Behind the scenes with George Stroumboulopoulos
Industry Insight Canadian radio and television personality George Stroumboulopoulos explains how he made his way in Canada’s broadcast media industry.
Mediaplanet: What first attracted you to the broadcast industry, and did you envisage it ending up as your career?
George Stroumboulopoulos: I was always in love with radio and wanted to be a part of it, but there was never any real path. Growing up in the neighbourhood that I did, there was never going to be any contact with anybody that was even doing this for a living.
I’ve been listening to radio intently for a long time. For me, it’s always been about the content: the music, film, politics and sports, and these are the things that really mattered to me, so I wanted to be around the places where those conversations were actually happening.
MP: At what point did you think, ‘okay, this is what I want to do’?
“Now, with YouTube, everybody is a broadcaster.”
GS: The first day that I walked into a radio studio, that’s when I thought, “right, this is where I want to be for the rest of my life.” That’s why even though I’m on television now, I keep the radio show – because being in the studio and looking at a broadcast screen or an edit screen is so amazing.
There was a culture in radio stations that was really powerful, and the legends that you worked with…I remember the day that Bob Mackwood Senior walked into the building, I couldn’t believe it because he was the guy I grew up listening to on the six o’clock Rock Report. Then, to be able to work with Macko was so inspiring, and he’s the one that developed me in a way that would keep me around.
Check out some awesome moments and great guests on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. Video credit: Youtube / Srombo
MP: What would you say to people that want to break into the industry?
GS: You’ve got to take a radio-broadcasting course because there are some basics that you need to know. Go to a community college and start the foundation, because if you don’t show a potential employer that you’re prepared to learn, then why the hell would anybody hire you?
Now, with YouTube, everybody is a broadcaster. In the era of ubiquitous broadcasting, get on and practice… You need practice: you need mic time and you need camera time.
It used to be really difficult to get a broadcasting facility; to get production time was very challenging. Now, your bedroom is your broadcast base, but that is what a lot of people don’t want to do, they don’t want to put that work in.
MP: What are some of the ‘behind the scene’ jobs that make your shows possible?
GS: You need people who have a curiosity and an ability to think deeply and learn about a potential guest or story. Critical thinking is the number one thing, and you can develop that in a lot of the early jobs: everybody should start as a PA (production assistant or program assistant).
The PA is really important, the visual researcher is really important, and of course you need producers, writers and editors. Good editors, who understand story, are very hard to find.
MP: What has made you stay in Toronto, and how does it compare to other cities that you’ve traveled to?
GS: I’ve spent a lot of time around the world and there’s no city like Toronto. It’s a gigantic city that feels like a small town; I live downtown and the urban centre is so diverse.
Also, if you’re doing unscripted, non-fiction television, there’s no place better than Canada because we’re not as jingoistic as other places. We’re patriotic but we’re not overly patriotic, so Canada has been the right place for me to be.
I’ve worked on a lot of shows in different countries, and it’s a nice experience that I’ve enjoyed and learned from, but I’m a Canadian and a Torontonian, and it’s important for me to have that relationship with my own city.
I spend a lot of time in LA because there’s a lot of great opportunity here, and the weather is amazing!
MP How did your hit show, George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, come about?
GS The show started when I was at Much Music and looking for a change. I knew that music and entertainment television was going to skew in a direction that I wasn’t really that interested in being a part of. There was a movement towards dumbing stuff down, and that’s okay, I don’t mean that in a negative way, it just was what it was.
I was looking for options and then CBC came around, so I thought I’d try that. We did an eight o’clock show at first but the idea was always to go for something late night because I grew up watching Tom Snyder, Letterman and Dave Allen, an Irish guy who had a show in England.
MP: What’s next for you, George?
GS: Well, we said that if we could get the show to ten years that’d be incredible, but that we wouldn’t do anymore after that. So, now I’m at the ten-year stage, I have to figure out what to do next.
I want to have a balance of sports, music and politics, and however I can whip those together I will…and that doesn’t necessarily mean in one show. I don’t really know what’s coming up next, but I’m only telling you half the truth!