The ugly reality of toxic behaviour in the male-dominated world of media was again thrust into the spotlight this weekend, when longtime Toronto TV and radio personality Jennifer Valentyne uploaded a video to her social channels alleging that sexist and abusive behaviour by one of her male colleagues was tolerated by her employer.
While Valentyne doesn’t mention the show or the personality to whom she’s referring by name, she was co-host on the Q107 morning show Derringer in the Morning from 2017 to 2019, working alongside longtime Toronto radio personality John Derringer.
The 13-minute video, which has been viewed more than 50,000 times on Instagram alone, starts with Valentyne saying, “What would you do if a co-worker screamed at you, belittled you, called you names, shut you out, brought you to tears and then laughed when he told you to ‘Cry all you want,’ that he didn’t feel one bit sorry for you?”
She goes on to describe being subjected to “extreme mental abuse,” relaying how she would often vomit prior to entering the studio, never knowing what to expect or what kind of mood her co-host might be in. She goes on to say that there were bets among staff about how long she’d be able to stick it out, and how her pleas to executives at Q107’s parent company Corus fell on deaf ears.
Valentyne also revealed that she filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging gender discrimination by Corus. “If they could do this to me, imagine what they could do to a women with less experience, just starting out in this industry,” she said.
In a statement provided to The Message, a Q107 spokesperson said “We are aware that Ms. Valentyne has voiced concerns about her time in the broadcasting industry, including from her time with us. A few years ago, Ms. Valentyne’s shared certain concerns and we took action to review at that time.
“There is also a process underway with the Canadian Human Rights Commission,” the statement continued. “We have had mediated conversations with her, been responsive to proceedings, and we are waiting determination of next steps. We take these matters seriously and look forward to a resolution.”
The spokesperson also confirmed that Derringer in the Morning will be on hiatus pending the conclusion of the third-party investigation into what it described as “workplace concerns.” These concerns have been referred to the company’s ethics and conduct team, it said. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Derringer in the Morning page had been removed from Q107’s website.
While Valentyne’s official complaint seems to be with Corus, she recounts a general pattern of sexist treatment in media, including at her previous place of employment. Again, she doesn’t mention the company or provide names, but Valentyne spent most of her career at Rogers Media on the popular morning show Breakfast Television.
In the video, she recounts being instructed to turn around so men could look her over; being told she was fat; chastised for being pregnant; being asked ‘What happened to you? You’re no longer that pretty young thing you used to be;” and being told “You’re a mother now, and we don’t know what we’re going to do with you.”
“I have been called names; I have been threatened by men too many times to count,” she said. “Yet I never said a word. I lasted. I lasted because I kept my mouth shut. That’s what women learn to do. I was very aware that if you complained, you were out. Fired—moral principle be damned.”
She tells of strong, talented and valuable women losing their job for speaking up and speaking out, being outed for complaining to HR, or confronting an abuser.
Another former Derringer co-host, Maureen Holloway, posted to Twitter “This is brave and true. I back Jennifer up 100 per cent.” When someone asked if this was her experience too, she responded “Pretty much.” And another on-air personality, Andrea Rooz, said that “JD” used to regularly demean her. “I can’t imagine even speaking to a dog the way he spoke to me,” she wrote. “His words are cemented in my brain.”
While Corus’ official response said that Derringer was on hiatus, one senior media buyer told The Message there’s “not a chance” he makes it back on the air with Q107.
“He’ll go on paid leave while there’s an investigation, [but] he won’t come back,” they said. “The fact he’s survived this many years does look bad on Corus, because if these women did speak up and nothing was done, it gave him permission to continue his inappropriate behaviour.”
And advertisers will certainly not sanction his return, said the media exec. “There’s no way advertisers would support him staying on. [Corus] will have to remove him and say they’re doing an official investigation.”
The buyer said that being forced to change up its morning show presents something of a conundrum for Q107, which still very much caters to an older, male, and predominantly white demographic. “Q107 has been suffering for years,” they said. “[Corus] hasn’t done anything of significance with that station since the launch of BOOM-FM,” in 2009, which had some overlap with Q107.
“They’re going to have a challenge to find a personality who can reflect the tone and music of the station, but still be compatible with the audience,” they said.
Many Toronto stations have already begun retooling their shows to better reflect a city in which 52% of its population identifies as a visible minority. CHFI, for example, recently introduced Pooja & Gurdeep as its morning show hosts, and while Marilyn Denis is still a morning fixture on CHUM FM, she is now paired with Jamar. “It used to be that females were the novelty, but that doesn’t tick anyone’s box anymore,” said the buyer.
Derringer had been a fixture of Q107’s morning programming since 2001, when he took over the morning drive slot from Howard Stern. He marked his 5,000th show on the station last year, and was a consistent ratings driver for the station. “They let people get away with things because they value them,” said the buyer, a familiar justification for the bad behaviour of high-profile personalities across media and other industries.
“There has to be support from management to let this continue for that long if they were informed [of the bad behaviour],” they added. “With the number of [women] coming forward now, I’d be shocked if nobody had come forward [before].
“It’s as damning on management that this could have been going on for that long.”