Andrew Carter doesn't remember what day he started as the morning man at CJAD in 2003, but he remembers when he was told he got the job. It was the Thursday before the Super Bowl, he remembered, which would have made it Jan. 23. At the time, he was the afternoon guy at CJAD, which would normally be a pretty decent gig, but was more of a consolation prize after he lost his job doing mornings at CHOM.
"2002 was a near-death career experience," Carter told me as we sat down for an interview in an unused production studio after his anniversary show on Feb. 13. In early February of that year, Rob Braide, who was the general manager of CJAD, CHOM and what was then Mix 96, made the decision to make big changes at Montreal's rock station, ending its experiment with "contemporary rock" and replacing its morning team (Carter and Pete Marier) with fan favourites Terry and Ted.
The switch in formats and on-air staff worked for CHOM, which saw big ratings gains very quickly. Everyone was happy. But it didn't exactly look good for Carter. Nevertheless, he wasn't about to get thrown under the bus.
"Braide called me into an office," Carter recalled. "He said 'Andrew, I have a job for you. I don't know what it is.'"
That isn't exactly a good sign.
Later, Carter got a visit from Rick Moffat, who was the program director at CJAD at the time. Moffat offered Carter the afternoon show on CJAD. With DiMonte vacating the seat once held by George Balcan, CJAD afternoon man Ric Peterson moved to mornings, which opened up afternoons for Carter. (Marier went off to Winnipeg, only to come back to CHOM later and eventually get replaced by Terry DiMonte again.)
"Before he finished his sentence I said yes," Carter told me.
A year later, CJAD decided to swap the morning and afternoon hosts, putting Carter in the station's most important job.
He accepted, of course.
Then he started to panic.
This isn't any old job, after all. It's George Balcan's job. There isn't much bigger than morning man at CJAD. And yes, he'd done mornings at CHOM, but that wasn't the same thing, he said. For one thing, he was more of a second banana to Marier on that show. And being an announcer on a music station having to chat for a couple of minutes an hour is a far cry from being the host of a talk show where your microphone is live most of the time and you have to constantly have interesting conversation.
It didn't get much better after he went to air. "CJAD's listenership is very attentive," Carter said, on one hand being grateful for the attention but also warning of the judgmental downside of it. When he'd say something people didn't agree with, he would get "the meanest, most ego-destroying emails" from angry listeners. Bad feedback is something you learn to live with in radio, and everyone likes to pretend they have thick skin and doesn't let it get to them, but there's no one out there who's completely immune to words.
So Carter began to think to himself: "What right do I have doing George Balcan's job?"
"Get this guy off the air"
Carter's career began in 1982, while he was still a Concordia student. After giving up on his first dream of being a lawyer because of how much reading was involved, and then deciding he wanted to be a writer, his interest in radio was piqued when his girlfriend at the time had an assignment to interview a local radio personality. She talked to Chris Michaels at CHOM.
"It was so cool, the records, the mikes, the vibe of the place," Carter said. "I really wanted to be a DJ. I thought I wasn't cool enough."
He started out doing intern work at CJAD. He's the first to say he was absolutely useless. Eventually he got to work on air, and even got his own weekly one-hour show.
And it was awful.
He remembers the program director at the time listening to the show and angrily saying "get this guy off the air."
Eventually Carter built up enough on-air time (he repeatedly credits the late Gord Sinclair for giving him so much help early on) to be able to send demo tapes to stations searching for a job. He got one at CJLB in Thunder Bay. It was the only station that offered anything. He worked hard, did just about everything, and got discouraged.
He quit, then got another job in Welland, Ont., just south of St. Catharines. That job lasted an hour. Sinclair at CJAD called, offering work there, and Carter jumped at it, heading straight back home.
Carter was hardly a big shot with this job at CJAD. He was doing overnight news. After a year of it, he considered quitting, throwing away this entire career. He moved up to evening traffic, then in 1993 at the age of 30 he became the morning news man at CHOM.
It's at this point that articles in the Gazette database shift from being about his curling exploits (he was pretty good, representing Quebec at the Brier) to being about his radio career. He continued as part of CHOM's morning show until 1997, when management decided to syndicate Howard Stern and move Carter and Marier to afternoons. When Stern was dropped a year later, Carter was back in mornings, this time with Steve Anthony. He stayed until 2002 when he moved to CJAD for good.
On Feb. 13, Carter celebrated 10 years at CJAD. It was kind of a surprise, a bunch of people (mostly coworkers at Astral, but also yours truly and a Global Montreal cameraman) being brought in during the last few minutes of the show. Carter was presented with an anniversary cake. People like DiMonte, Freeway Frank, program director Chris Bury and others congratulated Carter on air.
A lot has happened in those 10 years, like ... actually, Sept. 11 was before that. What the heck did happen in the past 10 years? Obama? The Expos leaving? Demergers? Okay, so maybe it wasn't the most exciting decade.
