I recently spent some time with two veteran broadcasters, both radio reporters. One was a friend; the other, a foe.
And get this: they had the same address — a rural cemetery.
The welcome sign is a bit misleading. True, the church is in the bedroom community of Leduc [just south of Edmonton, Alberta] … but the cemetery is in the sticks in a neighbouring community.
If you travel the Queen Elizabeth II Highway north towards Edmonton, approaching the industrial hamlet of Nisku, you’ll notice on the East side of the road a two-storey factory where fitness machines are made. That’s Flaman, “Your Fitness Equipment Headquarters.” On the side of the building is a most realistic mannequin [a man] that appears to be walking on a treadmill. Cute.
Just north of the property is a small grove of trees and on the other side of the trees — hidden from view of those zipping along the four-lane highway — is a tiny cemetery with fewer than 100 neatly kept graves. [If you want to plug 2502 Sparrow Drive, Nisku in your GPS device, you’ll find it.]
Most cemeteries are quiet, but not this one. Like the mannequin on the treadmill, the traffic never stops. 24/7.
WARREN HENDERSON THE JOURNALIST
It’s at St. Peter’s Lutheran Cemetery where popular Edmonton newscaster Warren Henderson was ‘laid to rest’ on a cold day in early March 2006.
The man was 50.
Warren was my work colleague and friend. For several years, we worked together at 630 CHED Radio, a news and information station in Edmonton. CHED was rated number one in a market of more than two dozen radio stations. Numero uno.
Combined with broadcast veterans/legends Eddie Keen, Bob Layton, C.R. Nichols, Ed Mason, Eileen Bell and JT Lemiski, Warren had helped turn the former pop music station into a major news leader — a ‘powerhouse’ in Western Canada, to borrow a term tossed about at staff meetings. No news desert here.
That ends my plug for CHED.
The radio station was part of Corus Entertainment, based in Toronto. Many staff members of Corus’ four stations in Edmonton [two AM and two FM] turned out for Warren’s sendoff.
Warren John Henderson, a native of Manitoba, was a veteran newsreader — and a darn good one. His newscasts were consistently clean without stumbles — and no screwups with hard-to-pronounce names.
“Smooth and authoritative” was how David Kirkham of CBC Radio in Edmonton once described Warren Henderson. “That guy is good!” exclaimed David, a silky smooth announcer in his own right. “He plays it right down the middle.”
David and I worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation … just down the road from CHED, actually. When it came to ratings, our AM outlet was about mid-way … not king of the hill nor in the cellar.
We constantly monitored the newscasts of opposition stations to see if we missed something really big.
Few CBC reporters had much good to say about our colleagues at the ‘private’ stations — the know-it-all critics we were back then — but Warren was an exception. He sounded like he could be behind the microphone in New York or Sydney.
Mind you, this was the 1980s when radio stations actually had newsrooms. Nowadays, few do. They may have one or two ‘rip-and-read’ newsreaders, perhaps some who make phone calls from their desks … but not real journalists with assigned beats who tear out of the parking lot in a cruiser, stones flying, in hot pursuit of a scoop. Those days are long gone. They vanished along with cassette tapes.
WARREN HENDERSON THE MAN
Warren died on a Tuesday afternoon, February 28, 2006. He was on sick leave and had gone to a theatre. Warren was a big time movie guy. When the flick ended, the cleaners moved in and found Warren slumped over in his chair.
He died alone. Cause of death: heart attack.
We were all shocked and saddened, of course. But no one was really surprised. Warren hadn’t been well for some time.
Warren suffered from severe diabetes and doctors had to amputate a leg. I went to the hospital to see him shortly after his big operation. “I understand you’ve lost some weight,” I said in my best medical humour. Warren smiled … but not for long. He feared he might never ride his Harley again. How he loved that bike.
Several times I visited with Warren in the hospital … and once at an ABC Restaurant on Edmonton’s south side. This was about a week or so before he checked out. I arrived at the restaurant early. To make sure we had privacy, I picked a booth at the end of the aisle.
Warren finally arrived. He slowly made his way into the restaurant, one step at a time. When my friend plunked himself down on the padded bench he was out of breath as though he’d just completed a marathon. That wasn’t a good sign.
