Vintage Toronto Ads: Alex Trebek

Originally published on Torontoist on July 15, 2015.

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Toronto Life, July 1972.

A sunny day on a Toronto rooftop, 1972. CBC Radio’s roster of local announcers gathers for a summery, stylish photoshoot. Sitting in a deck chair front and centre is CBL’s morning man, a dashing host who, though barely into his 30s, has a decade of experience with the broadcaster. Looking far more casual than anyone else in the picture (with the exception of the guy in the green shirt in the back), Alex Trebek possesses the aura of a person ready to go places.

Trebek assumed morning duties at CBL-AM in October 1971, after 23-year veteran Bruce Smith moved to the afternoon drive shift. The new host was described by the Globe and Mail as “a dashing bilingual bachelor, who can be expected to show more bounce than Bruce favoured, and thus to be more like his competitors on commercial stations.” Trebek’s show, I’m Here Till 9 (so titled because the show ran from 5 to 9 a.m.), was part of the “Information Radio” revamp of CBC which included new programs like Peter Gzowski’s This Country in the Morning.

Globe and Mail critic Blaik Kirby felt Trebek’s show didn’t live up to its promise of providing information, especially during its final two hours. “The most important part of the show has consisted almost entirely of alternating records and commercials, with a few pleasant words from Trebek to separate them,” Kirby observed. Producer Fred Augerman’s solution was to rely less on clips syndicated to all CBC stations in favour of local contributors specializing in entertainment beats.

The attempt to echo commercial radio didn’t work, as CBL’s ratings in the time slot slipped from the Smith era. Yet thanks to the growing popularity of Gzowski’s show, which followed Trebek, the station snuck into third place behind CFRB and CHUM.

After a year on the air, the axe fell on Trebek. In October 1972, the network announced it would convert all of its local early morning shows to a harder news format. “We’ve got new marching orders,” an unnamed CBC official told the Star. “We’ve changed the rules on Trebek, but he’s not to blame.” Another labelled the directive as a sign the network was “going back to the eighteenth century, in search of an audience that isn’t there any more.” Trebek would remain on the air through the end of the year.

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 Globe and Mail, October 27, 1971.

The decision irritated Trebek. “I was a little cheesed off,” he told the Globe and Maila month after the announcement. “They came up with a new format last year, a format I liked and felt reasonably sure I could operate in and now they’ve decided that’s not what they should be doing. I think they’re wrong getting away completely from what they’ve been doing.”

At the time, Trebek lived alone in a three-storey home on George Street, close to the CBC studios. Asked about his romantic life, he noted he was too busy pursuing his career “to have a stable, emotional relationship with anyone.” He joked that whenever he mentioned on air where he’d been the night before, women he dated speculated who he’d been with: “That’s why I end up going lots of places alone.”

Trebek intended to take it easy following his final broadcast on December 29, 1972, planning to ski and work on a chalet he was building near Collingwood. He still had his hosting duties on the teen quiz show Reach for the Top, and had four pending offers for television shows. One he accepted was an American game show called The Wizard of Odds. Though it only lasted a year, that series launched Trebek’s long association with the genre stateside, culminating in his 30-plus-year run emceeing Jeopardy!

As for the radio slot Trebek left behind, George Rich served as interim host until the new format was ready. Launched with veteran newsman Bruce Rogers as host on April 2, 1973, the new show was initially known as Tomorrow is Here. Within a year, it settled upon the name it currently goes by: Metro Morning.

Additional material from the October 4, 1971, October 25, 1971, October 7, 1972, and November 25, 1972 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the February 18, 1972, October 6, 1972, and January 4, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.