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Edmonton radio legend Bob Layton announces retirement

Click to play video 'Legendary broadcaster Bob Layton’s final day' Legendary broadcaster Bob Layton’s final day
WATCH ABOVE: He's been a trusted voice on Edmonton radio for 50 years.On Thursday, the last day of 2020, he signed off the last time. Fletcher Kent looks at Bob Layton's legacy – Dec 31, 2020

After 49 years on the air at 630 CHED, and 50 in the radio industry, Bob Layton has announced his retirement.

“I’ve been told for a couple of years now that I would just know when it was time,” Layton said. 

“I feel like it’s time.”

Layton’s career started after being interviewed by a reporter in the late 60s. He was a postal worker at the time and he and his coworkers went on an illegal strike for the right to strike.

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“We listened to the radio later and he didn’t say what we told him, he sort of put his own spin on it,” Layton said. “And I was mad about that for a long time.”

He told a coworker he wished he could be on the radio to tell it like it really is. That day, while driving home from work, an ad came on the radio for Columbia Broadcasting School.

“So I signed up for the course and a few months later I was on the air in Fort St. John, B.C.”
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Read more: Broadcasting legend Bob Layton celebrates 50 years in the industry

Fellow CHED legend Len Thuesen was hired to work in Fort St. John with Layton. The two dreamed of working for CHED and would listen to the station, then record tapes of what they would do if they were on the air and send the tapes to CHED.
“We would get letters back from CHED that said, ‘we don’t hire anyone with(out) five years experience. So you don’t need to bother sending anymore tapes.'”
Click to play video 'Legendary broadcaster Bob Layton retiring after 50-year career' Legendary broadcaster Bob Layton retiring after 50-year career
Legendary broadcaster Bob Layton retiring after 50-year career – Dec 30, 2020
But the two kept sending tapes and the persistence paid off. After 15 months in Fort St. John, CHED told Layton to come to Edmonton for a shot.
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“I got hired — not to go on the air. I was hired as a writer for Frank Robertson, who was a great reader. And he loved my style of writing. And so I did that for a few months,” Layton said. 

Read more: Global Edmonton wins 7 RTDNAs, including U-Haul attack breaking news coverage

After Robertson quit, Layton got his shot to go on the air. It was 1971 and Layton has been on the CHED airwaves ever since.

“It’s nearly impossible to capture fully what Bob has meant to 630 CHED and radio news in Edmonton,” said Jon Vos, provincial program director for Corus radio in Alberta. “His impact and work has shaped so many broadcasters.

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“Bob’s gift has been his ability to truly connect with everyone through his news presentation style and of course his award-winning editorials.”

Click to play video 'Get to know Bob Layton' Get to know Bob Layton
Get to know Bob Layton – Apr 2, 2020
In 50 years, Layton has covered too many news stories to count, but two significant events stand out to him: the U.S. terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the Black Friday tornado which ripped through Edmonton in 1987.
“We had watched (9/11) happen here in the CHED newsroom. I was on with Eileen Bell and she said, ‘Bob, another plane has hit the other trade tower.’ And I said, ‘no, no, I don’t think so. I think that’s just a rerun of the first one.’ And we watched it all. And sure enough, she was right. It was the second plane and everything changed at that point.”
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Read more: Legendary broadcaster Bob Layton appointed to Western Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame

On July 31, 1987, 27 people died and hundreds were injured when an F-4 tornado ripped through east Edmonton and Strathcona County. Bob was sent to cover the aftermath at the Evergreen Mobile Home Park in the city’s northeast, where 15 people were killed.

“That was the first time in my life I saw a shipment of body bags. And that was it was quite a, I guess, a growing-up experience for me.”
But Layton’s biggest story and favourite memory was sparking the movement that saw Edmonton get its first police helicopter.
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Click to play video 'Chatting with longtime 630 CHED Santas Anonymous volunteer Bob Layton' Chatting with longtime 630 CHED Santas Anonymous volunteer Bob Layton
Chatting with longtime 630 CHED Santas Anonymous volunteer Bob Layton – Dec 14, 2019
After sharing an editorial about why Edmonton didn’t have one, a public fundraising campaign raised the first million needed in a year. A lottery raised the second million and the public bought the Edmonton Police Service a helicopter.
Layton is known for his editorials, even winning national awards for several of them. They started in the 1990s when then-manager Doug Rutherford told the news team it was time to start leaving comments out of the newscasts. Instead, Layton would have a dedicated space to provide his opinion.
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“The first year I did editorials, I won the national award for editorials,” Layton said. “I was just shocked.”

LISTEN BELOW: Bob Layton on 630 CHED over the years

Layton has written hundreds of editorials over the years, but three stand out. The first was the one that launched the helicopter campaign.

The second was after Neil Young visited and disparaged the Alberta oil sands.

The editorial basically said, if I ever met him in person, I’d like to show him my harvest moon.

The final one Layton did about the care of seniors in Alberta.

Read more: Bob Layton Editorial: Forced divorce

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“That was talking about the seniors when they need to go into special care, get separated because there isn’t room for husband and wife in the same room,” he said. “I talked about how my wife and I had been together since high school, and we hoped that they wouldn’t separate us when we got to the end-of-life school.

“We were lucky enough to get a national award for that one.”

Layton’s last day is fast approaching and he says it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“I’m going to miss everything. I love this job,” Layton said. “I love coming to work and not having any idea what’s going to happen in the next five minutes. Because news doesn’t stop.
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“News never stays the same. And that’s what I like about it.”

Throughout the years, Layton says he’s gone from learning from some of the biggest CHED names like Thuesen, Rob Christie, Bob McCord, Wes Montgomery, Chuck Chandler and “that whole gang.”

The 630 CHED morning team, including Bruce Bowie, Bob Layton and Eileen Bell, at an event with Wayne Gretzky. 630 CHED archives

But what’s been really meaningful for Layton is his transition from student to mentor.

“It feels so good when a beginner comes in and you show them what they need to do and they listen and they start doing it,” he said.
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“About half the staff here are people that I’ve trained and it has just been so fulfilling to see them move on and some of them move into higher positions. And that just makes me feel so good.”
Click to play video 'Bob Layton appointed to Western Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame' Bob Layton appointed to Western Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame
Bob Layton appointed to Western Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame – Jun 8, 2018

After being a trusted voice for so many years, Layton has one piece of parting advice for the listeners who have tuned in to him for so long.

“Over the years we’ve worked together and we’ve built up some trust,” he said. “They know that 630 CHED and Global News 880 are the stations that you turn to when something is happening. And that I hope that they will stay there and help and keep building on that trust.”
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Bob Layton awards a student with his certificate at the Bob Layton School of Broadcasting in the mid-1970s. Courtesy: Mark Summers

Layton’s last day on air will be Dec. 31.