David Candow trained thousands of radio reporters and announcers in eight countries on how to sound more natural on the air. His formula was simple enough: Speak the same way you would in a conversation, and keep your sentences short and to the point.
The Newfoundland native started working with announcers and program hosts at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. For many years, attending one of his courses was often the first thing a new hire would do.
Shelagh Rogers said when she started at the CBC in 1980 one of the first things she did was attend a course given by three people. One of them, Gloria Bishop, who went on to be her producer at Morningside, suggested Ms. Rogers might do better as a researcher than an announcer. Mr. Candow was kinder.
"He told me to stop trying to sound like Barbara Frum [then host of As it Happens]. He put an arm around my shoulder and said, 'Look, what I'm telling you is just be yourself. You don't have to sound like everyone else or anyone else,'" said Ms. Rogers, now host of CBC Radio One's The Next Chapter.
David Winston Candow was born on July 17, 1940, in the small town of Curling, just outside Corner Brook, Nfld. As the ninth, and last, child of James and Annie Candow, he was 20 years younger than his oldest sibling. Two of his brothers went off to war and he didn't meet them until he was 6. David's middle name was in honour of Winston Churchill, the British wartime prime minister.
David's father had joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the First World War, building timber bridges in the Pacific Northwest. In 1928, he started working as a master carpenter at Bowater paper mill in Corner Brook, where he remained until retiring in 1957. "Our father worked in Argentia during the Second World War, in the 1940s, building the U.S. Naval Base," recalled David Candow's older sister Dorothy.
David grew up in the house his father built and went to high school in Corner Brook and then to Memorial University in St. John's. He stumbled into broadcasting because of his hobby – performing in amateur theatre productions.
The regional director of the CBC at the time was also chairman of the local drama society. He was looking for an assistant program organizer for CBC's "schools and youth" department and Mr. Candow fit the bill. That was 1964, and he would work at the CBC for more than 30 years.
When he started at the CBC, there was a style guide that gave hints about how to write for broadcast and how to speak on air. Certain sentences sound like chalk scratching on a blackboard, the guide noted. "Harry and Mary went to Barrie in a car," was not to be said on air as "Herrie and Merry went to Berry in a kar."
Chief announcers weren't always right, but they did try to correct such clangers as "pitcher" for picture, and "meer" for mirror. Mr. Candow taught more subtle skills – the art of being yourself on radio.
Although he taught on-air performance, he never worked on air. But he knew how any program he produced should sound. Scripts should be written in short declarative sentences; words should be spoken as they are in real-life conversations. His guidelines for broadcasters included these directions:
- Write for the ear, not the page.
- You’re not an actor. Try to improve on the real you.
- Forget the audience might be millions; imagine you’re speaking to a friend.
- Use plain words; avoid long pretentious words that appear in print and never in conversation.
Mr. Candow first began training others on a part-time basis, while working as a producer and program executive for CBC Radio in various parts of the country, finally settling in Toronto. In the mid-1980s he began doing training full-time.
The CBC also had relationships with other broadcasters and he taught broadcasting skills to the English-language service of Dutch and German radio.
"He went to South Africa just before Nelson Mandela was released," recalled his wife, Catherine Haynes. "His job was to teach them how to broadcast in a post-apartheid world."
He also trained broadcasters in Indonesia and Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa. But it was after he retired from the CBC in 1995 that he picked up one of his biggest training assignments – at National Public Radio in the United States.
Jeffrey Dvorkin, who had run CBC Radio News, was hired as vice-president of news at National Public Radio in 1997. He was surprised that there was no training program to polish the skills of the hosts, reporters and writers on the national network. He knew Mr. Candow had left the CBC and decided to bring him to NPR in Washington, D.C.
"There was a lot of resistance. The announcers were nervous and insulted. Some hosts were furious. Like a lot of on-air people, they thought that everything that came out of their mouths was golden," said Mr. Dvorkin, who now teaches journalism at the University of Toronto, Scarborough.
Mr. Candow knew he was entering an ego-charged atmosphere when he arrived at the NPR offices. He had seen it all before at CBC training sessions across Canada. It took him just one morning to win over almost all of the on-air staff he met.
"One of them came out and said, 'Why didn't you tell us he was so brilliant?'" Mr. Dvorkin remembered.
Mr. Candow's nickname at NPR was the "host whisperer." It described what the Canadian did best: Train the on-air hosts to speak and write in plain, conversational English. It was Linda Wertheimer, co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, who bestowed the nickname. She admitted that she and her fellow host, Bob Edwards, were irked at being sent to training school.
"We were very annoyed that anyone would think we were not perfect," Ms. Wertheimer said in an interview from NPR's studio in Washington. "The people David really helped were those making the transition from radio reporters working in the field to being on-air hosts." She noted that the technique for a long radio interview is much different from looking for clips for a short news item.
Mr. Candow, who spoke with the Newfoundland dialect of his birth, had nothing against accents, as long as the speech was natural. When the Washington Post wrote a piece about him in 2008, the writer mistook his Newfoundland accent for what he described as "the blunt working-class Canadian accent, with its elongated and flattened o's, and d's that stand in for "th" ("dare" for "there")." Obviously, the writer had never visited Newfoundland.
Mr. Candow leaves his wife, Catherine; his children, Vickie and James; and three of his sisters, Bertha, Dorothy and Phyllis. His first wife, Bonnie Lind, died in 2006.
It was in his post-retirement period that Mr. Candow picked up one of his oddest assignments. The BBC asked him to go to the United States to train one of its broadcasters stationed there. That was the eighth national broadcaster on his list.
Mr. Candow died of a heart attack on Sept. 18 at the age of 74. He was scheduled to do a training session in Washington in late September for a political journalist who was beginning an on-air job at NPR.
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