By Jim Jj Johnston
Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018 we pay tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones.” Today we are shining the light on Valerie Ambrose.
When I first went to FOX as the Program Director in the late ’80s, there was a lot of work to do. CFMI was giving us trouble and had a pretty good lead. One of the first orders of business was getting a morning show in place, and of course, that was Larry Hennessey and Willy Percy who went on to radio stardom. ‘The Bear’ Darrell Hebert was doing the midday show including as we called it, ‘The World Famous Electric Lunch’ (when he left for CHRX mornings later 365’er Robin LaRose continued with the magic), and Liz McKinney was doing great on the drive home show.
Valerie Ambrose was doing the news in the afternoon, and they were doing a few bits together. When I heard the two of them, I just about fell off my chair. They were funny as hell, irreverent, timely, local, all of it and I encouraged them to go at it. I knew we had a hell of an afternoon show and made it permanent. These were two great broadcasters who just happened to be women at a time when very few females were doing big shifts which I still shake my head at.
A few words about the super talented Liz: I love and appreciate her, especially her patience with that new Program Director who was learning the ropes. Congrats Liz on your award-winning and bustling company ‘Sip Happens’ in the interior of B.C.
Back to Valerie. She is one of the most natural of all talents I have ever worked with. A great voice, fabulous on-air presence, high energy, always up to date, smart as hell, wicked sense of humour and like Liz, is fearless. Valerie is what we call a ‘reactor’ on-air. You can throw anything at her, and you will get an interesting and funny response. Many of the things Liz and Valerie did and got away with on-air would leave the audience and me wide-eyed and laughing out loud.
Valerie’s broadcasting Career started in a recording studio back in 1974 when she answered an ad for an Alto? CKLG-FM wanted to put a woman on the air, but the Labour Laws wouldn't let them specify so they figured ‘Alto’ would have to do.
Val was an actor/singer/dancer working in the music business in what would become Mushroom Studios. Heart and Chilliwack were recording there while she worked at the front desk. Her sweetheart at the time, Keith Stein, went on to share a Juno with Bob Rock for engineering the first Loverboy album.
She came up to Canada from Los Angeles with Keith at the suggestion of his old school friend, the lovely singer Corlynn Hanney. She and her husband Miles invited them to stay with them for a while, and that’s how she met the legendary Miles Ramsay of GGRP which is the largest music production house in Canada featuring an advertising client roster of ‘Who's Who’ from around the globe.
Valerie got the Alto job at LGFM at the same time she got her favourite acting job. She was a regular on The Beachcombers for 4 seasons, as Hughie's girlfriend Frankie, the sailing champion. CBC taught her to sail a Hobie Cat, and she is still grateful for that serendipitous skill.
Back at LG-FM, she went from Sunday Mornings to All-Nights to Mid-Days to News and Public Affairs and then CBC called. Off she went to co-host their local morning talk show Good Morning Radio. From there, she went into television as host of the flagship News Magazine, Pacific Report.
But radio called again, with 365'er Gary Slaight hiring her for a morning news job at Q107 in Toronto. She jumped at it and became part of the Scruff Connors madness. The ‘Leave it to Beaver’ skits they used to do, with Valerie as June Cleaver would leave me literally in stitches. I never knew that was her playing the role till we started working together on the coast years later.
After a while, Vancouver called again, and she was back at CFOX with her old crew, and, eventually, an amazing opportunity popped. Says Valerie " A chance to do Afternoon Drive with the one and only Liz McKinney. There never was or will be anyone like her." They got thrown together by accident: “Someone told me it wouldn't last, because ‘nobody wants to hear two chicks giggling at each other on the drive home’. He'd never heard the famous Liz McKinney Laugh!”
Lots of stories and shenanigans of course like this one as told by Val: “And then there was Liz and Valerie and John Candy - People kept calling in to say they saw him shooting a movie in town. But Liz and I never saw him ourselves. So we asked the listeners for help – ‘If you see John Candy, tell him Liz and Valerie are looking for him. And tell him to give us a call’. That bit took off like wildfire - a sign company made a huge banner that covered the whole side of the radio station – ‘John Candy, Liz and Valerie.. give 'em a call’ in letters the size of a car. So many people were showing up at the movie locations that John Candy went ballistic. Apparently, he was trying to produce or direct the film, and he couldn't concentrate. He told one guy ‘If you see Liz and Valerie, tell them to shut up!’. We still think he should've called.”
The Liz and Valerie show had great ratings acceptance and generated huge word-of-mouth, and this before the real advent of social networking. I think today in this ‘viral’ world they would have had a lot of fun with the new technology.
But things do come to an end, and in this case an amazing opportunity came Val’s way. She had the chance to travel in South East Asia for 6 months, and after that, to be part of the team to help set up the brand-new Z-95 with Brad Phillips.
That was her last post as she felt it was time to hang up the headphones and try something new in the Real World. She's been happily consulting in the private sector ever since.
She was/is still around though doing voice-work. She was sharing voice duties with 365’er Dean Hill on the Knowledge Network Imaging and was also the Official Voice of the BC Ferries for many years. I used to travel on the ferries a lot so it always kind of felt like she was there with you when you heard those unmistakable tones.
It was her voice that announced, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time to leave the ferry’. As legend has it, Robin Larose once barked at the PA System ‘F-off, Valerie I just poured a coffee’."
Valerie sums up: “Broadcasting was amazing - I've worked with some of the best in the business: Kerry Marshall (Kerry Holley) and Merv Connally taught me to write at the FOX and CKLG. I covered parades live on CBC TV with Bill Good. I was on the air in Toronto when John Lennon was shot. I was one of the first broadcasters in Canada to call AIDS a heterosexual issue when everyone else called it Gay Plague.
But the business was very different then, especially for an Alto. At one point, I was the only woman in Canada outside of the CBC who was working in daylight. I did mid-days on LG-FM using my own name when most women in private radio were doing All-Nights as Dusty or Samantha. Pretty funny now, but at the time it was quite an accomplishment.
My advice for someone new in the business? Just say yes. When a door opens, jump right through it. An actor born on the Fourth of July in America answered an ad for an Alto in Canada. And had a helluva ride!”
Her mantra is: ‘Ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is’ by Charles Bukowski.
So true. Laughter is a healer, and a huge anecdote to the pain everyone feels in life.
Valerie thrilled audiences for years as a breath of fresh air. She is an enlightened soul with great energy, intelligence, understanding and an oh yeah, that wicked sense of humour! I loved working with this trailblazer. Well done and Atta be Val!
Thank you, Valerie Ambrose, on being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share Val’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.
– Jim JJ Johnston is the CEO, President and Chief Programmer/Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries worldwide.