A Brandon boy since he was four months old, Trevor Pilling relished spending his childhood, his adolescence and his young adulthood in Brandon. An early twist of fate — or stroke of luck — saw him essentially fall into a career in broadcast media. A keener as well as a hard worker, Pilling took advantage of every opportunity to expand his skill set and hone his craft. From his early days at CKX-TV in Brandon, he’s moved up and up the TV ladder, and now, having won two Gemini Awards, is head of sports programming for the CBC. He lives in Toronto with his wife Marivel Taruc and their two daughters, Maia and Callie. As usual, he was back home over the Christmas holidays and took time out of his family’s busy schedule to chat about his life and career. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
So when you were growing up, what did you do for excitement in good old Brandon?
Well, sports was a big deal — baseball and a bit of soccer in the summers and hockey in the winter were important parts of what we did. I spent a lot of time at the community centres — first at South End Community Centre which was the first couple of hockey teams I played for, and then we moved to the west part of town and I spent a lot of time at Westridge and Valleyview.
So Brandon was a great place to grow up. It was safe. We rode our bikes all over town, had a lot of freedom and only came back in for dinner when Mom yelled out the front door at the top of her lungs!
Was it all sports for you? Were you a sports guy right from the get-go?
My dad was an athlete and was also a gym teacher. So sports was a part of our life, certainly, and so was competition and competitiveness. And I suppose it was important from the beginning. But so, too, was family and spending time at Pelican Lake. That’s one of the things that Brandon affords you, is to be able to be close to people — you don’t have to commute for hours to see loved ones.
You come back home a couple of times a year, don’t you?
Every year we come back at Christmas and in the summer to spend time at Pelican. It’s important for us to get out of the big city and be here with our family.
A lot of people think about a lot of different career paths as they go through school. What were your aspirations?
I think, like a lot of people who grew up here, ‘teacher’ was probably the number one thing on my to-do list, in that both my parents were, at times, teaching.
But I wasn’t ever the greatest of students. Truthfully, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my career. So it was really a stroke of luck, and I guess also perhaps fate, that pointed me in the direction I went.
My next door neighbours were the Craigs — Drew Craig and Jodi Craig and their family — and shortly after I graduated from high school, Drew asked my mother, ‘Hey — what’s Trevor up to?’ And she said, ‘Not much.’ And he said, ‘Well, send him down to the station — down to CKX.’ And Drew gave me a job just a couple of days later. That was in 1986. And the rest, I guess they would say, is history.
From my beginnings at CKX, I’ve been extremely fortunate to spend more than 20 years in the broadcast media business. And it continues to this day with my position at CBC Sports in Toronto.
I’m going to get you to back up just a little bit. Tell me about the days at CKX. Did you do EVERYTHING?
Working at CKX was fabulous. It was a lot of fun — we had a lot of people of the same age coming through there who were learning to be journalists, learning to be broadcast professionals, and it was a great opportunity to do all of the different types of jobs involved in television — to really figure out what it was that I wanted to do.
I worked with a lot of great people there, some who are still great friends to this day — Greg Sherris, who is an instructor at Assiniboine Community College pumping out television professionals — and a number of other talented people who I’m still in touch with, and who I’ve seen all over the country and all over North America. So many good people have come through Brandon, and it was a great place to cut our teeth — covering news, trying to hold people accountable, trying to tell good stories about what’s going on in the community. It was a great place to learn.
I worked at CKX for eight years, and in that time, I did everything, right from master control, which is inserting commercials, to control-room technician, where you did audio and you did the graphics on the screen and you did studio camera and all those functions. I was a cameraman and editor for five years. And then before I left, I produced the newscast and, with other colleagues, produced things like the Westman Lions Telethons on CKX, as well as some other programs on the Wheat Kings. So yes — in eight years we really got to do everything there was to do there.
What was it that spoke to you about all this? Was it being the voice of the community — that responsibility of holding people accountable — or were you a gearhead?
Well, I think at the time it was really just a lot of fun. It fit skills that I didn’t even know I had — shooting, lighting, composition, framing, and the joy of telling stories visually. And it really opened up a new area for me when we started to cover sports. My good friend Greg Sherris and I did a number of live broadcasts out of Brandon University gymnasium covering Bobcat basketball. I remember the very first time we did a Bobcat game. It wasn’t a very good television show, but I knew, on that day, that I wanted to work on Hockey Night in Canada.
