And they’re just like
I tell my one ally in my group
Toronto’s power brokers are divided over a lot of things (taxes, bikes, libraries, transit, zoos, megamalls and Ferris wheels, to name a few). But there’s one thing both left and right seem to agree on: CBC Radio’s Matt Galloway, host of the number-one morning radio show in the city, is on their side.
BY: DAVID SAX
Gord Cochrane, the long-time director of CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, pitches his cigarette onto a dark Wellington Street, and heads back inside the network’s mothership. “You never get used to the hour,” he grumbles, settling into the control booth next to associate producer Kim Holmgren, a tall, wisecracking Swede. Before them is an airplane cockpit’s worth of screens, consoles and computers that control the show’s audio. On the long counter, a cheap coffeemaker gurgles next to a television silently streaming CP24.
Through the soundproof glass, Metro Morning’s host, Matt Galloway, dressed in a baby-blue gingham button-down and fitted grey jeans, sits at the centre of a large crescent-shaped desk, sipping water from a (refillable) plastic bottle. Jill Dempsey, who reads the show’s news and weather reports, sits to his right. Clips from the previous day’s gun battle in Kabul play into their headphones, as Cochrane raises his fingers in the air, indicating 10 seconds. Galloway leans into the microphone.
“This is Metro Morning on Wednesday, September 14th. I’m Matt Galloway,” he says, pausing for a beat before sing-songing: “Good morning.”
If you are one of the roughly 200,000 Torontonians who tune into Metro Morning each weekday for some part of the three-hour broadcast, Galloway’s voice may well be the first thing you hear in the morning, often before you even open your eyes.
On most days, the show boasts the largest audience of any radio morning show in the city, with a 16.3 per cent share of the market (their nearest competitors at CHUM and CHFI occasionally grab the top spot). Listeners tune in to hear the clear-voiced Galloway steer them through a choreographed series of five- and seven-minute segments covering a hodgepodge of issues—Muslim-Canadian identity, Mayor Rob Ford’s austerity plans, vocal surgery, Garth Drabinsky’s prison sentence, TTC service cuts, the erosion of cursive handwriting—that will ostensibly touch Toronto that day.
Though Galloway took over Metro Morning a year and a half ago from long-time host Andy Barrie, his profile, and his audience, have increased considerably since the polarizing election of Mayor Ford last fall. Toronto has become a city deeply at odds with itself, gripped by an ideological culture war touching everything from bikes and cars to zoos, libraries, taxes, transportation and the waterfront. In the middle of all the nutty rhetoric, Galloway has landed in a unique role: that of rational, benevolent facilitator. “People are anxious in the city right now,” he says. “I keep referring back to the central question, ‘What kind of city do you want to live in?’ That’s what’s being asked of Torontonians right now, and it’s our job to see that Torontonians are heard.”
Fair-minded and cordial (some might say to a fault), he’s the one journalist that everyone, left and right, will agree to talk to—even the notoriously media-leery Ford camp. “Matt asks good questions and he gives you a fair shake,” says city councilor and Ford ally Denzil Minnan-Wong, who appeared on Metro Morning recently to discuss the math behind the budget shortfall.
Several weeks back, Galloway had Doug Ford on the show, discussing his proposed plans for the Port Lands. It was the first extended interview the councillor (and the mayor’s mouthpiece) had given since he’d announced his vision of a ferris wheel/monorail/megamall the day before. Galloway gave Ford plenty of space to describe his idea in all its Epcot Center glory and asked serious, intelligent questions about the feasibility of the plan (“Why is… a mega-mall something we should have on our waterfront?”). But he let the man talk.
In person, a casual observer might describe Galloway as about as much of a bike-riding, downtown pinko as you’ll find anywhere in Toronto (his stated pastimes include farmers’ markets, supporting community arts organizations and, of course, cycling). Like-minded people—especially those who were accustomed to Barrie’s confrontational, take-no-prisoners interviewing style—may criticize him for not doing enough to hold city officials accountable. (“So far I have been disappointed with his work,” says Howard Bernstein, a Toronto media critic and former CBC producer who suggests perhaps Galloway should’ve stuck with “arts-based material.”) But Galloway’s approach—providing a welcoming forum where people of opposing views feel comfortable enough to talk openly and honestly—is arguably exactly what a city needs in an increasingly cynical political and media environment. And it’s effective: Galloway may not go for the jugular, but he gives politicians plenty of rope to hang themselves. That Doug Ford interview, and the ensuing rehashing of it in the local media, arguably did more to galvanize opposition to the councillor’s waterfront plan, and vanquish his brother’s popularity, than any gaffe or report in the past year.
Galloway introduces a pre-taped panel discussion with four guests from the city’s Muslim communities describing their post-9/11 experiences. He stresses the syllables of the word “commune-it-tees,” driving home to listeners that Muslims in Toronto come from many different, and often conflicting, backgrounds. As the first segment plays, the host sits silently, cradling his chin, listening intently.
Galloway is 40, trim, quick-moving, with a freckled nose and a broad, thin smile. He was born in Newmarket, but his family moved to a hamlet of 60 homes called Kimberley, just west of Collingwood, when he was eight. They didn’t even get radio reception. His mother, Judy, grew up on a farm nearby. His father, Doug, an African-American from Philadelphia, came to Canada as a draft dodger. “He wasn’t really a kid that asked a lot of questions,” says Judy, a retired teacher. “He sourced out a lot of things on his own.” In high school, one of his teachers recalls Galloway delivering the morning announcements over the PA system with a particular panache.
Growing up, Galloway saw Toronto as the place “where it happened,” and says that during school trips, he was fascinated by the rainbow of faces he’d see in the streets. In the early 1990s, he moved here to study English literature at York University, where he hosted a late-night campus music show. That gig led to jobs with CBC and music-writing for NOW magazine. Galloway also met his partner, Alison, when she called into his York show. They now live with their two kids near Christie Pits.
To this day, it’s Galloway’s outsider’s curiosity that drives Metro Morning. “It’s still awesome to me because I didn’t grow up here,” he says. “I don’t take it for granted. This is a big city, but we have a tendency to lock ourselves into our own neighbourhoods.” He still likes to spend his non-working hours exploring different pockets of the city and its suburbs, biking in new neighbourhoods, taking streetcars to the end of the line, and eating at random ethnic restaurants in far-flung strip malls.
Listen to him long enough and your sense of complacency dissipates, as he describes Chinese lantern festivals in Markham or a new play at Harbourfront with infectious enthusiasm. “Politics is a fraction of what we talk about on this program,” he says. “If you want to reflect the city, you talk about what people are talking about on the streets, whether that’s music, finance, real estate or food.” This cultural cheerleading drove Galloway’s success on the afternoon show Here and Now, which he hosted from 2004 until he was tapped as Barrie’s successor.
As his popularity has grown, the CBC has made every effort to turn Galloway into a marketable commodity. Billboards, bus ads and regular CBC promos promote him as the network’s voice of Toronto. Galloway isn’t entirely comfortable with the attention—one of the advantages of being a radio personality is a certain degree of anonymity. But his listeners are devoted. They take his recommendations to heart and stop him on the street to share their own experiences. They talk to him on Twitter (@metromorning). They absorb the city, day by day, through his eyes.