean Marie River at the time, but I spent time with people who had left the community for safety and were in Fort Providence. The flooding is in recent memory, and being with people at a really hard time.
I don’t know if I have an overarching reflection on that yet, but another example – and I’m thinking about it at this time of year – is a couple of times I’ve gotten to go broadcast remotely from a small community in the lead-up to Christmas. Not chasing a news story, not following a disaster, just being in a place as a community gets kind-of quiet, and gets together, and gathers and makes things, and makes food, and family come home from working in Alberta or working in Yellowknife.
The two examples that stand out in my mind right now are: just before Christmas I got to spend time in Fort Chipewyan. It was so beautiful. And there were funny stories. It was a wonderful time. And then we’ve since done that in Enterprise a few years ago. Enterprise is quite a small place. Most of the people in Enterprise had been on the radio by the end of two or three shows there. So that’s really meaningful. Somebody like Winnie Cadieux just shows us around, and we did the show there from Darcy Moses’ workshop. It had this sort-of funny parallel that we exploited a little bit on the radio of Santa’s workshop, because he was trying to fill all these orders before Christmas.
I must say – and I don’t necessarily want to tell everybody in Calgary this – sometimes I don’t approach the show particularly journalistically. I just think about it as friendships and storytelling and care, and being there for each other when things are hard, like there’s a flood or somebody important passes away. It’s being with people at hard moments, but also just at nice moments and good moments, where we can kind-of hang out and feel that mutual care.
In a way, that’s a piece of advice for the next Trailbreaker host, whoever that may be. What else would you tell them about the job?
Oh, my goodness. Well, easily enough, I could focus on my weaknesses. You know, it’d be good if you were more organized, or you were this or that. I wouldn’t want to give them too much advice, to be honest. Because I think the show could be done very differently and be done very well. Randy Henderson, for example, was a longtime host of The Trailbreaker. He would always say to me: “Remember that you work for the audience.” And I think that’s true. I think we need to be loyal, and build strong teams at work and be able to trust each other and take chances and make mistakes. And so there’s a lot to be said for that, too. But I do ultimately interpret my job as working for the audience.
A really powerful example of that is, over the years, every now and then, CBC makes a choice that’s frustrating for staff and things like that. And I’ve noticed in those moments, especially with the Indigenous-language broadcasters, they work for their people but at the CBC. And I don’t want to take the CBC for granted, but I work at the CBC but for the audience. I’m sure that whoever is next will do that, too. The deeper that conviction and that experience is, I think, the better it is for the show.
How long do we have left to hear you on The Trailbreaker?
My last show will be December 9. We’ll devote some attention – not a whole show – but we’ll devote some time and attention to giving me a chance to reflect. Rachel Zelniker is producing it and there’s a lot of it I don’t get to know about, so I anticipate some surprises for me. But what’s important to me that morning is that I get to say thank-you to the audience.
And then in the weeks in between I just have to do my job, which is competing against other things, trying to get things organized for the kids, and the family and all that. But I don’t want to go out with a lazy whimper or a distracted whimper. I really want to be present and do my job as well as I can, right to the end. Especially that expression of gratitude at the end.