Conestoga journalism students got a rare chance to pick the brain of Canadian media icon George Stroumboulopoulos Friday.
The 47-year-old radio and TV personality, best known for his time hosting CBC’s current affairs show The Hour, hopped off a red-eye flight from Los Angeles at 6 a.m. and headed to Conestoga College for a late morning conversation with about 100 students.
“As a person who’s been in this business for so long, anything I can do to help clear the path for who’s coming next, that’s my responsibility,” Stroumboulopoulos, also known as “Strombo,” said in an interview about why he came to the college.
He showed up in his quintessential punk rock style that hasn’t changed in his near 30-year career — proudly wearing bags under his eyes and a shirt adorned with flaming skulls.
But a sleepless night didn’t slow him down. The former MuchMusic video jockey moved briskly from one side of the room to the other, answering questions about the good, the bad and the ugly of the media world.
Some of the topics covered in the near four-hour visit: fear (“I don’t acknowledge it”), regrets (“Lots of them”), memorable interviews (“Chris Martin from Coldplay was the nicest”), defending personal values, standing up for the rights of minorities, freelancing and more.
On dealing with failure, Strombo brought up his stint as host of Hockey Night in Canada, a venture he said was “doomed to fail.”
“Every time I said ‘Budweiser Red Light Scoreboard’ a part of me died,” he said with a laugh.
He left the gig after two years, but said he didn’t regret agreeing to it in the first place.
“Make the decisions that will put you in a better position tomorrow, even if it’s a job you don’t like,” Strombo told the group of would-be journalists and broadcasters.
He also talked about his own time as a student. Strombo graduated from Humber College with a degree in broadcast journalism in 1993.
Broadcast radio professor Carlos Benevides, who is a longtime friend of Strombo’s, organized the appearance. They worked together for five years at a Toronto radio station in the late ’90s.
“I hope (the students) are empowered to chase their dreams,” he said of the visit.
Adam Cook, a second-year broadcast radio student, is one of those people with big dreams.
Cook has been thinking about starting a production company with a friend, and he got a chance to ask Strombo if it was a good idea.
He looked right at Cook and said: “Go for it.”
“It’s nice to get insight from someone who’s succeeded … who is real about it, too,” Cook said afterwards.
But Strombo didn’t pull punches when it came to talking about how difficult it is for young journalists and broadcasters like Cook to get their foot in the door, much less succeed in a business where, as he described it, “the answer is often ‘No.’”
“It takes elite level commitment to just try to have a shot at this career. You have to have the stomach for that,” he said.
“But if you do, you can do amazing things.”
George Stroumboulopoulos currently hosts a radio program, “The Strombo Show,” out of his home in Toronto, where he has hosted the likes of Tegan and Sara, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and A Tribe Called Red. It airs on CBC Radio 2 and the internet on Sundays.