Earlier this fall, CKUA was fortunate to reconnect with a longtime CKUA Family member. Dr. Richard MacDonald Jr. lives in California now, but was recently in Edmonton for a 65th reunion of his B.Sc. degree class, and he dropped by the Alberta Hotel for a tour of the new building. His father was Dick MacDonald Sr, who was CKUA’s station manager in the 1930s. The whole MacDonald family were also part of the CKUA Players, who put on regular radio plays.
CKUA’s Brian Dunsmore talked with Dr. Richard MacDonald about CKUA in the 1930s:
Here is an edited version of the interview between Brian Dunsmore and Dr. Richard MacDonald:
RM: My dad, Dick MacDonald Sr (right), had trained as teenager in the London Theatre and was a stagecraft and makeup professional. He had a beautiful voice – a voice like Lorne Green. Really very well-modulated, his enunciation of the Classical music titles as well as the composers was always perfect. He also taught at the Banff School of Fine Arts, and he was very much involved when the CKUA players were developed. He was CKUA’s station manager for a few years, and he had a lot to do with producing the shows. He was also the voice of the Classical Music Hour.
BD: Tell me about the CKUA Players.
RM: We could be involved with different people in the cast in any given week, or we might not act for weeks. So it was a rotating cast ensemble, and I think they had many people to draw from, because Edmonton even then had a really pretty active amateur theatre group. My brother and I loved acting and being onstage or on mic. We usually played sons and my sisters played daughters or young women.
BD: Did you get good reviews from Dad?
RM: Dad was quite complimentary of our efforts in both theatre and radio!
BD: Do you recall any other CKUA colleagues? For example, Sheila Marryat, CKUA’s first paid employee?
RM: She was very involved with the CKUA players because we got to know her very well; my dad and mom knew her through theatre and she was a great director I thought; she was pretty demanding as I remember her, but it fit with us because what she demanded was that we do it the right way, and I think she gave us good timing in our productions. I remember you had to be on cue and so even though we had a script in front of us, I would memorize it in that given few days we had before each show, so that you’d be darn sure not to mess up because after all it was all live, you couldn’t correct it, you had no second chance, and she certainly impressed us with that.
BD: Elsie Park Gowan said Sheila Marryat had high standards.
RM: They were both of very high standards, in my feeling, and Elsie wrote scripts, and we did some of her scripts, and Sheila was the main person directing.
BD: Any others you can recall?
RM: I had the good fortune to be employed by Dick Rice, as I think my brother was busy in a stage play or he would have got the gig. But Harper Prowse and I were on a kids’ radio talent show that was quite painful in many ways – listening to the children’s talent – but some of them were pretty good. I was Micky the Pelican Kid and Harper was Uncle Bob, and there was also an Aunt Lil.
BD: Did Mickey talk with a pelican accent?
RM: What I had to do was start each show with ‘Calling All Pelicans!” in my my high soprano voice, 3 times, to start the show and then the Pelican Club would be open. To become a member of the Pelican Club you had to send in so many ends of the package or something. Every day, 5 days a week, Uncle Bob and Aunt Lil and I would interview these children and listen to their talent, then pick some for the next day to go on. We did that for 6 months. The income I made for that, I think it was $25 a month, was quite helpful to our family coffers.