Lisa Williams Leaves The Timeless Wavelength

Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by Heike Delmore

It’s difficult to imagine but it might well have come to pass—if not for a chance meeting, Lisa Williams’ thirty-eight-year career at AM800 may never have happened. 

Asked how she became interested in radio, Lisa says: “Quite by accident! I had no intention of going into radio—it didn’t cross my mind at all. Even when I registered for Communications Studies at the University of Windsor. But during that summer, after grade thirteen, I ran into a friend, Melanie Kurzuk, who was a year or two older. As we caught up, she said she was working at AM580 CKWW.”

Lisa continues: “Melanie was producing a talk show and doing her own show, and said they were looking for a producer. She thought I would be great for the job. I ended up getting the job—I was a producer for Al Pervin who did a popular morning program, nine to noon.”

After a few months on the job, small opportunities opened for Lisa. She began overnight announcing on weekends and filled in as the weekend community reporter.

“That was back before the Internet, before cell phones,” Lisa explains. “I was in an old van on a CB radio.” For those who may not recall, a citizen’s band radio is a two-way radio system that allows short-range communications.

And then Cam Gardiner returned to Windsor from Ottawa.

“His parents lived here, and one of them was ill,” Lisa remembers. “He wanted to be close to them. I started doing the traffic report in the morning and on-air conversation developed between Cam and me. At one point he said: ‘I’ve got this story. How about you stick around after your traffic report and chit chat with me about it?’” 

That was back in a time when it was traditional that the man read the story and the woman would laugh. Cam turned this around and said to Lisa: “Why don’t you read the story?” So, Lisa did, and Cam laughed.

“He was open to breaking down walls,” Lisa recalls. “We loved conversing. He wanted me to be more a part of the show. When a co-host role on that show opened, I got it, and then they couldn’t get rid of me!”

Lisa’s evolution from producer, occasional on-air reporter to co-host took approximately twelve to eighteen months.

“Everything sort of overlapped,” she says. “I was still doing traffic, but also co-hosting and it all just developed. And all of this was happening while I was in school. I made sure my classes were all in the afternoon so I could keep my mornings open.” 

Lisa has many fond memories of co-hosting with Cam Gardiner.

Cam Gardiner, who passed away on October 19, 2021, a former longtime morning radio show host and co-hosted “The Cam and Lisa Show” for 16 years on AM580 CKWW and then AM800 CKLW with Lisa Williams. Photo courtesy CKLW.

“He was the best mentor in the business,” she says. “He was so kind, so professional and he always said to me he was my biggest fan. He saw things in me I never would. He always included me in things and never embarrassed me on the air.”

And then the worst happened: Cam went off sick.

Mike Kakuk was a street reporter for AM800, and he came into the studio to fill-in for Cam. “When the time came that Cam couldn’t do it anymore,” Lisa says, “there was no question—Mike would fill his spot. Those were big shoes to fill and Mike did it seamlessly.” 

Cam Gardiner passed away on October 19, 2021, a week before his 72nd birthday.

Hearing Cam and Lisa on AM800 and then the Morning Drive with Mike and Lisa, it is easy to assume that it’s just natural that co-hosts gel. It’s not.

“I’ve been really fortunate that I have had two co-hosts who worked so well with me,” Lisa says. “You can’t fake it because it wouldn’t last long. You’d hear the tension. The show wouldn’t flow. It wouldn’t be as fun. That’s what I love about the show with Mike. It’s developed into something that’s easy—there is not a whole lot of stress. We trust one another. If you have a co-host you don’t trust, don’t believe in their ability, it’s a whole different ball game. I’ve been lucky to click with two different co-hosts.”

Last year Lisa and Mike celebrated their 20th anniversary hosting together. 

After years as the trusted voice so many in Windsor start their morning with, how did Lisa realize it’s time to retire?

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last year,” she says. “When my husband and I were in Europe for vacation in September, we talked about my retiring. Our children are adults. There are things my husband and I want to do. Our parents are aging.”

And then there’s the no-sleep part of the equation.

“I also wonder about a really long career in morning radio, and how that might affect my health—no-sleep is huge,” Lisa continues. “The older I get, the harder it is to get the sleep I need. I’m certainly not alone with this. We live in an automotive town and shift work comes with the territory. There are people who have worse issues. Like everyone else, it’s a reality I’ve dealt with because I love the job!” 

Lisa Williams and Mike Kakuk who recently celebrated 20 years together hosing the “Morning Drive with Mike and Lisa” radio show on AM800 CKLW.

When it comes to the things Lisa most enjoyed about her career in radio, she says: “More than anything, it’s the great people I’ve worked with. Radio is such a cool industry. It comes with all kinds of characters, and I’ve been so fortunate to work with some talented, funny, amazing people. It’s an honour to be that person in the morning that listeners wake up to. I’m the person that is going to let them know what they’re going to face that day.”

Listener response has been overwhelming. After announcing her retirement, the response from her audience was immediate. 

“I thank everyone for their kind words,” Lisa says. “It’s always been about the listeners and the connection I have with them. I have basically grown up on radio. I’ve shared the significant milestones in my life—getting married, having kids. My listeners feel like family. They tune in and connect with the morning show and they feel like we’re family members. It’s a mutual feeling. How great has that been! I’ve been so fortunate to have this cool job for so many years, I feel like it’s a life-long bond.”

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