Alberta conservative firebrand goes out with guns blazing

Dave RutherfordIt had been planned as a graceful retirement, a capstone on a varied and far-ranging career.

Instead, Dave Rutherford's colourful radio show came to an unceremonious halt on June 24, just one month before his planned retirement on July 26.

While the exact details of what ended the 64-year-old's talk show haven't been officially revealed, Rutherford bluntly stated "don't criticize the management" in a tweet revealing that some conflict existed between him and his employers, Corus Radio, who took him off the air.

On his last show, Rutherford expressed his "profound disappointment" with Corus Radio for directing its resources to music radio stations during the flood in June instead of CHQR News Talk 770, which broadcasted his show.

As the Bow River began to rise, the station producing News Talk 770 was evacuated in downtown Calgary and then directed its news feed through a sister station in Edmonton, 630 CHED, while music continued to be played on other Corus stations in the city.

"I'm just very upset about it," protested Rutherford on his show. "Professionally and personally. There are other ways I think information could have been broadcast on 770, but it was not."

RIGHT ON THE SPOT

"I've been to Biloxy, Mississippi to cover Katrina, I've been to Bosnia, I've been to Rwanda. It's been incredible."

– Dave Rutherford, former news radio host

Shortly before being let go from Corus Radio, Dave Rutherford sat down with the Calgary Journal refelcting on his career and his decision to retire.

"I recently saw my age in the paper, and just seeing it in black-and-white made me ask, 'Oh my gosh, am I that old?" ponders Rutherford. "I really don't feel old."

Rutherford's father, Walt Rutherford, was also a talk radio personality on CJOC in Lethbridge and with Edmonton's CJCA. "When I was a kid, I had no idea what he did as a living," remembers Rutherford. "I had no desire to follow in his footsteps, but it turned out I did."

Rutherford chose to enter news because "I wanted to be the one who told you about things, and to tell you first. I don't know why that is, if it's genetics or some Freudian thing, but it goes back to what makes a good newsman."

Rutherford's first days behind the microphone were in September 1971, a mere month after Peter Lougheed led Alberta's Progressive Conservatives to a sweeping win.

Kerri Conner, who has worked as Rutherford's producer since the mid-90s, refers to radio as "the theatre of the mind," adding that "it touches people more than possibly any other journalistic medium.

"It's always been really exciting, there's that adrenaline that comes with deadlines, of doing something new every single day," states Conner.

"Sure there are stumbles, but I love being able to create something new every day, and Dave just does a great job with the material."

Conner claims Rutherford doesn't script anything – not even his intros or outros. "Our morning meetings are incredibly important in his thought process and how he links things, but everything that you hear is right off the top of his head."

On hectic days, Conner says the news team frantically hands Rutherford information, and he gets it "right on the spot."

MONTREAL 1995

Over the course of his radio career, Rutherford has travelled around the world, from war zones to disaster areas. "I've been to Biloxy, Mississippi to cover Katrina, I've been to Bosnia, I've been to Rwanda. It's been incredible."

One trip which really sticks out in both his mind, and Conner's, was the Unity Rally in Montreal, during the 1995 Quebec independence referendum.

"It was a couple of days before the rally, and Canadian Airlines was offering incredibly reduced rates to attend the rally," Conner recalls. "We were in the office, and when we heard this, we realized, 'We've gotta go to that!'"

Rutherford and his team could only get a flight to Toronto, so they rented a car and drove the rest of the way.

"It had Ontario licence plates on it. Yikes," Rutherford laughs. "There were guys swearing at us and cursing and giving us the finger. It was visceral, it felt almost like another country."

Back in 1995, the team needed to plug a telephone wire into their equipment to be able to broadcast live. However, their phone line ended up being located on the far side of the plaza. "We were looking at at least 200 metres across this park that we had to get this piece of wire all the way across," Rutherford recalls.

The team walked the wire straight across the park, and it just reached the media podium — a park, as Rutherford and his team would find, soon to be filled with thousands of Canadians.

"You're talking about 100,000 people plus media," says Conner. "That one phone cord was our lifeline to Alberta, and nobody ever stepped on it, nobody pulled it out. It was amazing."

The wire was not the only hiccup the Rutherford Show experienced. "I was standing on the podium, staring across at this mass of people and the speakers started speaking French."

A uni-lingual Albertan broadcasting to an audience of Anglophones, Rutherford found himself in a bind. "However, this Francophone from Alberta crawled up and said, 'Hi Dave!' and I dragged him onto the platform and he translated the entire thing for us. Everything just came together," chuckles Rutherford. "And that wire never came out."

PULSE OF THE PUBLIC

On his last show, Rutherford expressed his “profound disappointment” with Corus Radio for directing its resources to music radio stations during the flood in June instead of CHQR News Talk 770 news.On his last show, Rutherford expressed his “profound disappointment” with Corus Radio for directing its resources to music radio stations during the flood in June instead of CHQR News Talk 770 news.

