When Keith Ellert graduated from the Cinema, Television, Stage and Radio program at SAIT, in Calgary, he had dreams of being a “shock jock”.
“I wanted to be Canada’s answer to Howard Stern,” says Ellert. “I didn’t just want to push the envelope; I wanted to put enough postage on it to send it around the world twice.”
That didn’t happen. Instead, he came up to the Yukon and took a job at CKRW, in 1999.
“I thought I would come up here, get a Northern living allowance and leave after six months.” But he became involved in the community and, to this day, you can still listen to him weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Being a disc jockey in a small market like Whitehorse requires a great deal more sensitivity than Ellert was planning on putting forth. He admits that being the “new guy” with ambitions to shock and anger the public didn’t always make him the most popular person at the station.
“I’ve mellowed out a lot since then,” he says.
However, he does not perceive his mellowing as a defeat.
Ellert has found that his more nuanced approach to “jocking” has allowed him to play a deeper, more meaningful role in the lives of Yukoners. “I get to be the crazy uncle in this giant family of sourdoughs,” he says.
But it’s more than just being goofy …
“People will call and let me know that they just had a baby and they want to get the news out, or someone will lose their dog and they will phone it in.”
In this way, Ellert perceives it as part of his job to register the mood of his audience and alter his radio show accordingly. “When the community is feeling anger or sadness, it comes in to me and I need to respond.”
As his involvement with the listeners grew, Ellert came to love the lifestyle he found here. “I couldn’t go back to that accelerated way of life [in Calgary].
“Up here you have clean water, fresh air and big fish.”
The Yukon also appealed to Ellert for another reason: he is a single father and has found that the Yukon was a great place to raise “the boy”.
“In Calgary, I wouldn’t let my son walk to school, but up here there are pants loads of freedom. We live in Riverdale, and when he wanted to go outside and play, I would just say, ‘OK, don’t cross the bridge.'”
But what does Ellert find frustrating about the Yukon?
“Well, I kind of miss Dairy Queen,” he says, after thinking about it for a minute.
And that is the laid-back essence of Keith Ellert. The Yukon is not where he expected to end up, but he’d rather catch a lake trout than complain.
When he talks about the overall theme of his show, Ellert gets sentimental. “Love each other,” he says. “I know it’s a cliché, but if we could just figure that one thing out …” his voice trails off wistfully.
Howard Stern could learn a few things from this guy.