Just a few weeks back on Jan. 26, I lost an old companion named Ed Jurak. Ed was 75 years old when he passed, discovered by a friend in his small West End apartment. His health had been declining for some time, resulting from Jurak’s lifelong struggle with obesity.
You have probably never heard of humble Ed Jurak, but if you ever switched on a local sports or news talk radio station in the years preceding 2009 when he retired, you benefited from his work. He was one of those unsung, behind-the-scenes heroes of broadcasting who are usually underpaid and underappreciated.
None of this ever seemed to faze Jurak, who was just happy when things would work. He told me stories of driving long distances on cold nights when 50,000-watt broadcast antennas would begin to sputter, just so he could keep a station on-air.
I reflect upon Jurak’s life during a time of significant upheaval in the arenas of broadcast communications, internet, podcasting, streaming media, and disruptive services such as Netflix. The delivery medium has been revolutionized by server farms moving terabytes of data every second to our homes, businesses and mobile devices.
In the next two years, it is anticipated we will see widespread adoption of super systems, such as the often discussed 5G networks the major telecommunications carriers are all preparing for. These are the ones that supposedly will run our home appliances and provide the capacity for autonomous vehicles.
Gone are the days when an Ed Jurak could get a channel back on-air by giving the console a swift kick.
Someone going by the handle “Cart Machine” on the radiowest.ca bulletin board described Jurak’s MacGyver-like talent for keeping stations on-air.
“Once part of the vast CKO [radio] complex had a power failure, including the control room,” writes Cart Machine. “Ed simply went out to his VW van, grabbed a long lawnmower extension cord (Ed had no lawn) plugged it into the board and ran it down to the end of the hall where a government office still had power. The station was back on the air.”
Radio stations are notoriously cost-conscious, which is why Jurak the engineer would often be required to sit behind the microphone and work as a fill-in host. Luckily, he had a pretty good voice for it.
He told Cart Machine a story of working at a station in Prince Rupert when he was forced to do a sportscast.
“Ed knew nothing about sports or the teams involved, so he simply gave the scores: 4-3, 2-1, 6-4. He didn't name any teams; he just gave the scores.”
That spirit of improvisation (and mischievousness) seems like a distant memory now in the shows we watch and listen to today. While YouTube, Facebook, Spotify and Instagram now make up much of our media diet, it cannot compare to the excitement of live radio.
Jurak once played me a slick-sounding radio commercial he produced promoting bogus condominium developments going up inside Stanley Park. The very idea of developing in any park, especially that park, could easily trigger public outrage.
“You could be living beside Third Beach, the Lost Lagoon, the Zoo, or one of the other prime locations. Think about which location suits you best this weekend — more details are coming Monday,” so the ad went.
Jurak would not confirm whether he ever played the spot on air during one of those thankless weekend evening shifts he would often be asked to do. Knowing his sense of humour, however, I suspect he did.
When you think about how fun and creative broadcasting has been, you ask what we have lost in the age of social media. Twitter increasingly feels like a swamp filled with trolls and fake accounts, while Facebook shamelessly mines its user base for marketing data.
Radio fans did not have to check their privacy settings.
Gen Xers, boomers and beyond who grew up in Vancouver will remember iconic talk radio hosts such as Pat Burns or Jack Webster, DJs such as Red Robinson, Fred Latremouille, Roy Hennessey or Terry David Mulligan, and FM announcers such as Ellie O’Day or J.B. Shayne.
They all tower in the memories of radio fans, thanks to guys like my dear Ed.
Rest in peace, old friend.