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Ernie Nairn
By BERNIE BELLAN
Anyone who followed Harvey Rosen’s writing over the years would have come to know that Harvey relied upon a great many sources when he wrote his column, but no one had ever been a greater source of information than Ernie Nairn.

 

A sportscaster for over 30 years, Ernie might best be known among members of Winnipeg’s Jewish community for the indispensable contribution he has made to what was formerly known as the YMHA Sports Dinner and which is now known as the Rady Jewish Community Centre Ken Kronson Sports Dinner.
In recognition of Ernie’s vast contribution to the Jewish sports community, the Rady JCC will be creating something known as the Ernie Nairn Media Wing.

For the past 46 years Ernie has served as Publicity, Marketing & Media Relations Chair for the dinner. The dinner has “raised well over $1 million dollars in the past three years alone, for children’s and senior citizens and summer camp programs and also assists in purchasing recreational equipment for the Rady JCC. Over the past 45 years the annual dinner has raised in excess of $12 million!”

In his time with the sports dinner Ernie has been responsible for arranging all the media sponsorships for press, radio and television, as well as contracting and negotiating the advertising campaigns for all media platforms each year
Not only that, it was Ernie’s idea to start naming a Jewish Athlete of the Year. Ernie conducts the vote each year and produces the Athlete of the Year video shown at the sports dinner that recognizes top Jewish athletes in Manitoba.

In addition to his work with the sports dinner, Ernie Nairn, along with Larry Fleisher, organized the first group of Manitoba athletes to participate in the Maccabiah Games in Israel, back in the 1980s. In 1983 Ernie had been in Israel to produce a documentary for the local CBC supper hour show, “24 Hours”, about the Maccabiah Games. He was approached by a group from Toronto to “raise some money” to help send some Jewish athletes to Israel from Manitoba for the 1985 Maccabiah Games. Among the athletes who eventually went to Israel were judoka Mark Berger (who won a gold medal at those games) and Ernie’s son, Richard (who competed on the Canadian men’s soccer team). In subsequent years Earl Barish took over responsibility for organizing Manitoba’s Maccabiah Games contingent.

Ernie Nairn has had a long career in broadcasting, in both the United States and Canada. He began his career at KILO Radio in Grand Forks in the late 1950s. Later he worked in Calgary and Brandon before moving back to his hometown Winnipeg in 1964, when he joined the CBC. He was transferred to Regina for two years from 1966-68, but then came back to Winnipeg, where he ended up working again for CBC Winnipeg until his retirement in 1992.
During his tenure as a broadcaster Ernie received many accolades for his abilities. In 1986 he was nominated for and won the ACTRA Foster Hewitt Award as Canada’s best sportscaster that year for a series of profiles he wrote and produced on Manitoba’s top amateur athletes. Those profiles were aired on the suppertime news show “24 Hours”.

In addition to his long career in broadcasting and volunteer work in the Jewish community, Ernie has volunteered his time in a variety of sports-related fields. One of his proudest achievements was in helping to bring the 1999 Pan American Games to Winnipeg. From 1990-1994 he served as the Volunteer Chair, Media/Broadcasting Division for those games. Ernie “wrote, researched and prepared the Media/Broadcast section of the bid proposal and did all the planning that dealt with media and broadcast services.” In 1994, when Winnipeg won the right to host the 1999 Games, Ernie was a member of the Winnipeg delegation in Ecuador, and was also able to “satellite the news back to Canada that Winnipeg had won the right to host the 1999 Pan-American Games.”

Some of Ernie’s other contributions to the Manitoba sports community include:
• Serving as MC for the annual Sports Manitoba “Sports Hall of Fame Induction Dinner” for 20 years
• Serving as Volunteer Co-Chair of the Canada Day Poster Challenge for Manitoba on behalf of Heritage Canada from 1996 until 2002.
• Assisting Winnipeg Goldeyes owner Sam Katz in his bid for a Triple “A” baseball franchise by preparing the video presentation for league meetings in Chicago. This video was subsequently used to win a franchise in the Northern League.

In recognition of his service to the community, Ernie has been presented with the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal not just once, but twice. In 2002 he was recommended for the honour by then-Premier Gary Doer and, in 2012, he was recommended by then-Federal MP Steven Fletcher - this time for Ernie’s work in growing the Assiniboia Chamber of Commerce. (of which he was Executive Director from 2007-2015.)

In looking back over his long career, both as a professional broadcaster and outstanding volunteer on so many different occasions, Ernie places particular value on his long friendship with the late Ken Kronson.
“I got to know Ken playing football against him when we were in high school,” Ernie says. (Ernie attended Gordon Bell High School, by the way.) Later, when Ken Kronson asked Ernie to come on board in helping to organize the very first Y Sports Dinner in 1973, Ernie recalls meeting in “the little board room beside (former YMHA Executive Director) Les Marks’ office in the YMHA.
“Look at where it (the Ken Kronson Rady JCC Sports Dinner) is at now,” Ernie says. He notes that not only has the dinner grown in size and prestige to the point where it is considered the finest dinner of its type in Western Canada, the recognition that it has conferred on Jewish athletes over the years has elevated the status of the Jewish athletic community to much higher levels than used to be the case.
Ernie is particularly proud of his two children: son Richard, who is Executive Vice President of Communications and Broadcasting for the Arizona Coyotes (after having moved to Phoenix in 1996 following the sale of the Winnipeg Jets to Richard Burke); and daughter Shannon, who lives in Minneapolis and is a teacher at Temple Israel there. Ernie notes that both his kids went to Ramah Hebrew School and Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate.

Still wanting to keep active in broadcasting - this time as a volunteer, Ernie serves on the Board of Directors of CJNU - 93.7 FM. He also hosts a show once a week on Friday afternoons on that station. (When you hear him, his voice sounds almost the same for anyone who remembers Ernie broadcasting late night sports on CBC Television for many years.)
When I asked Ernie what has driven him to give so much of himself, especially to the Jewish community every year with the sports dinner, he answers simply: “It’s just a matter of contributing to my community.”

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