“Here’s a tip,” I said, “don’t bother trying out for the Olympics,” and without missing a beat Warren shot back, “you don’t have to worry about that …”
In spite of his medical challenges, Warren maintained a positive attitude.
We talked about shop and about life, as people in the last half of their lives are prone to do at times.
For dinner we ordered light meals with juice, soft drinks … and water. That in itself was worthy of a write-up in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Imagine. Two old reporters drinking — and no one got tanked. That only happens in Mormon movies.
For more than an hour we chatted. Some of it was ‘shop talk’ about Michael White, the Edmonton man and former Canadian soldier charged with murdering his pregnant wife, Liana. Warren had spoken with White on my cell phone. Without tipping his hat as to whether the accused was the culprit, Warren remarked that White “didn’t sound like a killer.” “But if he’s not a killer,” I added, “he’s either naive or stupid.”
Typical reporter conversations I guess.
We passed on dessert and continued to chat.
After half an hour or so we made our way to the reception desk — SLOWLY, mind you — where I picked up the tab. Warren wanted to pay but I told him I could afford it because I was getting some great kickback from the drug dealers.
I was kidding, of course. [The kickback was actually small.]
Then something happened that spoke of Warren’s character. Warren asked that I go on ahead to my car because he was sure he could make it to his vehicle on his own. “Screw that,” I said. I held onto Warren’s arm and we made our way across the dark parking lot to his shiny pick-up.
It was a bit of a walk. When we at last reached his truck, Warren rested his arms on the tailgate, taking slow, deep breaths. The man was so winded he could barely speak.
A middle-aged woman saw Warren in distress and rushed over to help. “Are you okay?” she asked. I did all the talking. “He’s fine,” I assured her, “he’s always like this when he’s drunk. He’ll be fine once he’s behind the wheel …”
Warren looked my way, was silent for a few seconds and with a slow smile, remarked, “That’s funny.”
Warren opened the driver’s door, sat down, gripped the steering wheel and fired up the engine. Before he pulled out of the parking lot, he glanced my way briefly and waved good-bye. I stood there until he was out of sight.
And yes, Warren made it home okay.
I’m not sure if Ms. Good Samaritan put in a call to 911. I didn’t stick around to find out.
I last saw Warren in early March 2006 at the small Lutheran church in Leduc. He was dressed to the nine’s … but stiff and cold. It was surreal to see him stretched out in a coffin.
I took my place in line and when my turn came, I gripped Warren’s arm — the same one I held onto that night outside the restaurant — and thought, “You’re Home now.”
There’s ‘home’ and then there’s Home.
More than a few tears were shed that day. Some staff tried to hide their emotions — especially the tough reporters — but no one did a good job of it.
THE OTHER GUY …
There was another reporter in that cemetery. He’d ‘died’ several years before.
I didn’t care much for him.
He was a news director who once ordered Trevor Popik, one of my top journalism students, not to give credit to newspapers as the source of a story Trevor was working on. That’s not right. Think of Commandment #8. And yes, lifting stories out of newspapers without giving credit is, unfortunately, a big part of our electronic news business but … it’s wrong just the same.
Where I’m coming from is that radio stations should either hire a proper number of reporters — or get out of the business of smoke-and-mirrors and pretend coverage.
And to make matters worse — according to the same student — the news director threatened to complain to the school where I taught part-time, the Northern Institute of Technology [NAIT] in Edmonton. Thanks a lot, pal.
The same reporter once phoned the newsroom to complain about a newscast I’d assembled and read. My top story was the United States’ military attack on Iraq. I quoted an online news outlet as saying the U.S. assertion that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was false, and that Washington knew it. [History would eventually show the news report to be accurate.]
The journalist was furious. “That’s the worst newscast I ever heard,” he shouted into the phone. The criticism was a blow because the reporter was no rookie; he’d been in the business for years. I wanted to tell him to screw off but I bit my tongue and let it go.
As fate would have it, we eventually worked alongside each other in the same newsroom. The reporter I’d previously locked horns with heard me out on issues such as plagiarism … and in the end — lo and behold — he began to credit his sources too.
And so things turned around with us. I began to like the guy. I was grateful I hadn’t lashed out that night. He was not only a genuine reporter, but a gentleman as well. And he gave a rat’s ass about the news business.
