«I’m taking seven months to decompress, sleep, think and just pause for a moment,» the popular Montreal morning radio host says.
Mike Finnerty is doing what so many of us would love to do. He is stepping off the treadmill.
Finnerty announced on air just before 8 a.m. Wednesday that he is leaving at the end of this week to take a seven-month break from hosting Daybreak, CBC Radio One’s Montreal morning show. He announced at the same time that CBC reporter and host Ainslie MacLellan would replace him for most of the time he’s gone.
I was the one interviewing Finnerty on Daybreak about his plans. We’re old friends and colleagues and I’ve been a regular arts columnist on the show for the entire time he’s been hosting.
He first nabbed the coveted radio job back in 2006. After a two-and-a-half-year stint hosting Daybreak, he left to return to London, England, where he’d previously lived from 1997 to 2006. In those earlier years, he held senior positions at the BBC World Service. When he went back in 2008, he landed a gig as the multimedia editor at The Guardian. But by 2010, he was back in Montreal hosting the local CBC Radio One morning show and he’s done that ever since.
That current tour of duty is into its ninth year and Finnerty decided the time was right to take a lengthy break and recharge his batteries before those batteries went on the fritz. It’s something most people with a demanding job think about — that maybe you need to jump off the hamster wheel. That as much as you love your job, you sometimes have to step back and realize you should work to live rather than live to work.
That’s even more of a pressing concern for someone like Finnerty, who gets up at three in the morning five days a week and helms a demanding current-affairs show that has him doing hard-hitting interviews before most of us have had our first coffee. And his interviews are often high intensity, particularly with those who need to be asked some tough questions.
That style seems to be paying off for the show. This February, Daybreak was the third highest-ranked English morning show in the marketplace, above both Virgin Radio and CHOM and trailing only The Beat and perennial leader CJAD. For years, Daybreak was fifth in the ratings.
It was time for a break, Finnerty said.
“I’m taking seven months to decompress, sleep, think and just pause for a moment,” Finnerty said in a phone conversation Wednesday. “The problem with this job, which is a job I absolutely love, is that it does demand a lot from you … so when you’re finished on Friday, basically you’re fried. Sunday you’re preparing for Monday. So there’s really only one day when you’re not working, which is Saturday. But you’re still looking for ideas on Saturday. So you’re on a lot of the time. Add to that the sleep deprivation. It’s partly the fact that you’re getting between five and six-and-a-half hours. But it’s also the fact of getting up at 3 a.m. It’s kind of like jet lag. And you have to be 100-per-cent on when the microphone is red, because you owe it to the listeners. That’s the fun of the job. You have to be totally in the moment. It’s a huge high. But then on Friday night, you pass out at 8:30.”
Finnerty isn’t burned out, but he’s well aware that burnout is very much a hazard of the morning-host trade. That’s why he follows a rigorous regimen while hosting. He does some kind of physical exercise every day, from swimming to running to CrossFit training, and on weekdays there’s always a midday nap. Then it’s on to the laptop and telephone to finish preparing for the next day’s show. It’s gruelling. The other thing about the gig is your schedule is kind of the opposite of everyone else’s.
“It’s draining,” Finnerty said. “You find a way to do it and stay healthy, physically and mentally, but as you find that way, you get yourself into a routine that’s so strict that the weeks become months, become years, and suddenly three years have gone by. And you’re like — ‘Oh my God, I’m now 54.’ ”
So he is and at 54, he felt the time was right to take a pause.
“It takes a toll and you are aware that it takes a toll,” Finnerty said.
For Finnerty, there’s no better place than London, England, to recover from that toll. He has a load of friends over there.
“I go back on holidays to London and I’m sitting around having conversations, going to dinner, having a pint, and you just end up having all these conversations that you don’t have when you’re (dealing with the crazy schedule of hosting Daybreak),” Finnerty said. “I find that nourishing for the soul. It really feeds you. I feel like I’m craving that right now for more than a week at a time.”
He’s contemplating maybe doing a little work in England, but it definitely won’t be in journalism.
Maybe what he needs to do is spend a few weeks slinging pints at an upscale pub!