Jack Latimer’s velvety-smooth voice has provided the soundtrack for Orillians for more than four decades. To hear him on the radio is like meeting an old friend over coffee – it’s comforting and welcome and familiar. It feels like home.
On Feb. 14, Jack Latimer will end his 46-year radio run, hang up his microphone and walk out of the KICX 106 studio for the last time with his head held high, leaving on his terms and ready for the next phase of his life: retirement.
“I’m happy and sad at the same time,” said Latimer. “I’ve been richly blessed, because this is a great business. That’s one of the hardest things I’m faced with in retiring because I still love what I do. The alarm clock has been going off at 3 a.m. for so many years ... It’s going to be different.”
Latimer has served as the morning announcer and program director at KICX since it hit the airwaves in 1993. But his career, and his impact on Orillia, started much, much earlier.
It was in a Grade 11 electricity class at Park Street Collegiate Institute where a young Latimer, unwittingly, began his foray into the radio business. Colour-blind, Latimer was struggling with a cable snarled with multiple wires of various shades twisted into a mess. At that point, he realized a career as an electrician might not be in the cards.
“Brian Pounder was the teacher of the class and he had a conversation with me about what I wanted to do with my life,” Latimer recalls. “I remember saying, ‘Well, this radio thing sounds interesting.’”
Not long after, Pounder contacted someone at CFOR, Orillia’s hometown AM station, and brokered a meeting between Latimer and staff in the newsroom. They suggested Latimer file a weekly high-school football report. “And that’s how it started,” Latimer says with a chuckle. “It was a big deal to me.”
Looking back, Latimer says the bigger deal was Pounder’s assistance. “All of this is just because of Brian Pounder, who spent a little time with a kid. I still see him from time to time and I think he’s the most special guy.”
For Latimer, that football job opened many doors. It allowed him to meet decision makers and on-air staff at CFOR. In both Grade 11 and Grade 12, he volunteered and offered help at the West Street station whenever he had a spare minute.
He got another break when CKMP in Midland hired him, part-time, to do a weekly Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning shift. The day he graduated from high school in June of 1972, he was hired full-time by CKMP, working as the evening announcer from 6 p.m. to midnight.
But he wanted to work at home. And in January of the following year, he got a call from Rusty Draper and was hired full-time to work at CFOR. “I just remember Jack would come in after school and he would do anything,” Draper recalls. “He’d offer to file records or just do menial tasks. Any chance he got, he would be in there practising, taping … he was serious about it. It was one of my best decisions to hire Jack.”
Over time, a driven Latimer aspired to move up in the business. And the only way to do that, at the time, was to move away. So, in 1978, he moved to Timmins to become a station manager. “My wife cried all the way to Timmins,” said Latimer.
While he enjoyed his new expanded role, Timmins “was a long way from home,” so he jumped at the opportunity to return to CFOR in 1981. He managed the popular local station until 1985 when the company offered Latimer a chance to become a senior manager, overseeing two AM and two FM stations in North Bay and Timmins. For five years, he lived in North Bay.
At that point, the company, Telemedia, began buying up community newspapers and Latimer returned to Simcoe County as the manager of CKMP (the radio station in Midland that first hired him) and the regional manager of community newspapers in Midland, Penetanguishene, Wasaga Beach and Elmvale.
“It was crazy,” Latimer said of that job. “The papers were losing bags of money. I remember the VP came to me after a couple years and asked me when the papers were going to start making money. I remember telling him: ‘They’re not!’”
Bleeding cash, Telemedia opted to “blow it all up and sold the newspapers.” Latimer was let go one day and, the following day, hired by KICX in the role that he has held ever since. “The on-air stuff is the fun stuff,” said Latimer. “Management isn’t fun. It’s a different world.”
During the early days of his return to Orillia, KICX was an AM country station. Soon after, it became an FM station and moved to Progress Park. And Latimer has been the one constant over the last quarter century at the station.
While he has nothing but fond memories, one of the highlights came in 2000. His bosses asked him to convince Don Lahay, the station’s promotions director, to accompany him to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Awards in Edmonton. “They told me he was going to get this big award, that it was a secret and I had to concoct a story to get him to come,” said Latimer.
It was only as the name of the Golden Ribbon Award for Outstanding Community Service was announced that Latimer realized he had been part of an elaborate setup. “We were sitting at the dinner table and I was thinking how excited Don would be to win this award, and they called my name,” recalls Latimer, whose first thought was they had made a mistake. “I was absolutely blown away.”
But it wasn’t the award that touched him. Several people in the community had worked together on the nomination and created a poignant video about Latimer’s impact that was aired at the awards event. “What the community did to put that time and effort into recognizing me … I was totally blown away. I was speechless.”
Those who know Latimer were not surprised by the award or by his longevity that allowed him to survive – and thrive – through five ownership changes. “Jack is a gentleman’s gentleman,” said Draper. “Nobody works harder.”
Latimer believes that work ethic was critical to his success. “I can still remember the days when Rusty Draper hired me,” he says. “I always had the attitude that I was going to sign my name to my work. So, if I did a commercial for a client, if I wasn’t totally willing, subconsciously, to sign my name to that piece of work, I’d do it over. I just believe that if you do any job, you should do it right.”
And while he was serious about his job, he admits it was just as often fun. He recalls fondly handling the controls on West Street to support Barry Norman as he broadcast the Orillia Terriers Allan Cup games from Spokane Washington in 1972 and wielding a razor blade to “cut and paste and do sound effects for commercials” on the old reel-to-reel machines.
Remotes, he recalls, were also memorable. “I remember going downtown Orillia to Zellers and setting up a remote in the front window,” says Latimer. “It was like packing up the whole radio station – we had to take all the records, all the commercials, the cart machines, the board. Then, when you were done, you’d tear it all down and haul it back to the radio station.”
Then, there were the summer Sunday traffic reports. In those days, Latimer would climb up on the top of the tower at the Orillia Chamber of Commerce building (now Orillia Honda) and try to get a look out over Highway 11. “There was no air conditioning and the sun was beating in through the windows,” he says. “I’m up there in shorts, no shirt, sweating … just so I could get a traffic report. There were some great times, for sure.”
While he won’t miss the gruelling schedule – he says his brain tells him he’s still 35 but his body reminds him he will turn 65 on Feb. 15 – he says he will miss the people. It’s why, 10 years ago, he began preparing for this day, by becoming a real estate agent – a job he’s juggled alongside his radio duties ever since. “I just can’t sit and do nothing. I’ve got to be doing something and that provides that people element I like.”
So, in retirement, he will continue to sell real estate. He also hopes to revisit his love of music. He recently bought a custom-made, pedal steel guitar. “I want to learn how to play that so I’m comfortable with it. I hope I can spend a little more time with my guitar and enjoy it. I’ve kind of lost that where I do stuff for myself. I can probably enjoy life a little bit better now instead of running 100 miles per hour.”
With that in mind, he is stepping back from some of his volunteer duties. “I’m going to take a break. I owe it to my wife because I’ve been carrying two jobs for 10 years and sometimes, in the evenings, I’m out at events,” he explains. “She has put up with a ton and supported me 110%; she’s very understanding. In my first year of retirement from radio, I owe her a little more time.”
That’s why they will be heading to Florida soon. Now that they are both retired, they hope to make annual pilgrimages to the sunny south. “I’ve only taken three weeks of vacation (at once) once and that was last year,” said Latimer. “It’s a whole new world.”