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Success: American broadcast veteran remembers CKSO days fondly

Alan Nesbit worked at CKSO TV and Radio in Sudbury from 1961 to 1964 before going on to have a successful career in television in the U.S.

Retired broadcaster Alan Nesbitt, who worked at CKSO TV and Radio from 1961 to 1964, and went on to have a successful career in television in the United States, dedicates a whole chapter in his memoirs to his Sudbury days.

Entitled “Stepping Out Into Traffic,” in the memoir the retired broadcaster writes about his long career, which began at Broadcast News in 1960 in Toronto. In 1993, he became president and general manager of KABC-TV Channel 7 in Los Angeles, then ultimately took a job in the corporate offices of Disney/ABC.

Nesbitt worked with some of the top broadcasters in the United States and had a huge influence on local news and current affairs coverage and delivery. He met numerous politicians and celebrities. 

But as he tells his story, he remains, true to his Canadian roots, humble.

The title of the book, "Stepping Out Into Traffic," means taking a chance. 

"Bypassing the normal or safe route, and trying to reach a little further, a little faster. Maybe even risking failure to go beyond. I did that in going to Sudbury selling myself as a newswriter .... and to St. Joseph, Missouri, presuming to have the skills of a TV anchor person. And later for other roles. I heard the ‘stepping ....’ phrase once, several years ago, and thought it an appropriate cover for my modest career exploits," he said.

Nesbitt grew up in Scarborough. Like most teenagers, he had no idea what he wanted to do when he finished high school.

His brother, who was working at a Brampton radio station, told him about an opening at Broadcast News, the wire service arm of The Canadian Press that pumps out news copy for radio and television stations. 

He got hands-on experience as a rewrite editor, but the job only paid $35 a week. After a year or so, he applied at CKSO TV and Radio. The job as a reporter paid twice as much. 

"As a writer and reporter, I helped prepare news stories which were read by the announcers, including Basil Scully, Mike Connors and for Ralph Connors, then the general manager, who occasionally still delivered newscasts.

"I was like a kid at a candy store," he writes about working at the Pine Street broadcast studios.

In an email, he recalled, "In those days, TV news was so primitive, we could make mistakes and hardly anybody knew the difference."

During this foundation period of his life, Nesbitt married his wife, Sherron, and had two children.

"Joe Fabbro, Bill Edgar and then Bill Ellis were mayors of Sudbury when I was there."

He remembers covering the United Steelworkers' "raid" of International Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union, Local 598.

"We reporters on the street had to exercise great caution to miss an errant haymaker or a flying kick," he writes in "Stepping Out Into Traffic."

 "Unbelievably the union struggles and violence were never a story on our early TV news at 6 p.m. The 15-minute program was sponsored by International Nickel … No one at my level ever heard an explanation or asked for details.

"That big story on Sudbury TV would have to wait for the 11 p.m. broadcast."

When Prime Minister Lester P. Pearson visited during the 1963 federal election, Nesbitt and CKSO chief photographer Peter Orfankos  lugged the heavy film camera and sound equipment to Sudbury Airport for an interview. 

His CKSO colleague Basil Scully had run against Pearson in the Algoma East riding in 1958. The rookie reporter asked the Nobel Peace Prize winner a tough question for Scully.

"Mr. Prime Minister, what about the Conservatives' charge that you are never here in your home riding?"

"I am here now, aren't I?," Pearson replied, and was then hustled off by his handlers.

With some regret, Nesbitt quit CKSO. Something happened that upset him, but 60 years later he can't remember what it was. It may have something to do with being in his early 20s.

He left Sudbury without a job, but was able to convince a small Missouri station news director to put him on the air without any experience as a news anchor. 

By the time Nesbitt was just 25, he had gained considerable experience writing, reporting and reading the news. He applied for a job with the new CTV network, but wasn't feeling well on the day of his audition. 

He didn't get the job that might have changed the direction of his career.

Instead, he was hired across the border at WKBW, the ABC affiliate in Buffalo, New York. During his years at WKBW, its "Eyewitness News" went from last place to first place.

Nesbitt worked in several major markets before heading to Hollywood in 1993. Los Angeles has the second largest audience in the United States. At the time, it had more than a dozen TV stations.

When asked about the mistrust of mainstream media today, the veteran broadcaster shared his thoughts. 

" I think we are in big trouble … but I think we may be OK. I believe there is a continuing corruption in much of the media. We get it that there are editorials and opinion pieces. But some media now twist stories for unsuspecting readers/viewers with labels like 'analysis' and 'perspective.' Too much coverage seems driven not only by political viewpoint but by ideology.” 

As for social media's ability to misinform the electorate, Nesbitt said, "Because it is employed by so many as their chief source of news, (it) is scary. It's like a series of ongoing soap operas. Snippets of information, correct or not, form the foundations of belief for many.

" I hope we can count on the wisdom of the masses. As long as there is free speech — and it's a non-brainer we must always fight for it — I think most folks will find the facts and the truth bubbling in there somewhere. 

"Just think, a century ago, before any broadcast news, some of North America's newspapers were severely slanted to the point of sometimes printing sheer fiction. Somehow, we survived."

Nesbitt is retired and now lives in Florida. In the final chapter of his book, he recommends honesty and leadership as keys to success.

"Admitting to and learning from your mistakes, taking responsibility, limiting blame to others … Practising honesty is character building."

We ended with Nesbitt’s particular definition of leadership, which in his mind is "convincing others they can achieve more, sometimes much more than they first thought themselves capable."

"Stepping Out Into Traffic" is available as a Kindle book from Amazon.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelancer writer. Success is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.