Advice to the unwise: I have the questions, if you have the answers

One of the more interesting jobs I’ve ever held was hosting an open-line show (we secretly called it “open-mouth”) on a private radio station in Charlottetown, PEI.

Unlike some parts of Canada—especially B.C., with its tradition of brash (often infuriating) talk-radio hosts such as Jack Webster, Raif Mair, Christy Clark and others, mid-’70s PEI was anything but a hotbed of political controversy.

As one of only two open-mouth hosts on the Island, I was often hard-pressed to come up with a news-related hook for my show every day.

The problem was compounded by the province’s size. With a highly interrelated population of merely 117,000, it was often a challenge finding people willing to vent their opinions in public when their friends, neighbours and customers were probably listening.

Before long, I learned the secret to getting the switchboard to light up.

Two topics were always guaranteed to generate a brisk response: cooking and gardening.

Since both are close to my heart, it was easy to find a winning daily subject when the “square root of nothing” was happening at either Province House or City Hall.

For instance, if my opening monologue referred to my annoyance that last night’s Irish stew lacked the consistency I prefer, I could virtually go on autopilot from the moment I first said, “Good morning. You’re on the air.”

For two solid hours, I would get heartfelt—and often wildly-contradictory—advice about how to improve my basic roux, how long and how hot I should have simmered the meat and veg, and what cookware I should (or shouldn’t) have used.

My goal, wherever possible, was to take myself out of the equation and let the callers carry on amongst themselves about the topic of the day.

That period of my life re-entered my consciousness recently because of some unfortunate experiences with this year’s urban garden.

No, not the squirrels. (For the love of all that’s holy, do not get me started on the squirrels. I swear I will find a forever solution to those bushy-tailed marauders, before I die.)

The specific problem concerns a powdery white blight playing mischief with the platter-sized leaves of my pumpkin, squash and zucchini plants. That is, those not already destroyed by the above-mentioned malevolent rodents.

Suggestions from my immediate circle of acquaintances have included overwatering, underwatering, watering at the wrong time of day, using chlorinated (or is that fluoridated?) municipal H2O, bad seed, improper pH balance and/or global warming.

They may not all be right, but they may not all be wrong. Trouble is, Googling the options to sort wheat from chaff takes far too long.

My long-ago listeners would have solved it by now.

“Good morning. You’re on the air.”

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