That you, Bas?
After 40 years on air, Bas Jamieson's not allowed to retire
By Freelance Journalist and Fellow Newfoundlander Abroad Susanne Hiller
ST. JOHN'S, NFLD. - "That you, Bas?" asks Sandra from
"Yes, my love," growls Bas Jamieson who sits in a small
booth in a St. John's radio station where he hosts a feisty,
free-for-all Open Line show broadcast across the region.
"You're on the air. We've got everything lit up here, so keep
your comments short."
You'd never know it, but Mr. Jamieson officially retired from radio
in 1994. Yet, Newfoundland's most notorious and beloved radio
personality can't stay away. His fans simply won't let him. When he
sadly announced he was leaving his evening show after 40 years in the
talk-show business, VOCM was swamped with angry callers demanding that
their late-night friend never be allowed to leave them. After all, Bas
Jamieson is a household name here and the question "That you,
Bas?" is likely the most popular phrase in Newfoundland.
So, the tiny man with the "gift to gab" happily agreed to come
back to fill in for special occasions. Mr. Jamieson, who is now 71 years
old, is sitting in this summer for his colleague, Bill Rowe, who hosts
the equally popular morning show. Yesterday morning Mr. Jamieson had
Premier Brian Tobin as his guest, who wanted to talk mainly about the
benefits of natural gas for the province. Some of the callers, though,
had other beefs with Mr. Tobin they wanted to get out in the open. One
irate man demanded to know why his lounge had been closed down by the
provincial government while a woman on line six called in to ask the
premier to buy a $10 lottery ticket to help out the SPCA.
"We're struggling, you know," she said.
"I'll buy my ticket today," promised Mr. Tobin.
After the premier left for a meeting, the show resumed its regular
format that Mr. Jamieson describes as a serious forum for ordinary
people to debate the issues of the day. People called in on everything
from the location of a new hospital on Fogo Island, and making nature
trails wheelchair accessible, to overly expensive airfare to
Radio has always played a big role in the lives of Newfoundlanders. The
debates of the national convention, which included discussion of the
constitutional future of Newfoundland, took place between 1946 and 1948
and were broadcast on the Newfoundland government radio system. The
debates ignited public discussion about politics for the first time.
"There was a time when all of Newfoundland depended on radio for
the weather, the fishing reports, the hospital reports, it was all done
on commercial radio," said Mr. Jamieson.
"There's still a lot of that around," he added. "We do
things at this radio station that radio stations in Ontario and
Vancouver would never do. We talk about Mrs. So and So who had her
operation and she'll be home Friday."
But often "things go a little nuts," like during the
referendum on denominational education when the switchboard lit up with
people, yelling and screaming.
"It was a very touchy issue that became very religion orientated
with people calling down their neighbour as a dirty protestant," he
But the show is more than just an entertaining forum to let off steam or
to catch up on gossip. Decision-makers monitor the show for criticism of
their government or local institutions. The police also tape the show to
listen for any signs of illegal activity. When Clyde Wells, the former
premier, announced he was going to sell Newfoundland Hydro to a private
enterprise, "the place went up," said Mr. Jamieson.
"It was the talk show that killed the deal. No question. People
did lots of homework and kept calling the show with their
It was on Bill Rowe's morning show in 1989 that a judge's wife first
heard a caller's allegations that sexual abuse of boys at Mount Cashel
was being covered up. The woman called her husband who called the
Department of Justice. This prompted a police investigation and the
conviction of eight Christian Brothers.
Mr. Jamieson said many of "the regulars" have become
friends over the years -- even though they haven't met and live in
scattered communities across the island.
Newfoundlanders do seem to have a special relationship with radio.
The St. John's CBC morning show, for example, has the highest ratings
for CBC morning show programs for its market size. They recently added a
call-in segment as part of the show.
And Mr. Jamieson's fans don't have to worry about him leaving the air
anytime soon. He said he would continue the same sign off he's been
doing for the last 40 years for as long as he is able.
"Do something nice for someone, you'll feel better for it,"
says the little man with graying hair into the microphone. "You'll
feel better for it. God bless. "
*First appeared in the National Post