Issue 1.1 Monday, April 7, 2003

An Interview with Steve Murphy, ATV Broadcaster
by Paul Saulnier

Steve Murphy/Official CTV Photo
Paul Saulnier recently had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Steve Murphy, broadcaster of the ATV Evening News, and former student of Saint John High School. He speaks about his previous careers, and how he became a broadcaster. He also offers words of encouragement for those planning to seek a path similar to that of a broadcaster.

"Most of the stories from the early days are about working ridiculously long hours for unbelievably little money. I loved it."
So Steve, who are you?
I'm a 42 year old married father of two, born and raised in Saint John, New Brunswick, who is now Chief Anchor and Senior News Editor of the ATV Evening News based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I'm 5'8" and weigh just a little less now than when I graduated from Saint John High in June 1978!

Really?
Really. People say I look taller on TV; I ask if they have big screen TVs! I still look heavier than when I graduated but I'm really not. TV adds 10 pounds.

How did you start out with your career as a broadcaster? How did you rise to become what you are now?
I started reading and writing news at CFBC Radio (before it was Oldies 93) while I was in Grade 11. My parents and teachers weren't thrilled and my marks suffered as a result but after graduation I opted to work in radio news for a year, before doing a BA on my way to a law degree. I'm in the 24th year of my year off! I moved to Halifax for a better job hosting a talk show in 1980 and started doing TV commentaries in 1982. I was named host of Live at 5 in 1986 and promoted to my current position almost exactly 10 years ago (February 1993). Since 2001, I have been a substitute anchor on 'CTV News with Lloyd Robertson'.

You were reading and writing the news in grade 11? You don't happen to have a sample newscast of what you would have read back then, would you?
I didn't save any of the 'copy' (the written content) but there may be tapes around, I'm not sure!

Any special or interesting stories you can tell about your early career?
Most of the stories from the early days are about working ridiculously long hours for unbelievably little money. I loved it. Lots of funny things happened in the radio station but most shouldn't be discussed, to protect the innocent! More seriously, I was the first reporter on the scene of the Saint John Jail Fire of 1977 in which 21 men died in the City Hall lockup. That traumatic event formed the basis for every other major news event I have covered since.

How did the Saint John Jail Fire of 1977 form the basis for every other news event since?
It was a major, international story. There was tremendous loss of life. It was traumatic and it was in my hometown. My family knew one of the victims. It involved police and fire services, lawyers and politicians. I worked 16 hours without a break and filed reports to major news organizations in Canada in the US. Few news events could be as personally significant.

How did your education from SJHS benefit you as a broadcaster later in life?
Saint John High taught me language skills; how to read and write well and debate and speak effectively. My teachers taught me to ask questions and challenge authority. Dennis Knibb taught me about the importance of citizenship and leadership. I was a high school actor, orator and debater and president of the student council. I use the skills I acquired inside and outside the SJHS classrooms every day.

Is there a time that SJHS has come up in a news story that you can remember?
Rarely and never in a negative way.

How involved were you at SJHS?
I was very involved in extra curricular affairs and (as Barry Harbinson will tell you) not nearly involved enough in academic matters. I was not a disciplined student but I did lead the student council for a year that ended with an exchange trip to White Rock, BC. I had parts in most of the big stage productions during my three years (and was fired Fiddler on the Roof by the wily Andrew Garrod), took part in the national debating finals in Grade 11 (and placed 6th or 7th in Canada) and ticked off the school board when - shortly before graduation - Grant Ferguson (the incoming SRC President) and I scolded the Trustees for not providing enough money to maintain the school building properly.

Who was your favourite teacher when you were at SJHS?
There were many, I'll name only six.

Michael Ellis, Grade 10 English. A stickler for well spoken and well written language.

The late Dave MacPherson, economics: colourful, outspoken and volatile. Everything I know about economics I learned from Dave.

Jon Simpson. No need to explain, he's a legend.

Richard Thorne. Moderator of the best classroom debates, he guided our history class through a presentation to the Pepin/Robarts Commission on National Unity in the 70s.

Sandy Thorne accurately predicted Joe Clark would win the 1976 PC leadership. I was (and am) impressed with her insight into Canadian political values.

Dennis Knibb - an unforgettable character. No one has ever been more passionate about Saint John High or more proud of its graduates and their accomplishments.

"I have also learned after twenty-five years that the best career opportunities are often unpredictable!"
When many members of the ATV team moved "across the harbour" with the upstart of mitv, what kept you with ATV?
We lost about two-dozen talented people from both sides of the camera. I stayed here because I had made a commitment to stay and I always keep my word.

Do you have interest in becoming the permanent anchor for the national CTV News?
The job is not open. Lloyd Robertson is both a colleague and a friend and I believe he's the best in the business. I have also learned after twenty-five years that the best career opportunities are often unpredictable!

When does your work day begin? What are some things you do daily to prepare for the evening news?
My day begins at 9:15 am with a meeting at which we decide what stories we are going to cover and how. I then assign a couple of the reporters and spend the day helping them develop their stories. I anchor the noon news and as senior editor, spend the rest of the day lining up and writing the 6pm news.

What do you do during the commercial breaks?
We all remain on the set. I might have a drink of water or speak with the producer or director about how the programme is going.

Are you ever nervous before a newscast? Does the nature of the top stories affect you in any way at all?
"Nervousness" has, after all these years, given way to what I call "performance anxiety", driven by a deep desire to do it right, every time. I find myself less put off by the large number of people watching but more obsessed with making sure the facts are right and professionally presented.

What do you love most about broadcasting?
It's different every day. It's often unscripted and always unpredictable.

Can you give some words of encouragement for any one looking to pursue a path in a broadcasting, and the television industry today?
Master the language. Learn how to read, write and speak well. Be articulate and accurate but listen exponentially more than you speak. Work hard.