Isn’t it something that a man named Trotter would spend most of his life around horse racing? The aptly named Dick Trotter, a longtime broadcaster, passed away on December 27th in Port Perry, Ontario at the age of 79.
His passing made me reflect back on a great time in my life; the CKWS newsroom in the 1980’s. We were a tight-knit group, most of us in our early 20’s trying to fake it until we made it. We worked hard and played even harder. Dick was like the dad from a TV sitcom, older and wiser he stayed above the fray quietly smirking at our jokes and ongoing antics. Years before he had been there, done that. Somehow you just knew he had much better stories from his 20’s then anything we were doing, he just never bothered to share them.
Dick seemed quite crusty when you first met him, but when you got to know him he was a great guy with a very dry, sarcastic sense of humour.
He was two feet to my left on the news desk for over a decade and every night I’d go on and bash the Leafs or throw verbal bricks at somebody. Anytime I could get a snicker or muffled laugh out of Dick I knew I had just delivered a good line.
Dick was old-school, the consummate broadcaster with a level, measured tone never veering off script. A true anchorman. He spent most of his early career in sports before arriving in Kingston. In the 1960’s he did play-by-play for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and it led to a stint in the pros; calling games for the Detroit Red Wings short-lived minor league affiliate in Virginia.
From there he found his way to Peterborough, near a race track of course and he worked in local radio. He built a reputation as one of the best race callers in standardbred racing, where he was highly respected and seemed to know everyone in the harness racing industry. Lots of broadcasters do play-by-play; very few can call a horse race, the rare and unique talent he had mastered.
In the early 1980’s Dick was hired by CKWS to read the sports on the six o’clock news and to be the track announcer at Kingston Park Raceway. At the time, the legendary Max Jackson had just retired from CKWS. I was doing sports on the eleven o’clock news and I wasn’t thrilled when I learned that Dick was being brought in from Peterborough to do the six o’clock show. However, it didn’t take me long to appreciate he was a really good guy, who had far more experience in life and in broadcasting.
Not long after, tragedy struck our newsroom. David Green, who was in his 30’s, was the news anchor at six o’clock. One day Green came into work not feeling well and less than two hours before his nightly newscast he left the newsroom, walked into the hallway and shockingly dropped dead of a massive heart attack.
It was tragic and one of the saddest events you could imagine.
Dick was asked to step in and read the newscast. I will never forget under the worst circumstances imaginable, Dick Trotter went on the air, calm, collected and professional.
None of us could have possibly done what he did.
His maturity, his leadership, and professionalism got us through that night and the sad days that followed. It’s a memory that will never leave me. Dick then became the permanent news anchor and I took over the sports.
That lasted for about 10 years and co-anchor Christine Ross was with us most of that time. We truly were a team and often heard from viewers they could see we genuinely liked each other and got along well. That’s pretty rare in television news.
I also heard from viewers that, “it must be great to work with your Dad”, apparently we had really bad graphics in those days or they weren’t paying real close attention that he was Trotter and I was Potter!
In 1992, I was running out of material and the Leafs had traded for Dougie Gilmour, so I left to start a new career in the financial world.
A year or so later Dick left CKWS to try to resurrect Kingston Park Raceway. He found a Toronto-based business partner, they reopened the track and tried to make a go of it. They put everything they had into it, but without slot machines it was a bleak time for harness racing in Ontario and they couldn’t make it work.
I didn’t see Dick again until 2004, at the 50th anniversary of CKWS-TV when the old gang reunited to anchor the six o’clock newscast. Dick and Christine Ross read the news, Dave Lewington did the weather and I was back on sports.
For one night we were back together and it was like Dick had never left. He still had his textbook on-air delivery; calm, measured and smooth.
Dick Trotter left his mark on television viewers in southeastern Ontario and with harness racing enthusiasts province-wide. I am sure in heaven, long-time CKWS photographer Peter Owen, who took the photos at Kingston Park Raceway and also passed away in 2016, is taking Dick’s photo in the ‘winner’s circle’ and they’re toasting with a cocktail or three to celebrate lives well-lived.
Mark Potter is the former Sports Director at CKWS-TV