Remembering Toronto broadcaster Mark Elliot, champion on radio of drug addicts, alcoholics and people suffering from mental illness

 

From where I sit On The Kowch, I was very sad to hear that Mark Elliot, a champion on the radio of the addicted and alcoholics has died. He was a friend and one of my first hires when I became Program Director at CFRB Radio in Toronto. He was the host of People Helping People on weekends and hosted The Nightside overnights during the week. More times than not he had the Number One show in his timeslot on Toronto radio.

Mark (AKA Nils Johanson) understood the power of radio to reach out to people to entertain, inform and help them. I saw this firsthand as the PD at CFRB when we hired him to host People Helping People, a show that reached out to addicts, alcoholics or people with mental health issues.

His deep compassion for callers was rooted in his been there done that history of an abused gay teenager, alcoholic, drug addict and sufferer of depression. All this while being one of the top broadcasters in Ottawa.

Mark Elliot

People Helping People host Mark Elliot

By the time I worked with him at CFRB, he was established as the guy on the radio who helped people most of us would ignore if we crossed paths with them on the street. But not Mark (he’ll always be Mark Elliot to me) who would take their calls and give them a voice long before Bell Media’s annual Let’s Talk campaign. During the Christmas period he would be on air 14 days in a row taking calls from the lonely, the depressed and his stable of regular callers. For many of them, he was the only friend they had or the only person who cared. Mark treated them on air like family.

And while I may have thought Mark was a one trick poney broadcaster, I discovered he was more than that. When Toronto and most of Ontario was in the dark from a massive power failure, it was Mark Elliot who helped listeners stay calm, be informed and shared their stories on air.

Mark became my go to guy at night and weekends to host breaking news events. He co-hosted with Michael Coren an extraordinary and highly emotional radio town hall meeting on same sex marriage when the country was deciding to make it legal. Coren against and Mark in favour.

Mark helped CFRB win news awards with his coverage. But for him, that wasn’t why he was on the radio. He just wanted to help people. So much so, when CFRB wanted to cancel the show because of budget cuts, Mark did it for FREE until he could no longer afford to put gas in the car to drive in from his cheap Niagara apartment to host the show. Not being on the radio was killing him. I had supper with him and Jarrett one night last year and the sadness in his voice had replaced the optimism he always had when he was on the radio.

And then when it was time to sing happy birthday to Jarrett that night in the restaurant, his mood perked up and I could feel the love these two guys had for each other.

Click here to read comments on Toronto’s Southern Ontario/WNY Radio-TV Forum about Mark’s death.

From where I sit On The Kowch, my thanks to Jarrett for being there for Mark during the past 20 years. Your love was with him to the very end. My condolences to Jarrett and all who knew Mark and benefited from his kindness and compassion. RIP, my friend.

kowchmedia consultant Steve KowchSteve Kowch ran two of Canada’s largest newstalk radio stations in Montreal and Toronto for more than 14 years. He was National Director of NewsTalk Radio Programming for Astral Media. He was a professor at two of Toronto’s leading broadcast schools and is the author of   99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Making It BIG In Media Today Steve is Canada’s leading media coach at kowchmedia helping emerging radio talent chase their dream to become great broadcasters.

Contact Steve at 647-521-6397 or email steve@kowchmedia.com