Well-known journalist, Ed Swain, passes away

Bill Bowman
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Swain worked more than half-century in the media

Ed Swain, one of the most recognizable voices in the provincial media for many years, has passed away. He was 71.

Standing on Water Street, Carbonear, Ed Swain gets ready to prepare another report for NTV News. Television is his latest medium in a long career that started in radio and included print and public relations. He has been NTV's voice in Conception and Trinity Bays for the past decade.

Swain died Sunday, June 15, and leaves to mourn his lifelong partner, Stella.

A celebration of Ed’s life will take place on Thursday, June 19 from 2-4 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 23, Bannerman Street, Carbonear.

As a tribute to Swain, The Compass presents below an article written by former editor Bill Bowman in December 2010.

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By Bill Bowman

Note: published Dec. 7, 2010

"In Carbonear, this is Ed Swain for NTV Neeewwwsss."

It's likely you've heard this distinctive sign-off after a report on the evening news. But there is a lot you didn't know about the man behind the camera, who's been the voice of NTV in Conception Bay North and Trinity South for the past decade.

For starters, and here's a shocker, his real name is not even Ed, or Edward. He was baptized Everett Gerald Swain on Bell Island, where he was born July 28, 1942. But to his radio and TV audiences, he has been known as Ed for his entire 46-year career in the media, making him the longest-serving active member of the media in this province, and in a select group nation-wide.

Why Ed? He got his new name during his first job in the media.

"I went home to Bell Island on my two days off, and while there the ice blocked the tickle and I got stranded on the island," Swain recalls.

His first media boss, then VOCM news director Noel Vinicombe, told Swain to do as many voice reports as possible from the island. At the end of his reports, he would sign off as "Everett Swain reporting..."

When he returned to the station, Vinicombe said he needed a new moniker. Everett was too long, and it sounded like a disease, Vinicombe told Swain.

The rest, as they say, is history. It's been Ed ever since.

First interview

Swain has done countless interviews during his career, but it wasn't until earlier this month that he found himself in the spotlight, answering questions from a reporter.

During a wide-ranging interview at his apartment in Carbonear, Swain spoke about his life and work, noting that he was bitten by the media bug at an early age.

As a boy he sold the Evening Telegram, Sunday Herald and the Daily News. After completing his route, he used to spread the newspapers on his bed and read the stories aloud, pretending he was on the radio.

"I got to brush shoulders with some of the giants of the industry of that era. People like Don Jamieson, John Nolan, Bob Lewis, Merve Russell, Jim Thoms, Bill Williamson and Noel Vinicombe of VOCM. They were great people to work for," he recalls.

After graduating from high school in 1960, Swain moved to Gander, and eventually got a job pumping gas for Bennett Motors. At night he took courses in typing and shorthand, skills that would later become invaluable to the budding journalist.

When City Motors took over Bennett, Swain became a manager. It was also in Gander that he met Bill Williamson, operations manager for VOCM Radio. Williamson told Swain to look him up if he was ever in St. John's.

Eventually, Swain moved to the capital city, taking a job with Import Motors on Elizabeth Avenue. But the broadcasting bug never left, so he started calling Williamson at least once a month, inquiring about job opportunities.

His persistence eventually paid off, and Swain took a serious pay cut - from $65 weekly at Import Motors to $35 at VOCM - to get on the air. That was in 1964. In less than a year, his pay increased to $50.

"That was a lot of money back then," he recalls, adding the pay is better now.

His first assignment was covering the visit of the president of the Canadian Students Union. He also covered Supreme Court trials, the House of Assembly and City Hall.

Much like today, there was a race to be "first with the news," Swain says.

He later joined the migration to the mainland, and found himself in Sudbury, Ont., Canada's nickel capital. He landed a gig with CKSO Radio and Television, and recalls being sent to cover a tragic accident that continues to haunt him.

"It was on Highway 17 West. An older gentleman driving a big Cadillac had a heart attack, lost control of his vehicle and struck a Volkswagen bus carrying a young family of seven. There were no survivors. I never want to see anything like that again," Swain says.

He prefers to remember the more positive highlights of his career, like sitting down in Corner Brook in 1970 with the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

Trudeau was one of four prime ministers Swain interviewed during his career. He also interviewed all nine Newfoundland premiers since Confederation.

Swain has interviewed politicians of all stripes, including NDP stalwarts Tommy Douglas, Ed Broadbent and David Lewis.

Swain met and shook hands with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, but notes the highlight of his career was meeting Dianna, Princess of Wales, during her 1983 visit.

