Meet Atlantic Canada’s Mr. Talk Radio, Rick Howe

Forty years after first going on the air, Rick Howe is still talking.

By Jessica Filoso

Rick Howe writing his introductions for his show. (Photo: Jessica Filoso)
Rick Howe has worked in radio for more than 40 years. (Photo: Jessica Filoso)

Listeners call him Rick

By: Jessica Filoso
Each weekday morning between nine and 10 a.m., Rick Howe arrives at the offices of News 95.7, Rogers’ talk radio station in the north end of Halifax. He invariably sports blue jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, a jean jacket, a Halifax Regional Municipality ball cap, and large aviator sunglasses – classic Rick Howe attire. He carries an over the shoulder bag filled with a homemade lunch, a notebook, a list of phone numbers, and his daily radio schedule.

“Good morning,” he calls out to his producer, Melissa Mancini, as he enters the newsroom.

Howe has been awake since four a.m. His day begins with a walk down to the bottom of the driveway to get the newspaper. He goes to the kitchen, makes a cup of tea and peanut butter toast, his standard daily morning breakfast, and begins his workday by scanning the Chronicle Herald.

Howe and his wife, Yvonne Colbert, both work during the day and get ready for work at the same time in the morning. They first met covering stories at the legislature. Colbert, who was a reporter at CFDR, heard of Howe when she was in J-school and thought he was talented. When Howe introduced himself, Colbert blurted out, “you can’t be Rick Howe”. Colbert was surprised she was having a great conversation with Howe because she “envisioned him as Tom Selleck”. Howe and Colbert have been together for 35 years, and married for 25. These days, when Howe heads off to News 95.7, Colbert heads off to CBC, where she is a full-time reporter.

Once he gets to work, Howe scans the wire services, and online news from CBC, CTV, Metro, and reads any announcements or news releases. He sits with a blank pad of lined paper in front of him to jot down ideas for the day’s show.

[pullquote]”If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”

– Rick Howe, News 95.7 talk show host [/pullquote]

Howe does four interviews per hour, 16 interviews in total during his four-hour show. Meaning he does approximately 80 interviews a week, 3,850 a year, and has done 15,350 since The Rick Howe Show began in 2010. And that doesn’t take into account the thousands of interviews he did during the 10 years he hosted open line shows on CJCH, a previous Halifax AM station, between 1998 and 2008.

On a normal day Howe has his show booked with topics by 12 p.m. When he has trouble contacting possible interviewees, it could take him until the show begins at 3 p.m.

Today it’s 12 p.m. and he’s trying to nail down his final interview. He riffles through brown, tattered loose-leaf paper bundled together into a makeshift contacts book. He finds the phone number, picks up his corded phone and dials the number. No answer.

“We’ll get Kimber,” he says to Mancini, as he flips through the pages for another phone number. Kimber is Stephen Kimber, a Metro Halifax columnist and journalism professor who is a frequent guest on the show. After a quick phone call, Howe puts Kimber’s name and phone number into his radio show time sheet and clicks print.

Another show ready to go.

Lifetime award

Rick Howe is Atlantic Canada’s Mr. Talk Radio. Howe has spent 40 years evolving and adapting to changes in radio broadcasting, and continues to thrive in the Internet age. He’s been a reporter, newscaster, news director, commentator, and talk show host.

Last year the Radio Television News Directors’ Association presented him with its lifetime achievement award for his four decades in broadcasting. “He has the rare gift,” as CTV anchor Steve Murphy put in a tribute video prepared for the event, “to be at you critically on the air but still be a good natured fellow about it at the end of the piece. And that’s why he’s survived — no, that’s why he’s thrived.”

“I think people enjoy listening, you know, hearing the news told to them,” says Howe. Radio fills in the gaps of television and complements it. “Radio’s biggest strength has always been its mobility,” says Danny Kingsbury, the general manager at Rogers radio. Kingsbury says radio will continue to be popular in the future because of its mobility.

And because of hosts like Howe. A study by Bell Media on the popularity of radio says the strength of broadcast radio revolves around personal connections with listeners. Canadians have personal connections to their favourite station and/or host. One third of radio listeners have a host they make a point of listening to.

Rogers Radio, which began broadcasting in 1960, launched the first all-news station, CFTR ,in Toronto, in 1992. Of its 55 radio stations across Canada, eight are now all-news talk show stations. Listeners of all-news talk show stations are 53 per cent male and 47 per cent female. Fifty-six per cent are aged 25 to 54. Rob Batherson, senior vice-president and managing partner of public affairs at Colour Advertising, says radio will continue to be a popular medium because it targets certain demographics.

