You know I love music, and i’m also a pretty big sports fan, too. So, when I got invited to go to beautiful Kelowna, BC for Roger’s Hometown Hockey, you bet I jumped at the chance, and I got to bring my dad, too. The even happens in one city in Canada every weekend – a city or town without an NHL team, and it’s a free weekend outdoor hockey festival packed with interactive activities for all ages. We had a blast, and my dad said it’s set up very similar to a music tour – they go into a city, which takes takes days to set up, there’s the crowd, the entertainment, the show (in this case an NHL game on the big screen downtown), cheering, the sense of community, of a happening, of belonging, of watching professionals follow their dreams, and then, when it ends that night, you pack up, and do it all again in the next city.
Hometown Hockey is a great event because they go into a city that doesn’t have an NHL Hockey team, and the city gets to enjoy a viewing party on Sunday watching an NHL game with friends & family. They also have meet and greets with NHL Alumni, local hockey heroes and celebrities. In Kelowna and all cities, they have a Winter Market showcasing local culinary and hometown food trucks, they had a few local bands and entertainment, and what I loved – a Kids Zone filled with hockey-themed games!
I had the chance to sit down with Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean about finding your spark and following your dreams, so let’s get to it!
Ron MacLean: Hannah, it’s just an honor. I was telling you I got to watch your TED talks, which was fantastic. You did that a year ago, right?
Hannah: Yes, just about a year ago.
Ron: Well, and I wanted to tell you a little story, just before we talk about Roger’s Hometown Hockey, because I loved your basic philosophy was two-fold. One was to find your spark, and to share that spark, and then to understand that you can’t just do it alone. I loved, really loved that message. There was a track and field coach in Vancouver who once had a saying, “The power in each of us comes from all of us.” And you were saying how you were in the lockbox experiment and you were getting frustrated because I’m a smart person, like you’ve shown you are, and I suddenly wasn’t getting out and others were getting out, and you began to think, “What’s the matter with me? I thought I was smart.” Sometimes you need a hand. So I was going to tell you a story about your spark. And this is a game. I was on Canada Reads a year ago and there’s an author named Jane Urquhart, wrote a book called Away. And in the book, there’s an eleven-year old. You’re eleven, Brian O’Malley. Brian O’Malley’s mom, they used to play a game called “What Way Are You?” And the way the game worked was, “what way are you” meant you’ve got to pick an item in this mobile, and I’ve got to figure it out. You know, you’re going to give me clues. So let’s just say it was a mirror, the clue would be, “I look like you, I’m easily broken, I am reflective.” And eventually you might guess that it’s a mirror. Well, Brian, in this book, his object in the room that he is, he says, “I am hot and I am difficult. I live under an open roof, and I send my thoughts to the sky. I constantly consume myself but I am always being rebuilt by others. Without me, you would freeze, you would starve, and your stories would go untold.” And what he was was the fire. He was the fire in the hearth and I thought when I watched your TED talks, the spark, the fire, that Brian O’Malley and Hannah Alper are one and the same, so I hope you remember that story.
Hannah: I love that story! So, let’s just go back to the beginning. You started your broadcasting in 1978. When did you actually realize that you wanted to get into broadcasting?
Ron: Well, I got a chance to do some part-time work in 1976. Three of my high school buddies were working at the radio station CKRD-FM and they needed a – one guy was sick, Sean Sutherland. They needed a replacement for Sean, and Sean said phone Ron McClean. It’s $3.00 an hour, it’s a 9-hour shift, and it’s just simple button pushing. Ron can figure it out, and that’s how I got in. I got this chance to go down to the radio station and push buttons for $27.00, and Martin Smith, the boss, said “good job, Ron, we’ll work you into the rotation. Every second week you can be on Sunday from 3 to Midnight.” And eventually they got us to read some news, and one thing just kind of led to another and I remember, Hannah, I was a nervous kid, I felt the pressure, the fear of failure, but somehow I just kind of gutted it through in the early years, and I felt the bug. You know, you look at today, I always envisioned somebody listening to the radio station, and I’m going to tell them, “Today it’s going to be sunny, and 25 degrees, and now here’s a wonderful song by whomever.” I’m going to make their day. And teachers make people’s day, doctors, disc jockey’s make people’s day and I loved that notion. I just thought, “What a great job I could have if I could have something to do for a living that makes peoples’ day.”
Hannah: Going on about disc jockeys. What kind of music did you play? What kind of music do you like?
Ron: I like rock and roll, I didn’t get to play as heavy a rock as I enjoy, I played what we called middle of the road, or adult alternative, a little bit, and what I loved about it, Hannah, which was really, you know, you had to figure out, OK, everybody loves the music , there was kind of a philosophy back in, when I was young, the 1970s, more rock, less talk. And we realized that that in principle sounds good, but actually what people really like about radio is the companionship. So you needed to have a personality with the music, somebody that could somehow connect to the listener and make them feel special and that was the art. It took me a long time to understand it, but I’ve listened to a lot of disc jockeys, I studied the vocation, I had services in the United States that I subscribed to that explained ideas about what I did, and I just, by trial and error and time, learned how to communicate to somebody to make them feel like I was talking one-to-one to them. That was the secret. Wasn’t me and a million, it was me and one other person,so back to your idea of “you don’t do it alone.” I had to understand that.
