Everybody Has a Story: Marcella Chernoff

Feeding the desire for writing, journalism and mucic

Even at 16 Castlegar resident, Marcella Doucette (now Chernoff), knew what she wanted – she wanted her life filled with anything having to do with writing, journalism or music.

“I wrote songs when I was little. It kind of ran in the family. My mother and uncle both wrote songs for a pastime,” said Chernoff.

So it was with great enthusiasm that she found herself having to make a work experience choice in Grade 10.

“I was given the choice of either the newspaper or the radio station. I picked the radio station because of my love of music,” she said. That radio station was Castlegar’s CKQR, then owned by Gordon Brady.

“Music has always been a part of my life and I thought it would be cool to go to the radio station,” Chernoff explained.

That one decision would set the course of her life and would turn into a 32 year love affair with the radio industry.

“I absolutely loved it. At first they had me writing a short little news story or a commercial.”

But Chernoff wasn’t satisfied with simply writing news stories or commercials; she hungered for more.

“All the while I was doing that I was watching the deejays through the glass and I thought, ‘I want to do that.’ So I talked with the deejays and asked them how I could get into that.”

The deejays took her under their wings and taught her how to fly.

“They took me into the production room and recorded my voice. They wanted to hear what I sounded like,” Chernoff explained.

Evidently, they liked what they heard. But CKQR owner, Brian Brady, wasn’t as keen about having a female voice on the air. After all, it was 1979 and the inclusion of women in a mostly male-dominated occupation was rare – in fact, it would be the first in Castlegar should Brady give in.

“I kept pestering him for a chance because I thought it was something I really needed to do.”

Chernoff admits she was relentless and somewhat frantic to maintain a foothold in the industry before the conclusion of the work experience.

“I spoke with Gordon and I told him I thought I could really do the job. The deejays helped speak with Gordon too, and finally he said, ‘We will give it a try.’”

That June, just out of 10th Grade, Chernoff would begin her career as a deejay.

“I started working part time. The other deejays helped train me.”

By July of that year, Chernoff was hired as a fill-in for the 1 to 2 p.m. spot.

With eyes sparkling in remembrance Chernoff spoke of those early days.

“Back then there was no such thing as a format. It was a free for all. We got to pick our own music.”

With a laugh she recalled doing just that.

“We were using 45s and LPs. We would go into the library and pick our songs and then leave markers so others wouldn’t duplicate the songs during their shift.”

While that sounds good in theory, in practice it doesn’t always work out that way.

“There was one song, If You Don’t Know Me By Now, which got played four times in one day. We had multiple copies and didn’t know it.”

Before she knew it, Chernoff was the Saturday morning announcer and she loved it!

“I would have to catch the Glade ferry by 4:30 a.m. I started work at 5 a.m. and I was on the air at 6. I would have to pick songs and commercials and go through the huge stack of Teletype which had been running all night. I had to sort and pick through it to make relevant news.”

Before long Chernoff had a following and she became a local celebrity.

“I think people thought it was refreshing to hear a female voice. They said it was pleasant to listen to,” she said with a fond smile.

Fast forward through post-graduate education and several related jobs, Chernoff once again found herself in Castlegar by choice.

After marrying her sweetheart Ken Chernoff in May, 1984, Chernoff was once again hired by CKQR that same year.

“I was a part-time fill-in for quite a few years.

Which suited Chernoff just fine; she was also busy being a wife to a shift worker and a mother to two young sons.

Chernoff looks back on those days with fondness. She remembers the camaraderie with co-workers and warmly recounts the many people who looked forward to hearing her voice on the air.

One of those people was a Russian gentleman who regularly phoned Trader Phone, CKQR’s live, on-air marketplace.

“One gentleman, a local caller, always had something for sale. One day he called up and said, ‘I have a bed for sale. The mattress is nice and clean. There’re no pee stains or nothing.’”

“I almost spit my coffee all over the control board,” she added.

In fact, there was many times Chernoff had to maintain control not just during Trader Phone, but other times when co-workers would try to get her to lose composure while on air.

“I would be reading the news and they’d turn off the lights and light a candle. They tried everything on me.”

Throughout the years Chernoff added to her growing skills. She became more than proficient at many deejay associated duties.

“They used to call me the one-take wonder. I could do a 30 or 60 second commercial to a T without having to do a retake.”

For Chernoff, the industry has seen many, huge changes thanks to technology, but one thing has remained the same – her love for what she does.

She loves that despite no longer being on-air except for commercials and such, people on the street still remember her.

“I’ve had a great career and no regrets.”

Nowadays Chernoff mostly sells ads for the radio station, but even that never fails to warm her heart.

“The job I now have gets me out in the community. I have never, ever throughout my career imagined doing something different. I’ve met famous people and rubbed elbows with the community. It doesn’t get any better,” concluded Chernoff.