CONTROVERSIAL CONVERSATIONALIST

From the 1970s Westmount Examiner by Joan Capreol

Neil McKenty is one of the partners in CJAD’s popular program Exchange with its audience of 60,000, which is 3 to 1 larger than its rival CFCF for that period.

Examiner photo by Rick Kerrigan

The other member of the team is Helen Gougeon, author, journalist, gourmet cook turned radio commentator, who gave the following quote unbeknownst to her colleague: “Before I joined CJAD, I used to listen to Neil McKenty argue with Andy Barrie and would rage in traffic at him.

“Within a week of working with him : on Exchange I became fascinated with his orderly thinking, his meticulous ” preparation for even the most light­hearted subject. He respects his audience and that is what eventually surfaces.

“It’s not surprising that Exchange is one of the most listened-to programs on Montreal radio. Sure, he’s aggravating but that seems to stimulate people to engage in our discussions. You have to be impressed with his intellect and his innate kindness.”

Neil, public affairs director of CJAD for the past six years, said graciously that he didn’t have to think when asked what he thought about Helen. “She is a super person,” he said unhesitatingly. “I have great respect for her. She is a delight to work with, very warm, very articulate, very human.”

McKenty, six foot one, a frank, pleasant personality off air, said he is extremely pleased with Exchange because it is a kind of open-line show that really involves the listeners. “It’s their show and we really listen to them,” he said. “It’s the kind of show that only radio can do and almost every program I learn something, from the listeners.”

Good conversation

Exchange is an hour show from 11 am to noon five days a week. “We seek topics in the areas of moral problems, religion, politics, sports and practical subjects like ‘How do you handle your household budget?’,” said McKenty. “We hope that Exchange is a lot of people overhearing good conversation.” McKenty, who also does three-minute editorials at 5:45 pm, said he gets a lot of both critical and supportive mail and telephone calls.

He is opposed to capital punishment. “I get a lot of heavy mail on that very emotional issue,” he said. “The arguments for capital punishment boil down to two: It’s a deterrent or it’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. There is no evidence that it deters, therefore the only argument is for revenge and I don’t see how a civilized country can base a policy on revenge or vengeance.”

On abortion: “I have always taken a clear-cut stand. I am opposed to abortion because I think an attack on life at any stage threatens life at every stage.”

Politically McKenty has supported Mr. Trudeau’s efforts to express the dual nature of Canada.

Exchange, he said, is a very flexible program right on top of a hot news story. On Aldo Moro’s death the program’s topic was: How do you think govern­ments should deal with terrorism?

McKenty said he relied heavily on the very excellent CJAD news department, which provides him with ideas and subjects for his commentaries.

Producer Mary Frances Denis makes a very valuable contribution to Exchange and, despite two aggressive talkers like McKenty and Gougeon, announcer Mike Williams manages to get the show on and off the air on time.

Wide variety of subjects

“We try to do a lot of subjects that interest ordinary Montrealers: for example, what do you think of bicycles on the subway? What do you think of Grand Prix car racing on He Notre Dame? What would you do if you won a million-dollar lottery? McKenty said. To the latter, a listener said he would buy CJAD and fire Neil McKenty. (Neil chuckled and went on to the next caller.)

“Sometimes people find my con­troversial stands upsetting,” he shrugged. “It’s one of the hazards of work. There are people who disagree with me and I would expect that.”

McKenty takes a special interest in programming for older people and was associated with the senior fair of the Town of Mount Royal, which is being sponsored by CJAD and the Junior League of Montreal on June 7.

McKenty has made two major trips for CJAD; one to the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Syria and Israel in 1974; the other to the Watergate hearings.

Born in Peterborough, Ont., McKenty attended elementary school in Hastings and high school in Campbellford. He joined the Jesuit order for a number of years and still has many associates in the Jesuits, specially at Loyola College where he got his BA in 1951. “I share this much with Messrs. Trudeau, Levesque and Claude Ryan,” he said.

In the 60s he got two MAs, one in Canadian history from the University of Toronto, the other in communication arts from the University of Michigan. He worked summers on the staff of the political and social magazine “America ” in New York and on a theological maga­zine in London, England.

McKenty wrote a book on Mitch Hepburn, the late premier of Ontario, which was published in 1967 and won the University of British Columbia medal for the best biography in the centennial year.

From 1970-72 McKenty was executive director of a foundation for retarded children in Toronto. Neil’s foundation worked with the Kennedys’ in the U.S. on special Olympics for retarded children in Canada.

In 1972 he came to CJAD and has found Montreal an exciting place to be.

McKenty is married to the former Catherine Turnbull of Toronto, who was an assistant to a cabinet minister at Queen’s Park. Mrs. McKenty is a freelance writer who has had articles published by Reader’s Digest and did research on the book “Explore Canada.” Since he was a youngster he has had a great addiction to reading—history, biography and current events. He is a football and Expo fan.

McKenty and his wife, who live in Westmount, have taken up cross-country skiing. They both have 10-speed bicycles and, with no car, they do a lot of walking.

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1 Comment »

  1. 1
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