CBC anchor Costa Maragos hangs up his suit

by Carle Steel

Costa Maragos

Who: Costa Maragos, beloved retiring CBC news anchor. Where: Roca Jack’s coffee shop. Favourite Corporation: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation! Bane Of Existence: Commercials. MAC Studio Fix Shade: C6. Cheat Sheet: The four Cs of writing: clear, concise, conversational and courageous.

Costa will pack up his anchor desk for the last time on March 28 after 31 years on the air, most recently as anchor of the CBC supper hour newscast. We will all miss him.

What are you going to next?

I haven’t gotten to that stage yet. I’ve been told that being in a workplace for as long as I have means that there’s a grieving process you have to go through. They say you get over it, which in my case will be my first scotch on the rocks after my last shift. And then I’ll move on.

I have some ideas but I haven’t given it deep thought. I’ve thought about going into communications, but I’ve also thought about opening up a coffee shop or putting in a bid for a hot dog stand on a beach somewhere. I want to stay in Regina.

Will you even know who you are after you take off the suit?

You know, in Regina, you can’t put on airs. This is the Prairies and I’m a Prairie boy, so whether you have a suit or jeans on, you are who you are.

How do you feel about dropping the persona? You seem to be a pretty what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person.

Today I was listening to some old newscasts when I first started in this business, and it doesn’t even sound like me. I lacked confidence as a young person; I was trying to be somebody else. I figured it out — and somebody told me to figure it out pretty quickly — that you just have to be yourself. That’s one of the keys to lasting in this business: just be yourself. I’ve always prided myself on that.

You’ll let your hair (and teeth) down?

I still have the hair. Not to sound vain, but I’m just glad that my hair hasn’t started thinning before I quit TV. I might have one or two fewer suits in the closet.

You’re remarkably well preserved.

It’s nothing that I’ve done; it’s just a gene fluke.

Some people got it; some people don’t.

What are you gonna do?

Will you miss the news, or revel in the silence?

I will miss being on the air. This is what I wanted to do since I was very young. Walking into a news room for the very first time — the first time I did that was the Leader Post when I was a kid delivering newspapers — I loved the feel of the news room. I loved the messiness of it. I loved the dark humour. When I say dark, I mean we make fun of things that don’t really play well in the real world. I’ve been told that the cop shop has that kind of newsroom humour. It’s humour at the expense of others, which is cruel, and I know I’ll burn in hell for contributing to these jokes. But it’s just the way it is and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.

Has the quality of the news changed since you started?

There’s certainly a direction for shorter stories. I look at shows from 15 years ago that were too long, and you can just hear the TVs clicking off. I think it’s gone too far the other way. God forbid if you get to do a two-minute story; it’s rare now.

Are you worried about the future of public broadcasting in Canada?

CBC Radio has a distinctive sound; whether you like it or not is beside the point. On TV I’m not so sure sometimes. CBC is starting to sound and look like the privately run stations. I think it’s a dangerous route to go. It’s commercial driven, money driven. You can defend distinctive Canadian voices, told in a distinctive way, without promotions from Tim Hortons between them. If I had my way I would eliminate all or most commercials from CBC television. We’re still at the point where I can defend CBC as a public broadcaster, but I do worry about where we’re going. I hope for the best for CBC. I think it’s still worth defending, even with some of its shortcomings and its bureaucracy. If I didn’t believe in it I wouldn’t have stuck it out for 30 years.

Are you going to be really outspoken now that you’re free?

No. There are people who were formerly in public life whose names suddenly start appearing in letters to the editor giving the impression they have way too much time on their hands. People will say, “That Costa. What does he do all day, sitting there writing letters and tweeting and complaining about traffic on Albert Street? Why doesn’t he give it a rest? Didn’t he retire?”

This interview has been edited for publication.