Longtime CP journalist Alan Black, known for being ‘fast off the draw,’ dies

Black joined the sports department of Broadcast News, The Canadian Press’s broadcast arm, in 1987. His career took him through many different parts of CP, from sports to the Ontario bureau and the national desk.

Later in his career, he became CP’s overnight editor, holding the role for his last eight years at the company until he retired in 2018.

He took pride in working the wee hours, keeping watch over the country and the national newswire. The position saw him cover Nobel winners, mass shootings and big early morning business news.

“I never worried about missing a breaking development at night, knowing Al was in the driver’s seat,” said Andrea Baillie, CP’s Editor-in-Chief.

Black’s overnight shifts saw him edit, report, chase breaking news and prepare a morning note for supervisors to wake up to, four nights a week.

Baillie called him the “eyes and ears” of the company.

“I also treasured our occasional breakfasts after his night shift,” Baillie said. “I considered him a friend, one who cared deeply about The Canadian Press.”

Black worked in radio before joining CP, including several years at CJAD in Montreal, his hometown.

“He had a great radio voice,” Mayberry said.

Black used that booming voice to impersonate others, often reciting lines from old favorite television shows such as “All in the Family” and “M*A*S*H” in the newsroom. I especially loved cartoon shows.

His Bullwinkle impression, from the famous cartoon “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends,” was “off the charts,” Mayberry said.

Longtime colleague Ellen Huebert said Black greeted her everyday with a Bullwinkle line.

“’Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat,’” Black would say to Huebert in Bullwinkle’s goofy, droll voice.

“He was really good at it,” she said.

But he was better at his job.

“We knew the wire was in good hands because he was a meticulous editor with very high standards,” Huebert said.

Black loved the newsroom, his colleagues said.

“He had a different level of dedication to the place,” said Ralph Levenstein, who worked alongside Black in the sports department for years in the 1990s.

Black also loved the Olympics – he covered every one that took place during his time at CP from the desk, starting with the 1988 Games in Calgary.

On his own time, he developed an Olympic guide book that included short, sweet sentences that neatly summed up every athlete’s biography along with the proper pronunciation of their names – a crucial element for broadcasters both within the company and the thousand-plus radio stations that relieved on the wire.

“It was our Bible and I relied on that more than any other document,” Mayberry said. “It made our reports quick and easy to put together and it made our reports sing.”

But the longtime editor had a temper, his friends said, especially if either he, or his colleagues, couldn’t reach his high standards.

“He certainly wasn’t afraid to call people out,” Levenstein said.

Neither management nor colleagues were spared their opinions if he thought they screwed up, his friends said.

Rose Kingdon, his colleague for decades, was more diplomatic.

“He was an exacting taskmaster,” said Kingdon, CP’s director of broadcast news. “He wanted to help everyone do the best job they could.”

Black lived alone and had no children.

He had a difficult childhood, something he struggled with for decades, said former CP colleague Colin Perkel.

“His moods were beyond anything I’d ever experienced,” Perkel said. “A pall black as night would hang over him.”

Yet he was also kind and generous, as he remained driven to succeed personally and professionally, Perkel said.

“He was smart, funny, affable,” Perkel said. “El Loyal, trustworthy and worked like an absolute demon, as if driven by the inner demons he never entirely shook.”

Blacks loved the Montreal Canadiens and the Expos before they left town.

He also loved curling, photography and golf.

“As soon as the flags went up somewhere, he’d be out on a golf course,” Mayberry said.

Black had heart problems later on in his career, but always joked about it.

“I’ll probably die here,” he’d tell others in the newsroom, his big laugh booming.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2022.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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