I was about two months into my first regular journalism job, as the afternoon news anchor for CIGO AM Radio.
With my five o’clock newscast just a few minutes away, I was delivering a handful of sound clips and pre-packaged voice reports to my partner in the afternoon-drive time slot, Carlton Munroe.
I was getting ready to open the studio door when I heard a voice bellowing something inside. It seemed to be lining up with the song that was closing out that particular hour of CIGO airtime, a cover of Queen’s “Somebody To Love” that was recorded just over a year earlier at a tribute concert for the band’s late, great lead singer, Freddie Mercury.
At first blush, the voice sounded an awful lot like that of George Michael, who was filling in for Mercury as the lead performer of that Queen hit. But then I poked open the door.
There at the CIGO master control console, standing and bellowing at an unseen crowd while decked out in his traditional headphones, a T-shirt, shorts and sandals, was Carlton, enthusiastically mimicking Michael’s instructions to the Wembley Stadium crowd: “I WANT TO HEAR EVERY SINGLE PERSON… SEE EVERY SET OF HANDS… TWO, THREE, FOUR!”
That vivid memory is replaying itself over and over in my mind and heart today, as I attempt to process the news that Carlton passed away last Wednesday at the age of 48, after a lengthy struggle with glioblastoma. (The same brain cancer claimed one of Carlton’s musical heroes, Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, just over a month ago.)
The concept of a life cut short like this doesn’t jibe with the memories I have of Carlton’s time at CIGO. By the time I arrived, he’d earned a reputation – on and off the air – as a hardworking, energetic, dedicated professional with a great sense of humour and a voice that could be trusted with any assignment handed to him.
From a personal level, I couldn’t have asked for a better “first” on-air partner. I had just come out of a difficult three-month recovery period from major eye surgery, and had never worked at a real radio station despite two-and-a-half years’ worth of training at the King’s College School of Journalism. But Carlton treated me like the big brother I never had, alternately encouraging me to fully enjoy the opportunity I had received at CIGO and gently razzing “the new guy” while making me feel like a part of the family.
We bonded over everything from music to sports, cheering together when the Montreal Canadiens won their most recent Stanley Cup. The first time I ever impersonated Don Cherry on the air, it was at Carlton’s request, after I shared a story about Grapes blowing up at CBC management for their alleged bias towards the Habs while he was coaching the Boston Bruins in the late ‘70s.
I was saddened to see Carlton head back to Pictou County later that summer, to start a 15-year run in the newsroom at CKEC AM Radio (and later East Coast FM). His Strait area impact lingered long after his departure; CIGO ran one of his commercials (for Hanham’s Ultramar in Half Island Cove) for a full year after Carlton left. The station’s sales manager at the time, Peter Rafuse, now an Anglican priest based in Sydney, told me last week that “Carlton lit up any room he was in.”
A long-time friend of mine, Lana MacEachern, frequently shared reporter-space with Carlton during her years with the New Glasgow News, and they regularly bumped into each other in local courtrooms or at election campaign events. Those assignments “became not just bearable but also enjoyable and memorable because of [his] smile and laugh,” according to a message Lana posted on her Facebook page hours after the news broke.
I didn’t see a lot of Carlton over the past 25 years, but we were always happy to re-connect when we bumped into each other at events like East Coast Music Week. And I admired, from afar, his hard work with New Glasgow’s Riverfront Jubilee and the town’s event-management and promotion departments.
Apart from the obvious impact on his wife Taryn and their three children, Carlton’s farewell leaves a huge hole in Nova Scotia’s entertainment and media communities. And all of this has given me a harsh reminder about the importance of recognizing those who strive to make our province better – one day, one event, one encounter at a time.
I hope “every single person and every set of hands” is giving Carlton Munroe a round of applause in heaven right now.
At the very least, I hope he’s having a great jam session with Gord Downie, Freddie Mercury, and George Michael.