Last Friday night I joined 175 other people in a darkened room in Parkview Seniors Centre. We were not playing euchre. We were there to wait for our hero, and to surprise him with a lifetime of accolades for who he is and what he’s done.
Jeff Walther could be called “Mr. Barrie.” For his entire working life he’s been at CKBB Radio, latterly known as B101 FM. Back when it was on the AM band, CKBB and its sister station CKCB (Barrie Broadcasting and Collingwood Broadcasting) had moved from shared facilities at CKVR (before VR was “new) up on Little’s Hill in the country surrounded by pine trees.
When the Snelgrove family sold CKVR (which stands for Val and Ralph Snelgrove) to CHUM Radio, CKBB moved to spanking new facilities on Ferris Lane, the northern limits of the “city” of Barrie. Bill McCutcheon moved along with all the vinyl albums and engineering equipment and employees were ecstatic to have their own newsroom and their own control booths and their own lunchspace. News people came and left. Sales people came and left.
Today, there’s a For Sale sign on the Ferris Lane property and what’s left of CKBB or B101 is blended into the facility formerly owned by CHAY Radio. Since CHAY was closed after an ownership merger, the members of the CHAY and B101 families are fewer, war torn, survivors.
Through all of this movement has been a funny, loving, kind, creative, committed fellow who began his life “on air” at CKBB a quarter-century ago. When Jeff Walther first joined “BB” he was a home town boy back to make his broadcasting mark on the Barrie Region.
And he did.
During the first few years, Jeff’s on-air talents were then blended with his programming talents and he moved through the ranks from DJ to Music Director to Program Director to a number of slots as BB jostled for position on the AM and then the FM radio bands.
Jeff has been through more re-creations and new sounds and new formats and new news packages than most war veterans.
And along the way, Jeff’s real gift emerged and touched the hearts and minds of literally thousands of Barrie people. In his capacity as Promotions Director, Jeff’s passion for charity work and B101’s ability to contribute to fundraising campaigns were a perfect blend of community commitment.
And earlier this year Jeff was just one of dozens of people whose lives at B101 reached their last chapter.
And last Friday night, the people gathered at Parkview were there to give Jeff the standing ovation he so richly deserves. The charities his creative genius has touched were there to say thanks. The instruments of Jeff’s creative humour were there to re-call what it felt like to be the person involved in Jeff’s latest zany idea… how would you like to dress up as a bee, jump out of a vehicle and throw a black mug at people? Or sit on a small platform 30 feet in the air all night long in a rain storm? Or … the list shared on Friday night was unbelievable.
For 25 years Jeff Walther has played with ideas, used fun and risk and community involvement in such a way that everybody benefitted. And he built the reputation of B101 as community radio.
For Jeff, the end of his B101 career may feel like a real end. There is enormous grief in having someone else make the decision that you’ve gone as far as you’re going to go in one sphere of influence. There are alot of other feelings, too. And yet Jeff is the kind of person who, knowing there’s only one position left and two experts from two different places who have to blend into one to do the job, will bow gracefully and move aside.
We, the community, have been on the receiving end of Jeff Walther’s marvellous sense of humour for a quarter-century. Is it over? I think not. In a way, Jeff has been set free to work in a new way, with renewed vigor, the opportunity to control his own destiny, to make his own decisions, to continue to contribute using his strongest talents… his ability to connect with people and his generosity of spirit.
As I read this over, I have a little concern that it sounds like an obit. But it isn’t. For Jeff, this is more like his birth announcement.
Step up to the microphone, Jeff. Your world is waiting.