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Former MuchMusic VJ coming to Cambridge next week to promote memoir

Bill Welychka takes readers on his journey from fame to 'Happy Has Been' in his new autobiography

Bill Welychka was hired as a video editor at MuchMusic straight out of college in the spring of 1988, and, for the nearly two decades that followed, he toured across the country and around the world with the biggest pop stars on the planet.

“I have been blessed,” he said in a Zoom interview this week. “I got to meet all my heroes and I started to recognize a pattern of what I like to call perfect circles.”

Welychka made a conscious choice to step away from the limelight in 2005 but, like a perfect circle, he is back on tour promoting his newly published memoir, A Happy Has-Been: Exciting Times and Lessons Learned by One of Canada’s Foremost Entertainment Journalists.

Welychka will be signing books and chatting with local fans April 16 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Cambridge at the Indigo Cambridge Centre.

Partial proceeds from book sales will be donated to the White Ribbon Campaign and various women’s shelters across Canada.

There is also a film being made about his life by Kingston filmmaker Jay Middaugh of Happy Kid Productions.

“I’ve always been fascinated by these moments that reminds one of the past, in relation to where one is currently,” Welychka recalled. “They are always “aha” moments for me. My life would soon become filled with a lot of perfect circles, aha moments and experiences beyond my imagination.”

The memoir is a window into the lives of the rich and famous during the golden years of music videos and a mythical era of pop culture. It is filled with stories of legendary festivals and concerts, crazy celebrity parties that stretch on for days and all the rock n’ roll debauchery you might come to expect, but it is also a cautionary tale about the fickle trappings of fame and finding real value in life.

Welychka traces his love of pop music back to his early childhood in Welland, Ontario where he was the youngest of six siblings. He developed a taste for, what would come to be known as classic rock, listening to his older brothers’ record collections.

“I would become a devout follower of Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Rolling Stones,” he recalled. “These classic artists were older, and although some of these giants had disbanded their influence was undeniable.”

Welychka struggled with an inherited stammer and undiagnosed depression. The music provided a source of solace and identity during periods of adversity, especially during the series of moves and adjustments that followed his parent’s divorce.

His taste in music and fashion sense continued to broaden and evolve with the times.

“By Grade 10, I had become transfixed by harder sounds,” Welychka wrote. “Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, KISS, Def Leppard, the Scorpions and many others. If a magical and mysterious person would’ve told me in the tenth grade, that I would be bonding with and interviewing these people in 15 years, I would’ve laughed.”

At the end of Grade 13 he had developed a passion for making videos and in the spring of 1986 enrolled in a two-year radio and television broadcasting course at Seneca College.

He graduated at the top of his class and was hired as a video editor by MuchMusic.

His talents didn’t go unnoticed, and his influence grew.

He had a long and enduring love of country music and was instrumental in the creation MuchMusic’s award winning show Outlaws and Heroes.

With his long flowing locks and pop star features, Welychuck could easily be mistaken for a member of any of the bands MuchMusic was featuring and it didn’t take long before he was asked to become an on-air host.

“I knew damned well how fortunate I was,” he said. “I could live in both worlds. I was involved behind the scenes with editing and producing and I was active on air, but all I cared about was making good television.”

He had no ambitions to be a star and that was a big part of his appeal to audiences who related with him as a fan just like them. This also endeared him to the stars who were only too aware of the symbiotic relationship they have with their fans.

Welychka was much like an oracle to the stars. He was part of what Joni Mitchel famously called “The star-maker machinery behind the popular song,” but he was also a fan and a celebrity in his own right. 

As his star rose, his access to the stars grew.

“Monte Carlo, Monaco was an annual destination for six years in a row where I covered the World Music Awards,” he said. “The week-long assignments were intense, but fun." During that time he did interviews with everyone from Prince Albert, Pam Anderson, and Cher, to the Bee Gees, Mariah Carey and Britney Spears.”

He had reached the top of the media mountain, but he was growing less and less satisfied with the view.

“Something was missing from this – some might say – fabulous life,” said Welychka. “I began looking for a purpose to exist without solely being known for what I did for a living and what I was nationally recognized for. Being on television and gaining attention for award-winning interviewing skills were proud benchmarks in my life, but there was more to me than what most people knew or what they thought they knew.”

Changes in the direction of the industry compounded his discontent.

“By 2005, I became very disillusioned with where our music services were headed and where I was or wasn’t fitting in,” he said. “I put out some feelers in the spring and I heard from a few TV newsrooms across the country. The move would mean taking a pay cut and moving to a smaller market but being happy meant more to me than making a whole lot of money and living with discontent.”

The skills he had honed interviewing celebrities were better served raising awareness and celebrating the contributions of regular people.

“Everyone has a story to tell,” said Welychka. “People like doctors, researchers and teachers deserve to be told I love you too.”

He himself is content with being a happy has-been regardless of what others might think.  

“I was working in Ottawa as a 6 p.m. news weather anchor and on-air host in 2006,” he said. “A co-worker asked me how it feels to be a washed-up, has-been and I said I don’t know but it must suck for you to be working at the same level as a washed-up has-been. What does that say about your career?”

The response was not only a perfect-circle zinger but provided a clever name for his autobiography.

“The book is very self-deprecating,” said Welychka. “I am probably the world’s first has-been who is loving life and grateful for everything they have.”

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Troy Bridgeman

About the Author: Troy Bridgeman

Troy Bridgeman is a multi-media journalist that has lived and worked in the Guelph community his whole life. He has covered news and events in the city for more than two decades.
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