CBC North Country off air as host takes sabbatical

Northern Manitobans seeking news and stories about their region have one less voice to inform them now as long-time CBC North Country host Mark Szylszlo, who’s been on the air in the morning and noon for decades, is on a sabbatical until the fall.

Szyszlo’s been planning this time away from the radio routine for a few years now, since CBC introduced a program through which employees could set aside a portion of their salary to bankroll a self-funded leave and will be back on the air after Labour Day. 

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Still, some habits are hard to break and the long-time radio voice of Manitoba’s north says he’s still getting up early, though he’s managing to sleep in a little more as the days go by.

“I’ve always been a morning person,” he says. 

John Bertrand, the senior managing director for the prairies and north region with CBC’s English services, said in a Jan 13 email that the broadcaster has begun the process of seeking out an interim replacement for Szyszlo, who hosted North Country weekdays at 7:30 a.m. and noon, but until one is found, the program will be on a short-term hiatus.

“In the meantime, North Country listeners will hear Information Radio with host Marcy Markusa in the morning and Radio Noon with host Janet Stewart,” Bertand wrote. “We’ll also work to ensure that Northern stories and survival information is included in our programming.”

Bertrand said the CBC would consider internal and external candidates for the temporary hosting role.

Szyszlo’s role as the CBC’s voice in Northern Manitoba, which will mark it’s 29th year in 2015, was threatened by budget cutbacks in 2009, when the CBC announced that its Thompson operation as well as its one-person bureau in La Ronge, Sask. were among 800 positions being cut in an effort to save $171 million. That prompted Churchill MP Niki Ashton to spearhead a campaign to save the northern stations, bringing the issue up in the House of Commons and presenting a petition with 1,300 signatures just days before the CBC’s May 15, 2009 announcement that the programs were no longer on the chopping block.

Szyszlo was born in Poland and grew up in Ottawa, where he first got the broadcasting bug on campus radio at the University of Ottawa and later at Western University. He started with CBC as a journalist and freelance documentary producer in the mid-1980s before coming to Thompson in 1986. He says his time off will include a lot of travelling, some of it to catch up with old friends who used to live in Thompson that he’s lost contact with over the years.

“It’ll be nice just to relax a bit,” says Szyszlo.

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