Photo: Les Bazso, PNG, Vancouver Sun
I was born Charles Hector Davis in Winnipeg November 17, 1935. (Is it any wonder I chose “Chuck” instead?) I came to Vancouver with my dad George in 1944, then moved with him again to Toronto in 1948. I left school halfway through Grade 8 at age 13 and had a variety of jobs—21 if memory serves me correctly—until, at 17, I joined the 1st Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in June of 1953 to go fight in Korea. That war ended in July, so I guess someone notified the North Koreans. They didn’t tell me when I joined that you had to be 19 to go over, anyway.
I was stationed at Currie Barracks in Calgary. From there I was sent in 1955 to West Germany and ended up as an announcer at CAE, the Canadian Army radio station at Wickede, near Werl. (The manager and producer were CBC people.) Private Charles Davis was the first person on the air on the station’s first full day March 21, 1956. How that job came about may interest other radio types. It began at Currie Barracks when, with the help of a couple of buddies, I decided to play a trick on some fellow soldiers. I had a good tape recorder and a very good RCA shortwave radio. I recorded some music off the air and then, using the recorder, came in with what I assumed was an “announcerish” voice with a bulletin: Russian troops had landed in Churchill, Manitoba!
Then we’d wait until somebody walked past the room, and I’d call out, “Hey, wanna buy a radio?” The radio, a very elegant job, sat on top of my barrack box (a kind of suitcase.) I’d quote a price of $20, ridiculously low, and the mark would draw closer. I’d turn on the radio, which wasn’t plugged in, and a cohort would surreptitiously start the tape recorder. Up would come the music, we’d talk casually while listening, and then someone would say, “Hey, listen! There’s a bulletin!” And we’d all fall silent and gape at the radio as the news of the Russian invasion was broadcast. The mark would gallop out to tell his buddies, then we’d set it up for the next guy.
When a sergeant came by, took the bait and listened white-faced to the bulletin, we thought we’d scored big time. But then he said he had to get to headquarters to notify the officers, and I chickened out and told him it was a gag.
One guy, a German fellow named Schweik or something like that, actually went running down the hall shouting “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” And this was quite a few years before that movie.
The other guys told me I had sounded like a real announcer. So when the chance came to become an announcer at the army’s radio station in Germany I auditioned and was accepted. I had no experience at all and thought announcers had to sound like Westbrook Van Voorhis. (Google him, you young whippersnappers!) So I boomed my way through a newscast and other stuff. When I came back to where the other guys were waiting, and listening to a speaker on the wall, I asked how I’d done. “It was kinda loud,” someone said.
Following my discharge in late 1956 I decided to stay in radio. I worked at several stations in Ontario (Kirkland Lake, Kingston and Kitchener), then came to BC in 1960 to work at CJVI in Victoria. From there I went to CHEK-TV, also in Victoria, and next to CBC Radio in Vancouver. I was a staff announcer on radio and TV there, and then in 1963 an announcer-operator for the CBC in Prince Rupert. While I was in Prince Rupert, I sold my first piece of writing (it was to Daryl Duke, then with CBC Toronto, but it was never produced.) Then it was back to CBC Vancouver where I met my future wife, Edna, who worked in the TV newsroom. We married in August 1965 in Toronto while I was doing summer relief announcing for the CBC there. Our 45th anniversary is coming up at this writing (2010). Our daughter Stephanie was born in Vancouver in 1972.
My first newspaper piece (on how to construct crossword puzzles) appeared in The Vancouver Sun in 1966. I’ve done a few hundred articles and columns in the 44 years since then!
In January 1969 I started at CHAN-TV (later BCTV, now Global).
My first book, a guide to Vancouver, appeared in 1973. My “urban almanac,” The Vancouver Book, with contributions from more than 100 local writers, came out in 1976. They told me at the public library that it was the second most-frequently stolen book from the system. I was delighted.
I devised and hosted a word game show, Look That Up, that was heard within Vicki Gabereau’s program on CBC Radio’s national network starting in 1983, and followed that up with Conquest!, a show based on knowledge of other countries. I also devised crossword and other word puzzles, and wrote dozens of limericks, many of which were clean.
During the 1980s I did a daily items column for the Province that eventually changed to a regular weekly column on Vancouver history. That led to more books: Two Weeks in Vancouver (with John Ewing); Kids! Kids! Kids! And Vancouver! (with Daniel Wood, who did 90 per cent of the research and writing): Turn on to Canada! (a Grade 3 textbook); Vancouver: An Illustrated Chronology (with Shirley Mooney); Top Dog! A History of CKNW; The Greater Vancouver Book: An Urban Encyclopaedia; Where Rails Meet Rivers: The Story of Port Coquitlam; Vancouver Then & Now and others.
In 2010 I am working on two new books: The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, which you know about because you’re here in the preview, and a history of mineral exploration in BC for the centennial (1912-2012) commemorative book of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia, what used to be called the BC & Yukon Chamber of Mines.
There’s more radio and TV history, like the time I worked for CHQM for 24 hours, and the time I was executive producer of The Vancouver Show on CKVU-TV for about 20 minutes, and a blooper I committed on CJVI that still makes my ears burn . . . but I see I’ve run out of space.
Note: Chuck Davis was recently interviewed by Mike Cleaver. Listen to the interview here »