Switchback (CBC)

Switchback (CBC)

"Switchback" was a Canadian television show for children and teens broadcast on CBC Television in the 1980s. It was produced regionally from Vancouver, Winnipeg, Regina, Halifax, Calgary and Toronto.

The first Switchback: Vancouver

Produced by Nijole Kuzmickas and originally hosted by Canadian folk musician Rick Scott, CBC Vancouver's Switchback was a weekly Sunday morning live broadcast that began in January 1981. The name "Switchback" referred to the program's original format, which invited young viewers to trade used toys, comic books, and other bric-a-brac. Viewers could either call in or write in with offers, which were written on a board on the studio set or later featured in a free classified-ad-style publication put together by the show and mailed out to viewers who requested it. This feature was dropped after the first season. The show regularly featured phone-in contests and write-in raffles for prizes such as T-shirts, LPs and toys. An old cowboy cliff-hanger adventure serial was also featured weekly during the first season. The second season began with host Gordon White, soon replaced by Richard Newman, who remained with the show for two and a half years.

A memorable show during Newman's tenure was the "dippy-dome" episode, which ran mock news flashes and backward footage of the inflation of the B.C. Place Stadium roof. The episode unwittingly predicted, nearly a quarter-century before the fact, the dome's accidental deflation in early 2007. Numerous hosting changes followed Newman's exit while the show struggled to recapture the rapport created by Scott and Newman. CBC Vancouver's desperation in this regard was evident: the first host to follow Newman was a teenager, Andrew Cochrane, at that time attending Churchill Secondary School. Cochrane went on to host Switchback in Halifax while he was attending law school at Dalhousie University. (An interesting sidebar: Cochrane is at present a Crown Prosecutor in Vancouver.)

Switchback was notable also for being the first regular broadcaster of rock videos in British Columbia. In the days before MuchMusic and CBC's "Good Rockin' Tonite", Switchback served as a Canadian MTV. (Early on, Bill Henderson, lead singer of Chilliwack, was guest host for one week. Later on, Terry David Mulligan's successor, Stu Jeffries, became the host of the less engaging late-period Switchback.) In the early years of the show, guests included Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats in his pre-Band Aid/Live Aid incarnation. Through interviews and by broadcasting videos, Switchback also did much to promote local Vancouver rock musicians, notably the Payola$, Loverboy, Doug and the Slugs and Henderson's Chilliwack.

Winnipeg Switchback

The CBC Winnipeg version ran from 1983 until 1988. It was hosted by Winnipeg personality Laurie Mustard. It aired Sunday mornings at 9. There were numerous celebrity guests on the Winnipeg show over its five year run, hosted by Mustard, including Adam West (Batman), Carrie Hamilton (the late daughter of Carol Burnett), and 80s hair band Quiet Riot. Carrie Hamilton really liked the set - she loved all of the props and toys. A few guests (not any of those named here) seemed to miss the point that it was a kids show, and rolled in Sunday morning quite hungover, or still rolling.

Another Winnipeg personality, Jim Ingebrigtsen, was a frequent guest star, but not as himself. He played 'Ole Yuleberg' at Christmas time and 'Peter Cottonsvensen' at Easter, and was always trying to get a Switchback bag from Mustard.

The show once even aired live on location from Disneyland in California, while a blizzard raged back in Winnipeg. One of the head producers for this trip (and for the show overall) was terminally ill by this point in the series, but he went along with a smile. Everyone who worked at that show will always remember Sean Sullivan.

Favourite segments from this show were the music videos, Batman and Heckle & Jeckle shorts, "Joke of the Week", and many contests where kids could call in and win Switchback t-shirts, buttons, and even the coveted Switchback bag.

The call-in number for the show was 949-0666 (quoted as "that number is 949-0666, in town, out of town dial 1-949-0666"). Laurie's trademark was to wear reflective sunglasses (which he lost at an airport in the last season), and wield a giant fly swatter. Little did the audience know that he wore the sunglasses so he wouldn't distract viewers while reading phone numbers and other cues from the cue cards off to the side of the cameras.

A cow once, uh, relieved itself during a live segment while it was off-camera in studio...the sealed room was suddenly filled with an intense odour, and all within had to subdue coughs and laughter until it could be cleaned up...all live to air. The poor woman being interviewed had been splattered, and was a very good sport as she suffered a soiled, pantyhosed leg during her live interview.

Winnipeg Switchback relocation: Regina

The Winnipeg edition was moved to Regina after the '87-'88 season to a new studio with new hosts, where it could be produced for less money. In Winnipeg over its five season run, it had originally run from 9 am to 10:30 am with no commercials, then after a few years commercials were added, and finally the show was shortened to a one hour format, all to save money. The CBC cutbacks of the '80s were in full swing at this point. The window to Studio 41 where it was taped had even been emblazoned with a 'stop cutbacks' sticker by a sly employee.

Halifax Switchback

The Halifax version, produced by John Nowlan and Alice Porter, started in 1981 (second only to Vancouver) and was an immediate hit. There was so much response to the first show that phone lines throughout central Halifax were blown. Stan "the Man" Johnson, with his trusty dog Rufus, was the first host (he applied for the job in crayon) and Andrew Cochrane took over in the later years after CBC abruptly ended negotiations to renew Johnson's contract. The show pioneered music videos to its Atlantic Canada and Eastern Arctic audience and featured cliff-hanger adventure serials from Republic Pictures as well as episodes from Batman (1966) and a parade of live guests including Air Supply, Mark Messier, and a stable of animals from the Ken-Jenn Petting Zoo. One notable moment featured a boxing kangaroo that delivered several jabs to Stan's head during the interview with the animal handler. He then retreated to the other side of his desk where he continued his interview. The Sunday morning show was 90 minutes long and had a huge following of loyal fans. To its disgrace, CBC dumped the series in favour of the British import Coronation Street, leaving Sunday morning void of any meaningful TV for young people.

Calgary Switchback

The Calgary version was hosted by "Humble" Howard Glassman in '83 & '84.

Toronto Switchback

The Toronto version was hosted by Shawn Thompson in 1986 and 1987 and also featured Howard Busgang.

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