The lights went out on January 8, 1998… and they didn’t come back on for over a week. “The Weather” reports for those pockets of Montreal where people still had power instantly became headline news. Montrealers were in the grip of an unprecedented ice storm. Fresh out of broadcast journalism school, Lori Graham had the daunting responsibility of trying to make sense of it all for those few Montrealers who still had electricity. They would pass on the news to friends and relatives enduring the power failure in the darkness and cold.

Growing up on Montreal’s West Island, Lori Graham didn’t have a clear idea of what career path she would pursue. “I worried a lot growing up about what I wanted to do. Most of my friends had a very clear idea of what they wanted to be – a doctor, lawyer, engineer or nurse. Since I didn’t have a career goal, I followed the generally accepted advice: ‘If you don’t know what you want to do – do science!’ The thinking behind that is that you leave all your options open.”

Although Lori didn’t have career goal during her high school years, she excelled at public speaking and acting. “If there was a theatre production – I was there to audition!” She was elected to be the class valedictorian for her high school graduating class.

Lori’s family was (and continues to be) very supportive. “We had dinner together every night – and I still go ‘home’ for Sunday dinner. My dad always said to me: ‘You can be anything you want to be. You just have to go for it.’ Lori’s brother Jason has benefited from that same support. A highly successful computer analyst, he travels the world for Ericsson.

While attending John Abbott College, Laurie credits her English teacher Adrienne Elliott for encouraging her with her writing and to consider journalism. “It was she who really helped me to look seriously at journalism as a career.”

“I applied to Physiology at McGill and Broadcast Journalism at Concordia. Concordia only accepted 6 students a year into their Broadcast Journalism program – so I knew the competition would be stiff. The other students were bringing in portfolios of their previous work – but after studying physics and math – I didn’t have anything to put into a portfolio.” Lori took a risk in order to create a unique and special presentation to illustrate that she was an achievement-oriented person. “I lay down on some sheets of bristle board and had my Mom trace around me. I filled the cut-out of myself with all the awards I had won, including those for English and Public Speaking.” It was a gamble…

The first letter came from McGill, accepting Lori into their Physiology program. “I was happy – but not particularly excited. Then the letter from Concordia came – accepting me as one of the six successful applicants into Broadcast Journalism.” After Lori pealed herself off the ceiling her mother Marilyn commented; “Well – you always did have a gift for the gab!”

Lori was off to Concordia, with no journalism experience but with a desire to excel.

The second year courses had a focus on radio, and Lori found the immediacy of radio to be exhilarating. “The first time I did a live report by telephone back to the Concordia station – I thought; ‘This is terrific! I’ve never grown tired of being ‘live”; and being the weather presenter enables me to ‘go live’ every day that I’m on the air.”

Studying radio during her second year, Lori learned about the CJAD Al Cauley Award, which included an internship for the winner. “I sent in a demo tape – and I won!” During her internship, Lori did a live telephone report back to the station. “My mom and I were picking my Dad up at the train station, and I told her that it might be on. And then… “This is Claude Beaulieu from CJAD. We have a live report from Lori Graham about…” My mom and I went nuts – to hear my name being broadcast on a station that I had grown up listening to was a thrill.”

It got better – a lot better.

“One afternoon my brother said in kind of an offhand way, ‘Oh, by the way – you got a call from Gord Sinclair at CJAD’. When I called him he asked; ‘Hey kid – what do you know about traffic? I’d like you to come in and audition. I need a replacement for Cindy while she’s away…’

The traffic reporter works with both CJAD and the FM station, then called Mix 96. “I was soooo nervous. Here I was working with George Balcan on the biggest station in Montreal; and Terry Dimonte and Ted Bird on The Mix. I had grown up listening to these people, and now I’m on air with them. George Balcan totally put me at ease. He was such a gentleman, introducing me to the listeners.” Meanwhile, back in their West Island home, Ross and Marilyn Graham had two tape recorders ready to record each of Lori’s reports – one unit for CJAD and the other for Mix 96. Lori would replay and study where she could make improvements.

Gord Sinclair liked what he heard, and soon invited Lori to look after the overnight newscasts. “I arrived at 10 pm and my first broadcast was at 11:30 pm. The time flew by, because you had to write your newscasts from the information coming in and update it every half hour. I’d finish up at 8am, and then head over to Concordia for my first class at 10am.” This heavy workload continued for the remainder of Lori’s academic program. The student without an application portfolio graduated from one of Canada’s elite journalism schools with the highest marks in her class.

Lori was asked to audition as a possible weekend weather presenter for Global. As luck would have it, CTV station manager Barry Wilson was in the studio and saw Lori’s audition. “Who’s that?” he asked reporter Rob Lurie. “So – instead of working for Global, I was hired to do the weather on CTV Montreal during the weekends. When Don McGowan retired, they offered me the weather job on the 6 o’clock news.”

Lori was still doing the morning traffic at CJAD, arising at 4:30 am so that she’d be ready in the station for the first 6am traffic report, finishing her shift at noon. She then had to prepare for the 6pm CTV News broadcast. It was a long day… Fortunately, Barry Wilson made the decision for Lori, saying that CTV wanted her to focus on her television work.

“CTV has always been active in the community, and the on-air personalities make regular appearances representing the station. One of the most popular is Lori Graham. She hosts tours of the station, speaks in schools, and for the past five years has co-hosted the Telethon of Stars with Sports caster Randy Tieman. “I danced on the Telethon when I was 12, and it’s a thrill to be hosting it now.”

Lori also volunteers for the Bell Walk for Kids Help Phone and The Children’s Wish Foundation. “Not only does the Foundation bring a little joy into the life of the child, it brings a lift to the family of that child.” One of Lori’s favourite activities is the annual trip to the North Pole. “We board the children and their families onto an aircraft in early December, and we take off for the North Pole. While we’re in the air, Santa magically appears and greets the children – and he has a gift for every child.”

A few days after our interview, Lori met with her fellow United Irish Societies committee members to begin selecting the Princess candidates for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, which continue for a week in Montreal. “On average I’m involved with 2 – 3 personal appearances a month.”

It takes a lot of energy to maintain such a pace, and personal fitness is a worthwhile investment. Lori has played soccer for the past 10 years, and she is an avid runner. “I’m going to try the half marathon In Ottawa this spring and we’ll see how that goes.”

Remember the high school productions that Lori sought out? She hasn’t lost her love of theatre and acting. “One of my great loves is the theatre. Unfortunately, working until 7pm essentially rules out acting in a play. However, I have been able to appear in several films. There’s usually a long wait before my scene comes up – and I find that my live television experience helps me to stay alert and be able to overcome the hours of waiting.”

Most radio and television broadcasters get their on-air experience in small markets, gradually working their way up into larger stations in bigger markets. “I’m really very fortunate in that I haven’t had to do that.” During our conversation, I was impressed by Lori’s intellect, her affection and respect for her parents, and her quiet self-assurance.

The CTV Montreal news program has more than 200,000 viewers tuning in every evening. “You are CTV Montreal’s weather presenter 24/7 – no matter where you are. I grew up watching this show. It was part of our dinner hour every night. In my wildest dreams, I had no idea I would ever end up here.”

There’s a saying that ‘luck’ is when preparedness meets opportunity. My guess is that industry veterans like the late Gord Sinclair at CJAD, Barry Wilson at CTV and the CTV producers of Good Morning Canada recognize a talented and natural broadcaster – and that they saw those qualities in Lori Graham. Bravo!

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