Thank you for being a friend

Over the past 15 years, I’ve covered my share of entertainment stories on the radio. Whether it’s phone interviews with a celebrity somewhere else in the world or face-to-face on a red carpet, there’s been no shortage of moments with the rich and famous.

While hosting my syndicated radio show, Top of The Charts, I interviewed hundreds of celebs and covered dozens of events. As my show grew in popularity and I made headlines back in my hometown of Winnipeg, I was constantly asked – and still am – what my favourite moment has been. It’s always difficult to come up with an answer because I look at them as a professional assignment that doesn’t allow me the opportunity to personally enjoy it.

I compare it to someone who flips burgers for a job. Maybe the first few times you do it it’s exciting and interesting. After a while, it becomes routine. One burger is just like the other. For me, one interview was just like the other. It’s common to feel that way after you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. It’s not to say that you don’t enjoy what you do, but you remove any emotion from it and just do the job.

Since signing off from the show in June, I’ve had time to reflect and remember the great moments from the show. Some of them I talk about in this clip and others I think about and laugh because they’re had-to-be-there moments that if you weren’t present it wouldn’t be funny to you. There are plenty of those.

One of the events – dare I even say it was THE event – for me was Betty White’s birthday. It’s been nearly 10 years since I attended her 90th party in Hollywood and it still feels like yesterday with all of the memories fresh in my mind. I can’t say that about any other red carpet show we’ve done.

It started months before her January birthday. NBC was producing a special primetime broadcast celebrating Betty’s milestone event. At the time, I had reached out to the show’s publicist to arrange a phone interview with Betty. (This was before we had a team of radio producers doing that work for me!) The answer was a swift No every time. But, I’m persistent and continued to reach out every couple of weeks. My request got smaller each time. Instead of 10 minutes on the phone, I’d settle for eight minutes. Instead of eight minutes, I’d settle for six minutes. Instead of six minutes, I’d gladly take four with Betty on the phone. It never happened.

Finally, days before the NBC event on Jan. 8, 2012, I got the email that would change my career forever. It was still a rejection on the phone interview request, but it included an invitation to cover the event. I would be a media guest on the red carpet and attending the broadcast.

My last-ditch email was sent out the Thursday morning before and it was moments before I was meeting my brother for lunch. The lunch dates with my brother were generally two hours at a buffet where we talked about everything happening in our lives. For him, it was a bitch session about his wife and kids, and for me it was blabbing on about the career excitement I was having as an entrepreneur. But, for this meeting I didn’t want to say anything because I thought I would jinx it and suddenly get an email telling me I received the invite by mistake and that I couldn’t go.

My brother, knowing me as well as he does, could tell something was up. I wasn’t my usual self. I tried to downplay it and brush it off that I was just tired and didn’t have much energy. He eventually pulled it out of me and didn’t believe the story. It was less than a two-hour lunch that time because I had to get back to work and figure out how to get a live red-carpet broadcast on the air that weekend since our radio show for the regular timeslot had already been pre-taped and fed to stations. We dropped that show and were set to go live on the weekend.

On the plane to L.A., my stomach was in knots. I knew there was nothing to prepare for our show. Every guest I’d be speaking with would be talking about Betty. There wasn’t much I needed to research. I knew how Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore and the cast of Hot in Cleveland were connected to Betty. Our on-air segments would largely sound the same: What are your fondest memories of working with Betty? I mean, you don’t get an opportunity to go that deep during these two-minute segments sometimes.

I landed in L.A. late at night. I stupidly took a hotel shuttle, which was nearly two hours of driving other passengers to their hotels before stopping at mine – of course, the last on the list. (Good thing Uber exists now.) It was well after midnight and I rushed up to my room, threw my belongings on the bed and began looking through my digital files for a picture of my golden retriever wearing a party hat. I knew I had shots of him wearing a hat from his previous birthday. Since Betty loved goldens, I had a picture printed and framed for her. The plan was to get it in her dressing room before the show that weekend. (Spoiler: I succeeded and she reportedly took home the pic after.)

With my adrenaline going in the middle of the night, it was impossible to sleep. There was no chance I was getting any rest before the birthday. I was still awake as the sun came up so I took my notes from NBC and went down to the pool. I took a pen and told myself I would prepare for the live show but I didn’t. It was too exciting. After about 10 minutes I went back up to my room and started drinking. I unwrapped from tissue paper the most-expensive sweater I’d ever bought. It was from a couple of years earlier in Toronto while covering Canadian Idol. I was having a baller moment and went to Banana Republic and spent a shitload of money on clothing I didn’t need, couldn’t afford and didn’t want. It was time to give the sweater a whirl. Betty White’s 90th birthday remains the only time I’ve ever worn the sweater. It is still wrapped in tissue in a drawer at home.

