Kathleen Petty New host of CBC Radio’s Calgary Eyeopener

‘I’m really a night person. I’ll never enjoy getting up but once you’re up you’re up’

So you’re slated to host the Eyeopener this fall. How did that come about?

It’s funny how that worked out. I was out there last summer — it was a mixture of holidays and I wanted to combine it with work. I just wanted to spend time with my dad so it was a good way to do that. So I did the Eyeopener for a couple of weeks and it was great. It just seemed to be fate when this year I got a call from Calgary saying Jim Brown wanted to go on another assignment and the job was open.

How does it feel to be coming back to your roots?

It’s home. I always knew I’d end up back in Calgary. It was never my intention to stay in Ottawa forever. It’s just that the job in Ottawa was a pretty unique opportunity especially doing The House .

How did you like hosting The House ? Interviewing politicians sounds exhausting.

Well we didn’t interview as many as we used to. One of the things we tried to do with The House was to make it more accessible to Canadians. I don’t think people feel that connected to federal politics anymore and I suspect that’s one of the reasons why voter turnout is so low. So one of the things we tried to do on the show is focus more on policy than politics.

And how did that work out?

Frankly politicians aren’t that great on policy; they’re very good on politics — at least in terms of having a discussion about it.

Do you plan on making any changes to the Eyeopener ’s format?

Well I’m not going to make any changes. I think what ultimately happens when you have a new host is that you want to wait for the host to arrive get settled in. It’s a very successful format and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Having said that every host brings different strengths so I’m sure that over time there will be some adjustments.

What do you think your strengths are?

I think that I’m a pretty good accountability interviewer and that’s probably by doing so many interviews with political types over the years. The truth is I’ve been doing this for 25 years and done a pretty wide range of interviews and I’m pretty comfortable with the light stuff and the tough stuff. Jim and I are fairly similar in our style. I may have a harder edge. Maybe.

You helped launch Newsworld correct?

I did. I was there right at the beginning in 1989 wondering what the heck I was doing there because it was a pretty daunting prospect. There had never been an all-news channel in Canada before so none of us really knew what we were doing. So we were just taking a best guess and hoping for the best.

Did you start your career in TV?

My first job was in Medicine Hat and that was a television and a radio operation. It was primarily television. That was my first job doing a talk show in Medicine Hat and I anchored the six o’clock news. From there I went to Regina with an all-television operation. It was television from 1986 until I moved to Ottawa in 2006 so the first 20 years of my career was in TV.

Why jump to radio?

I always joke that I moved into radio so that I could grow old gracefully. The truth is when you work at the CBC radio is a big part of the CBC and I think it’s important to work in more than one media stream or more than one platform. I’d been doing the same thing for 20 years — it’s kind of nice to shake it up every once in a while and learn something new and it’s gratifying when you realize that apparently an old dog can learn new tricks.

The other thing that’s wonderful about radio is that the interviews are longer. Truthfully radio is the best medium for interviews because there is more time especially on CBC. As a public broadcaster you don’t have any commercials so you actually have time.

It seems like radio medium is more relaxing for the interview subjects as well.

It is. A two-and-a-half hour morning radio show tends to be more relaxed because you have the time to have the conversation. Interestingly enough I had to adjust my interviewing style from television to radio because the style is different.

How so?

When I worked in television particularly for what was then called Newsworld now called News Network a lot of the interviews that you’re doing are three or four minutes long. So that style tends to cut to the chase a little more. People aren’t given as much of an opportunity to tell a story and explain themselves.

You’ve been with CBC for years. Any plans to ever jump ship to say Sun TV?

As if I’d tell you that. I can honestly say I have no plans to go anywhere else. The Eyeopener is a fantastic show; it’s the number one show in the city for a reason. My plan is to hold that audience and with any luck at all build on it.

Are you naturally a morning person?

No. I sort of joke that I now get up when I used to go to bed. I’m really a night person. I’ll never enjoy getting up but once you’re up you’re up.

So what’s your routine to wake up?

I set the alarm for 3:45 a.m. because I like to be able to press the snooze button a couple of times. I feel like I’m indulging myself if I do that. It’s a psychological game I play with myself. Then I make a calculation about how much time I’m going to need. I still try to put a bit of a face on. No one at home can see me but people come into the studio and I feel like the least I can do is look half decent. So I factor in enough time to put a little war paint on. People used to joke that I used to look like I was doing television. I don’t go that far anymore.

I have a coffee obviously and I bring a thermos of coffee with me. My other strategy is that I eat apples in the morning because I find that they give me a boost of natural energy so I’m a big fan of apples.

What kind of apple do you eat?

Fuji in particular. Gala would be second. I’m quite picky about my apples actually. The Apple Growers Association of Ontario knowing that delivered a whole crate full of apples to me one morning in Ottawa.

Who is the most difficult politician you’ve interviewed?

The ones who won’t talk to me.