Photo courtesy of the Dave Rutherford Show
When he started hosting the Rutherford Show on AM 770, "The West Wants In" was a popular slogan across the province, and Preston Manning's upstart Reform party was on the verge of electoral breakthrough.

"I go back to an old cartoon, and I go back to a picture of a cow standing over Canada, and the cow's face is in Alberta, and the udder is over Ontario," Rutherford laughs. "There may be still some of that thought."

Since then, politics in Canada has gone through a seismic shift — the rise of the Conservative Party of Canada, the demise of Liberals, historically referred to as Canada's 'natural governing party,' and the unexpected turmoil in Alberta's provincial politics thanks to the insurgent Wildrose Party.

"Canadians finally got around to economic stewardship as a political reality," says Rutherford.

Rutherford attributes the actions of Manning and his fiscal sparring partner, Liberal finance minister Paul Martin, to creating a "mindset shift" among Canadians.

"It was amazing to see, back in '93, [Premier Ralph] Klein and [Liberal leader Laurence] Decore, both leaders talking about cuts," recalls Rutherford."Now, it's become something we expect."

In the years since, some in the media see Rutherford as an informal voice of Alberta — a man with his finger on the pulse of the province's populace.

"He's one of the few journalists who has a real rapport with Stephen Harper, which is fairly unusual."

– Richard Sutherland, professor of policy studies, Mount Royal University

"It wouldn't have happened 20 years ago," Rutherford notes. "It's been an evolution. Only in the past five years or so has some of the media really begun to look at Alberta differently and maybe appreciate what we say more than the oil we pump. I better now reflect what the audience feels than when I started out. I'm closer now to the pulse of the public than maybe some politicians."

"There's no mistaking his political beliefs," said Richard Sutherland, a professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University who specializes in media and politics. "Though the rise of the Wildrose may have complicated things, he has been a staunch Progressive Conservative, in the Alberta sense, for years."

Sutherland recalls listening to a show years ago where Rutherford was interviewing a Liberal critic, and the Progressive Conservative minister phoned in and "pre-empted the whole show."

Sutherland alleges, "It wasn't exactly objective, fair, and balanced, but he had those connections, and he had that respect within those circles. He's one of the few journalists who has a real rapport with Stephen Harper, which is fairly unusual."

Rutherford admits this connection hasn't always been there. "When I started out, I wasn't really certain about the principles that I believed in." But three hours of air time on a daily basis and being challenged by his audience helped Rutherford discover his own "comfort zone" of beliefs.

"It was a public evolution, in a way, of what I believed in. And once I got very comfortable with that, I just carried it through, and that formed my basis for a lot of my discussion."

Reflecting on those strong beliefs, Connor feels it made Rutherford "very genuine, and very authentic," adding "the guy you know on the air is that guy in real life."

"That doesn't mean he's strident," adds Conner. "He is open to different opinions, different people, different kinds of conversations, and that maybe doesn't come across in the radio in the day-to-day experience."

NO STRANGER TO CONTROVERSY

On account of political beliefs and outspoken nature, Rutherford has been at the center of controversies numerous times before. His most recent feud has been with Alison Redford's provincial government.

Former news radio host Dave RutherfordPhoto by BAJ Visser"The premier and I disagree on a lot of things," Rutherford claims. "They're the progressives of the Progressive Conservatives, the conservatives have all moved over to the Wildrose."

"We've had this kind of running battle. She'd ignore the show, I'd criticize her, and then the communications department of the premier's office would take shots at me, back-and-forth and back-and-forth."

Until the last few years, Sutherland said that Rutherford provided the Progressive Conservative government with "a fairly sympathetic context in which to communicate."

"For a long time that context worked, and he had access to ministers, but now that door's been shut in his face."

However, a chance encounter at the Prime Minister's barbecue at Heritage Park in 2012 resulted in a hug and an offer for coffee from the premier.

"Some people at my table were terrified, wondering what would happen," says Rutherford about the situation. "But the premier opened her arms wide. And so we're embracing underneath this spotlight in the middle of a tent filled with a thousand conservatives. It was amazing."

Although Rutherford says, "We've never had the coffee."

"His career's been an interesting one," affirms Sutherland. "He's definitely an Alberta phenomena. I don't know if he's that exportable."

Within the province, however, Sutherland sees him as "fairly unassailable," adding, "Rutherford, and QR 770, really owns their audience."

At the same time, Sutherland points out that the talk radio format, which dominates American airwaves, doesn't have a strong audience in Canada. He also sees that audience becoming smaller and less valuable.

"It's interesting to see some of the discussion around his retirement being the station changing direction. It shows that the demographics of Alberta may be beginning to shift politically, and there's probably more lucrative things QR can do with that media property."

THE FUTURE

"I don't think, in my business, most people start out to build a legacy," says Rutherford. "I do the job, I tell the story, I want to inform people about things."

Conner says that while the end was fast approaching, she was excited for what the future might hold for Rutherford. "He is such a young and active guy. He's not one of those guys who will retire and put his feet up."

While rumours recently swirled around about a potential run for mayor, including a grassroots "Draft Rutherford" campaign, Rutherford recently quashed them, telling the Calgary Sun that he was "never running for mayor."

