For many of us in Squamish, listening to Marshall Whitsed deliver the news each morning as the news anchor on Mountain FM is a comforting routine.
No matter how bad the news may be, the sense is everything will be OK. Something about the 28-year-old — perhaps his British accent — is calming. But he gives off the same vibe in person. He has a Zen-like quality, especially for a guy with a five-month-old baby at home.
The Chief sat down with Whitsed in Mountain’s Squamish studio at Garibaldi Village for a chat about his upbringing, radio and family.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: Tell us a bit about your upbringing.
A: My dad lived in London, England and my mom lived in a place called Harpenden, which is about half an hour outside of London, but rural. So I kind of had the best of both worlds. I lived in the big city and could go to concerts and West End shows, but I could also escape everything. My 100-year old high school was very British. We had Harris Tweed jackets, but I promise you it wasn’t private. In Harpenden, we spent a lot of time outdoors and I think that is why I love it here. My wife is more of an ocean girl and I am a mountain boy so Squamish is the best of both worlds.
Q: So why radio? Were you the little kid pretending you were a DJ?
A: Yes. I love to entertain people and I love telling stories. I ended up going to university and studying radio production. Like a lot of media jobs, it can take a really long time to break into the industry and the U.K. is very small with very few opportunities. All the big corporations are taking everything over and syndicating everything, which makes it very hard to break into. I didn’t want to work a few jobs and try to get into radio slowly and so I came to Canada. I spent a few months in Ontario and then I ended up in Fort McMurray. Canada has really allowed me to pursue my career.
Q: Did you move to Squamish for this job?
A: Yes, and no. My wife and I wanted to start a family and wanted to move somewhere a little more family friendly. I had looked at Squamish before, when there was another job posted, and then this came up. I said, “Let’s just do it.” I applied, got it and it has worked out perfectly.
Q: What do you wish the public knew about your job that they don’t?
A: That we try our best, but can’t get to everything.
The area we cover includes Mount Currie, Pemberton, Whistler, Squamish, Lions Bay and Sechelt.
We are a skeleton crew here and we are all very passionate about what we do and we put in more hours than we are supposed to, but as much as we would like to get to every event or cover every story, we just can’t.
We also get a bit of heat for not talking about missing dogs and cats, but it is a community where every other person has a dog. We are animal lovers too – so don’t hate on us — but if we did every single dog report we got, we would literally not be able to talk about anything else.
Q: You were in Fort McMurray, Alberta before Squamish. What was that like?
A: It is like many northern communities. The people there are amazing. You have people coming from every walk of life, all over the country and other countries as well, myself included. And because there is not really anything around the town, you form a real sense of community.
It is definitely more difficult to live there with the -40 degree temperatures at times and being 4.5 hours from Edmonton, but I had a blast. I made the most of the outdoors, kayaking, hiking, I went on ice roads, we did off-roading. I tried to seize the day, as they say.
Q: You were in Fort McMurray during the wildfires and the order to evacuate, can you tell us about that?
A: To be honest, the last few hours we were there were terrifying. It is funny because the day the fire spread to town, I was in a park with friends slacklining and I looked across the river and saw a little bit of smoke coming up. We were used to having smoke in the summer due to wildfires, but I said to my friends that it wasn’t good.
We all know what happened next. The day we were ordered to evacuate, the sky was blue at lunchtime, then it suddenly got dark. We knew it was about to get real. Then, all hell broke loose. It was organized chaos.
At the station they told us to pull our equipment out so we could retain our library of music. I had no idea what I was doing; I was just pulling this stuff out and loading it into station vehicles. We stayed as long as we could, giving out information. We left shortly after they gave the final evacuation order downtown. Traffic heading south was gridlock. I called my wife Sarah and told her to just go north. I remember looking in my rearview mirror and I had never seen flames so high. I am amazed and so thankful for the crews that fought the fire. I thought the whole town would be gone.
Q: You have a five-month-old baby boy, Levi, how is it going so far? I heard you are getting sleep, which as a mom myself, I don’t understand.
A: My wife Sarah is so good. She understands I really need my sleep — hardcore. She will always look after him at night and on the weekend we will switch and I let her sleep.
A lot has happened for us in life. Sarah and I have only been married two years. In that time we have lived in five different houses, three different cities – we were evacuated. We had all of that, and we had our son Levi this summer. We also bought a fixer-upper here, so we are doing a lot of renovations.
Q: What is your parenting philosophy?
A: I don’t think anyone has it right. My wife left her job in engineering to work with children, she loves kids and so she does a lot of research and reading. She filters it for me. I think though it is always a balance of what works for you and what works for your family. I definitely notice that this part of the country is a lot more career focused.
In other places, they have bigger families. Here it is smaller families. It is the cost of living, so I understand that. We are hoping to have a bigger family.
Q: How has being a parent changed you?
A: I guess my focus has changed. Before, I was super career-orientated. You know how it is in media: you have to work crazy hours, there’s not a lot of compensation, but you do it because you love it. Now, I love what I do, but my number one priority is family — faith and family. That is who I am.