The smell of ink permeated the old Kelowna Capital News building on Bernard Avenue the day Charlie Hodge stepped through its doors to start his first reporting job.
It was 1974 and the 17-year-old was fresh out of high school, hired by the Capital News’ then-editor Pat Denton.
“I think they cleaned out a closet to make me an office,” Hodge said.
He spent his days there honing his writing skills on a mechanical typewriter, covering primarily sports. When he needed art to accompany those stories, he took photos that he later developed himself in an on-site darkroom.
The process of editing photos was vastly different then and Hodge was a savyy darkroom tech, able to mix chemicals to change blank sheets to images.
“Half the pictures we took were done in polaroids,” he said.
It’s more than the medium that has changed over time. The message Hodge conveys has also shifted. His first columns were nothing like Hodge Podge, which runs weekly in the Capital News. In 1976 Hodge wrote a sports column called Overtime Oracle, which he said got his editor in all kinds of trouble doing.
He remembers writing a scathing piece about two junior hockey coaches, describing how one would run up and down the bench, yelling at the top of his lungs, while the other continuously scratched at his pants.
“I can’t believe I got away with that stuff,” he said.
Another article, written about a stripper at one of Kelowna’s clubs, said: “Annie’s all-round stage appearance displays as much class as a petite circus elephant.”
In his more than 40 year column-writing career, he left the Capital News four times always returning. He spent time as a reporter and editor in Parksville, at the Parksville Qualicum Beach News and the competition. He took a short break from Kelowna to move to Kamloops for a year when then-editor Mel Rothenburger convinced him to take a crack at the now-defunct newspaper, The Kamloops Daily News.
“My first column in Kamloops in 1980, I accused every grandmother in Kamloops about their cooking… (because) the town stunk like sulphur,” he said. “From Kelowna, Kamloops was too flat and ugly.”
Hodge even wrote for the Salmon Arm Observer for a year, but the Capital News kept calling. His columns went through three titles and themes, from Overtime Oracle, to Off the Record, which focused on entertainment, before evolving into Hodge Podge, a mix of everything.
“It was kind of weird, it’s like it’s my destiny to do this. I tried several times to quit,” he said.
But the nature of reporting was what tempted him.
“The lifestyle was really unique. I think part of me was a little ADHD, because any job I’d get I’d get bored of it… with newspapers as a general reporter I had no idea of what my day would hold,” he said. “The uncertainty of what was in your day. It was a pretty crazy profession back then. There’s a real camaraderie in a newsroom you don’t get in retail sales.”
Hodge interviewed premiers, prime ministers, world-class musicians and the average Joe.
“I had the best life, I’m the most blessed person I know. The people I met, doing interviews with or doing their feature story. I know thousands of people in Kelowna,” he said.
“Everybody has a story to tell.”
Hodge was elected to Kelowna city council in 2008, so he was unable to continue as a reporter due to the conflict of interest. He agreed to not write about city politics, and that was that.
“I’m so blessed with my column, I have yet to have in my entire years have a publisher say you can’t run that.”
One of most memorable moments was when a stranger called him, saying Hodge’s column saved his life.
The stranger said he was sitting at the top of Knox Mountain, and planned to drive off it in his pickup, but after reading Hodge’s column about making choices with dying that was sitting on his passenger seat, he decided against the initial decision.
Hodge, 62, reflected how his columns have changed, from sports to entertainment to whatever he wants.
“I grew up a lot… I’ve got a lot less naive, but I think I got a lot gentler too. At a certain point, I think you almost take yourself too seriously.”
Hodge’s column, Hodge Podge, is published in Friday’s edition of the Capital News and online at kelownacapnews.com.
“(The Captial News) is like an old shoe to me; it’s comfortable and it still represents a small paper,” he said.
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