We all heard this chant when we were young: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."
Really? Maybe, if one is trying to achieve some sort of recognition in show business, and radio is indeed a branch of show business, maybe a name, at least the wrong sort of name, could indeed be more of a hindrance than a help.
As famed Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan once put it, " The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers."
For instance, we have Norma Jean Baker. She was baptised, apparently, as Norma Jean Mortensen but later the last name became Baker. However, we all know her best as Marilyn Monroe. Could there be a more recognizable name in all the world than that one? Sure rolls off the tongue better than Norma Jean Mortensen, doesn't it?
Or how about the guy born on September 23rd, 1923, and given the name of Joseph Yule, Junior? We know him better as Mickey Rooney.
Confuscius claimed that "If names are not correct, language will not be in accordance with the truth of things." And it was Elias Canetti who told us that " people's fates are simplified by their names."
Thus, we are certain that Allen Stewart Konigsberg has been better served by Woody Allen than by his original name.
As for Saskatchewan radio people, this whole name thing has been a mixed bag. For instance, Doug Birkmaier told us that at one point in his Saskatchewan broadcast career, which saw him work in stations in places such as Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Regina, Melfort and Weyburn, he was known as "Douglas B, but I eventually went by the on-air name of Doug Birkmaier. In retrospect, I probably should have prefaced it with "The Amazing..."
For those who made their living with radio microphones there was always, at least at one time, a struggle to find the proper on-air handle. In years gone by, especially in the 60s and 70s, the trick was to come up with something quick, catchy and common. That's why we wound up with so many Marks, Jims, Scotts, Toms, Dans and Bills on the air.
One Saskatchewan radio announcer who stuck with his original, given name was Barry Bowman. He started out in Weyburn, worked for a time in Saskatoon, then settled in Victoria where he launched a remarkable career that is still going strong today.
Or, we have the situation related to us by Colleen Gazdewich. She was born in Canora, Saskatchewan, and after high school became part of the first graduating class of the Prairie Broadcast Training Institute, owned and operated, says Gazdewich, by Saul and Ginger Jacobson. She first worked in radio in Yellowknife, then moved back to Saskatchewan for jobs at GX94 in Yorkton and CKCK in Regina. Colleen is out of radio now but tells us it was Saul Jacobson who tipped her off to a suitable radio name. "He suggested I use my middle name and so I was Colleen Valentine for my entire career."
Of course it was William Shakespeare who wrote "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet", but there was many a radio station manager in days gone by who would gladly turn a Denny O'Neil into a Bob Magee or a Nick Kotyk into a Billy Williams at the drop of a coffee cup.
W.H. Auden wrote "Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable."
We'll leave the final word on this topic to a fellow who served some on-air stints at Saskatchewan radio stations in Yorkton and Saskatoon. We asked Frank Poncsak why he didn't select something different, something perhaps easier to pronounce, as an on-air name, and his answer put the whole issue into perspective. "If it was good enough for my dad it's good enough for me," he said.
UPDATE -- Colleen Valentine is back in radio and is the morning host on internet radio station ltdradio.com -- so go to their website to listen in. As for this writer, his on air names have included Dann West (the second N was silent) and Rik Wade. He also figures if he had been on air in Vancouver,B.C. he could have called himself Kitz Beech.