It’s a surreal feeling, meeting the person behind the voice of your daily commute across Toronto.
Tom Power, host of CBC’s wildly popular “Q,” sounds just as velvety off air as he does when interviewing megacelebrities on the radio. Over Zoom, with a subtle Newfoundland accent, Power seemed right at home in the recording studio, swivelling side to side as we talked, waving to CBC staffers as they passed through the office. In seconds, it became clear: the friendliness we hear from him on “Q” is no act.
We have something in common, I told him. We both interviewed “Friends” star Matthew Perry last year. Power liked his book and liked interviewing him even more; with a smirk, he joked that I should post Perry’s phone number on Reddit to make a few bucks.
Interviewing an interviewer is both a relief and a unique challenge — we’re both keenly aware that the best interviews come from organic conversation rather than a stark, question-and-answer style talk.
“I remember talking to Michael J. Fox and instead of feeling like I was interrogating him … I just let myself laugh and laugh with him,” Power said.
“This is probably all internal, in my head, in my mind, but around that time … people started talking about the kind of interviews we were doing. And they were a big longer, a bit deeper. They were richer. They were oftentimes emotional, real, and we were often just chatting.”
“Q” audiences quickly noticed Power’s talent for interviews and CBC execs did, too. Soon, the network implemented changes to the show to fit listeners’ changing media habits.
“Q” is still a radio show and it will stay in its usual 10 a.m. time slot on CBC Radio One, which Power has learned while travelling around the country and meeting listeners is of the utmost importance, but every weekday morning the show will drop as a podcast first, with more of a focus on in-depth, intimate interviews. The podcast will stream on CBC Listen or wherever else you get podcasts.
“I’m told this is the first time a flagship daily radio show has gone podcast first,” Power said. “But it’s still very much a radio show! There’s just also a podcast that comes out every morning. It’s exciting.”
An average day in Power’s life is busy — no surprise there. He’s one of the more famous faces of Canadian media. But his schedule is carefully balanced, too. “Q” explored the importance of mental wellness in its 2020 series, “Sound of Mind,” and Power strives to cultivate habits that nurture his own well-being.
“I wake up, I meditate,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of meditation and mindfulness has been a big part of my life. As soon as my feet hit the floor, I’m upstairs with a pillow on my back, meditating for 20 to 25 minutes. If I don’t do that, it’s a worse day.” (I was tickled when he said he also reads the Star’s First Up newsletter first thing every morning; it’s his favourite of the early-morning news roundups.)
When Power gets to the office on Front Street West, an average day can take any number of unexpected turns, between pitch meetings, researching and drafting interview questions, and recording content for the show. While Power used to use written notes as a “road map” for his interviews, he doesn’t anymore: he prefers when conversations evolve naturally.
“I just want to be as present as I possibly can,” he said. “I don’t want to be thinking about the next thing I’m going to ask … I have the luxury of just chatting and being quite intensely present with somebody for about 30 or 40 minutes at a time. And then the work begins again.”
When Power clocks off in the early evening, he typically takes a ride on his Peloton — “embarrassing, I know,” he said, laughing — before working from home for a bit.
Power has a new obsession, too, he said.
The game of snooker.
“I really love snooker. I got into it during the pandemic. I go to the Annex Billiards Hall and I just play snooker with a friend, or sometimes I’ll just practise and it has nothing to do with my job. I’m not very good at it.”
After a snooker session, Power gets a “restless six hours” of sleep and then starts the whole day over. He listens to a “tremendous” amount of music, as well, and makes monthly playlists to document his tastes at any one time.
“I think of it as a diary,” he said. “You go back to any of those months and you ask yourself, ‘I was listening to “California Dreamin’,” I wonder why?’”
Power, a member of the award-winning folk group the Dardanelles, also makes music whenever he can.
“Every Sunday in Toronto, I play a traditional music session with friends who have no interest in what I do for a living in the best way possible. We just play. It’s a huge part of my life. I was a folk musician before this, I’m still a folk musician, I still play traditional music. And I still get to do that,” he said.
“If I don’t get to play a little bit on the weekend, it’s just not as good a week mentally.”
While his job can be stressful, Power recognizes the great value of “Q” as a springboard for art across Canada. It’s perhaps one of the more personally rewarding parts of his role at CBC.
“There is incredible stuff being made right now. Incredible visual art, poetry. We have a responsibility as the CBC to showcase those artists,” he said.
“I love when someone comes up to me at a bar and tells me they heard an author or actor or director or musician on ‘Q,’ and that they didn’t know about them before … and they bought (their art) right away. Or when I talk to artists who say they got more Instagram followers, or sold more books or got more streams. That’s so meaningful.”
And the takeaway from spending time with big-name celebrities like Adele and Sarah Polley?
“The stuff they talk to me about is the same stuff everybody goes through. They’re not immune from feeling insecure, feeling vulnerable, feeling like they can’t wake up on time … these artists share so much in common with us because they are us,” he said.
“They’re not built of something else. They’re not sprinkled with the stardust we don’t have … sometimes I talk to artists and they express something I’ve also felt and it kind of blows my mind.
“And because of that, they deserve kindness. And compassion. Just like all humans.”
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