Rita Celli, the new host of Ontario Today on CBC Radio, is a Greater Sudbury girl to the core.
She was chosen for the job after former host Alan Neal decided to leave the program to host two other CBC Radio programs - Fuse and Bandwith.
Starting Monday, Sept. 11, Celli will take over the popular province-wide lunchtime news and phone-in show, which attracts between 250,000 and 500,000 listeners every day.
Celli, 37, grew up in Gatchell near the Caruso Club, and studied journalism at Carleton University. After graduating in 1991, she got her first job as a reporter at CBC Radio in Sudbury.
"I spent a few years up there. In some ways, it was the best
place to start as a reporter. I got to travel alone to
Temagami, New Liskeard, Attiwapiskat, Moosenee and Fort
Albany," she says.
"I'm not that old, but I remember trying to feed radio sound from up north. I used to travel with a black telephone that I could plug in."
Celli says she missed the north terribly when she moved to Ottawa in 1994 to host the city's CBC Radio morning show. For the past four and a half years, she's been the host of CBC television's Ottawa supper hour newscast.
"I'm still pretty attached to Sudbury in a lot of ways. Not too long ago I came home and went up to where the Big Nickel is, because you can see over to where my parents live. I got very nostalgic," she says.
"I picked up a piece of slag and I started crying. It was partly because the feeling of that slag is so unusual. This is the stuff that I watched when I was kid being dumped out of cauldrons. It has that really smooth, swirly feel. I thought 'How many times as a kid did I feel that?'"
Celli is excited to be working in radio again.
"That sense of conversation and continuing that on air for two hours is really exciting. I'm hoping to find the universal themes that touch people," she says.
"The phone-in aspect is very special. People love to communicate with each other. It's really fascinating to hear the stories people can tell, and how they can animate issues with one another. It's a virtual community."
The host promises not to "hog" Ontario Today's weekly gardening consultant, Ed Lawrence, by asking him questions about her own garden. Lawrence is extremely popular among listeners.
"That guy is an icon. I've been trying to figure out how many times I've heard him say, very politely and patiently, things like 'What you want to do is mix four parts water and one part soap.' He's wonderful," she says.
"I have my own questions for him, but I'll make sure I do that off air."
Celli has a lot of ideas for stories and phone-ins.
"One of the things that I have thought about is that it would be really neat to track down some interesting guests that aren't necessarily experts on something, but are actually just amazing people," she says.
"You might want to call in and ask Doris, 'What did it feel like when you ran into a burning house and saved three children along the way?' That would be kind of cool."
Catch Ontario Today weekdays between 12 and 2 pm at 99.9 FM in Greater Sudbury.