By Andrew Macdonald
Now semi-retired from his role as CTV Atlantic news anchor, Steve Murphy has a new role on the Maritimes’ “number one newscast.”
He now is described as the CTV News “special correspondent, commentator and analyst.”
The name of his frequent TV segment – Murphy’s Logic – is a play on Murphy’s Law. Murphy served as CTV News at Six chief news anchor for 29 years, before stepping down last December.
To learn about Murphy’s new role, I caught up with him for a broad-ranging talk.
On the evolution of Murphy’s Logic, he said: “Commentary was one idea that came to mind. It’s one of the things I will be doing … I will also do pieces that involve perspective and some reporting of that kind.
“But, I think the commentary area is one area where, to be quite honest, I am interested to get back into it because my career in television and radio really started as a commentator and talk show host. It’s kind of back to the future,” he explained.
“I think it is an area where we don’t have nearly as much commentary as we used to. We are also going out of our way to make it clear that this is commentary. This is an editorial. We are not conflating it with reporting. We are being very clear this is opinion.”
He says that distinction is important, because one of the major problems being faced by media is the conflation of editorial content with commentary.
I asked Murphy if he thought of launching his own website with a paywall, rather than going with CTV.
“No, I did not consider that, because the opportunity CTV has given me is really what I want to be doing because it is different than what I was doing before, but it is in the same realm, obviously. It keeps me current in the news and public affairs area but at the same time it allows me to do something different,” he added.
“So really, this is the most satisfactory opportunity I could ask for at this point.”
The origins of Murphy’s ‘Be well’
Murphy always ended his former CTV newscast with the closing wish, “Be well.”
These days, “Be well” is also a common wish in the COVID-19 pandemic. I asked “The Murph,” as he is known, about the origins of the sign-off message. It wasn’t simply a topical, pandemic wish, since Murphy has used the saying since the early 2000s.
“Legendary WABC New York anchor Bill Beutel ended his broadcasts with the expression ‘Good luck, be well,'” recalled Murphy. “I always liked it, so when he retired, I picked up the ‘Be well.’ It does seem a particularly appropriate expression in these difficult times.”
I told him he’d be a billionaire today if he had been able to trademark his former TV goodbye.
“I do not know it could have been trademarked,” he joked. “But I am very flattered a lot of people have appropriated it from me, just as I did it from Bill Beutel.
“To me, it has always been a very strong message … because let’s face it, wellness is a huge issue in society. There are a lot of people who all they really want is to be well, and it is not easy. Look at what families are going through at the moment with price inflation. It is hard for people to be well when they are worried about whether there is enough money for the groceries, the rent, the power bill and the fuel tank,” he said.
Newscast has 225,000 viewers
CTV Atlantic’s 6 p.m. newscast hovers around a quarter of a million viewers a night, said Murphy.
“When you stop to think of it, television audiences have declined over the years, but the news audience has remained very strong in this market.
“But the notion that people don’t watch television news anymore is just not true,” added Murphy. “People are still watching television news and I would say a large number of people still watch it at 6 o’clock, and even more people get it online later, either the entire newscast or the individual items and interviews.”
On his former newscast, Murphy conducted interviews in the studio – including with many Maritime premiers.
I asked Murphy about his favourite premier to interview over his 45-year news career – a straight shooter who would take both his easy and hard-hitting questions.
“Well, I think I can tip my hands by saying the last guest I interviewed on CTV News at 6 p.m. was Frank McKenna. He was my final guest,” said Murphy. “I interviewed Frank, I do not know how many times from the late 1980s right through to 2021.”
McKenna became New Brunswick premier in 1987, taking every single legislative seat, and governed into the mid-1990s.
“I think Frank McKenna was and is a straight shooter. He was one of our most successful premiers in Atlantic Canada in my lifetime,” noted Murphy. “I think we had some notable premiers, but I think he would be nearly at the top of the list.”
Murphy’s big broadcasting break
One topic I was keen to talk to Murphy about was his big break in broadcasting in his hometown of Saint John.
Murphy opened up about his first job in grade nine as a 15-year-old in 1976, announcing Woolco department store and restaurant specials on weekends in the Port City.
“How it all started, when I was 15, I got a job doing the PA jobs at Woolco – the $1.44 specials and my dad was a manager at Woolco, and when that job came open on Saturday afternoon barking at the specials, I came in and put on my best-crushed velvet blue jacket and for $2 an hour, I was announcing the Red Grill specials,” he said.
“It kind of whet my appetite for announcing.”
Woolco was a Canadian department store chain, with its legendary restaurants. It was sold to Walmart in 1994.
“I was always very aware of journalism and news. I got hooked on news during the whole Watergate affair in the early 1970s because of a grade seven history teacher named Terry Kelleher, who kept us up to date in class every day about what was going on with Watergate. And he was listening to As it Happens [on CBC] with the amazing Barbara Frum. I started listening to it because I was very keen to find out what was going on with Nixon, and all the latest with [Bob] Woodward and [Carl] Bernstein,” he recalled.
At the time, a former mayor of Saint John, Bob Lockhart, was one of the owners of CFBC radio.
“It’s one of the great southern New Brunswick radio stations that dates back to the mid-1940s. It is still on the dial at 930 AM,” said Murphy
“My father and he one day, [were] talking over the back fence, and Lockhart said maybe I ought to go in and do an audition for some newscasting,” he added.
“I make no bones about it, Bob got me in the door to audition for what was supposed to be a part-time radio news job. And, one thing led to another, and the next thing you know I was working full-time after school,” he added, chuckling, “It didn’t please my teachers or parents very much – but it pleased the hell out of me. But what did I know? I was 16-17-years old, and I was working by then in a newsroom.
“That is how I came to be in a newsroom the night Elvis Presley died and the night of the Saint John jailhouse fire.”
“I continued to work in radio through the end of high school. Then I said I was going to take a year off and work in the newsroom, and now I am 45 years [in and] into my year off when I stepped down.”