Each weeknight at 6:30 p.m., the triumphant opening bars of “Curried Soul,” Moe Koffman’s classic (albeit recently remixed) jazz tune, signal the start of one of the country’s truly iconic radio programs—a program that takes close to a million listeners into the stories, politics, news items, and issues of the day.
This, of course, is As It Happens—one of the longest-running and most-successful programs in the history of CBC Radio. Remarkable in its simplicity, but ambitious in its scope and range, AIH (as it is colloquially known to listeners) is like no other show on the radio. It is at once irreverent, serious, moving, cheeky, journalistic, probing, and playful. Each ninety-minute episode comprises a series of interviews from around the world. From Canadian cabinet ministers to foreign dictators to people affected by disasters to quirky eccentric characters who have done things that baffle credulity, the range of voices heard on AIH is truly remarkable.
Given how important the program is for Canadian society, it’s perhaps no surprise that AIH has been co-hosted by some of this country’s most distinguished broadcasters during its decades-long run—from Barbara Frum (1971–1981) to Michael Enright (1987–1997) to, most recently, Carol Off.
Before coming to AIH in 2006, Off distinguished herself as a skilled reporter. She spent years as a foreign correspondent for CBC, covering conflicts from the Middle East to Haiti to the Balkans. On the air, her dexterity and flexibility as an interviewer is remarkable. One minute, she’s skillfully holding a powerful figure to account, asking insightful and pointed questions; in the next, she’s expressing remarkable sensitivity and empathy to someone else who’s been haplessly caught in a difficult or tragic situation. Few Canadian journalists are as skilled at holding the rich and powerful’s proverbial feet to the fire. Whenever a politician, spokesperson or business leader skirts or skews a pointed-but-fair question Off has posed, she never fails to express the incredulity shared by many a listener, then asks the question again, facts and skepticism in hand. Indeed, this rare quality recently manifested itself in brilliant fashion, when she challenged Conrad Black about his televised interview with Toronto mayor Rob Ford. (In that exchange, Black had neglected to express even the mildest of scepticism towards Ford’s many dubious, even potentially libellous statements—despite many known facts to the contrary.)
In my own interview with Off, posted above, she reveals the story behind her remarkably audacious beginnings in journalism, takes us behind the scenes of the making of As It Happens, and perhaps most importantly, makes a spirited and impassioned defense of the role that public broadcasting plays in the fabric of Canadian life.
To me, As It Happens, as co-hosted by Off and Jeff Douglas, is the best possible example of what public broadcasting is all about—a forum for Canadians to come together as citizens and learn about the issues, stories, and questions that affect us all. Regular listeners get a sense not just of the country, but of the larger world it exists within. It has made me feel like a citizen in the best and richest sense of the word: someone who is informed, connected, engaged, and to a degree responsible for decisions we collectively make, whether the issue in play happens to be from just down the street or indeed, “from around the world.”
Originally posted at broadcastingcanada.com. Edited for republication.