As for now, Rutherford is being contacted by listeners who he has touched over his years on the radio, many of whom he says are thankful for "teaching them so much."

He reveals, "That's very gratifying. I'm glad I was a journalist, but I think I might like, in another life, to be in a classroom, maybe teaching political science or social studies." With that, he leans back and laughs, "Maybe next time."

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Cindy 31.07.2014 09:47  
I gave another chance - glad I did   It was a very slow start but I'm really enjoying the morning show with Kingkade. He's talking more about local stories and current events which is what I think people enjoy hearing about. I also enjoyed listening to Erin Kelly when she was alone hosting the show. They worked good alone but were disastrous as a team. I was sorry to see Kelly go because she was very good, but I am really enjoying listening to the morning show now. Keep up the good work Roger. It was a slow boring start but very is interesting to listen to now. Glad I stuck it out. I hope Erin can get her own talk show somewhere too as I enjoyed her also.  
   
       
Edward 21.08.2014 09:08  
Erin Kelly   I am very sorry that Erin has left as I felt she was much more stronger than Roger, and now I am wondering what is up with Rob Brk co hosting with Roger. Why not bring back Erin and drop Roger  
   
       
Vittoria 01.04.2014 12:40  
Dave Rutherford   I have tuned in to Dave's Show since the mid eighty's ...did not always agree with him, but enjoyed being
informed on important issues of the day. Dave you are Truly Missed. Kincaid and Kelly CANNOT fill your
SHOES. I would love to see you back doing what you do Best!... telling it how it is. Hopefully we will all
hear Good News..of a New Show perhaps??.. You Can Do This! and you are not old...

Wishing you All The Best in your future endeavours.
smiles,
Vittoria Lecce
 
   
       
R.G. Campbell 27.03.2014 10:59  
Rutherford Show   Completely agree with other posters here. Along with far less informative radio,your cuts for advertising drive me nuts. Thankfully we have cbc that we can listen to without the constant barage of useless adds..770 has been dropped from my dial..  
   
       
Pat Friedt 01.02.2014 21:02  
Huge Loss   What a loss Dave Rutherford has been. For 30 years I counted on Dave to keep me informed, through expert guests , on civic, national and world events. While I have tried hard to warm up to Kincaid and Kelly I just can't . They stumble around, waisting my time talking about trivia that means nothing. QR you have made a huge mistake and by the way Dave was right about covering the flood. It is so disheartening that an employee such as Dave, so valued by the public, would have to leave under these circumstances.  
   
       
Paul 10.02.2014 06:07  
Rutherford   I think that in time Kincaid ,& Kelly will do OK, but even they said that taking Rutherford's place
was to put it in my own words a challenge.
 
   
       
Colleen Stuart 10.01.2014 18:13  
QR 77   After Trying to continue to get valuable information and various pints of view on QR77, I am now at a loss!! I really didn't realize how much I valued Dave's show and also Chrarles in the PM.
EVEN IF I DIDN't always agree with Dave, I learned so much from everyone that was interviewed , and now all we get in the giggling two-some, who are trying BUT they are just not good enough.
I spoke to a friend the other day and she expressed the exact same feedback- without me even bringing up the subject.
I didn't want to complain to QR 77 without giving Kincaid & Kelly a whirl, but the time has come.
Even if Dave could not come back, can they at least find people who can be serious and talk about important things in our country. I for one am interested in more than Calgary issues.

Dave, we miss you terribly !!!!
 
   
       
Cindy 07.01.2014 09:57  
I've tried but after today I'm done   I have tried to give Kingkade and Kelly a chance. I really have, but all those two want to do is disagree with each other and argue back and forth. Whatever happened to having guests on the show who are knowledgeable, intelligent and interesting to listen to? The morning show is just filled with fluff. Two hosts debating against each other. One is always in disagreement with the other.
This morning (Jan.6/14) when Kelly suggested that the grieving mother of the teen killed in a drunk driving accident is being unrealistic in her disappointment in wishing there was a trial instead of the "killer" pleading guilty made my blood boil. How dare she question the grief of a mother. I'm done with that show. Once and for all. No more chances. Please bring Dave back!!!
 
   
       
Lynda 03.01.2014 12:10  
Kinkaid and Kelly   I have given this show 5 mths but can no longer tolerate either of these people. I find them to be very immature and really seem to love the sound of their own voices especially Kinkaid. The show can't hold a candle to the Rutherford show in any area. QR you have made a hugh mistake with this move.  
   
       
Jeff 03.12.2013 15:17  
We miss you Dave, but catch you on 660!   CHQR is trying, but it is just not the same any more. I really enjoyed being informed on important issues that other media, such as the CBC, fail to report on or frequently distort to suit their agenda. First we lost the MP3 option which made it possible to hear Dave Rutherford over the Internet on an Apple iPod. Then we lost Rutherford, replaced with a Liberal leaning, and then we lost Charles Adler. That was strike three.  
   
       
 

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