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Before he made it on stage or in film, Donald Sutherland got his start in local radio


The passing of Donald Sutherland will be accompanied by well-deserved tributes saluting his prodigious acting talent, his seven-decade career and his ability, as son Kiefer said, to never be "daunted by a role, good, bad or ugly."

It will be noted that his versatility as an actor is almost unparalleled.

He played everything from a hippie tank commander in "Kelly's Heroes" and "The Hunger Games'" tyrannical President Snow to the Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova in "Federico Fellini's Casanova" and a pyromaniac in the firefighter thriller "Backdraft."

And that just scratches the surface. He was a leading man and a character actor, gifted in both drama and comedy, who leaves behind a legacy of hundreds of television shows, movies and stage plays.

Lesser known is his work as a radio announcer. I mention it because, while it may not rate a line on his IMDB bio, it's the part of his career that taught me an all-important lesson and still inspires me.

Born in Saint John, N.B., Sutherland moved to Bridgewater, N.S., at age 12. The town's radio station, CKBW, broadcast up and down the province's South Shore, and as a teen Sutherland listened and learned. At age 15, he decided he wanted to be one of those voices that spilled out of the radio. Trouble was, no one at the station was interested in this teenager with a deep, distinctive voice.

But that didn't stop him.

The story of how he eventually came to work at CKBW is a South Shore legend. The future Hollywood star hung around the station's parking lot week after week, waiting for the announcers to exit the building. When he saw someone, anyone, he'd ask if they would give him a job. Time passed, but eventually program director Jamie McLeod took a chance on him, and he worked there for three years as a news reader and disc jockey before embarking on a university and legendary acting career.

I tell you about this footnote in Sutherland's career because like him, CKBW was my radio lifeblood. It was the soundtrack of my life, on in every house and store in my South Shore hometown. I felt like I knew all the announcers, and was determined to work there.

Sutherland got in through persistence, being unafraid to say what he wanted. I didn't have an iota of radio experience, but as a pop culture obsessed kid, the idea that I could somehow walk in the footsteps of "M*A*S*H's" "Hawkeye" Pierce motivated me even more. I hoped to make more than the 60 cents an hour he was paid, but frankly, the money was not my biggest concern. I thought if it worked for him, it could work for me. And it did, about 25 years after he signed off for good.

Years later, I spoke with him about CKBW. I told him how he inspired me to follow my dream of being on the radio, of how persistence has brought me everything great that has happened in my career. He told me about working at the station, and as we were finished up, he smiled and thanked me for asking him about that part of his life. "It was one of the best jobs I ever had," he said.

Of course, he'll always be remembered for his films, and I love many of those movies, but for me, it's the inspiring image of an audacious 15 year old in a radio station parking lot, persistent and hungry for a break, that sits atop all my other memories of him. Top Stories

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