Canada Calling turns 50 this month

Radio show keeps Snowbirds aware of Canadian news

A popular Canadian newscast is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month and hosted a special live broadcast of Canada AM yesterday morning.

The cast and crew of the national TV morning show cooked breakfast with radio host Prior Smith and his wife Allana at Smith’s home studio on Clear Lake near Lakefield.

Smith is in his 27th year as host of Canada Calling, a daily newscast for snowbirds in the southern U.S.

After CTV’s satellite truck rolled in at 4:50 a.m. yesterday, the crew cooked eggs nests- eggs on ham with cheese and cream, Smith explained.

“It’s not often Canada AM comes on the back roads of Clear Lake, but they were here,” he said.

It was 50 years ago this month that Dave Price, a CBC producer, started the radio show after vacationing with friends in Florida.

Price became discouraged when he was unable to find results from Stanley Cup playoff games, Smith said, and soon after formulated the newscast which he ran for the next 20 years.

Smith works seven days a week creating the 5 1/2 minute newscast that airs Monday to Saturday, as well as a 15 minute weekly review for Sunday.

He’s proud to say he’s never missed a day and intends to keep running Canada Calling for as long as he can.

“All we try to do is replace the phone call home by telling you what is going on in the news,” Smith said.

About 17 stations in Florida run the show, as well as southern Texas and one in Arizona. Canadian vacationers are loyal to the newscast, he said.

“Lord help the local station if there is a technical problem,” Smith said.

His seasonal broadcast is heard from November to April and the network serves some two million Canucks who spend between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in Florida each winter, he said.

Canada Calling resumed Nov. 3.

Smith said 70 percent of those vacationers come from southern Ontario and 25 percent from southern Quebec.

Before his signoff in the spring, one AM station in the small town of Englewood, Fla. cancelled Smith’s show after Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced he was not sending troops to Iraq.

WENG 1530, the smallest station on the network, had carried the broadcast for 25 years. Smith said the cancellation was a publicity stunt by new management to try and boost suffering ratings.

Smith did not call the station last month to offer his show and called the incident a rare one.

“There were no problems for 27 years,” he said.

Alek Gazdic – The Peterborough Examiner