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CFAX 1070's James Gardner retiring after 42 years in radio

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Saanich, B.C. -

As James Gardner prepares for his last day of work before retirement, a first memory has unexpectedly popped up on his phone.

“Look at that smile,” James says, pointing to a beaming child at the beach wearing striped swim trunks. “I didn’t have that smile a lot as a child. It was a (frown).”

But then again, James — who was being raised as a girl named Sheila — didn’t have a lot of days at the beach when her bathing suit was accidentally left back home, and she had to borrow a boy’s.

“I was so happy to just be in trunks,” James says. “I was only four. So that was my first feeling (about being a boy).”

James will also never forget those first memories of listening to rock radio as a child.

“(One day), it just hit me,” James recalls being a curious kid who was always asking people questions. “I thought, ‘Why can’t I do this?’”

Although she was encouraged to purse a more traditional career path in teaching or nursing, Sheila Gardner persevered to become one of the first women at the time to work in radio news.

“News is exciting,” James says. “You’re reporting, you’re broadcasting, and every time you turn around something new is happening.”

Sheila’s acclaimed career in reporting and presenting catapulted her to eight stations across two provinces, before arriving at CFAX 1070 in Victoria, and making a major life decision.

“The time was right,” James says. “Medicine was aligning. Society was aligning.”

So he bravely and proudly began to transition from Sheila to James on air, which News Director Ryan Price says was unprecedented at the time and beneficial for listeners.

“It was one of the first, if not the first transgender transition of an on-air personality in Canada, and people got to listen to James and go for that ride long before Caitlyn Jenner,” Ryan says. “I’m really proud and happy I got to be a part of that.”

While James’ work in radio has earned almost a dozen industry honours, including a prestigious Edward R Murrow award, he says the most rewarding thing has been serving the community with daily broadcasts that are both informative and fun.

“This is hard news. We take it seriously,” James says. “But I put some nice, light stories in my newscasts, because I think it’s important to balance that.”

While James is looking forward to retirement, he’s also looking back with gratitude — that his younger self grew-up to not only become a trusted voice on the radio, but also to find his authentic voice in life.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” James says, before bursting into a big smile. “You did it, kid.” 

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