Ramona the Brave
Host of CBC Radio’s CrossTalk on taking your calls, and the universal appeal of coyotes
Article by Lauren Power

Ramona Dearing has a knack for connecting with people. Every weekday, the host of CBC Radio’s CrossTalk opens the switchboard to the people of the province, handling every call with intellect, sensitivity, and genuine enthusiasm.

CrossTalk airs from noon till 1:30 p.m., Newfoundland time. Along with the news, weather, interviews, and music, the big draw is their daily phone-in portion of the show, which covers topics from every aspect of daily life in the province. Radio call-in shows have long been a part of the Newfoundland identity, giving politicians and private citizens equal footing on the soapbox to talk about their views.

“The appeal of this job is immense,” says Dearing. “I am so lucky to have this gig. I get to talk to some of our listeners every day, and I truly think of them as the CrossTalk family. Sometimes I get worried about some of our callers if I haven’t heard from them in a while.”

Every day, CrossTalk attracts a mix of regulars and new callers, chiming in on topics from public utilities to gardening to tattoo culture. “It’s so amazing when someone says that they’re a first time caller and that they’re a little bit nervous. You just feel so proud of them for calling in, and having their say on the issues of the day. It’s incredibly rewarding and at the same time, the guests that we tee up for the show, I get to pick their brains, and they may have been working on a particular aspect of research for 20 years.”

Illustration by Peggy Tremblett

Illustration by Peggy Tremblett

To bring all of these elements together, the CrossTalk team meets every morning. “At CrossTalk, working with a tiny but amazing team of people, we’re bouncing ideas off of each other all the time. We’ve got that feedback every day — what worked, what didn’t. I’m working with Francesca Swann who’s producing CrossTalk. And our technician Bob Sharp he keeps us on the air and does so many other things for us.”

With a daily show running at midday, Ramona and crew are often on the air as news is happening, receiving calls from people in their homes, in the offices, and in their cars.

“We try to connect with what’s important in people’s lives and very often that is tied to what’s in the news,” she says. “For example, today, we just did a show on whether or not our listeners support the privatization of some public services. So, there’s that, but there’s also the stuff that goes beyond the daily news.”
Even the most seemingly mundane topic can strike a chord with audiences. The March 2nd edition of CrossTalk asked “Are you sick and tired of cooking right now?” which was met with a deluge of callers who agreed wholeheartedly, who were running out of ideas and tired of preparing supper in the winter darkness.

“I had someone come up to me on the weekend saying, ‘Thank you for doing that show, because I am so sick and tired of cooking at this time of year!’ You want to strike that balance of news stories that matter and things that listeners have going on in their own lives. You can’t please everyone. You can’t pick a topic that everybody is going to be interested in. But then, the day Danny Williams resigned? I think everyone was listening.”

Ramona began her career as a television reporter, stationed in Goose Bay, but soon moved to CBC Radio in St. John’s. “I just fell into the broadcasting career. It wasn’t something that I had actually planned. I thought I’d probably wind up in publishing, because writing fiction is one of my loves. Writing fiction is a whole other way of looking at the world and interacting with the world.”

As a writer, Dearing has published several works of fiction and poetry, in journals like The Malahat Review, Grain, and Prairie Fire, and her collection of short stories, So Beautiful, was shortlisted for both the Winterset Award and the Danuta Gleed award.

“When I’m writing, it tends to be not about today. You’re thinking longer term. And it’s something that’s done in isolation, at least during the writing phase.”
Life on the air has brought plenty of new experiences and a few surprises for Dearing.

“My all-time favourite is to do any phone-in on coyotes,” she says. “I just love talking about them! It’s just really interesting to get the different points of view. We’ll always hear from a listener that wants every one of them hunted down, and then another listener calls to say that they’re part of the ecosystem. Sometimes, one caller will call to say, ‘Well, I’m against X!’ and I’ll think that it’s brilliant… I’m against X now, too! But then the next caller will say, ‘Well, I’m actually for X, for the following reasons…’ and I’ll think they’re right! Our listeners provide so much diversity in how you can look at an issue, and I absolutely love that. I’ve come to learn, from doing this show, that nothing is black and white. There are many ways of approaching an issue, and perhaps the more we listen to each other and each other’s thoughts and ideas, perhaps the better off we’d be.”

With the advent of social media, the radio call-in portion of the show has adapted, bringing in listener tweets and Facebook comments into the conversation. “You get different people who have different ways of expressing themselves. Use of phones is becoming a generational thing. Social media is a fabulous way for us to get the points-of-view of some of our younger listeners across. People love that we get perspectives from across the province, and this is just  another way to do that.”

CrossTalk airs from noon till 1:30 p.m., Newfoundland time, on CBC Radio One.