That same reporter also gave me a HUGE tip — a story that led to my station getting blanket coverage in newspapers and TV stations across North America. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.
And I’m sure station management was eternally grateful … for 15 seconds anyway.
So, the reporter had done a 180 and was not really the man I thought I knew. We were now teammates; we’d turned a negative into a positive and I guess we both grew from the experience.
In the end, we became solid friends. The reporter had my back and I had his, and you don’t hear that often in our business.
Who was this journalist??
His name appears on the email below that was circulated to station staff in July 2005. Click to enlarge.
“Now you know the rest of the story.”
Rest in peace, Warren. Your listeners have not forgotten you. Nor have we.
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Great story of ‘mate ship’ in a working environment.
Love your wicked humour.
It is a tragedy that radio stations are returning to rip and read as they run with as few news people as possible.
Right now I would not recommend radio for a career. TV is even worse as they run as lean as they can and hire young and inexpensive news staff.
Not nearly as enjoyable in 2018 as it was in 1978. No real personalities remain in the business anymore.
Your wit and attention to details allows the reader to feel they are seeing the events as they happen. Great writing!
Interesting vignettes from the annals of Byron Christopher!
Great story of a great friend.
Men like Warren Henderson are rare in a back-biting business like journalism, especially broadcast journalism.
His abilities and acumen really shine in this article. Good item.
You write like you talk.
You are one of those rare souls that pours himself into his work deeply and completely — your entire body of work seethes with it.
You revel in the unfair obscurity of situations and attempt to shed light in the hope of some recognition (not necessarily yours) — even reparation — righting some long ago wrongs. I suppose that is what most journalists do ordinarily — but somehow you seem different.
You don’t seem to give a crap about personal rewards — other than the satisfaction of making things right. Money does not seem to enter into your equations etc, etc. Yet you do respond to acknowledgements respecting your work — not a bad thing!
Back to the post. When I read it the very first time, I was harkened back to my high school English Lit classes (one of my favourite teachers, Miss Munnings). We were doing Tennyson (I think) and the piece went: “The old order changeth — yielding place to new” — prophetic with respect to your post — even your whole body of work!!! Accordingly, may I add, “T’was ever thus!!!
Your bemoaning of the decline of Mores in the news reporting industry is reflective of society as a whole and falls under the general category of “progress”.
Even in my own Engineering life, I started with a K&E slide rule (then, even one of my Asian comrades actually was using an “Abacus”). Today??? Let’s not go there!!! The fact that life speeds up (seemingly exponentially these days) is just that — a fact of today’s life — and is inexorable.
Congratulations on a great piece — hitting just the right number of buttons!!!
You have stirred so many emotions and memories.
I brought “Hendy” to Edmonton and grew to love him like the brother I never had. Like some brothers we had some lows along the way but the highs were incredible!
When we worked the morning news run it was magic with each of us doing what we could to make the other sound good. Without a doubt it was the best time of my working life.
Warren was taken much too soon by that damn diabetes. Few know how hard he fought.
Like photos by his favourite Ansel Adams, he was a mountain of a man. He was my friend…he was my brother.
This was a wonderful tribute and I appreciated the M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist at the end.
It was also cool to see my former classmate, Trevor, get a mention.
Keep the stories coming. I read and enjoy every one.
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Warren John Henderson, stands proud and he salutes Byron Christopher for the treasure, The Tale of Two Reporters.
I am elated that Warren had you — a top shelf friend — who embraces Warren’s exceptional qualities and characteristics.
Over a decade since his passing and you have not forgotten. Now that is unconditional friendship and love of fellow man.
I am very proud of Warren. He was truly amazing.
As a teenager, Warren would turn down the volume on the TV & record himself doing play-by-play of NHL games.
Warren could change his voice at will. He was the wild, yes wild, rock star DJ on CKRC [Winnipeg] who got to interview Alice Cooper.
While attending the University of Manitoba, Warren got to work with his idol, Peter Warren at CJOB.
The booming, commanding voice of Warren John Henderson was born … the error-free newscast. There was no other way.
So true are your words Byron, he could have been in New York.
Warren had Great Pipes! Warren was a Great Man!
He was always the Best, Byron.