BY KEITH LACEY
After 28 years in the media spotlight, Don Mark officially ?signed off? for the last time Friday afternoon.
The well-known Northern Ontario media personality ended a 20-year run at MCTV by saying goodbye to viewers during Friday?s noon-hour broadcast.
Mark is leaving the media, but his tradition of sharing information isn?t over. He?s accepted a new job as a communications specialist with the Sudbury office of the Ministry of Natural Resources. After one week off, Mark embarks on his new job Jan. 29.
Looking back on almost three decades behind the microphone and camera, Mark said it?s been fun and memorable.
?You don?t have enough time for the number of good stories I could tell you,? said Mark, during a leisurely hour-long interview at the MCTV studios in Sudbury. ?It?s been a wild ride.?
Mark, 49, who is married and the father of five children, said he never thought saying goodbye to co-workers and the public would be so tough.
?To succeed in this business, there must be an inherent love of what you do, and I?ve always had that,? he said. ?I?ve met a lot of great people and
had so many great times...this is a job I love and I honestly never realized it would be this hard to walk away.?
Mark forged out a remarkable career for a man with no formal training, but who possessed an innate ability to communicate.
Like many others 30 years ago, Mark didn?t go to college or university to study journalism or broadcasting.
His introduction to the media came by luck, not through career planning.
?I?m originally from Toronto...I ended up working as a ski instructor at Searchmont in Sault Ste. Marie and was teaching a bunch of people at the radio station how to ski.
?Believe me, I never had any aspirations to join the media back then.?
Through his radio station contacts, the program director became a friend and offered Mark a part-time job as a disc jockey. He played music during the one-hour period just before Toronto Blue Jays games went to air.
?I decided to give it a try, enjoyed it and have never looked back,? said Mark.
Within weeks, he was offered a full-time disc jockey position at the old CKCY station in Sault Ste. Marie. He worked at other stations in the Soo and North Bay, before accepting a position in the early 1980s at CKSO Radio in Sudbury.
He was hired as the new morning man after well-known personality Michael Cranston left for another job.
He was offered a job in television in the fall of 1984 after doing a television commercial for old CKSO television producer Larry Gavin.
?I don?t know if he liked the job I did on the commercial or if he wanted to steal me away from the radio station because they obviously competed for the same advertising dollars,? said Mark.
Mark was hired to host a noon-hour talk show and also worked on the Reach for the Top quiz show and other projects not involved with the daily newscast.
?Back then, you had to do it all,? he said. ?It was busy and hectic, but I loved it.?
Mark?s popularity at MCTV reached an all-time high when he helped produce and hosted the popular Fishing the North weekly half-hour show. Mark and a small production crew travelled to the best fishing spots Ontario has to offer.
During its run between 1991 and 1995, Fishing the North was one of the top-rated shows on MCTV and one of the most watched outdoors programs in Canada.
?We had more viewership at the time than CFL football,? said Mark proudly. ?We were on satellite and I?d get responses about the show from Alaska and all over Canada and North America.?
The show cost a lot to produce and was eventually cancelled after the 1995 season, but those years were career highlights, said Mark.
Mark wasn?t actively pursuing a career change, but got a call from another former journalist who had landed a job in government communications and it intrigued him.
It was a long and difficult process to land the job, but he?s looking forward to his new career with the MNR, said Mark.
?I?ve always loved the outdoors...during the interview process, I got to realize how committed this group of people is to the environment and preserving our natural assets here in the North,? he said. ?It?s a great team I?ll be working with and I?m very much looking forward to it.?
While he has few regrets about his long career in the media, Mark said reading and reporting about death, loss, tragedy and pain has affected him after almost 30 years.
?There?s a saying in our business that if it bleeds, it leads,? he said. ?To be quite honest, I?m tired of talking about accidents, death and destruction...when you have to tell people about three 16-year-old girls killed in a car accident, it?s not a pleasant task.?
Mark says he enjoys being a northerner.
?My wife?s a northerner, my kids are northerners and I?ve become a northerner...there?s no other place I want to live,? he said. ?If I had a dollar for every time a stranger walked up to me and said ?hi? and ?how are you doing,? I?d be a rich man.
?The people are so friendly here and it?s a great place to raise kids and enjoy the clean air and sunshine.?
Perhaps his fondest memory will be working on 19 MCTV Lion?s Club Christmas telethons, said Mark.
?To ask for money to help people in need and get instant response is something I?ll never forget,? he said. ?This community is always there to help those who need it.?
Mark ran for Sudbury MPP for the Tories back in 1995 and for regional chair of Sudbury in 1997. He got 13,000 votes both times and said he enjoyed every minute of running for political office.
Co-worker Alana Toth said she and her co-workers will miss Mark greatly.
?He?s going to be sorely missed around here,? she said. ?He?s not only a television anchor, but the anchor of our newsroom off the air. He has a really good working knowledge of this community and what?s going on and has always provided me with so much information allowing me to do my job better.?
Veteran news director Don Chapman agrees.
?Don?s done a great job around here for 20 years and we?re really going to miss him,? he said. ?He came from radio, but as soon as he appeared on television, you knew he was a standout.
?Don could fill eight minutes of dead time when a guest didn?t show up by talking about politics, sports or the weather and not too many people have
that ability. He?s a good all-round broadcaster and we?re going to miss him, but we also wish him good luck in his new career.?