The Squire


Squire Barnes - Sports CKO-FM-4 Vancouver 1984-89; sports show producer CKWX and CHRX Vancouver; weekend sports CBC-TV Vancouver; sports anchor/Satellite Debris host Global TV Vancouver current



His name should have been his handicap. In the days of chivalry, esquires were the attendants of knights. Basically, you carried the big man's shield around for him and washed his shorts in the hope that one day you too would become a Sir. Alas, it was often futile. The fraternity of knights was so tightly bound up in a hyper-developed sense of self-importance and ego that most squires never made it above their station.


When you think about it, it's not all that different from the world of TV -- except, it turns out, at BCTV, where suddenly it's hip to be Squire. How else could a nerdy, 125-pound midget get to anchor the evening sports on Vancouver's top-rated newscast every night of the week?


If it's hip to be Squire," says CKNW sportscaster Neil Macrae, "then I guess the anorexic look is in for people other than supermodels. He makes [The Province's] Tony Gallagher look like Gallagher's on steroids."


Barnes certainly doesn't look the part of the knightly TV jock (indeed, he may even be a few notches below the minimum requirements of the proverbial 'face made for radio'), but by infusing his delivery with welcome signs of wit and intelligence, Squire Barnes is making a mockery of the traditional code of television sports: GQ looks? Don't need 'em. Suits by Stacatto? Sears will do. Ex-jock pedigree? Nope, not even ex-jockey. It's a classic brains-beats-brawn tale, but the story of how this squire rose above his assigned rank is just as intriguing.


Barnes was promoted to the coveted evening sports post last fall, leapfrogging over established BCTV personalities Bernie Pascal, John McKeachie and Barry Houlihan. For four years prior, Barnes, now 33, had been working in relative obscurity on the weekend shift -- carrying the shield, as it were -- with news anchor Jennifer Mather. Then, all of a sudden, the youngest, most unorthodox sportscaster in the company -- and arguably the country -- was pulled out of line and plunked down ahead of everybody else to sit, as an equal, mind you, beside the big man himself, the famed Tony Parsons. Understandably, egos were bruised.


Yeah, I wouldn't want to try and minimize it," says BCTV senior producer Steve Wyatt. "Change is never easy. Bernie and John and Barry have done a hell of a job here for a lot of years. It was difficult for some of the guys."


In an era when the judgment of editors is increasingly being subverted by more 'scientific' decision-making, it is both surprising and refreshing to discover that Barnes's promotion was a gut decision. No focus groups. No polling. They just went with him. "If Squire was ever away, we would get phone calls and letters demanding to know where he was," Wyatt continues. "It was clear that people responded well to him. I think it's the fact that he's not the stereotypical jock up there reading the scores. He presents it like an average guy who's interested in sports, while at the same time realizing that it's not brain surgery. It's entertainment, and he knows that."


It's just after seven o'clock, a soaking Friday night in Burnaby. To get past the guards at BCTV's headquarters, I have to convince them I'm here to see Squire Barnes -- which is improbable, they say, because everybody from the six o'clock show is already racing home. Humoring me, one guard leads the way down to the newsroom, past large photos of BCTV personalities, through a series of dimly lit corridors. The newsroom is almost deserted and the atmosphere feels more like a particle-beam lab at some ultra-secret military compound miles below the surface of the earth.


When finally I meet Barnes, he's still wearing his makeup from this evening's show. He's even shorter than I imagined, only five-foot-six. His jacket has been taken in to the limits of its structure -- and still looks too big -- and his buttoned-down Oxford-cloth shirt bulges around his neck. The only thing this veritable mad genius is missing: a pocket protector, and it would have come in handy, too, because it seems his pen exploded in his shirt just a few minutes ago.


Despite his appearance, he's no rocket scientist. In fact he says he was such an appalling student in high school that he couldn't even get into community college. His father suggested Squire get some computer training, but he failed the aptitude test. "The test was algebra," Barnes says, curling up on his chair, "which just happened to be the one course I cheated my way through high school in."


Not content to work in a warehouse for the rest of his life, the Burnaby native did the only thing an aspiring broadcaster could do: apply to the Columbia School of Broadcasting. Note: this isn't to be confused with the venerable Columbia School of Journalism. Barnes's education was done ... ahem ... by correspondence.


He got his first gig in radio, but when the all-news station CKO died in 1989, he realized he was going to have to have more than one job to survive. He began collecting them like baseball cards, writing sports articles for Hollinger, talking sports for CKWX radio and helping out behind the scenes as a sports writer at CBC-TV.


Then one day," Barnes begins, "the director of the weekend show [at CBC] asked me if I wanted to audition to host while the other guys were away. I said 'Yeah, who else is auditioning?' He said, 'Nobody. You'll just keep auditioning until you get it right.'"


He had parlayed what he calls his "cleverer than average" writing into a job in front of the camera. But he sensed that CBC didn't hold much of a future for him, so he began hanging out at BCTV. He says there's a lesson there for anybody looking for a career in broadcasting. "I see these young kids all the time who think they're just going to walk in with their diploma and get a job. It doesn't work that way. You've got to hang around like a bad smell if you want to get anywhere."


Barnes takes me to an editing suite, where he puts in a videotape and analyzes every aspect of this evening's sportscast. Precisely what he's looking for isn't clear, but he's dissatisfied with his performance. "I didn't really get it tonight," he says, eyes fixated on the monitor. "I'm always looking for a good line, some good clips, some good energy around the thing. Some nights it just falls flat."


He isn't trying to provide good journalism so much as he's hoping to entertain you. It's a philosophy that the more 'serious' sports writers enjoy trashing, but Barnes has thought this one through and remains decidedly unphilosophical. "It's entertainment. Plain and simple. Anybody who tells you any different is kidding themselves. I'm not saying there shouldn't be good sports journalism. But look, this is sports. It's games. People love to play them. They love to watch them. But at the end of the game the story is really on the scoreboard."


It's hard to argue with that, but the Arthur Griffiths sellout to John McCaw provides an opportunity to challenge him. For the most part, sportscasters were content to parrot the Griffiths' party line: 'Arthur had a dream. He had to give up on it, but, golly gee, ain't GM Place pretty.' The one comment nobody seemed to have the guts to make (other than Macrae) was that losing your successful father's sports dynasty isn't a dream, it's a nightmare.


I think that really big sports stories become lead news stories anyway," Barnes counters. "I mean, is the Griffiths story a sports story? Only in part. It's a business story as well," he says, implying with a moment's silence that if I want to start teeing off on sportscasters I should also point the finger at the business press, which, let's be honest, has never tried to pretend it didn't have a substantial cheerleading function as well.


Barnes pops in another video, his Canada Tonight spot with Bill Good. The weekly Satellite Debris section is his favorite, he says, "a smorgasbord of weird and wacky video" material collected over the past week. It wasn't Barnes's invention, but under his direction the spot has blossomed into a wonderfully entertaining freak show; you might call it Lettermanesque. Could there be something there?


I'm happy doing what I'm doing," Barnes shrugs. Then he adds, "I've done the entertainment thing, too, interviewing celebrities and stuff like that. It was kinda fun. I liked it."


Neil Macrae, for one, hopes Barnes doesn't decide to go too Hollywood. "At BCTV he could be holding down the kind of job that most people in this business dream of in a couple of years. He's in a very enviable position. He's got the biggest market in Canada, percentage wise, so he's in great shape for a guy who hasn't even hit 40...." Macrae pauses. "Hell, he looks like he hasn't even hit puberty."


Canada Wide Magazines Feb 01, 1997




 BC Radio History