For a good chunk of each day, he’s alone with his thoughts — or at least, as alone as a guy can be when 50,000 people are listening in.
That’s the paradox faced daily by Red River College alum Casey Norman, who broadcasts his cultural musings to a devoted army of fans from the comfort of his studio at local rock station Power 97.
“I like interacting with the audience — it’s an immediate connection with the listeners,” says Norman, Power’s Music Director, Assistant Program Director and host of the Power Drive every weekday afternoon from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
“The great thing about Power 97 is that you can say something on the air, and before you’re even finished the sentence, someone’s on their cell phone calling you to talk about it.”
Norman, who graduated from RRC’s Creative Communications program in 2005, describes his current position as “the job I’ve always wanted,” so it’s no surprise that he’s been working up to it for the last 20 years or so.
Born and raised in St. James, he first discovered a love of music while rifling through his parents record collection (lucky for him, they were big fans of The Beatles and Leonard Cohen), but it wasn’t until junior high that he began seeking out more underground fare like the Dead Milkmen and They Might Be Giants.
His first radio gig was at the University of Winnipeg’s campus station while he was a student there in the late ‘90s, though — as with most origin stories — the position itself was about as entry-level as they come.
“I worked there for a year, and pretty much all I did was file CDs,” Norman recalls. “You would open up the CD plastic pack and then write ‘CKUW’ all over the disc with a marker so nobody would steal it.”
Eventually, he worked his way up to the broadcast booth, but since university stations were still closed-circuit in those days, pretty much the only people who heard his show were the ones congregated in the U of W’s smoking lounge. He jumped ship when the University of Manitoba landed the city’s first campus station frequency, bringing a longtime buddy along as a co-host and comedic foil.
Their UMFM show, dubbed The Rock ’n’ Roll Juggernaut, aired every Saturday night from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., and featured a mix of the co-hosts’ favourite acts — everything from lo-fi punk to Swedish garage-rock. Despite the late hour, they still managed to develop a cult following over the nine years they were on- air, and the experience convinced Norman to pursue radio as a career option.
While still involved with UMFM, he was accepted into RRC’s industry-renowned CreComm program, and when the College introduced its own radio station (KICK-FM) to the local landscape, Norman was among the first in line to pitch a show.
“At the time, KICK-FM was branded as kind of a roots, soul and R&B station,” he explains. “It was a throwback-type idea, so I said I wanted to do something like Maximum R&B — just a lot of garage-rock from the ‘60s, The Who and The Kinks and stuff from that era.”
Norman later finessed his original concept into a show called Young Man Blues, which spanned the early blues of the ‘20s and ‘30s through to the garage explosion of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. (In a nod to one of his favourite artists, he closed each show with a track by Canuck hero Neil Young.)
At the same time, he was also majoring in Broadcasting as part of his CreComm studies, which helped him navigate the subtle differences between hosting a live show and preparing one largely in advance.
“The Juggernaut, we did live every week,” he recalls. “But Young Man Blues, I produced in my apartment kitchen. So I had to learn how to produce a show. I bought a Radio Shack microphone, plugged it into my laptop, and started researching bands.”
The skills he picked up — both in his kitchen and the CreComm studios — served him well after graduation in 2005. He landed his first job at Power as a part-time producer, but within months was manning the mic for the early morning weekend shift (often while doing double- and sometimes triple-duty as a landscaper and a server!)
These days, he’s still doing triple duty: In addition to the drive-home slot, he’s responsible for programming the actual music at Power, as well as maintaining the station’s Rock Report blog. He’s even been known to produce and voice radio ads — in fact, his dulcet tones were most recently put to good use narrating the video tribute to Distinguished Alumnus John Gale, at Red River College’s 2010 Alumni Dinner.
On-air, Norman is an affable, energetic presence, monitoring the internet for news updates and pop culture tidbits, and mining his lack of sports-related knowledge for laughs in Power’s “Casey vs. Sports” segments — now an audience favourite.
He credits his time at Red River with helping to prepare him for real-world work, noting the breadth of media training — in particular the advertising, editing and journalism skills acquired — give him a definite advantage over many of his peers.
And while fans might be surprised to hear Norman describe himself as an introvert — “Microphones don’t phase me, but I’m not all that comfortable in front of large groups of people,” he says — he never misses an opportunity to interact with his listeners.
“It’s live radio,” he says with a grin. “That’s the coolest part of the job.”
Click here for more information on RRC’s Creative Communications program.
Click here for more information on Power97.