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Before Class: From the DJ booth to the classroom

April 5, 2016 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Mark Martin, a teacher with Edmonton Catholic Schools, hams it up with the Kermit the Frog figure that kept him company in the studio during his radio career. Speaking to a doll or figurine is a technique that many radio hosts use so they sound more natural on the air. Kermit now lives in Martin’s classroom. (Photos: Cory Hare)

Before he was Mr. Martin, an energetic and funny junior high teacher with a knack for commanding a class’s attention, Mark Martin was Goad Boy, a live, on-air prankster trying to get a rise out of innocent bystanders on the morning show for The Bear, a popular and edgy radio station in Edmonton.

“I’d go to a pharmacy and I’d have to convince them I needed something ... it was a hard rock station so I’m not going to go into detail, but it was in the contraceptive area, stuff like that,” Martin recalls.

He also did the bungee jump at West Edmonton Mall wearing the radio station’s bear mascot suit. This job in promotions was all part of paying his dues in the harsh radio business, which he entered headlong after graduating from NAIT’s radio and television arts program in 1996.

Being on the radio had been a dream since he was a kid growing up in Edmonton, huddled with his tape recorder listening to the local top-40 pop station, practising his voice work between songs.

“I was really shallow and flaky. It was, ‘I want to be a star and I want people to know who I am,’” he said.

After his brief stint at The Bear, which involved some on-air work during the overnight period, Martin got his first full-time radio gig doing the overnight shift at CKSA in Lloydminster.

“I played a lot of Ian Tyson, Navajo Rug,” he said.

Starting out in radio typically involves small centres and frequent moves. So four months into his tenure in Lloydminster, Martin was off to a better job in Penticton. However, the new job involved selling ads and despite his ability to speak convincingly and nonstop, Martin didn’t take to sales.

“I hated it, absolutely hated it. I felt like I was ripping people off. I’m not a salesman. I thought I would be, but I’m not.”

He quit after three months and was out of the radio business, moving back in with his parents in Edmonton and quickly securing three “whatever” jobs, at Canadian Tire, a liquor warehouse and a “door jamb place.”

Six months later, thanks to some audition tapes he had floating around, Martin got a call that led him to YR Radio in Edson, this time working the 6 p.m. to midnight shift.

“I was spinning records. I’d have to cue them up and get them to the right spot to play,” Martin said. “Probably of all my time in radio, my fondest memory was cueing up records because that seems really old school.”

Dave Schuck, the station manager who brought Martin to Edson, remembers him as a bit unpolished but very enthusiastic, someone who worked hard at improving his craft and was always willing to fill in when there was a need.

“Mark’s voice is OK, but it’s not the strongest, never was the strongest,” Schuck said. “He has lots of personality, big personality.”

“I was very young sounding,” Martin said. “My first tips were smoke and drink more whiskey. Back then they still wanted the big radio voice and I didn’t have it. That’s why I was always stuck in small markets.”

Good times
As he gained experience in Edson, and then the company’s station in Hinton, Martin found that he derived the most enjoyment from interacting with listeners, some of whom became regular callers. He was also regarded as a celebrity in these small communities and was often asked to host events. For example, he was the guest announcer at an annual old-timers’ hockey game in Grande Cache.

“Little kids in Grande Cache would want my autograph because all they ever heard on the radio was me,” he said.

When he was out and about in the community, Martin only had to say a few words before people recognized his voice; then the conversation would be up and running.

“You saw, in many cases, the good side of people. They wanted to engage you,” he said. “It was very surreal sometimes, being able to automatically be engaged with people and you didn’t have to do any work because they felt like they knew you already.”

Sometimes this one-way familiarity went too far, such as the time a female listener appeared at the station late at night after having driven more than an hour with her five young kids packed in her car.

“[She] showed up at the radio station steps, pouring rain, knocking on the door at about one o’clock in the morning as I was just about to leave and she said, ‘I’m here now, we can talk more,’” Martin said. “I called the cops. That was a little bit scary.”

Another inappropriate situation ­occurred when a 13-year-old girl called him at the station at 3:00 a.m.

“She said, ‘I can talk to you now, my parents are sleeping.’”

That led to a conversation with her parents.

Martin also recalls one major instance of on-air impropriety.

“I swore once at two o’clock in the morning by accident. A guy did a wet willie in my ear; I said two words I really shouldn’t have,” Martin said. “It was over top of a commercial. A bunch of people called in.”

