Inside the mind of Canadian radio's most important executive

A one-on-one conversation with Susan Marjetti, CBC’s executive director of Radio and Audio

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Susan Marjetti is a veteran broadcaster and the executive director of CBC Radio and audio Supplied photo

As I arrive at Toronto's Rosewater Supper Club to interview Susan Marjetti, her party is already well under way. Over a hundred radio industry insiders are gathered at the upscale banquet hall to honour her with the 2017 Rosalie Award, which recognizes Canadian women who have blazed new trails in radio.

The hall is filled with the white noise of conversation, with its volume raised thanks to glasses of complimentary wine. It's hard to find Marjetti, though. If you look back — way back — you find her standing at a table near the end of the crowd, surrounded by four other CBC managers. It's a spot ideal to avoid the glare of the spotlight, and she stays there during most of the pre-award mixer.

Fittingly, Marjetti herself flies under the public’s radar. The 55-year-old CBC veteran is one of the most powerful people in Canadian radio, and arguably, the most influential of all. As CBC’s executive director of radio and audio, she oversees a publicly-funded portfolio that includes CBC Radio, CBC Radio 2, CBC Radio 3, CBC Music and the network's podcasts and online streams. Free of the commercial constraints of her private radio peers, she has a nine-figure budget to produce programming that others cannot or would not, and can playlist music from all genres that would otherwise get ignored on Top 40.

But what influences Susan Marjetti? After she accepted her award and the party started to wind down, I sat down with her for a wide-ranging, one-on-one conversation about her upbringing, her successes and where the CBC should be going next.

During your acceptance speech, you mentioned that your career in broadcasting started at the age of 12, with your first job as a DJ in your hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia. How do you become a party DJ that young?

Susan Marjetti I DJ’d at a school dance and one gig just led to another. I would play at local dances and weddings. You know, I’d show up at the venue, unload the amps, my disco ball and my turntable. I did that up until I was about 17. When my friends were making 50 cents a week in allowance, I was making $50.

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Robert J. Ballantyne is Artsculture‘s Creative Director. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star and other media outlets. In addition to leading the Artsculture Collective, he built and designed Artsculture‘s website. He is available for freelance web development and graphic design at Artsculture Creative.

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