As George Garrett was driving home one evening in 1975, he heard a vaguely familiar voice on the radio. It was the debut of a mysterious new personality dubbed “Super Kid” on CJAT-AM, the Trail, BC radio station where George was a manager at the time. Just who was this Super Kid? To his surprise, this on-air hero was none other than his own 15-year-old son Ken.
Doing odd jobs—like changing light bulbs—around the station while his father George worked, Ken had made quite an impression on the staff and, unbeknownst to George, was offered his first on-air spot as Super Kid. The impromptu persona would not only jump-start Ken’s passion for broadcasting but also foreshadow his real-life heroism in a tragedy that cost him his life nearly 15 years later.
From on-air Super Kid to real-life hero
On May 3, 1987, Ken and his girlfriend Shelley Browne were excited to celebrate their recent engagement—in fact, they had got engaged earlier that day. They rented a canoe and set out on Charlie Lake in Fort St. John. Ken and Shelley, who were wearing life jackets, encountered overpowering winds that suddenly overturned the canoe, throwing both of them into the frigid water. A real-life hero, Ken repeatedly pushed Shelley onto the overturned canoe, ultimately saving her life. Unfortunately, Ken, who had been in the cold water for too long, succumbed to hypothermia and did not survive.
“I regard Ken as a hero for saving Shelley’s life that day,” says George of his son, who tragically made good on the superhero persona he’d developed as a teen on the radio waves so many years ago. To this day, George says Ken’s girlfriend Shelley calls him every year on the anniversary of Ken’s passing: “She says talking to me is like talking to Ken.”
George recalls that at the time of the tragedy, Ken’s career was flourishing. A few years after proudly graduating from the BCIT Broadcast and Media Communications (Radio) program in 1981, Ken, a newly minted BCIT alumnus, rose the ranks of broadcasting, starting out as an announcer, moving on to sales, and finally working as a radio station manager in BC’s interior.
Ken’s career success did not come as a surprise.
“I was a broadcaster for a long time, so I guess radio is in our blood,” says George, who himself led a distinguished 43-year career at CKNW and whose daughter Linda also worked in broadcasting for a number of years.
Generosity inspires Broadcast students
Ken’s love for broadcasting was matched by his passion for giving back to the community. During his last years, he regularly donated his time and money to support the local children and youth centre. So when after Ken’s passing, George’s employer CKNW established the Ken Garrett Memorial Award endowment at BCIT in 1987, the generous gesture combining broadcasting and philanthropy couldn’t be more fitting.
For the past 35 years since the award was established, George, now 87 years old, has been faithfully contributing to the fund. Today, the endowment is valued at more than $22,000 and enables the disbursement of an in-term achievement award to a deserving BCIT Broadcast and Media Communications student every year. To date, the Ken Garrett Memorial Award has disbursed $13,583 to support 26 BCIT Broadcast students.
“Our family is very proud of having the award and appreciate the contribution that BCIT makes to broadcasting in the province,” says George. “BCIT graduates are everywhere in radio and television and it’s a credit to BCIT that they’re doing such a good job. Ken was a fine young man and we’re honoured to have the award in his name.”
“I had always thought it was neat seeing women reading the highlights on sports programs such as TSN and Sportsnet, but never thought I would be able to pursue my dream of becoming a sportscaster… I hope that one day…you will see me on television reading the highlights of sporting events. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Your generous funding through ‘The Ken Garrett Memorial Award in Radio’ will [make] my educational journey…much easier.”
– Jadranka, BCIT Radio Arts and Entertainment alumna, 2019
“I am overwhelmed with thankfulness and I appreciate your help in supporting my academic and career goals here at BCIT. I am in my final year of the Radio Arts and Entertainment program. Upon graduating, I intend to pursue my passion for entertainment media with hopes to become a podcaster, writer, and producer…With your support, I feel one step closer to achieving this goal I have so long been dreaming of.”
– Bailey, BCIT Radio Arts and Entertainment student
As a journalist who has received numerous awards—including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Radio/TV News Directors Association in 2004—George says he is proud to honour Ken’s memory by nurturing new generations of journalists. He hopes future BCIT Broadcast graduates will find fulfillment in their careers just as he and Ken had.
“Ken cared a lot about the proper values of fairness and being honest in his work,” says George, adding this sage advice for BCIT Broadcast students: “You’re in one of the best training grounds in the country. These are difficult times, things are very competitive, and there is so much disinformation out there. A legitimate broadcaster has to countertact that. So be honest, be fair, and work hard.”
Learn more about BCIT donor-funded awards like the Ken Garrett Memorial Award and how you can contribute.
Main photo: George Garrett (right), a CKNW broadcaster at the time, interviews son and fellow journalist Ken at Expo 86.