End Of An Era: Jack Peets Retires from The Airwaves
If you ask Jack Peets to identify what his greatest accomplishment was during his 42 year radio career, he may humbly suggest it was navigating a happy 34 year marriage to his wife Laurie and successfully raising their daughter Vivian. But fans who know the volatile nature of the radio industry might suggest the greatest achievement Jack “The Pizzaman” Peets managed to accomplish in his storied career is simply surviving over four decades in a market where radio personalities often vanished without warning.
Long-time radio listeners in St. Catharines, Niagara – and, more recently, Hamilton and Kitchener – are certainly familiar with the name and the voice, given the career stops Jack Peets has enjoyed at 1470 CHOW, 1220 CHSC, 610 CKTB, 105.7 EZ ROCK, 102.9 K-LITE FM, 99.5 KFUN and 97.7 HTZ-FM. As November draws to a close, however, so too does Jack’s perennial presence on the airwaves, as the St. Catharines-born radio personality is officially pulling off the headphones and retiring from his broadcast career.
“I didn’t win the lottery,” laughed Peets, when answering the obvious question, why leave now. “There are a lot of things I want to do. I’ll be in Florida for three months. My wife is retiring the same day. I don’t want to fill 43 hours of air time a week, which is what I’m doing now. Plus all the social media, the production schedule, the appearances. At this point in my life I want to do other things. It just feels right.”
Sitting behind a mic and talking to people has always “felt right” to Peets, who said all the signs for a career in radio were there since he was a young boy listening to local stations.
“I probably always knew that radio was what I was going to do,” said Peets, who’s celebrity status in the community was enhanced by his annual MC duties at events like the Miss Niagara and Miss Teen Niagara Pageants, the St. Catharines Volunteer Awards, the 40 Under 40 Business Awards and the Santa Claus Parade. “Going back to when I was six or seven years old, I had a little transistor radio. I used to listen to CKTB back then. It wasn’t until I was about 15 that I suddenly realized that was what I wanted to do. I got a little tape recorder for Christmas one year. I would pretend to do shows just for fun. I had a little turntable with a built in speaker. I’d record mainly me. Even then I was wrapped up in myself.”
After graduating high school, Peets decided to pursue his radio dream. He enrolled in the Niagara College Radio and Television Arts program in 1977, where instructors went to work teaching students the few core fundamentals expected of radio announcers.
“I remember one of the first things we learned was how to cue up a record and what levels were,” remembered Peets. “And how to ride a zero level. The instructor would sit in the booth with a speaker. You would have to sit in a studio and cue up a record and test your levels.”
While other students were going to class, the ambitious Peets accepted an invite from a friend and quickly found himself volunteering for an on-air shift at Brock University’s radio station.
“He phoned me up because he had no idea how to do a show. It was a three hour show on Friday afternoons. He said ‘why don’t you come out and help, you can do the second 90 minutes.’ This was in September, I had just started school, and all I knew how to do was turn on a mic and cue up a record. He hated it, so the next week he told me I could do the whole show. The guy following me quit as well. The next thing you know I was doing a six hour live show.”
With the lure of a $5-an-hour payment and the opportunity to talk on the radio, Peets’ began his radio career before he had even completed a full semester at Niagara. It was typical of the way fortune seemed to shine on the aspiring DJ, who bounced around on CHSC, CKTB, CHOW and CJBK in London before landing at St. Catharines’ fabled White House of Rock, becoming the first mid-day announcer at a new local rock station, 97.7 HTZ-FM. Within his first year at HTZ, Peets was offered the plum morning show – a position he quickly lost, when station owners Standard Broadcasting decided to rebrand that station and bring in the legendary Scruff Connors.
“I lost all my morning shows, every one,” laughed Peets. “I lost EZ Rock after nine years. I lost HTZ-FM to Scruff after two months. I was John Larocque’s cohost and lasted only two days. When I heard Scruff was coming, I was disappointed but thrilled at the same time. I knew that something special was about to happen at the station. It was a wild ride.”
Through multiple staff and ownership changes – from Standard to Affinity to Telemedia to Standard to Astral and finally to Bell Media – Peets was an on-air constant, surviving 17 years on HTZ-FM and another 11 on EZ Rock before being farmed out to additional Bell Media stations in other markets. It was a mark of consistency that reflected his “every man” appeal to both women and men regardless of the format he was working.
“I wasn’t a rocker, I never had a mullet,” said Peets. “I never lived the life. But I loved being on the radio more than anything, so it didn’t matter if it was rock or pop or country.”
That attitude, along with a solid work ethic, helped Peets last 42 years in an industry where storied careers often fall victim to the whims of bean counters and fickle program directors. It’s a good thing too, because like a lot of radio personalities who fall in love with the gig, a Plan B wasn’t really an option for Jack.
“I never had one, honest to God. I could have become one of those bitter old guys if I had lost my job. Maybe that’s part of it, that I never really thought of it. Or maybe I was just lucky. I’ll say I was more lucky than anything. I dodged a lot of bullets over the years.”
As for any sagely advice the soon-to-be-retired radio personality might have for young media hounds considering all the fame and fortune a career in radio has to offer, Peets says he may not be the best person to consult, given the fact he hasn’t looked for a job in over 33 years. That said, he does have a simple suggestion for aspiring radio hosts.
“I would only recommend it if you really want it. If you really want it like I really wanted it. I’m of the opinion that if you really want something, you’ll find a way to get it. If you have to go to Wingham or Yellowknife or work weekends in St. Catharines, you’ll work it. If it doesn’t turn out, maybe you didn’t really want it."
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