More About Kenneth John Cox Than You Care to Know
When I was a kid, I almost certainly had undiagnosed Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder. I was a very average student who spent school hours shifting in an uncomfortable
desk, barely concentrating on what was said. Homework and projects were almost always
last-minute affairs. My school notes were largely unreadable.
One of my painful moments in school was while learning to write. My small motor
skills are almost non-existent, so my handwriting is very sloppy. A substitute teacher
was looking over my shoulder at my writing efforts and cut me to the heart. Pointing
to the special three-lined paper used to teach cursive handwriting, she said, "You're
not staying between the lines. Can't you see the lines?"
Yes, I could see the lines but somehow my fingers didn't go where I expected.
I don't recall, but I probably cried. I was an overly emotional boy.
Somehow, I made it through a series of public schools as the Cox family moved from
hometown Essex, to
Oxtongue Lake (yes, a one-room schoolhouse), to Hamilton (on the mountain)
and to Waterloo.
My Teenage, Rock 'N' Roll Years
My 'formative' years were in Waterloo, Ontario. I went to McGregor Senior
Public school for grades seven and eight, and then grade nine through thirteen at
Waterloo Collegiate Institute. I think I was
the smallest boy in the school when I started. While others had bloomed into teenagers,
I was running very late in that department and still a frightened boy.
I don't recall many happy moments about highschool, except for playing alto
saxophone in the school band and a combo group. For the most part, I just
looked on in envy at the well-to-do, fashionable, bright, and good-looking school
leaders. I was shy, timid, nervous, easily hurt (emotionally) and had few
friends. By way of over-compensation, I sometimes got into trouble by shooting from
the lip in emotional outbursts.
School did improve somewhat in the senior years when I was briefly a school news
reporter for the local radio and newspaper. All-in-all, highschool wasn't the
best time for me. I immersed myself in rock 'n' roll and daydreamed the
My world was on the radio where the best stations arrived in Waterloo 'off the
skip'. I'd listen to disk jockey
Dick Biondi on WLS in Chicago and
Cousin Brucie from WABC in New York. I remember listening to local radio
in bed with my "Rocket" germanium crystal radio. I had a transistor radio
lashed to the bicycle handle bar.
My father sold wholesale electronics and sometimes brought home a portable Phillips
tape recorder for the weekend. I was hooked on audio for life.
On Saturdays, I'd bicycle to stores in Kitchener-Waterloo where local
CKCR DJs like Jack Schoone and Ian Byers were doing live 'remotes'.
Too shy to talk to them, I'd just hang around and watch. Even though I really
didn't have 'the gift of the gab', I thought I'd like to be a disk
jockey - but one with a university education. (I subsequently found the technical
and production aspects of radio more fun and readily accepted - largely as a result
of hearing myself in Announcing class - that I didn't have the burning desire,
talent, or voice to thrive in that role.)
A False Start In The Radio Business
In grade thirteen, a friend of my Dad's let me hang around at radio station
CKKW where I soon acquired some valuable knowledge - how to operate a radio console.
I learned by playing around in a vacant control room and by sitting in with a kid
named Darryl Dahmer
who went on to spend 35+ years as an airborne traffic reporter in the Toronto skies.
My first task "live on the air" was pressing the button to run a commercial
while Dahmer frantically tried to stop his spilled milkshake from contaminating
the electronics. I'm pretty sure that one of the announcers at that time was
Tony Parsons who became the most watched TV anchor in BC.
A late Sunday night shift at CKKW wasn't good scheduling for a kid trying to
make it through the tough grade thirteen departmental finals and on to higher education.
I decided that professional radio work would have to wait.
My Love for the Muskokas
As a teenager, I spent summers pumping gas north of Huntsville, Ontario at a place
Curv Inn, not far from Algonquin park.
Although I was often lonely at that job, I did come to love the forests, lakes,
and wildlife of Muskoka. It was a world away from the city heat. In the evenings,
I'd play some old 78 rpm records they had there. The Platters' "Twilight
Time" and "I Know Where I'm Going" by George Hamilton IV have
remained among my favourite tunes.
The most anticipated part of the summer was the two-week break for the family's
traditional summer holiday in Powassan, at Ruth Haven on Ruth Lake. It's no
coincidence that we now live there. If there's any place in the world where
I feel content it's at Ruth Lake. My Dad felt that way too - only more so.
After finishing high school, I took a year off to work. I was a technician in Seagram's
distillery in Waterloo, Ontario where I tested the raw materials in the lab. I was
responsible for measuring and preparing the ingredients to make gin; including the
juniper berries, orange peel, and cinnamon bark.
I was the youngest worker in the plant and still under-age (the age of majority
was 21 back then). At Christmas, the company gave everyone else a bottle of liquor,
produced at the plant. I got a big package of mixed nuts. That suited me fine, because
I never liked the taste of whiskey even though I was learning the art and science
of taste-testing Seagram's brands. The job paid well for an entry-level position,
but I knew I wanted to work in radio.