Carter knows of CJAD's reputation as an old person's radio station. He says that people start tuning into it as they get older. ("CJAD is like bird watching or golf. Eventually you're gonna do it.") But he also points to "a very concerted effort to bring down the demographic," pointing to the morning show's #1 or #2 position in key demographics (the show is strongest earlier in the morning, but gets overtaken by the music stations closer to 9am).
CJAD program director (they call them "brand directors" at Astral) Chris Bury is happy to gush about his morning man, or anyone else at his station, whom he qualifies as "a really amazing cast of characters."
He told me he wears his CJAD jacked around town, and people stop him to initiate a conversation that usually goes like this:
– "Do you work at CJAD?"
– "Yes I do."
– "Do you know Andrew Carter?"
– "Tell Andrew I say hello."
"It feels like he knows 50% of the anglophones personally," Bury said, crediting Carter's ability to reach out to listeners and connect with them.
"He's got all the right characteristics. He's well rounded, he has a great sense of humour. That serves him well on CJAD. He has a journalistic instinct. When he's firing on all cylinders he's really hard to beat."
"The show's solid and good, but it can get better," Bury said. "It's definitely evolving."
Bury and Carter have regular discussions about the state of the show, listening back to it, trying to figure out ways to improve it. In a world where ratings measurements are done on a minute-by-minute basis, there isn't much margin for error.
"I can get a lot better than I am," Carter said. For one thing, "I would like to give in less to my inner 10-year-old boy."
"It's easy when you get up at 4am and you're crabby to be in a bad mood," Carter said. "I figure it's not what people want to listen to. There's a place for that, but in general, people would rather wake up with a smile."
I can't imagine getting up that early every weekday for more than a decade.
"The hours are terrible," Carter admits. "You sort of live your life in a veil of fatigue."
Carter said he worries about the long-term effects, both physical and mental.
"It's this great double-edged sword. It pays well, but it's gonna give you migraines."
Still, that's not nearly enough for him to give it up. "It's the best job I could possibly have."
With charity events or social events or even just watching a hockey game, going to bed at 7pm isn't an option. ("You gotta live a life," he said.) So Carter spends early afternoons at home napping, usually between noon or 1pm and 3 or 4pm. Without that nap, he gets even crabbier at home.
His daughter Michelle knows that all too well. Though the 22-year-old McGill history student lives on her own now, she remembers living with her dad and the unusual rules that came with it, like having to be perfectly quiet in the middle of the afternoon.
"I was horrified of waking him up," she said, because Carter being woken prematurely from his afternoon nap turns into Angry Carter.
"He would get so mad at us if we forgot our house key," she said, because that meant going into the house through the garage, which would wake the slumbering menace. Similarly, having friends over in the afternoon was a real challenge.
Not that it's all bad. Michelle really admires her father, and not just for his ability to get up so insanely early.
It's also a bit weird because her dad's on the radio. "You can't tell the difference between him being on the radio and talking to you in person," she said with a laugh.
Now that she's on her own, radio offers her a chance to stay connected. "It's nice to know that even though I don't see him every day I still have the option of listening to him."
So what's Andrew really like other than cranky and sleep-deprived?
He has a dark sense of humour, she said. "He's more cynical than people realize. He's good at having conversations with people and asking questions."
So what about the next 10 years?
Having the most high-profile job in local radio, Carter isn't exactly looking for something different. Maybe in Toronto, if an obscene amount of money is put under his nose. But he emphasizes that he's very happy where he is now.
Particularly so now that he's in new offices at Papineau and René-Lévesque. Not only does the CJAD studio now have a big window where it had no windows before, but the grouping of three English and two French stations together in the same office has made the workplace feel more like Montreal rather than some English ghetto. English and French radio personalities see each other regularly and talk to each other.
"One of the best things to happen to this radio station was the move to Papineau," he said.
At 50, Carter says he doesn't know what the future brings for him. He knows that jobs are easy to lose in this industry, and long careers doing the same thing, like Balcan before him, are very rare.
The one thing that struck me most about this conversation with Carter, minutes after dozens of people had congratulated him on his career so far, how humble the man is. Not just self-deprecating humour, which is common among many personalities (even those with big egos), but the sense that he doesn't truly believe he's worth the career he's been given.
He credits the anglo exodus from Montreal for helping him with his career here, for example. He's convinced that without all the good anglos moving to Toronto, he wouldn't have gotten the chances he has.
I don't know if that's true. I'm not a program director, and judging on-air personalities like this tends to be a very subjective exercise. Maybe there's some guy in Toronto who would have been better, but I certainly don't take that for a given.
What I do know is that Carter is connecting with audiences, and his ratings show he's managing to keep CJAD popular in the mornings. A decade later, the city hasn't tired of him yet.
Andrew Carter hosts the Andrew Carter Morning Show weekdays from 5:30am to 9am on CJAD 800 (when he's not too busy being a celebrity weatherman). You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewCarter800. See more about his anniversary on CJAD's website. You can also read this profile of him done for The Montrealer in 2007.