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Former radioman Sid Margles joins broadcasters Hall of Fame

Martin C. Barry

Retired Montreal broadcaster Sidney Margles, whose name and voice were synonyms for late-breaking news on CJAD Radio during the 1960s and ’70s, has capped his 40-year career by being inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.

As is the case with so many fruitful careers, Sid started at the bottom. While attending a teen audience ­participation program on CJAD in the mid-1950s, he was selected to read a commercial for the show’s sponsor – Coca-Cola – and more opportunities followed. In 1959, during his third year of university, Sid seized the opportunity to join the CJAD news department as a full-time writer.

In 1960, CJAD provided Sid with a transmitter-equipped mobile unit – a veritable studio on wheels that could put the listener at the scene of a fast-breaking or major news event virtually anywhere in the Montreal region. From fires to politics, celebrations to crises, civic issues to public demonstrations, Sid Margles was there, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As such, he is recognized today as a pioneer of Canadian on-the-spot radio reporting.

Among seasoned journalists in those days, Sid was known for his knack for turning up at the scene of newsworthy events before anyone else got there. While some speculated he had a highly developed network of insiders to keep him clued in, Sid attributes his success to the technological tools he was using, including a mobile phone in his car, a helicopter with a two-way radio link that often provided assistance, and a scanner radio for monitoring police and fire activity.

A high point of Sid’s reporting career included coverage of the 1968 St. Jean Baptiste parade and the disruptive riot, during which Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau sat steadfast as other VIPs around him sought cover. It was also during the troubled times in Montreal, from 1962 to 1970, when bombs were planted in several areas and there were many demonstrations and riots. But by far, his most memorable experience began on a stormy Friday, November 29, 1963.

One evening while he was preparing dinner, a call came in about an “explosion” in Ste. Thérèse, north of Montreal. Possessing news intuition, Sid sensed a disaster and was on his way even before he learned it was an Air-Canada DC-8 that had crashed moments after takeoff with 118 people aboard. He was the first newsman on the scene. With microphone in hand, he was able to immediately confirm the crash and describe the tragedy. Sid remembers it this way.

December, 2009

“I received a phone call from Vince Rowe, news editor on duty. Being a hunch player, I said I was on the way and to call me in the car to give me more information. I was on my way to the Laurentian Autoroute, which in those days was a toll road, when he called to say the explosion had been several miles into Ste. Thérèse.

“I told him to call the police and tell them I wasn’t stopping at the toll gate. As I travelled up Highway 11, I saw there was this one policeman standing in the middle of the road with a flashlight trying to direct traffic, and there I saw on my left all the flames. I ended up moving in to observe what I would describe. I had to walk in about half a mile from my car because it was in the fields. And I came back out and was able to report from my car.”

For Sid, one result of that experience was realizing the limitations faced at that time by radio reporters on location. So he consulted with CJAD’s engineers about developing a mobile transmitting unit. In conjunction with Motorola, they produced what became known as a Carrier Operated Relay System, a portable unit enabling a radio reporter to transmit back to a car, where the signal could be relayed to the station.

“At that time, the unit they developed for me was the size I’d say of a huge suitcase, which sat in the trunk of the car, and the portable was a five- or six-pound handheld unit. It was, of course, a lot larger than what you see today. But in those days it was quite a development.”

While Sid’s career in radio news came to an end in 1984 when he was appointed president of a division of Standard Broadcasting (CJAD’s parent company), four years later he embarked on a career in politics when he was elected to the first of three terms he would serve as a city councillor in Town of Mount Royal, where he, his wife, and three daughters lived at the time. Sid has lived in Côte St. Luc for the past four years. He spends his winters in Florida.



At December 20, 2009 at 4:37 PM , Anonymous Natie said...

Great stuff Sid
Best personal regards,
Nat Kurtzman

At December 20, 2009 at 5:59 PM , Anonymous Lou said...

Hi Sid
Nice to be recognized for ground breaking on the spost reporting.

Isabel and Lou Burstein

At December 20, 2009 at 7:20 PM , Anonymous Brian said...

Congratulations Sid - and thanks, despite your well-founded misgivings, for hiring me at CJAD to kick off my career in broadcasting!


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