Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy birthday Captain Newfoundland

The last oddball tycoon, which is how our own local legend, Geoffrey William Stirling, has been described, turns 90 years old today. (Photograph by Ned Pratt.)

Why do I call him legend?

Where to start?

The media mogul got his idea to start The Newfoundland Herald in 1946 while hunting gators in Hondurus.

A stack of tightly bound newspapers fell from the sky, and Stirling wondered: If The Miami Herald can get all the way to readers in the Central American jungle, why can't I get a newspaper to the outports of Newfoundland?

So, after returning to St. John’s, Stirling purchased 60 tons of newsprint from Joe Smallwood, who had tried his hand at his own newspaper and failed.

To build readership, he had The Herald air-dropped onto the ice floes during the seal hunt.

Forget the fact that many a sealer couldn’t read — it was all about publicity.

And it worked.

The Newfoundland Herald celebrates its 65th anniversary this coming May.

In the late 1940s during the debate over Confederation, Stirling sided with the anti-Confederation forces.

In his book, No Holds Barred, John Crosbie writes about how, in June 1948, he was assigned to work in Stirling’s Topsail Road apartment.

Equipment had been rigged up there to enable the Responsible Government/economic union with the U.S. forces to listen in on long-distance radio-telephone calls between confederates in Newfoundland and their contacts in mainland Canada.

They were looking for proof that Smallwood and his forces were secretly being financed by the Government of Canada.

They never did get the proof, although they did listen in on some fascinating conversations between Newfoundlanders and their mainland lovers.

In the early 1970s, Stirling claimed to have been cured of rheumatoid arthritis by liquid gold injections.

He also bought gold cheap, and sold it for a fortune — ultimately making a killing.

Stirling has a reputation as a media maverick and trailblazer.

His TV station was the first to broadcast 24 hours a day in North America, and he’s credited with revolutionizing the FM radio dial in the late ’60s.

In 1969, shortly after the Beatles released Come Together, Stirling and his son, Scott, met with Lennon.

“Stirling telexed a note to Lennon. It said, “I’ve heard your Come together. So here I am. Geoff Stirling.”

A 1974 documentary in which Geoff co-stars, Waiting for Fidel, is a cult classic, credited as the first “stalkumentary.”

In 1977, soon after the death of his 19-year-old daughter Kim in a car accident, Stirling sold off his mainland radio stations and retreated to Newfoundland.

Stirling spends his time these days between Arizona and Motion, near St. John’s, where he lives in a mansion made of B.C. logs.

I first met Geoff about eight years ago when I worked for a year or so at The Herald.

Geoff was a character, and a legend.

Once, he drove up to the front door of the office in a Ferrari with studded tires (it was spring) and a scarecrow made out of the passenger’s seat so potential kidnappers wouldn’t think he was alone.

His next goal is said to be reincarnation, but I question whether Geoff will ever die.

Favourite Stirling quotes

“This is my movie. I’m the writer, the producer, the director and the hero. In my new movie, my reincarnation, I may not come back to Newfoundland. I may not even come back to this planet.”

— December 2004 Report on Business magazine.


“We’re saying, what are the issues now that are important? Renegotiation of the upper Churchill, which everybody has written off as impossible, you’ve got to shame them into it. It has to be shown and repeated and repeated. This is why The Independent is playing an important role in this movie.”

— Geoff Stirling in an October 2005 interview with The Independent newspaper.


A.M. Tooton said...

A very succinctly written article! No mention, however, of Mr. Stirling's effectively sought-out early goal to make his airwaves available to every Newfoundland wherever he, or she, lived on the island?

Nicely done!

Anthony M. Tooton

Jesse Stirling said...

"This above all, to thine own self be true" is the Captain Newfoundland credo. Who better exemplifies this axiom than Geoff Stirling?

World-class athlete, Hall of Fame businessman, Broadcast pioneer; author, filmmaker, entrepreneur, philanthropist; three cheers for nine decades of a life well lived. As Geoff often tells people:

"If you can conceive it, you can achieve it."

Sharecroppermike said...

Every Newfoundlander can come home every night because of Mr Stirling. Well written Ryan! I will always have praise and gratitude to Mr Stirling. Happy Birthday good and noble Sir! But Geoff would just want to be called Geoff. That's the kind of man he is.~Mike Madigan

Anonymous said...

Where is Motion? Is it in Arizona, Newfounland or United States? How is Mr. Stirling? I like his old videos of the salvation army and his talks with Joey Smallwood. I may have met his wife at stirling press in 1995 or 1996 or 1997. I was taken on a tour of his press I think by his wife.
Take Care!

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Anonymous said...

Mr Stirling,I would like to wish you a belated happy 90th.I used to receive your tv channel NTV here in Ft.Worth Texas on C-Band satellite tv,but signal stopped in the 90's.I loved your late night program,promo Newfoundland anthem and the scenes of your beautiful province.The harbors with the boats that were for sale shown that it was a harsh land and hard way of life.You inspired me with your ellequient ways of speaking to young people,talking of ways of exchanging energies and ideas.I put that to practice with my daughter when she turned the age of wanting to be with her friends and not her Daddy.This was the age of shorts pulled down to the boys crotch and his head almost shaven down to skin.I would only allow them together here at my house to keep adult eyes vigilant.The good news WE GOT THROUGH IT.I thank God that your were broadcasting I learned alot from your wisdom.My future is uncertain now,I am ill I remembered seeing you speak at a graduation mentioning cancer and a doctor in Dallas.I called your place in AZ nice lady gave me his name.I am currently reading Kellys book.I am grateful to have got his name of book.You are a very wise man and I am thankful to have seen and heard you!! John Harston

Anonymous said...

Geoff and his wife were defintely living back in Newfoundland in 1972. In the Moore mansion in Harbour Grace, I beleive. The CRTC had forced him into coming home because the owner had to live in the province where he was broadcasting. . . I think that was the reason. I loved Stirling's tactic of stalling on upgrading his television studeio which the CRTC wanted him to by saying he wanted to build it near Signal Hill (famous site of Marconi's first reception of wireless signal from Britain). Of course, there were massive protests and that delayed his"plans". Did he ever build that station with giant red letters saying CJOH near Signal Hill? Crazy like a fox, i'd say.