by Manon Lamontagne
Barbara Frum was one of Canada's most respected and influential woman journalists. She began her career in journalism as a freelance writer and commentator for various CBC radio programs soon after graduating from the University of Toronto. She quickly branched out into the print media writing various columns for national newspapers such as the Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and a television column for the Saturday Night magazine. In 1967, she made a brief foray into television as a co-host for an information program The Way It Is but it was in radio that she first gained notoriety.
In the fall of 1971, she took on the co-hosting duties of As It Happens, a new innovative newsmagazine show on CBC radio which followed the 6:00 P.M. news. At a time when the national broadcaster was struggling to develop programs that would keep its listeners beyond the supper-hour newscast, the show's young producer, Mark Starowicz, proposed a format based largely on newsmaker interviews that would provide an in-depth examination of the stories behind the headlines. Through the use of long distance telephone and radio, listeners were connected to world events. In this format, Frum shone. She quickly gained the reputation as a tough, incisive and well-informed interviewer. For ten years, she interviewed numerous world leaders, national politicians and other newsmakers as well as those affected by the news and was soon respected as one of Canada's foremost woman journalists. She was honoured with numerous awards during her tenure, most notably the National Press Club of Canada Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Journalism in 1975; Woman of the Year in literature, arts and education category of the Canadian Press in 1976; and the Order of Canada in l979.
In the 1980s CBC Television decided to move its national newscast, The National, from its traditional 11:00 P.M. timeslot to 10:00 P.M. The news division of CBC television had long been considering such a move hoping to capture a larger audience since studies had shown that a large number of viewers retired to bed prior to 11:00 P.M. Realizing that it was a huge gamble, CBC executives appointed Starowicz, the producer of As It Happens to translate his radio success to the newsmagazine program, The Journal. He, in turn, looked to Frum who had been instrumental in the success of As It Happens. After months of preparation, the new current affairs program, The Journal was launched on 11 January 1982. In the weeks that followed it became the most-watched and highly respected newsmagazine show in Canada.
It featured many innovations and made use of the latest electronic news gathering technology. Features, such as field reports and short documentaries, public forums and debates as well as a series of reports on business, sports, arts and entertainment, and science news were interwoven with the interview portion of the program. The show featured two female hosts. Barbara Frum was joined by Mary Lou Finley in the hosting duties and a higher profile was assigned to women reporters and journalists than on most other stations.
Yet the show relied heavily on Frum's skill as an interviewer. The interview portion of The Journal accounted for 60% of the program. She remained the dominant and permanent presence on a show which saw many new co-hosts. All of Canada was deeply saddened by the news of her sudden death on 26 March 1992 from complications of chronic leukemia. Tributes poured in from colleagues, co-workers and the public at large. Months following her passing, the CBC announced that it would move its newscast and newsmagazine program, The National and the Journal, from 10:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. Once again, executives argued that studies showed that aging babyboomers were retiring to bed at an earlier time. This move proved to be less successful than the first endeavour and two years later the CBC was forced to reverse itself after ratings had fallen off by half. Amid these changes and reversals The Journal was transformed into the present Primetime News. As It Happens continues its run, having celebrated its 25th year on the air.
Source: The Museum of Broadcast Communications