As the afternoon rolled on, I got the countdown warnings before I had to get dressed and go for hair and makeup, and before my driver would be at the hotel to get me. Once the clock is ticking, the adrenaline goes into overdrive – especially for a live red carpet show. Live broadcasting from these kinds of events is a trip. You never know what’s going to happen and you have to run with whatever comes your way. In this instance, I gave myself – with the blessing from radio colleagues – permission to live in the moment; to take that step back and enjoy this as a fan.

Would I act differently? Would I fan out and embarrass myself? I had no idea. This was the first, and likely the only time, I wasn’t playing the character of the radio host. At least, I didn’t feel I was. When I listen back to the clips I can sense that I was still the same Jeremy Bradley who was hosting a show from Hollywood. Mentally, the pressure was off though.

Arriving at the hotel where the event was happening, our broadcast equipment was unpacked. My radio show’s spot on the red carpet was far down the line, meaning that everybody would be passing me to get into the event so had a clear shot at chatting with them. This position can be scary because red carpets usually run late and when it’s crunch time before a show, the celebs are hurried along and have to bypass a lot of media outlets. Thankfully, this was a little more relaxed and everybody had time for me.

Betty herself didn’t do interviews on the red carpet. She passed behind all of us and went into the auditorium. The press room was filled with rows of chairs. This is usually where reporters file their stories. For our radio shows, it’s the place where our photos were shrunk down for website highlights and the audio was edited for posting online, and shortened even more for sound bites on local radio the next morning. But, let’s be honest, I couldn’t work during the birthday telecast. I had to be in there watching. So I did. Did it mean I missed our filing deadline overnight? Yup. Did I care? Nope.

After the show, Betty came to the press room and was seated in a golden chair. She took questions from reporters. Unfortunately, the blinding light prevented her from seeing us and the acoustics in the ballroom made it difficult for her to hear us asking questions into a microphone. My question was: If you could make one wish come true for all the animals in the world, what would it be? Here’s the moment.

After the press conference ended and the room cleared out, I made my way onto the platform to sit where the legendary Betty White had just sat. The cleanup crew was wondering how long I’d be sticking around and, traditionally, you get as much time as you need. Truthfully, I was keeping an eye out for the room to be empty so I could make my move and hit the stage. It’s not that I wouldn’t have been allowed to, rather I didn’t want to look like a star-struck idiot.

On the way back to the hotel, I remember looking out the window and taking a deep breath, thinking it was a wild night. Did I have any radio “moments” that would go down in history? Not for anyone else, no. For me, it was a surreal experience.

Back at the hotel, I still felt no pressure to get our radio content done. It was late and I was still riding the high. Our entertainment headline show missed the deadline by four hours. My clips for the morning shows should’ve been sent overnight. Instead, the morning hosts got the audio moments before we went on the air. Again, I was so revved up that it was the second night in a row I didn’t sleep. (Also, because I was on West Coast time, it meant I had to be up at 4 a.m. for East Coast stations, anyway. Why bother sleeping?)

I had one more day in L.A. before flying home. When booking the flights, I considered flying back the next morning but thought I would appreciate the time to bask in the afterglow of the moment. And I did. I know myself too well! I had a lazy day in West Hollywood and casually strolled up and down the streets I had become familiar with. As I walked along Santa Monica Blvd., I was tempted to stop everybody I passed and say, “Guess where I was last night” and show them the photos. I resisted.

The next day as I packed up and headed to the airport, I felt like I had a giant grin on my face and people would look and wonder what was up with me. On the plane, I looked around and wondered what everybody had done that weekend. Did they have a life-changing moment as I did? Same thing with the people beside me on the plane: I wanted to tell them all about what I was doing in L.A. for those days. Instead, I sat there almost giggling to myself knowing that I had a secret.

When I got back to Canada, I was bombarded with questions. Friends and family were excited – and maybe a little envious – about my interaction with the iconic Golden Girl. And in true JB style, I milked that radio content for all it was worth. Every year for the next five years, it was reposted and tweeted over and over. When I celebrated radio milestones it was brought up again. It really was a pivotal moment in my career.

At the party, we were given copies of Betty’s new book about animal love. She is seen with a giraffe on the cover. It has been on a shelf at the end of my office desk ever since I got it home. Today, as we mourn the loss of Betty White, I look at the hardcover book and say, “Thank you for being a friend.”

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