Gets into trouble.

After completing his daily lineup at his desk, Howe heads down the hall to the radio studio where his show will be conducted. The only light illuminating the room comes from a small window in the corner. A News 95.7 sign and three clocks with Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver time hang on the wall behind the centered desk of the room. Howe sits in front of a computer at the black desk. There’s one microphone for him and three on the opposite side for guest speakers.

As he waits for the show to begin, he types short introductions to each segment he will talk about on his show. He uses introductions to start his interviews, but doesn’t always stick to them. “I get into trouble that way,” Howe says. In silence he continues to type, staring at the computer screen, breaking every once in a while to eat some of his packed lunch.

Howe never forgets to print out his show lineup and his small introductions on each topic for the day. “They call me Old School here,” says Howe. While everyone else keeps their lineups and information on their computer in Word documents, Howe likes having a copy in his hands.

Howe was barely a teenager in 1967 when he realized he wanted to be on the radio. He was at a a mall in his hometown of Montreal one day and there was an announcer from a local radio station on a remote. As he watched the announcer perform, Howe knew he wanted to be like him someday.

Fresh out of high school in 1972, Howe landed a job at CKNB, a radio station in Campbellton, New Brunswick. He wasn’t hired to be on air, but after lots of nagging was finally allowed to do some overnight shows on weekends.

His first time on air didn’t go smoothly.

Listen to Howe describe his first time on air here:

In 1978 Howe began working at CJCH, the number one private radio station in Halifax, as a general beat reporter.

In 1998 the general manager at CJCH, Bill Bodnarchuk, decided to make Howe the new host of The Hotline. At first, Howe didn’t want to host a talk show, but he wasn’t given a choice. “So I started doing it, and you know I really love it now,” says Howe.

“If they want to crap all over me all day long that’s fine as long as they’re listening. I have thick skin now I guess,” says Howe, talking about listeners who call in and make negative comments about his opinions.

“He’s sort of made an art form of letting people rant,” says Mancini.

Howe voices his own opinions on his show, but he is open to other opinions as well. Having an open mind and covering local issues is what has made Howe’s talk shows popular.

In 2008, CJCH decided to make the change from AM to FM radio. Howe would no longer be hosting The Hotline.

“This will be the final hour of The Hotline,” Howe said, to start the final show. Afterwards, Howe left the radio studio to be greeted by 40 or 50 of his co-workers standing in the hallway, clapping as he walked out of the CJCH offices for the last time.

“He’s got a wicked passion for the business,” said Doug Reynolds, a former colleague of Howe’s.

When Howe was let go from CJCH in 2008 he thought he would take the summer off to relax and consider career options. Writing was one.  About two months into his relaxation period, News 95.7 called to see if he would like to be a replacement anchor. He agreed instantly. Eventually, he became a news reporter and held that position for six months. Being a news reporter was like a flashback for Howe, to when he first started working in broadcast. Then News 95.7 decided to expand from just a morning show to having an afternoon drive show as well, offering Howe the position of talk show host.

Plans to stay

Mancini stands at her desk, which has a computer on it to check incoming information, a microphone to talk to Howe, and radio controls to make sure sounds are played at the right time. She calls the first guest listed on the radio time sheet. Howe introduces the first topic of the day’s show and begins his first interview. Sitting in the radio room by himself, he starts a conversation with his guests over the phone. He pries key information out of his guests, asking articulate questions and gesticulating with his hands.

“I enjoy what I’m doing here, and it’s a good place to work. If they’ll keep me, I’ll stay,” says Howe about his current job at News 95.7.

According to the Canadian Communications Foundations, the license for News 95.7 has been renewed by the CRTC to August 2019.

Howe believes radio has a future if it continues to cover local issues. He says the immediacy of modern technology is making radio more instant then ever.

Howe finishes his talk show at 7 p.m., the way he usually does.

“Thanks for tuning us in on this Wednesday, and, hmm, yeah, I guess we’ll do it again tomorrow.

“Hope you join us right here, same bat time, same bat channel.

“For producer Melissa Mancini, I’m Rick Howe, have a great night. But remember if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Wrapping up his 10-hour workday, Howe switches off his microphone, removes his headphones and places them on the desk in the radio room. He drops his pile of papers off at his desk and heads home to do it all again tomorrow.

A timeline of Rick Howe's career. (Photo: Jessica Filoso)
A timeline of Rick Howe’s career. (Jessica Filoso)

Edit/Layout by Rachel Bloom

King’s Journalism Review, November 2013.