When Joe Cote arrived in New Zealand, he was in his early 20s and had no journalism experience. Eleven years later, he was an award-winning TV current affairs reporter and the first presenter of National Radio's long-running Morning Report.
Cote grew up in the city of London, Ontario. He started broadcasting young: he and a friend ran their own private radio station from age 12 to 17. They read news cobbled together from newspapers, and used music pirated from regular stations. Cote completed a Bachelor of Arts in English and History, before taking off around the world on a working holiday in the early 1960s. In Spain, he met Christchurch woman Barbara Vinnell. He bumped into her again in Australia, fell in love, and followed her to Christchurch.
Cote spent a term teaching English and Latin at Burnside High School in 1965. Soon after he landed a news job at the NZ Broadcasting Corporation soon after. According to The Listener in April 1971, Cote wasn't allowed on air because of his accent. When four climbers died at Mt Rolleston, Cote was on hand to cover the story. Nobody complained about the reporting, and he continued on air.
In 1970, Cote moved into television, presenting current affairs programme The South Tonight (the Christchurch replacement for Town and Around). Within a year, he moved to Wellington to co-present current affairs show Gallery, after Brian Edwards left. Edwards had gained a reputation as "the mad mauler" for his then confrontational style of interrogating public figures. But Cote was different. "I'm just not built to do the really tough, hard, incisive interviewing," he said. "It's not in my personality. I hope to be nice and friendly, and still perhaps ask the odd embarrassing question."
Cote moved to in-depth news programme Inquiry in 1973, where he proved his reporting mettle. His work netted him a 1975 Feltex Award for Personality of the Year, and his Inquiry episode on Papua New Guinea's upcoming independence won Best Documentary. In 1973 the public had voted him their favourite TV personality. Cote also reported on the death of Norman Kirk, women in politics and Niue's moves to independence.
He also went on to present current affairs show Seven Days. His work saw him travel around the world, including Vietnam during its war, Antartica, Africa and Britain.
In 1975, the NZBC disbanded; TV1, TV2 and Radio New Zealand took its place. Cote returned to his radio roots to become the inaugural presenter for National Radio's long-running Morning Report on 1 April 1975. Some people were irate that their breakfast show of music with news was now all news and interviews. At the end of his year contract, Cote took a leave of absence for six months and moved back to Canada to work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Toronto. Hopes of eventually returning to National Radio did not materialise. Cote told The Dominion in 1976 that he left New Zealand over job uncertainty.
In 1979 Cote began presenting CBC's popular Toronto breakfast radio show Metro Morning, a position he held for 13 years. He retired in the early 2000s but continues to travel the world, mixed in with teaching English and journalism.
Profile written by Natasha Harris
Published on 28 March 2019
Infofind - Radio New Zealand Library
Ken Coates, 'Joe's going but he'll be back' (Interview) - The Press, 18 February 1976
Mira Friedlander, 'Joe Cote busily at ease in Malta Former Metro Morningman on CBC teaches journalism' (Interview) - Toronto Star, 19 June 1994
Alexander Fry, 'Gallery's new faces' (Interview) - The Listener, 5 April 1971, page 11
Lorie Murdoch, 'Cote and Curran as busy as ever' (Interview) - Beach Metro, 27 August 2014
Greg Quill, 'Metro's mornings just won't be the same, Joe' (Interview) - Toronto Star, 2 September 1992
Leslie Walters, 'Gallery Joe's No Latin' (Interview) - The Sunday Times, 28 February 1971, page 2
Unknown writer, 'The People on Your Screen' (Interview) - The Press, 21 March 1970
Unknown writer, 'Cote comeback?' - The Auckland Star, 4 June 1975
Unknown writer, 'Job stimulus lures Cote back to Canada' - The Dominion, 26 January 1976
Unknown writer, 'Canadians Love That NZ Style' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 27 May 1981