When a friend posted this picture to Facebook recently I found myself thinking about Norm Edwards, Calgary’s self-styled “morning fool” of local radio, who died in 1991 at age 48, after a year-long battle with smoking-related lung cancer. Here’s what I wrote about him in the Calgary Herald a few years after he died.
Edwards was a madcap radio performer, crazy, unpredictable, and eminently listenable. Off air, he lived a conventional family life with his wife and 10-year-old daughter, renovating their home in Bragg Creek, skiing in the winter, and being what he called a “closet landscaper.” On air, he was, as he described himself, “a very immature 48-year-old. A 48-year-old with an attitude.”
The standard knock against the chatter on commercial radio is that it is vacuous and banal, more intent on silliness than the dispensation of useful information. Edwards knew this, accepted it, ran with it, and made no apologies for it. “You can hire people to be serious for you,” he said. “That’s why we have lawyers do our mortgages.”
Commercial radio should be fun, he believed. It couldn’t be otherwise. The alternative to fun was nobody’s listening. It wasn’t just a matter of going on the air and being goofy. Edwards worked hard at making it fun. After three decades in the business, he knew what it took to be the most-listened-to personality in the morning time slot.
He didn’t subscribe to commercial joke services like his competitors, because their generic humor had no real connection with Calgary. Instead, Edwards looked to his community for comedic inspiration. He took some cues from the morning newspapers, and carried a small tape recorder 24 hours a day to give himself what he called “thought starters” for his three-hour show.
Every major news event, weather warning, or sports upset was automatic grist for his humor mill. “If you go on the air and say nothing about the biggest story in Calgary, you’re a fool,” he declared. “And I mean a real fool.”
Edwards’s love of tomfoolery became the stuff of local radio legend. He conducted 12-listener polls on such questions of earth-shattering importance as the ugliest car on the road, or the proper way to hang toilet paper. He brought on a “world-famous psychic” who got every prediction wrong, and failed to recognize his own mother’s voice during the call-in segment of the show. He invited a local chef to prepare ginger beef on the air, and when it turned out the chef could only speak Chinese, Edwards insisted on doing the news, weather and sports in mock Chinese.
He maintained the formula was simple. “Give me a microphone and some tunes, and I’ll do the job,” he said. However, in the next breath, he would concede that the formula could easily grow stale. “It never gets easier because you must stay today,” he said. “If you’re still acting like you did 10 years ago, you better get out of the business.”
Edwards stayed in the business because he knew the key to success was more than controlled frolic and rock ‘n’ roll music. He also knew that community awareness, a well-developed sense of societal mores, and a consistent approach to programming were vital ingredients in the mix. “If people like your thing on Monday, you better still be doing it on Friday,” he said. “Otherwise it’s like McDonald’s changing their menu. People want consistency.”
Ratings-challenged radio stations could not always provide that consistency. CKXL, where Edwards first rose to local prominence during the mid-1970s, went through a number of name and format changes after he left to deliver the patter and spin the platters at other stations. CJAY-92, where he worked his last morning shift, announced a format change to ‘70s rock just one month before Edwards’s death.
Through all the changes, Edwards remained a joking pillar of consistency, greeting listeners with the catch-phrase “Good Norming” that became his trademark, and always full of the tricks and the antics, even during his last year when chemotherapy sessions periodically took him away from the microphone.
A few years before his death, Edwards had told the Herald he planned to keep doing morning radio until he was into his 60s. He couldn’t think of anything else he would rather be doing. “Remember, foolishness is my life.” During the same period, he had owned a dog named O. J. You can imagine the kind of comic fodder that would have provided if Edwards were still on the air today. The contribution he made to our community, waking up Calgary to the sound of laughter and music, is remembered annually when a scholarship in his name is given to a deserving student at Forest Lawn high school.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 Brian Brennan - Writer