Peter Silverman Still Helps
Little did I know, he continues to lend a hand to those in need of someone with a wealth of experience (and cojones) in the realm of consumer advocacy.
Seeing that I'm not much of a commercial radio listener, let alone on Saturday mornings, it came as news to me that Silverman's skills and "helps" concept continue to live on in the form of a radio gig on CFRB 1010. While the show is quite different (especially being on radio, and lacking video footage of Peter hunting down culprits and forcing them to respond in front of a camera crew), it retains some of the same principles and goals as the original award-winning CityTV program.
I caught up with Peter Silverman, still tough as nails at 75 years young, to ask him about the end of his tenure at City, the pressures of being the go-to guy for thousands, and how his CFRB radio gig is coming along.
blogTO: How did your 19-year tenure on Silverman Helps on City News come to a sudden end?
Peter Sliverman: Silverman Helps was the longest running Canadian Consumer advocacy show ever. It had gained a well-deserved reputation for honesty, fairness, and as the court of last resort for thousands of people. In fact, people would write and say that the mere mention that they, the consumer, were going to contact Silverman helps was enough to "resolve" the dispute they were having.
My producer, Terry O'Keefe and I were hoping (at the time it seemed certain) that we would achieve our two decades, and if my stamina held up, even more years at CITY. After all, we'd won more awards than anyone else in the newsroom, and we were told by Rogers that we were a vital of the City News brand and image. Vital or not, on the morning of June 4, 2008, (and without any warning) Terry and I were called into the City News boardroom and were told by Jamie Haggerty (Rogers then point man) that as of that moment we were shut down.
When we asked what the rationale was, we were informed that none would be given. When I inquired what was to be done with the 12,000 consumer complaints we had received up to that point in 2008, we were told to "shred them." Over the next few weeks we cleaned out our desks, gathered up our awards, mementos and memorabilia, and went off into the night quietly.
When did your show on CFRB first air?
Not long after leaving City, Steve Kowch of CFRB offered me the Saturday Radio gig. The first show aired on Saturday, the 6th of September, 2008, and it's continued since.
What did you do with your time between media "helps" gigs?
I kept busy. I'm a board member of Car Help Canada, Save a Child's Heart Israel, and the OMVIC Compensation Fund. I also did some charity work, but mostly I went to our cottage and chilled out.
Were people still seeking help from you, even though you didn't have an official outlet to broadcast?
Yes, people continued to ask if I could help them. But it wasn't until I was afforded the opportunity of free time that I suddenly realized the stress that Silverman Helps generated. It was not a job we left at the office. During the evenings and weekends, Terry and I would be on the phone discussing investigations were were involved in and upcoming stories. But the results were worth it, (I think). It wasn't without reason we were referred to as a mini Sixty Minutes.
Your new job at CFRB is on the radio. Does the show suffer from the lack of a video component?
Yes, of course. Radio is a different medium with a different ethos and as such is limited in its impact. Radio stations generally do not have the resources to carry out a Silverman Helps program (the CBC excepted, and even then they combine the TV and radio on many occasions). That said, radio does have a certain cachet, and CFRB"s listeners are loyal and involved, and the station dose have a great reputation within the community, so I do still manage to help good people.
But it is different. I pass on their complaints to the appropriate contacts I have gained over the years, or I advise the listener who to contact and how to resolve their problem. Most of the time it works out. I also have experts within certain areas (condos, contractors, movers, etc) on the show to field questions and offer advice. That's the strength of CFRB's talk format - the interaction with the audience, which offers people the chance to vent, and if not get answers, at least get some practical advice that they can put to use.
How does it feel to once again be a "go-to" for people in need of help? How much longer do you see yourself being a prominent consumer advocate?
It's stressful, yet again. I'm finding myself spending too much bloody time on the computer doing this, and have to find ways of cutting back.
But there is the great satisfaction that comes from helping people who badly need it, and I've found some great individuals within various disciplines' or professions, (lawyers etc) who offer a lot of help for very little in return.
I'll continue for perhaps another year. We'll see. I have some offers that I am pondering along the advising business about customer relations, dealing with complaints, etc.
In your line of work, you must have encountered some wild and wacky situations on the mean streets of Toronto. Care to share one such recent case you've worked on?
None are "wacky" in the humourous sense - to the consumer, nothing is funny if they have been taken, are a victim of fraud, or lied to. But I am working on one complaint that concerns a person being buried in the wrong plot. Apparently this happens more often then people realize. But consider the outcome - if one body rests in the wrong place, then it's likely there could be a domino effect. One out of place means somewhere else someone (hopefully dead) is also residing under the wrong tombstone. It boggles the mind.
The Peter Silverman Show airs on Saturdays at 11am on Newstalk 1010 CFRB.
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