Jay McNeil is the News Director for Newcap Radio in Cape Breton, which owns 101.9 The Giant (top 40 hits) and 103.5 The Eagle (country music). He cohosts The Early Show on The Eagle (weekdays 6AM-9AM).
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1. What’s your age?
I’ll be thirty this year and I have to say it doesn’t feel as old as it sounded to me when I was 16.
2. CB born and raised? Or recent transplant?
I was raised in Glace Bay by parents from Sydney and Reserve Mines. My mother grew up in Ashby, the oldest of seven belonging to a firefighter and housekeeper. My Dad was one of twenty children born to his parents. His father was a miner and his mother was a true Scottish immigrant. She had in her all the character that that brings. My grandparents and my father are now passed but are still very much a part of my life in Cape Breton.
3. “What are you up to these days?” I.e. what do you do for a living, what are you working on, are you a student, in the workforce, etc?
I’m the News Director and Early Show co-host on 103.5 The Eagle. I lead the most energetic and ambitious newsroom on the island. I am lucky to work with some of my mentors every day. I grew up listening to Jay Bedford and now I’m his co-host! That’s a surreal thought every now and then.
I also have a small online documentary project called Say Something Webdocs. In the last year we’ve done three local projects I’m really proud of: One on mental health, one on crime in Glace Bay, and the most recent on the drug issue and what it meant for one local mother.
I also work with some great community organizations including The Relay for Life and Safer Communities Association. I’m a political junkie who’s been known to take aim at CBRM council from time to time. I’m also currently the subject of “Big Deal’s Weight Loss Challenge” – a year-long project to reclaim my health after reaching 460 pounds. In other words, my days are full and that keeps me out of trouble.
4. What are your favorite Cape Breton eateries?
Am I allowed to say my mother’s table? Seriously though, I’m glad that we’re starting to see some diversity in our restaurants. I think it’s a real sign of progress. Especially when you talk to the owners and you hear the backbone of their business is coming from a demographic that we’re told doesn’t live here anymore; twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings that are making a go of it here in Cape Breton are having an impact by showing they’re open to more and they expect more. All that said – I find something really enticing about Trio at the Cambridge Suites.
5. What is your favourite thing to do outside?
I grew up playing baseball and one of the things I’m most looking forward to as I go through Big Deal’s Weight Loss Challenge is getting back outside and being active. Right now my favorite thing to do outside is take pictures. I’m a hobby photographer. I really enjoy it and you can’t have a better playground than here in Cape Breton.
6. Favorite Cape Breton music venues, past and present?
I’m a Bay Boy and The Savoy takes the top honors! Growing up the theatre had such a sense of history about it. Walking in the old entrance off Union Street was like stepping back in time. I ran a community newspaper in Glace Bay for five years and for most of that time my office was in the basement of The Savoy. I don’t just love it as a venue, but as an institution in the town. There are so many stories and people connected with that place who help keep it going, and in all of my time there, and every big act that came to town, there wasn’t one that didn’t notice that things have a way of coming together on that stage like no other. And I can tell you, there is nothing quite like standing on that stage in front of a packed house. You are hit with almost ninety years of history.
7. What have you learned about Cape Breton from your work on the radio?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned since I first started on local radio eight years ago – especially in news – is that there is no “normal” Cape Breton life these days. Everyone has a story that deserves to be heard. We all live differently now. We don’t have the sense of common purpose we had when entire neighbourhoods and towns survived off “the plant” or “the pit”. We have people living very different lives and it’s becoming harder to relate to neighbours, and harder to recognize their struggles. My job has shown me that and it’s an important lesson, especially when you have to connect with as many people through work as I do.
8. Are you planning on sticking around in CB? Why, or why not?
I work in a business where success is usually rewarded by advancing to a larger market. I’ve had the opportunity. I’ve moved away before for jobs I dreamed of having only to realize I’m always going to feel like I have unfinished business on this Island. I respect those who leave for opportunity or by choice. I worry about those who leave because they feel they have no choice. I don’t think I’m going to be the guy to solve all of our issues, but I know I’m not going to be comfortable somewhere else knowing I’m not trying. That’s a luxury I have because of the opportunities I have here. I know a lot of people aren’t as lucky and that motivates me every day.
9. Dream big – what would you love to have access to in your community?
I’m going to sound like a complete nerd, but Glace Bay no longer has a locally-owned coffee house. If I could somehow get the owners of Wentworth Perk to open up Renwick Perk, I’d be set.
10. Finish this sentence: Being from Cape Breton, to me, means…
That this place will always own a piece of me as long I claim to own a piece of it. It’s a pretty good trade.