Hannah: You were that voice when we’re driving on the highway, you just want someone to listen to. How did you go from the radio to Hockey Night in Canada?
Ron: I was through and through a hockey kid. A rink rat. What happened, that was the secret to it all was that I became the TV weatherman in Red Deer, Alberta and if you were on the radio from 9-12 then you were automatically the TV Weather presenter in the afternoon. That’s what I had. I was the 9-12 deejay and then I would do the TV weather. And because I couldn’t make 5 minutes out of the weather every night, I would forecast sports events as well. I would forecast the outcome of an Edmonton Oiler or Calgary Flames hockey game and I think that’s what I think attracted the people at Hockey Night in Canada to offer me an audition to go down to Calgary in 1984, two things happened. That plus TSN was starting their operation and they were hiring away a lot of western Canadians and that opened the door for kids like myself out of Red Deer to move up.
Hannah: Was it a big change to do TV?
Ron: The key to television is sincerity. You can’t fake that, you’ve got to be you. Youre so lucky that you’re doing a lot of these presentations. When you did the TED Talks, eight minutes in you say to the audience “OK, I have one more story and it’s a good one.” That was a believable moment for all of us. You know from having done the speech more than once you’ll find the things that resonate. What does the crowd get a kick out of? The old adage, if the joke is funny, the people will laugh. There’s nothing but practice that will get you there. I wish there was a way we could teach that, but you kind of have to do it the hard way and that’s by trial and error and experience.
Hannah: It definitely took a while for me to actually memorize speeches because it was my first time. Practice makes perfect, and it’s always just as much fun doing something the first time as the tenth time for me – it always has to be fun for me. You’ve had a chance to be at the Olympics. How much fun is that?
Ron: The Olympics is such a hopeful notion. Olympism, this idea that seven billion of us are one, I truly believe in that Hannah. When we did the Sochi Olympic coverage during the winter games in 2014 I never showed the medal standings once in 16 days. I didn’t want it to be about Canada’s one less than the Netherlands or one better than Germany or two below the Americans. I always wanted it to be about being better but not about being better than someone. I love that about the Olympics, the originator, Pierre de Coubertin, the modern Olympics. He felt that was all nationalism and he didn’t want that. He wanted you to be battle hardened, he wanted you to be sort of of a warrior spirit but he wasn’t concerned with comparing nations. I think you’re kind of about that.
Hannah: It’s really just about trying your best, and knowing you’re in a rare, and privileged position not to take it for granted. You’ve interviewed thousand of hockey players in your life and in broadcasting. What do you think that they all had that made them get into the NHL? They have the same drive and passion as you – they just went in a different direction, but they still needed to have that spark.
Ron: They had a spark. You can’t fake it. You cannot get there with anything beyond that passion. Wayne Gretzky had brothers and sisters that were good at sports but he had something that runs a little deeper in him. It is a bit of an obsession, when you want to get somewhere you have to work consistently at it to make each day involve something that takes you to the next level. That spark starts there, it’s very inate. I could give you an endless list of players who were never picked by the scouts to move up, they were not drafted we call it. But, one guy in Kelowna came out and watched them play and believed in them. That’s another thing you’re kind of about in your TED Talk, there’s a guy here in Kelowna named David Roy who runs a program called the Pursuit of Excellence. He learned from a gentlemen named Roger Neilson, and Roger Neilson’s secret was to make you believe that you could do anything you wanted and he gave you such conviction, he gave you such belief and belief lifts talent. Somewhere along the way, someone believed in them that gave them that optimism that it could be done.
Hannah: And you’ve experienced for almost 30 years. What do you think you had that made you last this long?
Ron: Again, passion. It’s a vicious circle. You have to prepare every time you do something and the more you prepare, the better you deliver your performance and the more your performance goes well, the pressure to prepare to top it increases. You just find as you get to a certain level, you want to feel that again. Everybody who ever wins at something wants to win again. The joy of it is, it’s an education, right? Every time I do a show like today, I had to learn about Kelowna. Next week I have to learn about Fort McMurray. It’ll probably involved your eco- activist talks, that’ll be a part of it.
Hannah: Can you walk me through a day in the life of Ron MacLean, the broadcaster?
Ron: Well, for being here in Kelowna, a work day involves usually getting up at 4:30AM in Toronto and flew to Calgary and then flew to Kelowna, so it’s an unusually long day. Then we have a little meet and greet with some customers and meet the hockey fans, we call that outreach where I may do some interviews with The Rockets, which is the western hockey league team here, and yourself. The actual show prep goes on all week. I watch a lot of hockey. I study a lot about Kelowna, I’ve always had a rule of ten hours of prep for every one hour on the air. But show day is a little bit of coffee and get to it.
Hannah: I can’t drink coffee – yet, but I feel your excitement, though! It’s so great here! One thing I’ve noticed is how many kids there are here in their own houseleague hockey jerseys. What advice do you have to kids who want to play in the NHL, what do you have advice for kids who just want to be in the media?
Ron: The lesson for all of us in life is to work at what you do and be relentless. To have a thick skin. And always remember, that the loveliest part about music and television, the arts, that we just have the chance to make someone’s day and if you get out of yourself and not think about what’s in it for Hannah or for Ron, but what’s in it for your friends or audience or whomever, then it’ll really help you to keep it in perspective. That’s the ultimate wisdom, perspective.