Tommy Schnurmacher came into the studio this morning a bit disappointed. Today marked 20 years since he started at CJAD 800, but it seemed nobody but him had noticed. Maybe, he thought, they just didn’t care.
In other words, the plan went perfectly.
Schnurmacher was surprised when, at the top of his show, it was suddenly hijacked by a montage of about a dozen of his coworkers’ recorded tributes to him, and a parade of well-wishers crowding into the studio with cake and wine (both kosher) and a martini.
“It’s nice to feel that they like you too. I felt like Sally Field,” he told me after his show ended at noon. “It was way above and beyond anything I would have dreamed of.”
It wasn’t that elaborate (the biggest effort was keeping him out of the loop, which included hiding me in a hallway until they were ready for the big reveal), but it was the thought that counts. During the montage, Schnurmacher was visibly moved, and his hand was shaking as he held his martini.
Producers Robyn Flynn and Matt Guité, as well as
promotions director assistant program director Matthew Wood were the brains behind the operation.
The show followed with several people who played a part in his career calling in to wish him well.
Twenty years is a lot in radio these days, even in Montreal, but his career goes back much further than that, so much so that he has trouble remembering some details.
Schnurmacher started around 1976 doing entertainment at CHOM, after he was out drinking and talked with someone who had read something he wrote in New York magazine. He said he told his mother about getting a job in radio, and her response was: “When you work at a real radio station like CJAD, call me.”
Over the first 20 years of his career he worked at CHOM, CJFM (now Virgin Radio 96), CKGM (now TSN 690) and the defunct CIQC, where he started doing less entertainment stuff and more political commentary and talk.
In 1996, he got an offer to come back to CJAD, and he’s been there ever since — at first in the early afternoon, but after a couple of years he moved to late mornings, where he remains today.
Asked about highlights of his two decades, he points to some unsurprising events, like the 1998 ice storm and the many political campaigns. He noted that the discourse has changed among anglo Montrealers since he started. “In those years, nobody wanted to talk about anything but Quebec politics,” he said. This is unsurprising since it was the period of the second referendum on sovereignty. But even with big news like Pierre Karl Péladeau resigning from the Parti Québécois leadership, Quebec politics seems to take on less significance.
One thing that definitely hasn’t gone anywhere is Schnurmacher’s sense of outrage. Or maybe just annoyance. He told me the things-that-annoy-me stuff is definitely a part of his show, though he said another one is learning something new every day, hearing something that’s never been heard before.
And, of course, the audience, who he loves to hear from whether they agree with him or not. “When I worked at The Gazette (as an entertainment columnist in the 1980s), I saw their signature on my paycheque,” he said. “I feel a very strong obligation that if they’re going to give me their time they have to get something back.”
Like him or hate him, the fact that people keep tuning in suggests that there’s been something in it for them.
So Schnurmacher quickly dismisses any suggestion that he might be looking toward the end of his career. “No. I love doing this. I love the work, I don’t foresee retirement any time soon,” he said.
So sorry folks, you’re stuck with him for a while yet. Maybe even another 20 years.