And it took another 15 years or so, but I have had that opportunity, not only to produce games for Hockey Night in Canada, but to LEAD Hockey Night in Canada, and to know that it all comes back to my early days here of working at CKX, being inspired by working with friends, and telling sports stories that really inspired me or excited me or perhaps pushed me to want to do more — to tell stories that not only have impact here in this community but perhaps all across Canada. And I’ve had the good fortune to work on a number of big shows, a number of Olympic programs, where you’re able to help tell those great stories of Canadian athletes to our country. That’s pretty special, and one of the things that’s been most rewarding in my career.
You positively light up when you talk about this!
I’ve been blessed. For most of the 20-plus years I’ve been doing this, it’s not felt like work. Almost every single day, I wake up and feel lucky and happy to move forward and excited about the challenges we have. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, because it’s not — there’s lots of hard work involved — but it’s been a real blessing to have lucked into a career that’s a lot of fun, and that somehow I’ve had some skill in. I’ve had the good fortune to travel around the world once or twice and meet a lot of wonderful, interesting people from different countries, and to share stories about how we put TV together. When you meet people from different places and you share similar types of challenges, and then you share the solutions you’ve each come up with to overcome those obstacles, that’s also very exciting. Because not only are you learning, you’re also sharing your knowledge. And that was one of the key things for me. Right from the beginning, when CBC, in the mid-’80s, would come in and cover rodeo or curling or the Wheat Kings, my buddy and I, we’d go down and look at those trucks. We’d knock on the door and see if we could come in and watch people at work. And most people were very generous — most people, particularly from the CBC, would say, ‘Come on in. You guys want to learn about what we’re doing here? We’re happy to share that information with you.’
And now I feel it’s my responsibility, to, in turn, share my knowledge and my passion with anyone who may be interested in this business. It’s changing so much and it’s changing rapidly, and we need young people with great creative ideas who want to come in and turn the world upside down and reinvent how it is that we tell stories and connect with viewers, listeners, consumers, and readers. So I love to be able to share with anyone who has a similar passion about our business.
A lot of people dream of working on Hockey Night in Canada, but who gets there? I mean, you’ve made your goal — pardon the pun — or your dream come true. What was the path?
My path from CKX to Hockey Night in Canada was fairly straightforward in that I worked for CKX for eight years. And during that time, I would go into Winnipeg and I worked a couple of years for CBC as a summer-relief cameraman. Then, having gotten to know a number of people at the CBC, when a full-time job came open in 1994, I was able to be the successful applicant. I moved to Winnipeg and worked for four years at CBC, primarily as an entertainment producer. I also directed the newscast. And any time a sports show would come through town, I would try and get on that crew. Eventually, I worked on a bowling show! And on that bowling show, my job was to turn on the red light when the replays were on, which indicated to the bowlers not to bowl — we’re in replay. And I guess I did a good job with the red light, because there was a high-ranking CBC Sports official on that crew who noticed me and invited me to move to Toronto. At first I said no. I was content in my position at CBC Winnipeg. And then a year later, they called and asked me to come again. So finally I relented and headed to Toronto in 1997. I was supposed to have worked on one Grey Cup and then I was going to move to the entertainment division. But I ended up doing 10 Grey Cups and never left sports. I was fortunate to work primarily on the CFL on CBC for 10 straight years. I produced five Grey Cups sitting in the (producer’s) chair, beginning in Edmonton in 2002, which at that time was the highest-rated Grey Cup ever.
And also during that time, I was fortunate enough to work on a number of Olympics — ’98 in Nagano was my first, and then subsequently 2000, 2002, ’04, ’06, and then by 2008, I was the executive producer of the Beijing Summer Olympic Games.
Following 10 years of football and the Olympics in 2008, I then became the executive producer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. After that, I was asked to become the executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada. From that, I was asked to become the Head of Sports Programming at CBC, and I’ve been in that position for about three years now. I oversee Hockey Night in Canada, CBC Sports Weekend, cbcsports.ca, which is our website, all of the sports news that happens across the country on CBC, and the Olympic Games, which is going to be in February 2014, and also the FIFA World Cup, which is in June and July of 2014.
So we have a lot going on and I work with a great group of people and I’m having a great deal of fun.
What does it mean to come home?
I think coming home, it grounds you. It allows me to see my family and my friends. And I think it also helps to remind me where it is I came from. Those same types of lessons that I learned here are some of those same types of lessons that I now try and share with my kids — about hard work, about commitment, about trying to take care of others — so that they kind of have rural Westman teaching, learning, and roots in them, even though they’ve spent their whole lives in Toronto. So coming back to Westman a couple of times a year is really important to me, to make those connections and to spend time with people who’ve helped and continue to help me.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 11, 2014