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Most curling enthusiasts won't recognize the name Joan Mead, but she had a great effect on their favourite pastime.

Mead worked on the CBC's coverage of curling for nearly 20 years, much of it as producer, and was about as enthusiastic as a person can get about the roaring game -- without playing it. She passed away suddenly last week after suffering a heart attack.

As a producer, Mead's best quality was that she listened to the curlers and to the fans. She was constantly coming up with new ideas, bouncing them off the movers and shakers of the game. Not all of them worked, or were even put into practice, but each one was enthusiastically embraced.

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And they weren't all as revolutionary as putting microphones on the curlers (something she was involved in back in 1983) or different camera angles, either. In fact, one of Mead's most innovative ideas may seem like a small one, but it worked perfectly. When the CBC came in to broadcast a final or semi-final of a national championship, it usually arrived en masse with more than twice the personnel and equipment that TSN used. Part of that was a track camera, which was effectively a television camera combined with a seat that moved along the ice surface on a track next to the sheet. The camera person sat in the chair and was pushed back and forth in rickshaw fashion by some poor slug. Other assorted CBC personnel also were required on the ice level to operate this machinery.

These techies often blocked the view of the fans in the stands and it became an annual tradition for cries of "Move the camera" to ring down from the seats.

That's where Mead came in. Her first step was to dress all the on-ice people in white coveralls, so they blended in with the ice. And second was to place huge monitors along the length of the sheet so a person who was blocked by the camera could see the action on television.

When things didn't work so well, she was quick to admit defeat. At the Olympic Trials in Brandon, Man., in 1997, Mead introduced a graphic element to the screen that made it appear somewhat similar to a web browser, with all sorts of information appearing on the sides and bottom of the screen wrapped around the live broadcast. While she was big on the format, it was dumped after the viewers stated their displeasure.

But Mead wasn't afraid to try such things, and that's perhaps what made her so successful.

While she wasn't a curler, she was a lover of the game, and fit in perfectly with its social aspects. She and I had an annual bet on whether the Scott Tournament of Hearts or the Labatt Brier would draw a larger television audience. The winner received a dinner from the loser and two years ago, after I was declared the champion, I arrived at the pub across the street from Mead's home to collect. After a long night of debating the greatest curling shot of all time mixed with a healthy portion of the Brier sponsor's products, she looked over and said: "You know, I just love curling."

I lost last year's bet, but I'll never have a chance to pay off. This one's for you, Joan. Cheers. The World Open winners still haven't received any money, although organizer Rudy Ramcharan has been communicating with the teams. The day a Globe and Mail article appeared revealing the financial difficulties, Ramcharan was on the phone promising to make good.

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"He said we'd be sent certified cheques in a couple of weeks," said Joe Frans, who is owed $10,000 for his quarter-final appearance in the event. "I don't know if we'll get the money or not, but I hope so."

The wait continues. Playdowns for the Scott Tournament of Hearts have reached the provincial level in most jurisdictions. The national final is set to begin Feb. 19 in Prince George, B.C.

Defending champion Colleen Jones gets a free ride to the final as Team Canada, but several big names won't be around.

In Alberta, former Canadian champion Cathy Borst lost out in the Southern Alberta playdowns, while in Ontario, last year's provincial champ and former Canadian and world winner Kim Gellard was eliminated at the southern playdowns. Bob Weeks can be reached via e-mail: weeksy@idirect.com

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