The end
After two years in Edson, Martin moved over to YR Radio’s Hinton affiliate, taking over the more prestigious midday time slot — the typical progression within the company. A newscaster named Charlene also worked at the Hinton station, and she would eventually become Martin’s wife.

After two more years in Hinton, Martin reached a crossroads. He was offered a job at Big 105 in Red Deer. Although it was a less favourable time slot and less money, it was a larger market, so a step forward in the radio business.

However, Martin knew he wanted to build a future with Charlene, which meant providing a more stable home life and respectable income than he could working in radio, where a station could put all of its announcers out of work with a sudden format change. His radio salary was $31,000 a year and he was making ends meet by moonlighting as a DJ in bars.

“I got told that you’ve got to pay your dues, and at that point a light bulb went off and I realized it’s like acting. How many Brad Pitts are there? How many guys doing soap commercials? I didn’t want to be the guy doing soap commercials.”

Martin realized he wanted to switch careers. He considered something related to the oil and gas sector or engineering, but Charlene encouraged him to stick to his values.

“I always asked, what did you want to do when you were growing up? And he always said, DJ or teacher,” Charlene recalled.

When he was 18, Martin considered pursuing education if he didn’t get into radio. During his five years in radio, he worked his way up to music director, which involved providing instruction to new DJs. He had also volunteered to teach a communications course for the local Special Olympics organization. These experiences showed him that he liked the feeling that comes from teaching others.

“It’s something that’s always been in me — to help others and explore,” he said.

With their future family in mind (they now have two daughters), Martin and Charlene moved to Edmonton together, Charlene enrolling in a dental hygiene program and Martin enrolling in education at the University of Alberta. By overloading his schedule and taking classes through the summers, he completed the four-year degree in two and a half years.

Making Mr. Martin
Now 11 years into his teaching ­career, Martin teaches grades 7 to 9 math, ­social studies, phys-ed, and career and technology foundations at St. Catherine Catholic School in Edmonton. He’s transferred a lot of the traits that made him a lively radio personality into his teaching.

“I used to joke with people all the time, ‘I’ve still got an audience, they’re just captive now,’” he said.

One strong parallel between teaching and radio is that both environments require the presenter to be what the audience needs, he said. For example, in radio, an announcer can’t simply be himself; instead, he must become what his station is in order to engage that station’s listeners. Martin likens this to delivering differentiated instruction to students.

“From the engagement side of things, I’m really grateful that I did what I did (in radio) — it made me who I am today as a teacher,” he said.

Due to his comfort level with performing and media technology, Martin regularly has his students take video footage of his lessons, which he then posts to a private website that students and parents can access. This enables students to review the lessons whenever they want and parents to see what their child has been doing in class.

“These parents feel like they’re sitting in my class with me, just like their kids do,” Martin said.

When it comes to job satisfaction, Martin said he misses the listener interaction that came with radio, but there’s nothing that compares to teaching.

“I feel a lot more like I can close my eyes at the end of the day now and I know I’ve made a difference.” ❚

Mark Martin, Q&A


What’s the most embarrassing thing you ever said on the air?
Nothing really embarrasses me. I did tell my future wife, Charlene, that I would beat her hands down at a media challenge mogul ski competition in Jasper. I told her she could barely chew gum and walk, never mind beat me at a race. She obliterated me. The listeners didn’t let me live that down for months. My wife still brings it up now and then.

What’s the strangest thing someone ever said to you when they ­recognized you in the community?
You sound taller.

What aspect of radio do you miss the most?
Taking phone calls at lunch for requests. Usually you got people’s good sides.

What part of radio are you most thankful to have left behind?
The part where I had to work three jobs to make ends meet.

Do you listen to the radio much now?
I do. Usually talk radio. My kids and wife say I’m an old man.

Who is your favourite radio personality and why?
I can’t say I have one. I enjoy many on-air personalities right now. I appreciate many styles. I also find myself critiquing sometimes.

If you were graduating from high school now, what career path would you choose?
The same. Radio is a Peter Pan job. It is fun as long as you don’t want to grow up. When I was ready to grow up (my wife and students would argue that I still haven’t), I took with me the experiences and skills from radio. I think they have made me a more successful teacher.

Did you ever have a mishap with a forklift?
There are many pallets that still cringe when they hear my name. I broke so many by dropping or ramming them with the forks.

Before Class is a profile series about teachers who’ve had interesting jobs before entering the teaching profession. Instalments will appear in the ATA News periodically throughout the school year. If you know of a teacher who you think would be a good candidate for such a profile, please contact managing editor Cory Hare:

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