THE BACK PAGE
A look back at five years of Kathleen Petty as she vacates her post as host of CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning
September 4, 2006 to August 12, 2011
BY JUDY TRINH
FEARLESS, STRAIGHT SHOOTER. COWBOY. The words colleagues use to describe Kathleen Petty allude to a fighting spirit. The departing host of Ottawa Morning and The House on CBC Radio has a reputation for cutting through the spin and getting to the crux of an interview. But as Petty sits down for this exit interview and reflects on her past five years in the capital, it’s the word outsider that frequently spills out of her mouth. Outsider — because that’s what she was initially labelled.
In 2006, Petty landed one of the most coveted broadcasting jobs at the CBC — hosting two shows with the power to set the agenda both locally and nationally. Many felt her credentials were lacking. She was from Calgary, yet she was hosting Ottawa Morning. She had no parliamentary reporting experience, yet she would interview federal politicians every week on The House. She was a television broadcaster who got hired for a plum radio gig.
“It’s easier to fail when you’re young than when you’re old,” says Petty. She took a big risk moving to Ottawa. “I had no friends, no family, and I took two jobs that a lot of people from here wanted.”
In those early days, Petty received a barrage of protest mail from listeners. they complained about her booming laugh, lashed out at her mispronunciation of local streets, railed against her references to Calgary. That was then. Petty is leaving her post at the end of August at the top of her game. More locals wake up to Ottawa Morning than to any other radio show.
CBC producer Karla Hilton attributes Petty’s success to her commitment to the audience: she wants to learn something from every interview. “Kathleen asks the questions they want asked but may not ask. And she does it without apologizing. It’s never ‘I hate to ask you this, but . . .”
The fact that Petty doesn’t pull punches has made for some gripping radio, but it’s not just the hard-hitting interviews that will be remembered. Those of us who wake up before dawn have been privy to some details of Petty’s personal life. During the opening chats with news reader Stu Mills, we have learned that she’s a sucker for infomercials. She loves the Magic Bullet, but a gym machine endorsed by Chuck Norris sits in her basement collecting dust. We were the first to hear about it when her beloved dog Greta got sprayed by a skunk right before Petty dropped her off at a friends’ house. Unable to change before work, that was the one day she literally “stunk” in the studio. And on her penultimate morning on the job, Petty confided to us that she had very recently received some worrying health news.
And so her plans have temporarily been put on hold. Kathleen Petty will remain in Ottawa to undergo medical treatment before resuming her plan — to return to Calgary to host Calgary Eyeopener. The new radio gig will be her homecoming, allowing her to spend more time with her 83-year-old father.
On announcing her departure from Ottawa Morning, Petty said that Ottawa had made her a better broadcaster. We, in turn, thank her for making the airwaves better — and wish her all the best.