The Ryerson Years
Life took a fabulous turn for the better in the fall of 1967 when I started attending
the three-year Radio and Television Arts course at Polytechnical Institute (now
Ryerson University) in Toronto. My fascination with the technical aspects of radio
and TV allowed me to flourish and it was possible to be one of the best students
for the first time in my life. Videotape recorders, cameras, studios, lighting,
switchers, audio consoles, microphones... what's not to like?
The best thing that ever happened to me was Ted Schrader's first-year Journalism
class. As our first assignment, we drew a classmate's name from Scrader's fedora
and had to interview the person and write a news story. I drew the name of Vilia
Rideout, a cute, short-haired blonde. After the interview, I asked her to a Ryerson
dance. We've been 'going together' ever since. We became engaged in second year,
married after graduation (July 1970). Yup, we're still married!
Getting Paid to Work in Radio
While in second-year, I used my previous (short) radio experience to work my way
into CJRT-FM. The Ryerson radio station was run by professionals with plenty of
students as paid part-timers. I was soon taking shifts at the console and working
up to 30 hours a week, including weekends. I'd type my school assignments while
being paid to spin classical music records.
While others were looking for jobs on graduation, I kept working at CJRT-FM. I was
hired as a full-timer and expanded my scope into higher-end radio production tasks.
When CJRT-FM started broadcasting live symphony concerts, I was the technical guy
setting up the equipment and operating the console at the back of the Ryerson theatre.
I recorded lots of amateur musical groups in the Ryerson Film department's soundstage
(including an enormous steel drum band), and engineered the soundtracks for children's
shows put on at the St. Lawrence Centre.
I have an album credit on "Live at Massey Hall" by the World's Greatest
Jazz Band. (If you ever run across a CD version, I want to buy it! I only have the
Moving to Radio News
After doing documentary interviews at CJRT-FM, my interest in the news business
took off. I left CJRT-FM and found myself learning 'smash and grab journalism' with
a wild guy named Bob Carr covering the Ontario Legislature. I learned how to hustle
in that job - get the story, get out, and get it on the air. The work with Carr
lead to city hall and general assignment reporting work with CFGM Radio, which was
in Richmond Hill. My big break came when my friend at CFRB,
Prior Smith recommended me for a job
as a CFRB general assignment reporter. I had arrived.
At 'RB, I learned from the best in the radio business including Betty Kennedy,
Gordon Sinclair, Wally Crouter, Peter Dickens, Torben Wittrup, Neal Sandy, Hal Vincent,
and many others.
Once again, I was being paid for my hobby. Day and night, I was live at the scene
of fires, natural disasters, murders, hostage-takings, and sensational court cases.
On at least one occasion, I worked 30 hours straight. I never knew where I'd
be sent or when I'd get home. For years, I drove a CFRB news cruiser plastered
with highly-visible logos. Pedestrians and other motorists would look in, trying
to figure out "which one" of the news team I was. (In radio, your 'looks'
rarely match your voice.)
Perpetual Learning and Small Engines
One of my outdoor pleasures was snowmobiling at my in-laws' cottage in Huntsville.
To learn how to fix snowmobiles, outboard motors, and lawnmowers, I earned a certificate
in small engine mechanics. My project one winter was rebuilding an old Ski-Doo in
the basement of our Toronto home.
I still don't know how I got all the parts into the furnace room. When it was
mostly done, I reassembled the motor, track, and chassis in the garage because the
sled was too big to move up the basement stairs in one piece.
Enter the French Fact
French was my best subject in highschool (Waterloo Collegiate Institute). While
covering a speech by Jean Chrétien for CFRB, it shamed me that I wasn't able
to understand his obligatory paragraph delivered in French. At that point, I resolved
to pursue another dream - become bilingual.
While I was still at CFRB, Vilia and I began taking evening courses in French at
York University's Glendon
College in Toronto. Then we took two summers off for French immersion. The
first was at Université Laval in Québec City.
The second summer, we chose the Cegep De Riviere-du-Loup.
Drawn to Québec
As chance would have it, the CKO radio network was opening up a bureau in Quebec
City and needed a bilingual reporter. Well, I was a reporter. The bilingual part
came as I was thrown into an environment where the news happened in French but I
needed to report it in English. I was based at the Quebec National Assembly, just
steps from the old wallled city of Quebec. What a pleasure to work there!
Meeting The Queen
One of the highlights of my radio career was meeting Queen Elizabeth II in October
of 1987. One of the Queen's traditions is to hold a cocktail party for the news
media covering her tour. Vilia and I were invited to the off-the-record event at
The Citadel in old Quebec City. We shook hands with the Queen and Prince Phillip
in the receiving line and thought that was all there would be. Wrong!
