I caught up with Todd on the phone in a delightful one-hour conversation to talk about some early days, some highlights, as well as hobbies, passions, and favorite things.
Todd was born in St. Bruno but moved around a lot in the early years. His father worked for Bell so Todd lived in Ontario for the elementary years. Soon after being born, the family moved to Oakville in the GTA, and then another 4 or 5 years in Ottawa.
The family then returned back to Montreal in 1985, living in Westmount and Todd going to high school at Lower Canada College followed by going to Marianapolis.
Todd continues, “After Marianapolis, I went back to Ottawa to do my bachelor degree at Carleton for two years, and then I came back to Montreal and enrolled at Concordia to continue as I wanted to take a step up.” Was broadcasting Todd’s first calling during the high school/university days or did he have something else in mind?
Being a print reporter was the first desire
“To be honest with you, I had no idea,” he explains. “I knew that I liked history and politics and I knew that I was a good writer, but I used to get in trouble all the time in class for talking too much.”
It’s one of the reasons I switched from public to private for being too disruptive in class, so I had no clue, and it’s only when I got to Marianopolis that I figured it out as I did a personality test of a 100 questions where they try and figure out your personality and match the results with professions that match those same results, and the results came out for my test and it said journalist, and that was it.
So I applied to Carleton after being told of their course, but I wanted to be a press reporter. I thought TV was for dummies, I didn’t think it was that intellectual and I certainly didn’t want to go into television, I really wanted to be a newspaper reporter,” continued Todd with a chuckle.
Todd would earn a degree in journalism at Carleton in 1996 and would also later receive a graduate diploma in communication studies from Concordia University, but radio and/or TV wasn’t on his mind.
After graduating from Carleton, Todd had sent a letter to the CFCF news director at the time and got the usual “thanks, but no thanks”. He told me it’s buried somewhere in some box at home. For about a year and a half, Todd armed with a journalism degree, wanted to pursue journalism, but there were no jobs in Montreal, so he ended up working in the communications department at Bell as he worked there before through his father. But as Todd said, “I didn’t find it really rewarding.”
From Videotron to CFCF
Having saved his money, in September of 1997 Todd went down to Concordia’s journalism dept. perusing the postings, not being sure he was supposed to be there not being a student. Lo and behold, there was a posting for a volunteer at Videotron’s channel 9, and after leaving a phone message, he got a call and he would go on to volunteer there for around 3 years.
He was then spotted by people at the Leslie Roberts morning show as they were looking around for a techie columnist to appear every week reviewing basic gadgets. Following this in 1999, he got a call from the news director at Global, but in a twist of fate, that same director, Liz Travers, went over to CFCF during the Christmas period and promptly called Todd and suggested that he come over to CFCF, which was still at 405 Ogilvy at the time. So Todd started as a Pulse news reporter in January of 2000, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I asked Todd about what he considered his highlight story during the reporter days. “It would have to be 9/11, even though it wasn’t local, I did that story early on in my career, it really marked me, there was this sense that I was moved, I got the sense of the importance of storytelling, and how these events on another country one morning in September could have the effect that it had on world history,” recalled Todd.
Todd also mentioned that the On Your Side consumer stories he did for around 5 years he considered to be the most rewarding. On those segments, he was able to make a difference for consumers and help get justice for them and calling out wrongdoings and getting solutions for consumers. That segment continues to be one of the more popular features currently handled by Caroline van Vlaardigen.
What was a lowlight or tough story? Surprisingly, it’s a story that the station is still fighting in court. “The SPCA story was huge, where we had this guy who allegedly was screwing over the organization, he had all these well-meaning people and at the same time, the animals were suffering as a result, and that was quite something that we helped to bring down, and getting a total changeover at the SPCA,” mentioned Todd in a serious tone.
The Prime Anchor was on the horizon
Five years after starting at CFCF, Todd was promoted to co-anchoring the 6 p.m. newscast on the weekends with Tarah Schwartz. Local media observers observed that he was being groomed for weekday supper hour newscast with Bill Haugland, who was nearing the retirement years. Todd was still able to do the “On Your Side” segments.
Bill Haugland retired in January of 2007 and Todd was moved to the weekday noon show co-anchoring with the veteran Mutsumi Takashashi, with another veteran, Brian Britt co-anchoring the supper show. Todd was starting to think that he might be offered the big show, but downplayed those thoughts acknowledging that he was only at the station for 7 years.
“I was at a crossroads at that point, my family had moved out of Montreal, most of my friends had moved to Toronto, and with no small kids or mortgage to pay, I was very young and I thought that 30 or 31 was far too young for somebody to be the 6 o’clock anchor as I don’t think you have the credibility or the experience, not compared to the Bill Hauglands or Brian Britts,” continued Todd.
“When they named Brian (Britt) to 6 o’clock, I said great, it’s his as long as he wants, but when they offered me the noon show, I accepted as it would allow me to hone my interviewing skills.”
I was very young and I thought that 30 or 31 was far too young for somebody to be the 6 o’clock anchor as I don’t think you have the credibility or the experience. - Todd van der Heyden
Brian Britt retired in the summer of 2008 and Todd was offered the big gig in July of 2008 by then news director Mike Piperni and became only the 7th anchor in the show’s history, on a news show that has ruled the Montreal airwaves since CFCF went on the air in January of 1961.
Todd’s influences, passions, and favorite things
So what makes Todd tick, in terms of influences. “I’ve always been a geek, a big comic book and science fiction fan, and growing up I didn’t really have any influences, like saying I want to be like Peter Jennings as I didn’t really want to be a journalist. It’s not like I watched television and said, ‘Oh boy, Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite, they’re my guys.’ So there were no real influences growing up.”
Those who watched Todd through the years on a TV screen or were one of his buddies on Facebook certainly know what his passions and hobbies are. “I’m a huge Elvis fan, I’ve been to Graceland numerous times, and I’m a huge comic book fan as I started buying comics at the age of 12 and still buy them to this day. These are things that keep me grounded and I try not to take myself too seriously, even though I take the job seriously.”
How about favourite TV shows, movies, and music? “I’m a huge fan of science fiction, so any of the Star Trek and Star Wars movies, the fantasy stuff like Lord of the Rings. As for music, Elvis is obvious, and I still like newer stuff, but if I had to choose, it would be definitely the older music.”
What’s ahead for Todd van der Heyden? He went national this past January and his current deal is for two years, and I asked him if maybe if he saw himself as an international reporter in some hot spot in the world but he seemed to indicate that Canada and the English media mecca in Toronto have enough media properties to keep any geek happy.
“If I had to guess, and this is a real adventure and I have no idea, but I wouldn’t have believed you if you had told me where I would be two years ago, but I am looking forward to expanding the brand, and by that I mean, continuing the CJAD show Viewpoints (heard Saturdays at 1 p.m.) CFRB in Toronto has already talked to me about doing radio in Toronto.
News Channel will certainly be his first priority and they’ve talked to him about sometimes filling in for Lisa Laflamme on the National newscast. “With all those CTV properties in Toronto, like Discovery, the History and the Space Channel, I feel like a general looking out over the battlefield and saying to myself there could be all sorts of opportunities coming my way. When you’re immersed in that Toronto bubble, then the skies the limit,” says Todd in an enthusiastic tone.