Campbell River lost a champion of community involvement and public discourse with the passing of Hugh Smith in December.
Television was in his blood from an early age. As a youth, he built an antenna in his parents’ backyard in Penticton. With it he was able to pull in television signals from U.S. stations.
He was part of the original crew to launch Vancouver’s CKVU (now Citytv), working in Master Control. It was the first station in Vancouver to transmit on the UHF band.
His love of broadcasting and community involvement drew him naturally to community broadcasting, first at Fraser Cable in Port Coquitlam.
In 1979, he heard about a unique opportunity in Campbell River, a community-owned cable television station called CRTV, that was attracting national attention, described by broadcast regulators as “one of the most vibrant and best-utilized operations in Canada.”
“I’d heard about CRTV as a one-of-kind system, owned by the people of Campbell River,” he remembered in 2007, as CRTV celebrated it’s 50th anniversary. “It gave me a chance to actually work with people and help them achieve the programming aspirations that they wanted to achieve.”
Smith was the Community Program Manager at CRTV for 28 years, cultivating, encouraging and supporting countless individuals and organizations, helping them to share their viewpoints, passions and causes. Providing a community forum for Campbell River to recognize it’s heroes, air grievances, and debate local issues, everything from Paws for Pets – a labour of love helping to connect pets with owners; to Let’s Go Fishing – the definitive local fishing show; to current events and municipal, school board, provincial and federal all-candidates debates.
As a unique, community cooperative station under the guidance and direction of Hugh Smith, CRTV was the natural place for local, regional, provincial and national leaders to present and defend their visions and opinions.
Smith was an innovator, not afraid to try new approaches, new ideas, and less-than-conventional efforts to improve quality and content. Working with volunteers and program hosts, he was able to enrich what CRTV had to offer the community.
For example, under his leadership, all-candidates debates evolved from the previously staid candidate statements taken in turn, to a more free-wheeling give-and-take exchange of ideas.
When the late Jack Layton, then federal NDP leader, came to Campbell River for a campaign rally in 2003, Smith was told Layton’s pre-election schedule was so busy that there wasn’t any time during the Campbell River visit for a studio interview, or even a “stand-up” at the rally.
Without missing a beat, Smith proposed what became known informally as “the kidnapping of Jack Layton” where Smith with the CRTV van picked up the wonderfully obliging NDP leader at the airport. With a camera tripod sandbagged between the front seats, Smith drove a rather circuitous route to the rally to provide maximum time for Layton to be interviewed in the back seat.
Under Smith’s leadership, CRTV had a tremendous impact on life in Campbell River, in large part by supporting those people working hard to make the community a better place. Not the least of many examples was the annual Rotary Auction, a major production that literally took over the CRTV studios for an entire weekend, raising well over a million dollars for local projects like the Seawalk, the Fishing Pier, Centennial Pool, the Millennium Trail and more.
“It’s wonderful to be able to work with the local groups, the different non-profit agencies in a way that’s beneficial to them and to the community as a whole,” Smith said in 2007.
He was also a mentor who helped to inspire and encourage the students who volunteered at CRTV, many who went on to careers in broadcasting, journalism and film. This was Smith’s living legacy.
In keeping with the spirit of CRTV, never was the community debate more lively, emotional, contentious and protracted than in the lead-up to the end of the cooperative station.
Smith retired after CRTV ceased to exist with the sale of the station to Shaw.
Alistair “Hugh” Hugh Guilmant Smith was born on May 28, 1948. He passed away, surrounded by family, following a battle with cancer on Dec. 14.
He will be missed by many, but his amazing contributions to life in Campbell River, past and present, should not be forgotten.