He recalls covering the infamous incident of the burning of the ballots in Sally's Cove in the 1971 provincial election. The race between Tory Ed Maynard and Liberal Trevor Bennett was close enough to warrant a recount. But Olive Payne allegedly burned the ballots on election night.

Swain and Gerry Basha went to Sally's Cove in hopes of getting an interview with Payne. Their attempts at gotcha journalism came up short.

"We parked outside her house and I was rigged with a microphone under my sleeve and wire trailing behind me. However, it was all in view. A person answered the door and said she wasn't home. But we did manage to get pictures of the house and the guy coming to the door."

The Sally's Cove story went national and is one of his best memories, Swain says.

He says one of the saddest sights of his career was witnessing the fading from popularity of Joey Smallwood. Swain recalls seeing Smallwood pacing the floor of a meeting hall in the early 1970s, with only about five people in the room.

In a desperate attempt to regain power, Smallwood had just founded the Liberal Reform Party. It would win only four seats in the 1974 election.

Technological revolution

Swain has witnessed how much technology has revolutionized the tools of his trade. In his early days on the job, computers were unheard of, never mind cellphones and other mobile communication devices. In the '60s an electric typewriter was a novelty, and reporters carried around clunkly manual typewriters, Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorders with about 100 feet of cord, and set up clumsy stands with three microphones, known in the trade as moose antlers.

Now Swain says all we need is a compact digital camera, micro-cassette mini recorder, and a mike.

After shooting his footage, Swain writes a script on his computer for the voice-over you hear on TV. He plugs his mike into the camera recording the video footage and records his voice report on the same tape. A courier delivers the cassette to the studio in St. John's for editing.

"I like to see the end result of my work on TV. When you cover an event, write it up and then 100,000 viewers get to see the end results of what you've produced that day, it gives you a great feeling. In the end, that's what it's all about," he says.

Swain has had his ups and downs over the years. His personal struggles included one incident that made him the subject of news reports, but he prefers not to discuss those matters.

Swain has spent most of his working life in the media, except for a few years in the late 1980s, when he served as press secretary in three government departments. And there was a time in the 1970s when he helped Dr. A.T. (Gus) Rowe get elected as the first Tory MHA for Carbonear.

Swain is from a family of life-long Liberals, so the reaction - especially from his father - was predictably frosty when he went to work for Rowe.

But he still gets a charge out of his job, and says he has not regrets.

"If I had it to do all over again, I would," he says.

 

A career history of journalist Ed Swain

1964-1966- VOCM St. John's

1966-1968 - CJON Radio and Television

1968-1970 - CKSO Radio and Television, Sudbury, ON

1970-1975 - CBC Radio and TV, Corner Brook

1975-1977 - McLean's Media Relations, Toronto and St. John's

1977-1978 - Dept. of Rural Development

1978-1980 - freelance journalist, CBC, Newfoundland Herald, The Compass

1980-1984 - news director, CHVO, Carbonear; Q-Radio, Harbour Grace

1984-1986 - freelancing and Dept. of Social Services, Harbour Grace

1986-1989 - press secretary, Departments of Social Services, Municipal Affairs and Treasury Board

1989-2000 - Telegram news representative for CBN area; and The Courier

2000-present - news representative for NTV, Trinity-Conception

 

About Ed Swain

• Name - Everett Gerald (Ed) Swain

• Age - 68

• Hometown - Bell Island

• Resides - Carbonear

• Parents - Eli Swain, Perry's Cove; Effie Swain, Victoria

• Education - Grade 11, Jackson Memorial High, Bell Island, Class of 1960

• Organizations - Loyal Orange Lodge and Royal Black Perceptory, Carbonear; associate member, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 23, Carbonear

• Hobbies - playing music; reading, watching sports, especially baseball, hockey and curling

Organizations: Import Motors, Daily News, VOCM Radio Canadian Students Union Supreme Court Volkswagen NDP CBC Radio Social Services Liberal Reform Party Orange Lodge and Royal Black Perceptory Royal Canadian Legion Branch

Geographic location: Carbonear, Bell Island, Trinity South Gander St. John's Sudbury Elizabeth Avenue Canada Corner Brook Newfoundland Wales Toronto St. John's1977 Victoria

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  • Neil Earle
    December 09, 2010 - 17:58

    Nice job, Bill--this man has what we can call stature in the news business--more than we can say for the blondes on FOX news or some Presidential press secretaries--I'll have to look him up next time I'm home. Ever thought of interviewing Florence Button with all the positive things she is up to. Neil Earle Duarte, CA