When we saw the Queen enter the reception, we manoeuvred ourselves into the path
where she would mix with the guests. We chatted with the Queen for five minutes
about Quebec City and the joys of anglophones learning French in La Vieille Capitale.
Thanks to her francophone aide-de-camp, some of the conversation was in French.
I spoke French with the Queen!
The francophone reporters never let me forget that I was the one who called my (British-born)
mother that night to tell her about meeting the Queen.
Back to Standard Radio
As soon a vacancy came open, I left CKO (which shut down a few months later) to
take over CJAD Montreal's National Assembly bureau from Steve Kowch. As such,
I was back in the Standard famly and back on CFRB from time-to-time. (CJAD is CFRB's
One day, Jean Chrétien made an appearance at a Liberal riding association outside
of Québec City. After his brief speech, reporters interviewed the Opposition Leader
and got a few sound bites. My friend Normand Delisle from La Presse Canadienne was
chatting with Chrétien and I joined in. The future Prime Minister of Canada seemed
genuinely interested to hear how his Toronto speech had inspired me to become bilingual.
I had achieved another dream: chatting in French with Jean Chrétien!
Leaving Radio and The Quebec Adventure
The rising tide of Québec nationalism and the enormous amount of work started to
take their toll on me. We decided, after seven years, it was time to move back to
home and family in Toronto. It was sad to leave Québec but it was also a chance
to switch gears and follow another passion that had been blossoming in our Ste-Foy
home - computers and software.
Back in the CFRB days, I realized that radio journalism was a young man (or woman's)
game and I vowed I wouldn't be chasing fire trucks at all hours at age 50. To
that end, I enrolled in a Technical Writing certificate course at
George Brown College. It wasn't long before I was making good money
writing documentation and loving it. I ended up as a senior information developer
for Nortel during its glory days. I was known as a "techie's" technical
writer - one who could debug problems with the authoring software, write code, and
pass easily between writers and programmers.
ASP, Then ASP.NET
My thirst for the latest in technology and computer software remained unquenchable.
I first started working on Web sites back when Microsoft's Active Server Pages (ASP
Classic) was in the beta stage and known as Denali.
Keeping up with the latest tools and technologies makes for a fun ride when you
enjoy it so much. Although I have no formal training in programming, building Web
applications comes easily to me. It's truly a pleasure to create an interactive
site hooked up to a database. When you love what you do, the day flies by.
I almost 'cried for happy' when Microsoft recognized my technical expertise
and willingness to help others by honouring me as a Microsoft Most Valuable
Professional (MVP). I've been designated an MVP by Microsoft each year for over
10 years. I like to say that I 'sold my soul' to Bill Gates and Microsoft
back then and the deal has paid off so far.
My first computer was a Commodore 64. I learned to write little programs in Commodore
Basic. After moving to the IBM platform, I created and sold multi-user games in
a dBase dialect called TDBS for a bulletin board (BBS) software called TBBS.
After Nortel started falling apart with widespread cuts and layoffs, I moved to
various technical writing jobs and contracts (which paid better than radio). We
eventually made the decision to build our retirement home at Ruth Lake.
I continue writing software on a contract basis. I don't go looking for the work
- it comes to me through referrals and my Web site. If people want to pay me to
sit home, play at the computer and produce database-driven Web applications, who
am I to refuse?
As of this writing, we have two home-bases. In the spring, summer and early fall,
we live in the Township of
Nipissing in Ontario, Canada. The area is known as "The Near North" because
it's the gateway to the vast northern regions of the province of Ontario. The region
is known for excellent summer recreational activities such as swimming, boating
and fishing - and snowmobiling in winter.
We've escaped the Ontario winter by renting a home in beautiful Victoria, BC.
However, I'd like to spend winters in a warmer climate by RVing from Florida,
through the southern U.S. and California.
Along the way, I've been influenced by a few sayings (not my own) that seem
to ring true for me. In no particular order:
- We become what we think about. I recall hearing that on an Earl Nightingale
LP that my Dad owned. It's uncanny how I seem to have lived out those words.
- You make your own luck. I always thought my fellow radio reporter John Yoannou
made this one up because he said it often. I see now the source was Ernest Hemingway.
It's a nice way of saying that when you're prepared, you can seize opportunity
- like when a job came along in Quebec City after I started learning French.
- If at first you don't succeed, you're running about average. This
was a quote from Alfred E. Newman
of Mad Magazine fame. (I loved that magazine as a teenager.) An Internet
search credits M. H. Alderson. Anyway, it seemed like a way of laughing off something
that didn't quite work out as intended.
There you have it; a lot more about me than you probably wanted to read or care
to know. Actually, I didn't write this for you at all - I wrote it for me! When
thoughts are swirling around your head, it's preferable to write them down so
they'll settle like dust. There, that's settled. <grin>