The new team at the wheel of CBC Edmonton's Radio Active embodies the best of a newcomer's experience in a new city, the wealth of local knowledge from a hometown boy and a shared passion for finding stories that will touch the hearts of listeners.
Starting Oct. 3, Jessica Ng, a journalist and newsreader from CBC Toronto, will bring her fresh eyes, ears and voice to the host's chair of the afternoon current affairs program. Joining her will be longtime CBC Edmonton journalist Min Dhariwal, who will take over from a retiring Rod Kurtz as Radio Active's traffic reporter.
"I don't think you can tell a community's stories without being enmeshed in it, without being a part of it and integrated with people that are making things happen," said Ng, 31.
"I'm thinking younger, I'm thinking fresher," she said. "I have a huge passion for the arts and I'm passionate about local business. Both my parents are entrepreneurs so I know about making opportunities for yourself."
Though relatively new to the business — the Toronto-born Ng got her first journalism job in 2017 — she's no stranger to moving vans, having already lived and worked as a journalist in Ontario and the Maritimes, and on the Prairies.
"It will be so neat to take people on this journey with me, with Min," she said about her plan to bring Radio Active listeners along for the ride as she gets to know her new home.
The 52-year-old Dhariwal is all set to be one of her first guides. An Edmontonian since elementary school, Dhariwal has been a reporter, video journalist, podcast host and self-described "utility player" at CBC Edmonton since 2001. He's been a regular fill-in on Radio Active but says having a permanent role with the show will be a game-changer.
"The potential is unlimited — how we want to do this, different things we want to try," said Dhariwal. "Growing up here and living here, this city is changing all the time. There is a huge segment of people out there who have never listened to CBC.
"This is a chance for us to form a relationship with them right off the hop."
All about timing
Timing is essential in life and journalism. It's also been a key factor in Ng's career to date.
Three hours after signing the contract for her first journalism job in 2017, Ng received a phone call that put her job dreams on hold. A diagnosis of lymphoma turned into six months of rigorous chemotherapy; the job had to wait.
"The whole process, literally and figuratively, stripped me down to nothing. But it gave me an opportunity to build myself back up," she said. "I don't think any of the journalism that I do would have the same level of compassion that I have now."
Since then, the bilingual reporter has worked as a video journalist in Fredericton and as a CTV morning news anchor in Saskatoon. She joined the CBC Toronto newsroom in January 2021, where she has been working as an all-platform reporter and radio newsreader for Radio One and a host for CBC Music.
Music to her ears
Timing is also a big thing in music — which, as it so happens, was Ng's career path before she became a journalist.
"I love music," says Ng, who worked as a host for JUNOfest and as a Junos judge when the Canadian award show was in Toronto earlier this year. "It translates well to journalism because, ultimately, it's just storytelling."
She is a professional musician, specializing in contemporary jazz and pop music vocals. She holds a bachelor of fine arts in music from York University and a master's degree in music performance from Berklee College of Music in Spain. And at age 23, Ng was a music instructor at a Toronto college.
Ng won't promise that she'll belt out a tune for Radio Active listeners but says she has occasionally sung the odd headline on the news. "Only when it's appropriate," she added with a laugh.
Wins, losses and the human spirit
Apart from the occasional karaoke performances (his go-to is Tone Loc's Funky Cold Medina), Dhariwal says he doesn't have much to boast about musically. But when it comes to sports, the two have plenty in common.
After a stint filling in on the television sports desk, Dhariwal said he became the newsroom's "de facto sports reporter." He has interviewed superstars Wayne Gretzky and David Beckham and reported on the city's professional football and hockey teams. He's covered Stanley Cups, Grey Cups, Paralympics and Olympics, including the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
Ng, on the other hand, left her college teaching job to study sports journalism at Toronto's Centennial College. And while she hasn't covered sports to nearly the same degree as Dhariwal, she's got a couple of words on her resumé that he might envy: Blue Jays.
Their shared sports journalism background helped teach both about finding human stories, not just ones about wins, losses or statistics. That's a skill they'll use to create a richer experience for Radio Active listeners.
"When everyone is scrumming around the player, sometimes you just have to turn around, look around," said Dhariwal.
Radio Active had previously been hosted by Adrienne Pan, who took the job in 2018. Pan, a former CBC Edmonton television news anchor, died in January at age 43 after a long battle with a serious illness.
Kurtz, who has been with CBC Edmonton since 1996, stepped in as the host of Radio Active during Pan's illness. He will be retiring at the end of September.
"I am not sure I can express how grateful I am to Rod for his tremendous work over the past 18 months as host of the show," said Stephanie Coombs, CBC Edmonton's director of journalism and programming.
"Rod has been the rock on Radio Active, helping lead the team and our audience through what was an incredibly difficult time with Adrienne Pan's illness and then her death in January," Coombs said. "He did so with unflappable composure, warmth and professionalism."
In a news release, Kurtz said that being part of the CBC Edmonton and Radio Active teams was a job that rarely felt like work.
"But it's time to turn the page and I couldn't be more excited to hand the reins over to the new host of Radio Active, Jessica Ng. I know she'll bring a fresh excitement and energy to the show. I know I'll be listening!" he said.
Coombs is confident that the show will be in good hands with Ng and Dhariwal.
"I'm thrilled that Jessica and Min will be stepping into the studio together. They bring a breadth of journalism experience and local knowledge to Radio Active, to help tell the stories that matter to Edmontonians."
Ng, who will join the newsroom in mid-September, is equally excited.
"I want us to be in the community and I want this show to be about the community. I'm so excited that we get a chance to tell their stories. And I hope we do them justice."