Book Review: “Red Robinson – The Last Broadcast”

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“Red Robinson – The Last Broadcast” by Robin Brunet, publisher: Friesen Press, Victoria BC

We all know the story well: corporate buyer comes along, purchases locally-owned station with long-established format & listeners, then promptly announces a format change to improve buyer’s bottom line. Such was the case in August 2017 when Vancouver’s 30-year AM oldies outlet 650 CISL (pronounced ‘Sea Isle’) was purchased by Rogers Communications who immediately announced the end of C-ISL‘s declining ratings as a music station, now to become an all-sports broadcaster branding Roger’s ‘TSN’ (“the Sports Network”) radio & TV programming. Iconic veteran broadcaster Red Robinson had called the station home twice during his long career in Vancouver radio, Red first retired from his daily morning show on C-ISL back in 2007, only to return to host a weekly Sunday program – “Red’s Rock Diner”, a show custom catered to Red’s personal music collection & story-telling from his many years as DJ, MC & concert promoter in the city. With the format change announcement, Red finally determined it was time to hang up the headphones one last time. Since “Red’s Rock Diner” was a brokered show, with Red supporting himself & the station through ad sales he generated for the program, he determined the final show would be a truly memorable experience – not only for listeners, but for his many, many friends & former co-workers in his 60+ years in radio. Author Robin Brunet is no newcomer to the Red Robinson legacy: this book is actually a follow-up to the writer’s biography “Red Robinson: The Last Deejay” published in 2016 telling the story of this trail-blazer in rock radio. Whereas the first book is a biography, “Red Robinson – The Last Broadcast” is more of a snapshot of the great days in Vancouver radio & the many air personalities that made it all happen. This new book is literally a ‘who’s who’ of Vancouver’s great DJ’s & the city’s radio stations from the 1950’s onward. It is also a sad, wistful, sometimes bitter & nostalgic portrait of an industry we all know will never be the same, nor what it once was. Red Robinson & the many other Vancouver air talents interviewed & profiled in the book all concur regarding their opinions of radio’s inferiority today versus the great era of radio spanning the last half of the 20th century.

Then & Now: Red hosting his first show “Teen Canteen” on Vancouver’s 600 CJOR in 1955; Red in 2017 at oldies 650 C-ISL “Sea Isle”

I was there, glued to my radio tuned to AM 650 that Sunday afternoon for the final broadcast of the “Rock Diner”. I wouldn’t have missed that last chance to hear Red conversing, laughing & reminiscing with the incredible line-up of talent behind the mic that day. There is definitely a Seattle connection to this broadcast, well chronicled in the book. One of two sit-in co-hosts for Red’s final show was none other than his dear friend of many years, Pat O’Day! How often does one get treated to no less than TWO iconic radio personalities – on the same program??!!! Pat appears on the front cover & in a number of the black-and-white photos contained within this book & is quoted on more than a few occasions. As that last broadcast progressed, current & retired air talent continued to rotate throughout the show as guests, telling a rich history of Vancouver radio since the mid- 1950’s. Somehow, the show also found the time to take live, on-air phone calls from Red’s many fans all throughout the Pacific Northwest, with calls coming from as far away as Portland, where Red was on air at KGW in the late 50’s. Robin Brunet’s book includes many historical photos of Red & various radio personalities right back into the 1950’s complimenting the mini-biographies contained within this rich, historical timeline conveyed in the story. It’s a fitting postscript that finishes the book with a quoted notation from long-time Vancouver concert/nightclub promoter & impresario Bruce Allen, who was Red’s third co-host along with Pat, for that final broadcast. Bruce noted that the one time Red has come out of retirement since leaving C-ISL, was to guest host an August 2019 show on news/talk 980 CKNW in which Red reminisced about the Beatles appearance in Vancouver in 1964. That show garnered a 14.8 share rating – a feat not accomplished on any Vancouver station for many decades!

Red proudly showing off his biography: “Red Robinson – The Last Deejay” by Robin Brunet; Red with Elvis.

“Red Robinson – The Last Broadcast” captures a modern moment in time of an era in radio that will never be repeated. But it’s also a detailed revelation of how radio went from being great to merely another audio option for consumers to consider. The book does a good job of chronicling the demise of the industry by those who were there, complete with insider scoops on hiring & firings by the ‘bean counters’ who replaced broadcasting professionals that once ran these great stations. One doesn’t need to have intimate knowledge of Vancouver radio to appreciate the stories & anecdotes of radio’s evolution over the past 6 decades. Retired & former broadcasters will all relate to the changes & issues discussed, & author Robin Brunet allows each former DJ to tell the tales in their own words. For those who are familiar with the history of Vancouver radio since the mid-50’s, this book will function as an all-inclusive chronicle of the stations & personalities that captivated listeners & grabbed advertisers. I received my copy of “The Last Broadcast” as a Christmas gift from dear friend, former DJ, VO artist, comedian, podcaster & record collector Bill Reiter a.k.a. DJ ZigZag. You can obtain your copy of this new release as a Kindle e-book download, paperback or hard cover from Amazon among others. “Red Robinson – The Last Broadcast” won’t disappoint. The only thing missing is a companion aircheck CD of the actual broadcast! “Red Robinson – The Last Broadcast” available from Amazon: Kindle e-book download: $2.99; paperback: $11.99; hardcover; #29.77

“Red Robinson – The Last Broadcast”

Red Robinson, C-FUN “Good Guy” & later PD of the landmark Top 40 outlet, one of  a number of Vancouver stations this iconic DJ ruled the airwaves – and the ratings!

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Mike Cherry

Author: Mike Cherry

retired broadcaster: on-air, MD, PD, asst PD, Prod Mgr, IT, station technician/engineer, pioneer Internet webcaster, station installation/maintenance; 12 years in commercial radio, 17 years volunteer in campus/community radio in B.C., Alberta & Wash. Amateur radio operator & "DXer" specializing in AM night-time DX, short-wave DX/listening & remote SDR DXing/listening

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