With unbelievable patience and good grace, Ron MacLean has spent almost 30 years covering hockey alongside his headline-hogging co-star Don Cherry. In Sochi, Russia, as part of the CBC’s Olympic coverage team, he shares some of the secrets to his success.
Every interaction is one-on-one
When I’m broadcasting, I don’t speak to a group. With all due respect to Foster Hewitt, I don’t say ‘Hello, Canada’ or ‘Hi, everyone.’ In any situation where I’m working with a microphone or a camera … I will always speak as if it’s me and you – and really me and me, since the [imagined listener] that I’m speaking to is me. On something like Hockey Night in Canada there are so many different types of listeners, the only way to be true and sincere is to reveal yourself and appeal to yourself. This is advice that I got from a man named Jay Trachman and it was kind of gold, because in the early years I was trying to be part construction worker, part investigative reporter, part musician. I was all over the map and that’s not the way to please everyone.
Let the stars shine
My philosophy is make your guest shine and then you’ll shine. That’s how Grapes [Don Cherry] and I have succeeded for so many years. I totally defer in the sense that I want him to look great and if he does then, by default, I can tag along. Of course I have fun, I’ll call him out, but I look at myself as the anchor of the show and Don as the guest. He’s just another person I’m trying to flesh out. I’m happy to have him as the star. It was Don who felt I needed to be branded and would insist that they put the Coach’s Corner with Don and Ron. He always wanted the two-shot. He never wanted the camera to come in solely on him. He wanted to have that sort of listener reacting to what he was saying. He was clever enough to grasp early on that the power of two was very important.
It’s not all about the Stanley Cup
One of the challenges of my job is that for the 28th year in a row, I’m trying to say that what you are watching tonight is a big game. The message is kind of exhausted, so I have to search out new angles and ways to frame the new night. It gets crazy during the playoffs. That’s 60 straight nights of every night is bigger than the one before and, yet, there were all these big moments along the way. Chris Hadfield has a good thing in his book about trying to win 10 times daily versus just once every 10 years. That’s the way I approach the telecast – to give the viewer a little something all through the night that might just titillate.
Shed the pack mentality
Alexis de Tocqueville said, ‘We trust democracy at our peril.’ When I go on the air, of course I do it for the customers, for the viewers. They are the reason we have a show, but that’s not the same as letting what the viewers think determine what you say. Otherwise you’re just pandering and that isn’t a long-term plan. During the Beijing Olympics I got a lot of pushback for asking Mark Tewksbury about his experience as a gay athlete. He had put out a book [on the topic], so it wasn’t like he wasn’t open. There was a kind of a consensus at a pre-Olympic meeting that it’s probably not comfortable subject matter for everyone, but I believe there are times when each of us has to step back from the herd and think for ourselves.
Marriage is two wholes making a whole
My wife Cari and I have been married for a long time and one of our keys to a successful relationship is individualism – letting each person be their own person. We have both been very supportive of each other’s character, ambition, and have been careful not to try to control each other. In every way, shape, or form, Cari’s a very strong-willed person, very successful in her own right. She’s a go-getter and I kind of get out of her way. She understands that I have days where I’m just thinking about the show and I’m absolutely useless as far as companionship goes. Right now, with Sochi, I’m probably pretty useless.
This interview has been condensed and edited.