The voice of Sarnia retires: CHOK’s Larry Gordon signs off after 40 years in broadcasting
The man who brought the world to Sarnian’s breakfast table is going to “go and watch the world spin for a while.”
Larry Gordon, the man some call the Walter Cronkite of Sarnia, read his last newscast on CHOK Radio this morning. He gives his last commentary during the Morning Magazine and then joins Sue Storr on The Talk Show at 9 am to talk about his career. (Listen here: http://chok.com/mediaplayer.php)
Gordon grew up in Wingham – a community known for its TV and radio station – and “caught the bug” there. He started working part-time as a radio operator at CKKW and CFCA in Kitchener while he was still at Conestoga College. His first full-time job was in Huntsville and Parry Sound and later went to Stratford. That’s where he had his first contact with Sarnia.
While doing hockey broadcasts for the Junior B team, Gordon ran into Roy Caley and George Health from CHOK and soon he was heading to Sarnia with his wife Penny. “We thought we’d go down for a couple of years and see if we like it,” says Gordon. The couple never left. “We love the climate, love the people, love the community – we set down deep roots.”
Gordon’s voice has been the soundtrack for many of the city’s biggest moments, explosions in the Chemical Valley, the tornado that ripped through Reece’s Corners, the death of Dudley George at Ipperwash, Dow Chemical’s “Blob” in the St. Clair River. “We all remember, too, the long night on Highway 402 where people sat on in their car wondering if anyone was coming and the radio is out there with them,” says Gordon. “We call it real radio when we get into a situation like that and adrenaline is flowing.”
But Gordon wasn’t just reporting the emergencies to his listeners; for many years he has been part of Sarnia’s Emergency Coordinating Group. It’s a job Mayor Mike Bradley – who is also on the team – says Gordon takes very seriously. “He is instrumental part of communication to the public and he gives them just the facts. He’s really acting as the facilitator of information; he’s getting the news out of it,” says Bradley. “There is a lot of pressure to speculate and go beyond but he never goes there…he knows the public will get exactly what is needed.”
Dave Dentiger has worked with Gordon for 35 years and will take over the job as news director at CHOK. He says he has big shoes to fill. “He’s the consummate news professional, objective fair balanced and, as they say, he could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge…He is the epitome of the trusted newsman.”
Bradley agrees. “He really has been the voice of Sarnia-Lambton for this generation and that’s not an exaggeration… he is where we turn, he’s like our Walter Cronkite, like our Peter Mansbridge,” says Bradley. “He is the voice of eloquence, a voice of reason.”
And Bradley says one of the reasons people like Gordon is his commentaries, which he says are always fair and balanced. And Bradley says the commentaries – even the ones about his decisions – made him think. “He’s always fair, and his commentaries never embarrass people but they make the point,” says Bradley. “It made me think, maybe I was off base, and maybe I should have thought that through a little more.”
Gordon says it has been a great experience sharing his thoughts about the community and says there have been “loyal listeners” who have been with him since he started writing them.
Leaving those loyal listeners after all these years is a bit bittersweet. “I am leaving a job I still love,” says Gordon. “But your body tells you it’s time to change.”
Gordon has been getting out of bed each morning at 2:30, arriving at the station by 3 to work until around 2 pm. “I’m not leaving for any other reason than it is just time for a change after 40 years.
Gordon says for now he will “go watch the world spin for a while.” That will include sleeping in; although Gordon admits he’ll likely still wake up at 2:30 am. “It will be a nice to be able to roll over; it will be a nice change.”
In the newsroom, Dentinger says the staff can hardly grasp the idea of going to work and not seeing Gordon there. “I have to pinch myself every once and a while saying my goodness, he’s retiring.” But Dentinger says Gordon’s work ethic will stick with them. “It wasn’t like a job for Larry; it was more than a pay cheque, it was a vocation.”
And Dentinger says they’ll continue to follow his guidance; “just present the facts in an accurate balanced way, inform the people of both sides of the story don’t make any judgement, don’t do any editorializing; if you do that you will be on solid ground.”