The first time Nil Köksal sat down at the mic in the As It Happens studio, she says it felt like magic.
It was 2019, and the CBC journalist was taking a break from her usual job hosting World Report to fill in at CBC Radio’s flagship evening current affairs show. She’s since returned to guest host the program several times.
But the next time she sits in the host’s chair on Sept. 5, she’ll be sticking around.
Köksal, a globetrotting reporter with 20 years of experience at the CBC, will be the new host of As It Happens, the weeknight radio program that blends hard news, challenging conversations and quirky fun. She’ll be joining co-host Chris Howden and taking over for veteran broadcaster Carol Off, who stepped down from the role in February after 16 years.
“I would always leave after my stints raving about the kind of culture and energy that is As It Happens,” Köksal said. “And so I’m really excited to build on that, and the decades and decades of work in the past, to build on what Carol and the team did over the last 16 years and just make more audio magic.”
As It Happens executive producer Austin Webb says Köksal will help usher in a new era at the show, which first hit the airwaves in 1968.
“As It Happens needs a host who is passionate about the program’s legacy and the place it holds in the lives of so many listeners. At the same time, it’s important to keep the show fresh, always searching for new stories from around the world and always listening for that unexpected moment at the other end of the line,” he said.
“Nil embodies these qualities and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have her join Chris and help carry As It Happens forward.”
Howden called the appointment “fantastic news for everyone who listens to As It Happens — not to mention all of us who work on it.”
“Nil is an inspired and inspiring choice. We already know she’s a brilliant, phenomenal journalist: quick-thinking, curious and compassionate,” he said.
“And — crucially — we also know her sense of humour ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. So professionally, she is remarkable. And personally, she is a delight. All of which makes Nil the perfect person to take AIH through whatever is to come over the next months and years.”
‘I know what it’s like to be painted in a certain way’
Köksal’s career and personal life have spanned several provinces, countries and continents.
She was born in Istanbul, Turkey, and moved to Canada in 1981 at the age of four. She’s lived in Orangeville and Peterborough, Ont., Vancouver and White Rock, B.C., and Toronto.
She started at the CBC two decades ago as an intern covering arts, before joining CBC News. Her work in TV and radio has seen her report from various countries, including Tunisia, South Korea, the U.S. and the U.K. She spent three years serving as a correspondent based in Istanbul and has been the host of World Report since 2018.
All of these experiences, she said, make her a unique fit for As It Happens, an interview program with a tagline that invites listeners to treat their ears to a “nightly ’round-the-world trip.“
“Being from somewhere else, I’m automatically interested in international stories,” Köksal said.
“You’re giving people a glimpse into a place or people they may not really know and they may have misconceptions about. But those conversations and those stories can remind people of how similar we are. And there’s definitely power in that as well. And I don’t know that we get enough of that — especially now.”
Her primary goal as a journalist, she said, is to help listeners understand all the nuance and complexity of the people and places at the heart of her interviews.
“It’s having a wider lens, but also feeling the weight of the responsibility to tell stories fully. To not be reductive, not lean on tropes or misconceptions about places, not go in with an idea about a place or people, but be open to them,” she said.
For her, it’s a journalistic principle that’s rooted in the deeply personal.
“I know what it’s like to to be painted in a certain way or for people to make assumptions and have misconceptions about who you are or where you’re from, whether it’s a joke in elementary school or a teacher who doesn’t know things about where you’re from and just sort of laughs it off,” Köksal said.
“Those [moments] stay with you. So I care a lot about everything — about how we pronounce somebody’s name to where they’re from to the reality of the experiences of where they’re from — because everybody wants to be understood and heard.”
Cathy Perry, executive director of current affairs and investigative for CBC News, said Köksal’s “insights, experience and enthusiasm to learn new things make her a unique fit for an unconventional show like As it Happens.”
“Cutting to the heart of a story and putting the facts into context, even in the midst of breaking news, have made Nil an invaluable part of the CBC News team,” Perry said in a media release announcing the appointment.
“While we know World Report listeners will miss her steady delivery and quick banter with local hosts each morning, audiences will now have a chance to experience her boundless curiosity and ability to genuinely connect with people in any situation to deepen the conversation.”
Getting a little silly
While Köksal has a lot of experience covering hard-hitting news — including the global pandemic, the Syrian refugee crisis and the rise of ISIS — she said she can’t wait to dig into the weird, fun or downright silly interviews that As It Happens has built a reputation for.
Already, during her stints as a guest host, she’s interviewed a seniors’ home worker who helped residents recreate famous album covers, a mathematician who determined the exact number of hotdogs a human being could conceivably eat in 10 minutes and the mastermind of a contest in which dozens of people named Josh battle each other with pool noodles.
“Those stories, you know, they’re silly, but they give you insight into things sometimes that really aren’t silly. And the commonalities between people around the world can come through in those stories,” she said.
In fact, it’s all part and parcel with her approach to covering people and places in a way that feels authentic and holistic.
“I’m a big proponent of not only covering places when bad things happen, right? You have to be in those places over a long time. And that’s a powerful part of As It Happens as well, because we’re able to connect with people … on a moment’s notice from anywhere in the world,” she said.
“So we’re not just doing the story about a bombing or an attack. There are so many stories to tell about Palestinians, about Israelis, about Turks, about people in Africa and India, that we’re not always telling. So I’m excited about the opportunities to tell those stories.”
Köksal’s last day at World Report will by July 20, and the search for a new host begins in the weeks ahead.
“It has been a privilege to host World Report over the last four years and to be a part of people’s daily routine, to keep them informed, particularly during such difficult times,” she said.
She’ll join her new As It Happens co-host Chris Howden on Monday to chat about her new role. Listeners can tune in on CBC Radio One at 6:30 p.m. (7 p.m. in Newfoundland), or stream it live or on-demand on CBC Listen.