George Tuccaro flanked by country and western giants Charlie Daniels and Johnny Cash. "I was coming offstage, and (Cash) was going on," says Tuccaro. - photo courtesy of George Tuccaro
Northern News Services
George Tuccaro outside his second home. "I wouldn't change the script at all."
It's a frigid Tuesday morning and George Tuccaro is at The Diner perched at a table, engaged in some combination of working the room and holding court.
Moving from one table to the next, he stops with a word for just about every denizen of the downtown eatery.
Just as Tuccaro sits, another diner playfully swats him on the arm with a ball cap.
"Hey, you old retired guy, go home," he says with a laugh.
Not quite retired yet, Tuccaro launches into another trademark zinger.
"Boy it's cold out there today," he says. "You know how cold it is out there," he asks the man.
"How cold is it?"
"It's so cold I saw a teenager wearing a toque."
It's that rapport with just about everyone in the North that has made George Tuccaro an institution this side of the 60th parallel.
The institution may remain, but the showman is moving on. After 29 years, the host of CBC radio's Trail's End is hanging up his headphones.
"I'm just going to take it easy for a while," says Tuccaro.
He says he's already had phone calls from interested employers, but for the time being, he's "not interested." Nor does going down south hold much appeal for him.
"I've seen so many people move south, find out they're alone, and wondering, 'why am I here, when all my friends are in the North.'"
Indeed, everyone in the North seems to be George Tuccaro's friend.
Peter Skinner, CBC North's general manager in Yellowknife, says the first time he and Tuccaro went to Inuvik, they went to the Sunriser Cafe for a coffee. Skinner got a table, then cooled his heels for 15 minutes, "because at every table, people were saying hi, and shaking his hand. He had to work his way through the room."
Between his on-air work, and constantly being in physical contact with his listeners, Skinner says Tuccaro practices, "the best kind of radio. He's a master of it."
Born in 1950, Tuccaro came North from the slightly less northern community of Fort Chipewyan, Alta. His father worked first as a deckhand plying the Mackenzie River, then in the local sawmill until he could no longer work.
Heeding father's advice
"When I was 14, dad had his leg amputated," due to gangrene. Nine years earlier, Tuccaro's father had broken his leg while working a trapline.
It was the "in between" season of breakup, where a boat couldn't get into the community, and a dog team couldn't get out. Tuccaro's grandfather set the leg as best as possible, but it was a little crooked. Gangrene set in after a botched attempt to straighten the leg out.
"It put dad in a welfare situation," says Tuccaro. Despite his distaste for social assistance, Tuccaro's father took the money until his sons finished school.
After his son's graduated, George's father worked, "16 hours a day standing on one leg, running a pool hall."
Heeding his father's advice to strike out into the world, Tuccaro headed North to Yellowknife in 1970, hoping to do some work with Pan Arctic Oils, perhaps running in-house radio programming.
Pan Arctic was hiring, but down in Calgary. However, the Manpower office in Yellowknife told Tuccaro that the CBC was hiring. At the time the Crown corporation had its offices at the Hornby Building, now the site of the Subway.
"I had never seen the inside of a radio station in my life," says Tuccaro. "Seeing the technology of the day, I just went, oh man."
Knees knocking, Tuccaro auditioned, then waited. A week later, CBC called, asking if he wanted to work on the technical end of the business.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In the ensuing years, Tuccaro hosted in every radio time slot. He has extensively covered amateur sports and music festivals, and been remembered for such memorable lines as, "don't forget to check the date on your bacon."
Tuccaro laughs about what became his signature sign-off. A manager suggested it had slightly more pizzazz than "have yourself a good evening," and it ended up sticking.
Perhaps a little too closely. One time, another broadcaster was filling in, and signed off straight into Northern radio immortality by saying, "and as George Tuccaro always says at the end of his program, don't forget to check your meat."
Craig Mackie, the CBC's manager at the time, was driving home and listening to the program.
"He nearly hit the ditch," laughs Tuccaro.
Battle with the bottle
Life hasn't always been signature signoffs and laughter. Tuccaro fought alcoholism for years before kicking the habit in 1980. Drinking was affecting his job, and Tuccaro says he was, "close to being let go by the CBC."
In a Whitehorse hotel room, Tuccaro finally decided he had to stop drinking.
The memory of that battle is still vivid in his mind.
"I'll never forget that hotel room," he says. "It was at the Taku Hotel, and I was struggling with my experience at residential school, I was struggling with mom and dad's breakup, struggling with being George Tuccaro."
He won that battle, but the war goes on forever. "I have to deal with it everyday," he says.
"You know what they say? Poor me, poor me, pour me another one," he adds.
Tuccaro "sees life totally differently" now, courtesy of a self-help group that he "owes his life to." That and the wisdom of his father.
He and wife, Marilyn, have a "lovely home on Rivett Crescent that I can afford," he says. Son Daniel works for Renewable Resources, while daughter Amanda continues her studies. He's proud of his work promoting fiddle music in the North.
"CBC allowed me to grow up on the air," he says. "To learn about the North's diversity, its issues, and its growth as well."
After 29 years, there are no regrets, and Tuccaro says he racked his brains to see if he did have any.
"If I was to breathe my last breath, I wouldn't change the script at all. I say this in a humble way, not a boastful way, but I can walk any place in the North, and meet a friend."