Such as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

Yeah. He won’t talk to me. I interviewed him a couple of times once when I first moved here there was a municipal election going on and he sort of involved himself in that because he’s a local politician in Ottawa and there was a lot of debate over LRT. They’re still trying to get an LRT in Ottawa after all these years.

So I did an interview with him on that where I had difficulty making sense of his rationale for wanting to look over contracts. The reaction in the city seemed to be that he didn’t look like he had a good grasp of what his message track was supposed to be in that interview. In other words they didn’t feel it went all that well for him.

The next time I interviewed him was when he was the environment minister. Again it had to do with some legislation that had been amended and he was going on about all the amendments that he liked coming from the NDP. I asked him to tell me which amendments he liked and he couldn’t think of any. I asked him how he could support amendments he couldn’t recall and I haven’t talked to him since. That was four years ago.

How do you unwind at the end of the day?

I walk the dog. I have a German Shepherd named Greta who’s staring at me right now wondering why I’m outside and she’s inside. She’s with her boyfriend Nugget who is the dog of a friend of mine. I’ve always had dogs. I find that they get me outside and going for walks. In fact two of my best friends in Ottawa I met at the dog park. I try not to get lost in the Ottawa bubble which can be the case when you cover Parliament Hill.

Did you always want to be a journalist?

I think so. When I was really young I wanted to be a ballerina but I think in the era that I grew up in that wasn’t uncommon.

So what stopped you from becoming a ballerina?

I have a very long second toe on both feet and that doesn’t work in toe shoes.

I’ve heard that’s a sign of intelligence.

That’s what I hear. I joke that I could swing from tree to tree. I could in fact be the missing link that they’ve been looking for because I can pick things up with these toes honest to God. But it’s pretty hard to wear toe shoes that way.

I wanted to be a lawyer or a journalist. And there are actually similarities between the two. I know a lot of journalists that if you ask them what they wanted to be a lot will say they wanted to be lawyers.

Why do think that is?

When you think about litigation understanding both sides of an argument to make a case and often times journalists if you’re only talking to one side of the story you have to be able to understand the other side so you can play devil’s advocate. A lot of the skills are actually pretty similar so it was my natural inclination to be interested in taking a look at issues and then the ability to look at both sides and try to figure out how to explain both sides in as fair a manner as you can. I emphasize fair because I know people think objectivity is the goal.

What’s your definition of objectivity?

I don’t even believe in objectivity because I think it’s a pretty elusive thing to go for. I think fairness and accuracy is what you’re looking for in journalism. Again the judgment of fairness is a pretty subjective one and I guess the longer you do it the better you are in finding the right balance of what is fair and you in part have to assess whether you’re accomplishing that based on the response of the people that you’re serving which in radio’s case is the listeners. And they’re pretty good at letting you know if you’ve figured it out.

I think it is fairness more than objectivity. It’s hard for people to be purely objective. You strive for objectivity but I think you more easily achieve fairness and accuracy than anything else.

Do you have other family in Calgary other than your dad?

Yes my brother lives in Calgary as well. We’re very close. I’d describe him as one of my best friends. He’s a great guy and I enjoy his company immensely.

Have you bought a place in Calgary yet?

No not yet. I’m going to wait until I get there. I mean the real estate market has changed so I’ve got to get a good read on what’s what there and where I want to live. Calgarians generally like to live in the quadrant they grew up in and I grew up in the southwest so my first instinct is to look in the southwest. I may look in the northwest the CBC after all is just barely in the northwest but it’s there. I think I’ll get a townhouse or something. But I think I’ll just focus on the job instead of focusing on finding a place to buy so I’ll probably rent for the first number of months before I start looking.

You grew up in Calgary. Are you a westerner at heart?

Oh yeah the whole nine yards. I have four pairs of cowboy boots. I haven’t worn them since I moved to Ottawa so I’m going to move them all with me. I have a pair of riding boots.

Why don’t you wear the cowboy boots in Ottawa?

There’s nowhere to wear them. They’d think I was crazy if I walked around with cowboy boots. And I don’t know anyone who rides here. I used to ride out at Griffin Valley Ranch near Cochrane at least once a week in the wintertime as well. Actually one of my riding partners for years was Barb Higgins. We used to be roommates in Regina.

Did you ever own a horse?

No I always wanted to though. I wanted a horse more than anything in the whole wide world when I was a kid growing up. That’s what I had all over my walls. It wasn’t singers and actors; it was horses.

You could buy one now.

I don’t know if I’d have time for one. I would consider it but it would be great to live somewhere where you could have a horse. It’s a lot of work taking care of land. My ideal world would be that for sure. If I could find someone who wanted to buy a place with me because it would be too much for me to take care of on my own; I’m not very handy so building and fixing fences and all that stuff I don’t think I’d be very good at it. But if I could find someone who was good at doing all that stuff I would love to have a little patch of land and a horse. That would be perfection.