Renfrew – Over the last 10 years, Valley Heritage Radio’s (VHR) most popular program, Live From The Hunt Camp has withstood sudden snowfalls, nearly impossible-to-navigate back roads, remote camps with little to no ability to transmit a signal, and the interruption of a fellow radio show to bring thousands of faithful listeners one of the most original live radio broadcasts heard anywhere in Canada.
You can now add COVID to the list of forces unable to stop longtime VHR staff members Jason Marshall (Station Manager), Lesley Galbraith (Production/Program Manager) and Gerry “Bimmer” Bimm (Sales Representative) from delivering a series of live broadcasts from hunt camps all over the Valley for 10 straight Novembers.
Just as the number of tall tales and lore of fictional or exaggerated feats of hunting prowess or lack thereof, are shared by the hunt camp hosts every year, the same holds true among a majority of VHR staff members as to who came up with the show’s concept.
The Great Debate
There has been a 10-year, good-natured debate as to who was the mastermind behind the program that often attracts more willing participants than the scheduled broadcast can accommodate.
Mr. Marshall, who had not yet joined the station when the first broadcast took place, has his playful doubts as to Mr. Bimm’s claim he came up with the unusual concept.
“It’s not just me that has doubts about Gerry’s claim to fame,” he said with a chuckle as he was getting ready to host the first broadcast of the year. “We all agree it was a total team effort and if you ask Lesley or myself or anyone involved and we will all give the same answer. But you ask Gerry and he will tell you he had the idea first.
“Most of us agree to let Gerry have the glory and we are pretty sure the concept came to him one snowy day when he snowmobiling somewhere along Otter Lake when he suddenly came to a halt and there the idea just magically popped into his head.”
The concept of the program remained fairly constant for the first nine years. The three hosts would pack up the equipment and supplies for their trek deep into the vast forests of the Valley. Whether it was the site of the very first broadcast at the Bluff Mountain Hunt Club, located near Ladysmith, Quebec or the Scully Farm Hunt Club near Mount St. Patrick, they would make their way in time to go live on the air at 6 o’clock in the evening.
“None of it would be possible without four invaluable partners,” Mr. Marshall said. “Throughout the whole year, and that includes hunting season, we get so many calls from different camps asking us to come for a visit. We wouldn’t be able to do the show without our great sponsors throughout the years an, of course, our loyal listeners who have tuned in every year making this our most popular program.
“But the unsung hero for sure is Johnny Mac (longtime producer and technical whiz John McMaster) who sometimes performs feats of magic to make sure we get on the air and stay on the air during our broadcast. We send John out for a field test to see if we can do a remote and that cuts it down pretty quickly. One time we sent him up near the border of Algonquin Park and it was tough, but John made it work.”
Although the actual broadcast starts at 6 p.m., they arrive in the early afternoon to get to know the different characters in the camp. Whether they are playing cards, sharing stories, drinking a few pops, eating an incredible variety of food that included a full turkey dinner with all the fixins, including cranberries, they have fun. There are always a few camps each year where a guitar and sometimes a fiddle and other musical instruments will take centre stage and an impromptu kitchen party will break out. By the time the broadcast ends at 10 p.m., they pack up all their belongings and make the long journey home.
Bingo Interrupts The Broadcast
When asked the near impossible task of picking a camp that stands out among all the sites they have visited, Mr. Marshall struggled to come up with an answer.
“If you ask each one of us you will get a different answer because there were so many great camps along the way,” he said. “One of my favourite moments was at the Rhode camp on a Thursday night and these are all hard working, burly lads who work in the bush. All of a sudden at 6:55 you hear one of them who stands up and yells ‘alright shut up everybody, its Bingo Night!’
“Well he sat down in a big chair and has his reading glasses on the edge of his nose and pulls out a bingo card. He was dead serious and he was going to play our station’s radio bingo. He wasn’t joking and the broadcast was shut down for an hour while he played Valley Heritage Radio Bingo and nobody was going to argue with him and our four-hour show ended up being three hours.”
Beating Back COVID
The reality of COVID had the staff concerned they may have to postpone the annual trek and they also agreed there had to be a way to make it happen.
“We are doing it differently this year,” he said. “Instead of spending the day and night at the camp we are going to pre-record different camps inside our studio and we are going to respect social distancing. We thought about taping a microphone to a rifle and Lesley would put the microphone up to the face of each member but we realized that wasn’t a good idea, so instead she is going to use a hockey stick.
“Instead of a typical three or four-hour show and spending the afternoon at the camp they will be done in the studio and two will be done in the main showroom at Dick Plummer Marine in Pembroke. They have been such a great sponsor and supporter of our show so we decided to take the camp to them. Those will be done on the first day of the program (November 2) and we will wrap it up there on November 13.”
Mr. Marshall and all those involved with the long running program take great pride in the fact that not only is the show the most popular on the community-owned radio station, but they have never missed a scheduled broadcast.
“We have trekked so far into a bush to get to one that we were going to start a fundraiser to build a gas station half way in so we could take a rest,” he said. “But our listeners just love the show and we have fun visiting them. We are like the postmen who battle the crazy elements to make sure we get on the air and we always have a good time along the way.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader