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Sound portraits made to order

Sound portraits made to order

[photo of Alannah Campbell]Alannah Campbell, Artsci'77

When Alannah Campbell, Artsci’77, graduated from Queen’s, she never would have guessed she'd start a career as a CBC staff reporter and end up a special kind of biographer, collecting the sounds of people's most personal and intimate memories.

Alannah, whose name is familiar to many Canadians because of her high-profile work with CBC Radio, began her tenure with the network reporting in Montreal and Toronto, followed by gigs on Sunday Magazine, Ideas, and Sunday Morning before winning one of the most coveted jobs at CBC: co-hosting the flagship World at Six evening newscast.

“It was a big deal back then because they hadn’t had a female co-host on any of the major news shows,” she recalls.

Alannah’s hiring was part of a move by CBC to hire trained journalists to deliver the news, although she credits announcers Bob Oxley and Russ Germain with teaching her how to inject excitement into stories that she was reading five times in one night as she “bicycled the story across the country,” from time zone to time zone.

During that time, her three children were born. Rather than feeling pressured by the job, Alannah praises the experience as one perfectly suited to a mother with young children. “I didn’t go in until 1 pm, and I came home at 10 pm. I had half a day with my children when they were little, helped out at their schools, but I also missed ‘arsenic hour,’ which I actually grieved for. My husband (John Kearns, Artsci'77) did an incredible job, but the world of everyday journalism is fairly invasive," Alannah notes.

She returned from one maternity leave to host a special on the Gulf War--staying on the air 24 hours straight.

In 1996, Alannah took what she believed would be a two-year sabbatical. With it came volunteer work and helping out with her children’s activities. She began writing again, helped her sister launch a colon cancer screening foundation, and began working with a non-profit group, PhotoSensitive.

Then in 2003, CBC colleague Judy Maddren, who was hosting World Report, invited Alannah to join her in a business venture, making audio memoirs. Coincidentally, Alannah had just recorded one for her high school's retired headmistress, and she was getting calls from the school's alumni. It was a match of friends and common passions, and the Soundportraits partnership was born.

Alannah and Judy have now recorded more than 300 audio memoirs for people. These productions commemorate everything from graduations to retirements, anniversaries and milestone birthdays. Alannah describes them as “finely produced conversations” that include memories, laughter, sometimes even tears.

“They can be a celebration of an entire life or an event, and they are also reflective pieces of work that include everything from light-hearted chatter to the most significant moments in people’s lives.”

For more information on Soundportraits, please visit www.soundportraits.ca.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2010-3 cover]