Bob McDonald looks back at 30 years of hosting Quirks & Quarks


Quirks and Quarks1:03:17Oct 29: Celebrating Bob McDonald’s 30 years as host of Quirks & Quarks

The hair has turned gray and the voice has mellowed, however after three a long time, I nonetheless get pleasure from hosting our weekly nationwide science radio program. It is the “quirkiest” and longest job of my life.

Walking into the Quirks & Quarks workplace in 1992 was an intimidating expertise. I used to be following within the footsteps of hosts David Suzuki, Jay Ingram and David Mobray — all very effectively revered science journalists. 

The present had already been on the air for 16 years and was a well-oiled machine that was lacking a gear. It was the primary time that I used to be filling another person’s sneakers. I by no means thought at the time that I might nonetheless be standing in these sneakers three a long time later.

My earlier job had been hosting CBC’s kids’s tv program Wonderstruck, and the transition to a radio program aimed at adults was a steep studying curve. 

WATCH: Bob McDonald in an excerpt from the CBC-TV science present for teenagers, Wonderstruck (1991)

Bob McDonald: Wonderstruck, 1991

On his method to helming Quirks and Quarks, McDonald hosted a CBC-TV kids’s science present referred to as Wonderstruck. Here’s a clip from 1991 that options a tremendous piece of new tech.

In children’ TV we had been free to take any subject and make it enjoyable and comprehensible for younger folks. But Quirks & Quarks is guided by the breaking science information of the week: Publications in scientific journals, information from universities and analysis labs, a large assortment of subjects in each area of science.

Suddenly I used to be confronted with the intimidating process of studying about topics far exterior my experience corresponding to mad cow illness, in any other case referred to as bovine spongiform encephalopathy: a scary, degenerative deadly mind illness whose look was an enormous information story in 1992.

Bob McDonald within the CBC studio throughout his first season as host of Quirks & Quarks. His first episode aired on Oct. 24, 1992. (Submitted by Bob McDonald)

It took a day simply to discover ways to pronounce these phrases, not to mention perceive how the illness ate away at the brains of cows and the (fortunately few) human victims it in the end affected.

‘Let me see if I’ve acquired this proper’

Because of our efforts to maintain up with rising tales, to today I haven’t got any concept of what subjects I will probably be coping with from week to week. But very early on I realized the key to hosting the present: it is all about listening.

All journalism is storytelling. Regardless of the subject, all tales have the identical parts: a setting, characters, some type of motion, and both a conclusion or progress to the subsequent step.

You needn’t know the whole lot there may be to learn about a topic corresponding to genetics to do an interview (though a primary understanding helps). You simply give attention to that specific visitor’s story.

If they change into slowed down within the particulars, I throw in what has change into considerably of a trademark phrase: “Let me see if I’ve acquired this proper…” the place I attempt to summarize what they’ve simply stated, as merely as attainable, normally with an analogy thrown in to assist make it comprehensible to the viewers.

A collage of pictures of Bob McDonald at different ages.
Bob McDonald by way of the years. (CBC)

During a convention at one of our Canadian universities, a scientist who had been on the present confided in me when he stated: “In our lab, we now have a problem if we’re on Quirks & Quarks to get by way of an interview with out you saying ‘Let me see if I’ve acquired this proper.’ Because should you say, that it means we now have failed to speak clearly.” 

I did not understand I had set a bar.

Documenting historical past, one interview at a time

And what tales we now have lined over the previous 30 years. 1992 noticed the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the place world leaders gathered to interact with the problems of local weather change and loss of biodiversity.

Since then there have been 26 UN local weather summits (or COP conferences), however world carbon emissions are nonetheless on the rise. We have seen predictions made by scientists of ice loss, extra highly effective storms, elevated droughts and wildfires all come true. Climate change is now not a factor of the long run.

The first exoplanet was found throughout my first season. Now the quantity of planets discovered orbiting different stars has handed 5,000. And talking of planets, we now have despatched robots to each planet in our photo voltaic system together with Pluto, which was controversially demoted to “dwarf planet” standing.

WATCH: Bob McDonald solutions science questions from viewers

Bob McDonald solutions your science questions

Bob McDonald, the host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, sits down with Peter Mansbridge to reply science questions submitted by viewers

Technology has modified immensely in 30 years. The International Space Station didn’t exist in 1992. Our places of work had been simply starting to have computer systems, and there was this new factor referred to as the web.

We have lined the massive tales such because the cloning of Dolly the sheep, the mapping of the human genome, the invention of the Higgs Boson. We’ve appeared at the weird intercourse lives of bugs, and unique behaviour of particles within the quantum world. 

Astronomers realized that the universe just isn’t solely increasing, it’s dashing up, attributable to a mysterious phenomenon dubbed darkish vitality.

They additionally proceed to analyze the truth that a lot of the universe seems to be made up of invisible darkish matter.

Those two parts, darkish vitality and darkish matter, prove to comprise 95 per cent of the matter and vitality within the universe — and we nonetheless do not know what they’re.

Favourite interview?

As our motto says, “We cowl each facet of science, from the quirks of the increasing universe to the quarks inside a single atom … and the whole lot in between.”

People typically ask what my favorite interview has been. It’s troublesome to reply, as a result of over the previous 30 years I’ve spoken to greater than 7,000 company, so how do I choose only one?

Is it the well-known astronomer Carl Sagan who I admired drastically, or the newest Nobel Prize winner? It may very well be anybody of our Canadian astronauts, or somebody doing vital analysis on COVID-19.

The greatest pinch-me moment got here when Canadian Nobel Laureate Dr. John Polanyi invited a number of different Nobel Laureates to Toronto for a convention.

John Polanyi, Nobel Prize laureate

For his profound contributions to science, Canadian scientist John Polanyi receives the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Our producers managed to intercept the group, inviting them to debate the long run of science of their fields.

There I used to be, sitting throughout the studio desk from six males (sadly, there have been no girls) in tuxedos, every the winner of the Nobel Prize in Science. I nonetheless keep in mind the sensation of awe and pleasure that I felt to be in that room.

Thanks and appreciation

After three a long time of hosting Quirks, I nonetheless get pleasure from going to work each week. The subject material is at all times new, fascinating and it retains me abreast of the place we’re in our understanding of the elemental course of that governs the universe, and due to this fact our lives.

I want to thank all of the scientists who’ve been beneficiant with their time and shared their tales with us. We cannot do the present with out you. 

It has been a tremendous journey of discovery.– Bob McDonald

I’m additionally deeply indebted to the producers who do the heavy lifting on the present. They discover the tales, chase down the scientists, do pre-interviews to focus the story, collect the analysis, and work on the scripts and questions with me.

By the time you hear my voice on the radio, you’re actually listening to the work of a gaggle of very proficient and educated folks. I stand on the tip of an iceberg that’s the large mental capital referred to as the CBC. It is a supreme privilege to be half of that group.

Finally, thanks to the viewers for supporting our program for greater than 45 years on the air. Our scores have persistently made us one of CBC Radio’s hottest applications. And ought to we ever slip up and make a mistake, you’re proper on us to level it out.

It has been a tremendous journey of discovery. And contemplating how a lot there may be but to study concerning the universe, I’m honoured to have the prospect to proceed to convey these tales to you.


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