CBG’s First Woman – Felicity Heath

by Frank Tibbo

Felicity Heath just couldn’t finish her announcement about seal flippers. On the other side of the glass in VORG’s studio, two of her co-workers had grabbed their overshoes and began chewing on the rubber footwear. Their prank worked because Miss Heath burst out laughing, and the announcement was never finished. Felicity Heath is now Mrs. Austen, and she laughed as she talked about her experiences while working with VORG and CBG, “Those clowns were always fooling around trying to get me to laugh when I was on the air.”

Felicity Heath came to Gander from Botwood with her mother in January 1939. Her father, Bill Heath, (Heath Crescent, Gander) was already here as Officer-in-Charge of the Aeradio Station. The Heaths lived on Chestnut Road just a few houses from VORG’s first studio. Shortly after the station commenced operations on January 1, 1944, Miss Heath was given a tour of the studio by Bob Harvey, one of the RCAF Announcers. A few years later when the station had been taken over by the Newfoundland Broadcasting Corporation, Miss Heath became the first female radio operator/announcer in Newfoundland.

“Harold Morris was the only other employee when I went to work there in 1947. Later they hired other employees, and the station was on the air from seven in the morning until twelve at night. Our hours were from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. then 6 p.m. to midnight. The next day I’d work from one until six.”
Gander has never been short of interesting visitors. “I really enjoyed the work, especially when I interviewed some of the famous people that came through the airport.”

VORG didn’t always have a technician or engineer available, which made for interesting situations. Having a father who knew how to get a transmitter back on the air helped. “Sometimes the station would go off the air and I would call Dad. He’d say, ‘Get a taxi and go out to the transmitter building, call me and I’ll talk you through it.’”

With Confederation came a big change. The Newfoundland Broadcasting Stations became CBC stations. The biggest change for Miss Heath was in her pay-cheque. “I got five or six times as much when we changed over to the CBC.”

Gander has hosted many celebrities, and the late Hank Snow made a couple of visits. On one occasion he was at the studio to do an interview and to perform. Miss Heath remembers that he’d had a few too many and was a bit tipsy. “He kept opening the door to the recording room; and then, of course, we’d get the noise from outside.” That may have been the time that Eric Wicks got married, because Eric told me that Hank Snow showed up at the reception and, to everyone’s delight, sang a few songs for the bride and groom.

In 1953 Miss Heath married Mr. Jack Austen, manager of the Royal Bank, Gander, and decided to hang up her microphone. Mr. and Mrs. Austen are currently living in Riverview, New Brunswick.

contributed by F. Tibbo


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