Ghostwriter – Author – Journalist

Bill Rodgers: Hard-working broadcaster learned on the job

By on September 5, 2016 in Articles with 0 Comments

Bill Rodgers is seen reporting from an Ottawa scrum in the 1990s, flip phone in hand. (Courtesy of the Government of Canada)

Bill Rodgers is seen reporting from an Ottawa scrum in the 1990s, flip phone in hand.
(Courtesy of the Government of Canada)

Bill Rodgers, who died of a heart attack in Ottawa on Aug. 12 at the age of 64, was a hard-working daily news reporter for CFTO, CTV’s top-rated Toronto station, as well as co-host of its current affairs programs such as Hour Long, and eventually became the station’s Ottawa-based political reporter.

Though he was a familiar figure on the airwaves, most people watching did not know that his real name was Kittelberg. His name change came early in his career, prompted by the manager of the Stratford, Ont., radio station CJCF, where he got his start.

“His first boss told him he needed an on-air name that was audience-friendly. Because of his family background, he didn’t really care about changing it,” said his daughter Lori Kittelberg.

Bill Rodgers was born William Lyle Kittelberg on April 25, 1952, in St. Thomas, Ont. His father, Karl Kittelberg was a German immigrant; his mother, Mary Dodge, was of indigenous-Canadian ancestry. A short time after his birth, young Bill was placed in foster care with the Goodearle family of Rodney, Ont.

“He considered the Goodearles his real family,” Ms. Kittelberg said.

After high school, Mr. Rodgers went into the radio business. He never went to journalism school, opting instead to learn on the job. He had a naturally deep voice – a great set of pipes, as they say in the radio business – but perfecting an on-air voice takes practice.

After working at three stations in small-town Ontario, Mr. Rodgers landed a job in Halifax, a major market, in 1974. At the radio station CHNS, he became news director, which meant that he was the chief news reader. Three years later, he moved to the big time as a news reader and reporter at CFRB, the biggest private radio station in Canada. A year later, he moved to television when he was hired as a news reporter at CFTO, the CTV affiliate in Toronto. It was owned by the Eaton and Bassett families at the time and the station put a lot of money and effort into preserving its No. 1 status in local evening news.

People working at CFTO were allowed to moonlight as long as it wasn’t for a direct competitor, so both Mr. Rodgers and his colleague Ian Slack read the news at CFRB on weekends. Mr. Rodgers was almost finished the four-to-midnight shift one Saturday in November when the phone lines lit up.

“It was Nov. 10, 1979, and the Mississauga train derailment had just happened,” said Ian Slack, who was Mr. Rodgers’s assignment editor at CFTO. The train derailment caused a huge explosion, which led to a mass evacuation in the suburban city west of Toronto. Mr. Rodgers headed out to cover the derailment for television as soon as his radio shift was over.

“Bill and his crew got some great footage and interviews with eyewitnesses. He kept working without complaining. He must have worked 36 hours straight,” said Mr. Slack, who worked the overnight news-reading shift at CFRB that night.

Mr. Rodgers enjoyed reporting on local and provincial politics, and in 1984, he moved to Ottawa to work for CFTO out of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. There he was on the lookout for federal stories with a Toronto angle. He interviewed every prime minister and cabinet minister of the era.

When he left CFTO in 1999, he started his own consulting business. He worked on a political campaign for Joe Clark, the former Progressive Conservative prime minister. Following that, he went back to journalism, writing a column for the Toronto Sun.

Bill Rodgers’s politics were mildly centre-right, and he could best be described as a Red Tory. In 2006, he went to work as director of communications for Jim Prentice, who was then Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and stayed with him for four years.

“He was at my side the entire time I was a federal government minister,” said Mr. Prentice, who went on to be the Minister of Industry, then Minister of the Environment.

“Bill had promised to write a book about our years together in federal politics and always said that it would be titled From Paris to Pikangikum [a First Nation near Kenora, Ont.]. I never knew whether he was serious about that title or not, but our adventures covered both places and everywhere in between,” Mr. Prentice said.

Mr. Rodgers never mentioned his aboriginal heritage to most of his work colleagues, including Mr. Prentice.

“Bill never spoke much about his father or his mother. I always suspected that he had some First Nation ancestry, because of the passion he evinced for aboriginal people and [his desire for] the resolution of aboriginal issues and improving the lives of aboriginal people; he had a strong interest in native affairs,” Mr. Prentice said.

Mr. Rodgers accompanied Mr. Prentice to a G8 environment summit in Italy in 2009. It was a place where many Canadian soldiers had fought and died in the Second World War, and the two men went to visit a remote war memorial and Canadian military graveyard in Agira.

“Bill always tried to maintain a gruff exterior, but underneath, he was a gentle guy with a huge heart for Canada and for everyone who was part of it. I recall how we both struggled to contain our emotions as we walked up and down the rows of white Canadian headstones,” Mr. Prentice recalled. “I turned to Bill and saw that he was sobbing. He walked to the edge of that Sicilian hillside and stood there alone for a long time.”

After Mr. Prentice left office in 2010, Mr. Rodgers stayed on as communications director to other ministers, but left shortly after the Tories won their majority election in 2011. Some of his colleagues said he couldn’t get along with the new Prime Minister’s Office.

More than one person who worked with him mentioned Mr. Rodgers was a heavy smoker. “He was always trying to quit, but he couldn’t,” his daughter, Lori, said.

Bill Rodgers leaves his wife, Marian (née Dill); his daughters, Lori and Michelle; his two grandsons; and his foster brother and sisters from the Goodearle family.

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About the Author

About the Author: Fred has had a full career as a CBC TV host and reporter. He has written countless articles for many renowned publications such as The Economist, The Globe and Mail, BusinessWeek and many more, as well as more than 2000 obituaries. He is also a successfully published author and ghostwriter. His current projects include writing and co-authoring books, as well as lending his talents as a speaker and interviewer for webcasts. .


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