Local Talk Show Reaches 20 Seasons
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography Courtesy YourTV
When asked to describe himself, John Fairley answers: “Not a recluse.”
John, who is Vice President of College Communications and Community Relations at St. Clair College, has been the host of the YourTV Windsor cable program, Face to Face TV, for the last 20 years. Throughout his two decades on the air, John has interviewed a vast selection of Windsor’s business and political leaders.
And, in many ways, John has been preparing for his role on the small screen since elementary school.
“I remember playing Santa Claus in public school,” John recalls. “I did an impression of one of our teachers and made everyone laugh. Later on, at Centennial High School, I followed someone reading the morning announcements each day. I think that’s where everything started. It was the first step in me getting comfortable in front of a microphone.”
John later enrolled at the University of Windsor, where he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Marketing. After graduating, he began working in Sales at CKLW Radio and even briefly served as the Manager at the new Market Square on Ottawa Street.
Around that time, John was involved with various fundraising efforts throughout Windsor. One such effort was the Chefs of Windsor Gala.
“We did that for many years, raising money for lots of groups,” John states. “One of the things I did as part of the event was a TV auction on Cogeco Cable. Some friends asked me to be the auctioneer. I would read out the products and the things that were up for bids. After doing that for a number of years, Cogeco took notice of me.”
Cogeco asked John if he would be willing to volunteer at their cable station. His first gig was called Council Close-Up. Every Monday, John would go live at the old City Hall building to interview politicians before they went into City Council meetings.
However, John admits that he occasionally resorted to underhanded tactics when it came to obtaining statements.
“I made sure to position myself next to the only washrooms in the building,” John laughs. “So, when they walked by, I would shout, ‘Hey, Bill Marra, come here! We’re live! We’re live!’ Eventually, they wised up to what I was doing. They started going to the washrooms three at a time!”
After the success of the show, Cogeco decided to ring in the new millennium by giving John his own talk show: Face to Face.
Face to Face featured a wide assortment of guests, from politicians to the community movers and shakers.
“It was all about finding out who people wanted to hear about,” John states. “Who was in the news? Who was doing something amazing? I always said it was celebrating the business leaders and the politicians and the wannabe politicians. The pacesetters in the community. The who’s who of who’s making a difference. Or at least making noise.”
Each show was around 28 minutes long, allowing John to truly peel back the layers of each of his guests. “One writer described my show as ‘Up On a Lake in Muskoka,’” John states. “You know, you have the hook dangling in the water, and you just let them come up to it. ‘It’s so nice. It’s so wonderful to have you.’ I was the nicest person. Your best friend. That was the first half of the show. Then, after the commercial break, we got to the real reason we had them on.”
John admits that more people tuned in for the second half.
“Once they grabbed the hook, boy I sure pulled on that line,” John laughs.
While John fondly remembers each of his shows, he notes that having a mayor on was always a special treat.
“Having a mayor on was our pièce de résistance,” John states. “We’d do an hour-long show instead of a half-hour one. I got to interview Mayor Michael D. Hurst, Mayor Eddie Francis and now, Mayor Drew Dilkens. They were the most memorable shows. There was a lot of back and forth—and sometimes all forth and no back. Mayor Francis and Mayor Hurst in particular figured out what I was doing and decided that they weren’t going to give me what I was looking for. They would just talk and talk and talk, knowing that we only had so much time. So then I’d say, ‘So, you’re not going to answer my question?’ It was always fun. We had some classics in those days.”
As a result of Face to Face, John became something of a local celebrity around Windsor. And sometimes, his reputation would even travel outside the borders of our community.
“Whenever a politician or a newsmaker would come to town, like Buzz Hargrove or wrestler Brett Hart, my producer Marlene Corey would get a phone call,” John states. “They’d ask to be booked on my show.”
At one point, Tom Mulcair, the former leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), even made an appearance.
“I just kept thinking, ‘I want to have a barbeque with him!’” John recalls. “He was just the nicest guy you could imagine.”
And at times, Face to Face even served as a platform to launch different charity initiatives. Most notably in 2002, when John and Carol Derbyshire launched the Hospice Face to Face Campaign.
“The Hospice Face to Face campaign has been one of the best things I’ve ever done,” John admits. “It all came out of my show when I interviewed Carol Derbyshire. It all started when she appeared on the show to talk about the Hospice village she was trying to start. So, I pulled out a $10 bill and said, ‘You know, if everybody watching today were to donate $10, it would be amazing!’ Within the next week or so, people were sending in money to Cogeco Studios.”
Inspired by the community’s generosity, John and Carol started the Hospice Face to Face Campaign.
“We asked 500 people in Windsor and Essex County to go to 10 people they knew and ask them for $10,” John explains. “Every year, our goal was $50,000. And since 2002, we’ve never fallen short of our goal. Some years we’ve raised as high as $110,000 in 2019.”
Over the last 18 years, the campaign has raised over 1.2 million dollars for the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County.
And now, after 20 years on the air, John admits that rewatching his old tapes has been a strange experience. Partly because it forces him to contend with three familiar faces.
“Over the years we’ve had appearances from Big John, Little John and Medium John,” John smiles. “My weight has fluctuated!”
John credits his producer, Marlene Corey, for keeping him on the air this long.
“Marlene Corey has been the voice in my ear as I taped every show,” John states. “Her encouragement, professionalism and good nature has brought me such joy for this journey which I am forever grateful.
John also expresses gratitude towards his employers for always supporting his televised exploits.
“I’ve never been paid by YourTV or the Cogeco Network,” John explains. “I would never have been able to do this without the acceptance of my bosses over the last 20 years. Obviously, Patti France, who’s the President of St. Clair College. She is the only boss of mine who has guested on my show just after she became the sixth President of the College. She has always encouraged me to get involved in the community and allowed me to take vacation days for filming. I would never have lasted 20 years without all of them.”
Face to Face will return for its twentieth season with a new format, allowing John to interview his guests remotely. Mayor Dilkens is scheduled to appear as the first guest.
More information about John and the program is available at face-to-face-tv.com, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.