David Candow, ‘host whisperer’ and public radio trainer, dies at 74

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David Candow, who was nicknamed “The Host Whisperer” for his work training hundreds of public radio hosts and journalists, died Thursday at his home in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He was 74.

David Candow with his grandchildren in 2007. Photo courtesy of Vickie Candow.

David Candow with his grandchildren in 2007. (Photo: Vickie Candow)

After a long career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Candow started a consulting business in 1995 and became known throughout U.S. public radio for his extensive work training journalists in writing, editing, interviewing and delivery. In 2008, the Washington Post described him as “a kind of Henry Higgins to broadcasting’s Eliza Doolittles.”

His death prompted an outpouring of remembrances throughout public radio from the hosts and reporters he helped over the years. A Tumblr dedicated to his memory launched over the weekend and quickly became a catalog of advice he had imparted over the years. Former Marketplace digital director Matt Berger penned a long essay about his work with Candow, and on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, host Scott Simon recalled Candow’s impact on his career.

Simon told Current that he resisted when he was told in the late ’90s that he would have to train with a consultant. But Candow resolved Simon’s doubts about the efficacy of working with a trainer while also fostering an atmosphere that promoted learning.

“David had been in enough newsrooms to know what the initial reaction . . . would be,” Simon said. “So he would just say, ‘Let’s talk.’”

Simon said Candow’s strength as a trainer was that rather than starting from preconceived notions or a set system, he listened to the work of people he consulted with and tried to tailor his teachings to their individual styles.

“I can’t say you would turn on the radio and say, ‘Oh, there’s David,’” Simon said. “I don’t think he would want that. But I do think you hear an interesting constellation of people on the air, and that bears the imprint of David and his work. He wanted there to be a proliferation of sounds.”

Candow worked for the CBC from 1964 to 1995 as an executive producer and later as a trainer for the English radio department and as director of training. While at the CBC, he was the first foreign journalist to lead a training program in South Africa to prepare journalists for democratic elections and working in a democracy.

During his tenure at the CBC, he won the CBC President’s Award of Excellence in 1993 for “working tirelessly to improve the quality of CBC English Radio’s on-air product and inspiring people to do their best by giving them a sense of confidence and pride in what they do.”

Candow started working with NPR in 1995 and over the years worked with many of its top talents and journalists at public radio stations across the country.

“That was what he reveled in, getting people to love the craft,” his daughter Vickie Candow said. Candow would have been “humbled” by the remembrances of him, she said.

Candow was born in Curling, Newfoundland, an area with a working-class character that he took pride in, according to his daughter. “He’d always say, ‘Not bad for a boy from Curling,’” she said.

Lester Graham, an investigative reporter with Michigan Watch the investigative reporting arm of Michigan Radio, first worked with Candow in 1998 at the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. Graham, then a novice to radio journalism, said Candow helped show him how radio journalism should work.

“After spending time with him, I learned what a real edit should accomplish and how to put a story together,” Graham said. “It was an epiphanous moment for me and for many of us who worked with him. And, on top of it, he was just the nicest guy.”

Jeff Hansen, p.d. at Seattle’s KUOW, said Candow was a regular presence at the station, which he visited for annual training sessions for 13 years. Candow had been planning another training session shortly before his death.

Candow was able to relate to people in a collaborative way that drew them in and forged friendships, Hansen said.

“He was a charismatic figure who could make connections,” Hansen said. “He was capable of working successfully with people of all levels of experience. You couldn’t help coming out better after it was done.”

Public radio has lost an irreplaceable resource, Hansen added.

“He was a sort of repository for all the best practices in public radio,” Hansen said. “He just embodied everything that we’ve learned to date, and we need that kind of work in our industry more than ever.”

Candow’s consulting work also took him overseas to train journalists in Malawi, Barbados and Indonesia. He received the 2008 Leo C. Lee award from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. in recognition of his contributions to the field.

Candow is survived by his wife, Catherine, and his children Vickie Candow and Jimmy Candow. A funeral service is scheduled for Friday in Burlington, Ontario.