The Last Deejay

After my wife and I got married in the mid 2000’s, it took about a year before I received my permanent resident visa that allowed me to move from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. During that time I would get off work at about 2 AM on Sunday morning and drive to my wife’s apartment in Vancouver, arriving at about 4:30 AM. I would drive my wife to work on Tuesday morning then head back down to Seattle where I was due at work at about 3:30 PM.

One Tuesday morning I won a contest on Vancouver oldies station, 650 CISL. A week later I stopped by the station to pick up my prize. The station was in Richmond, the city just south of Vancouver. I got off Highway 99 and went westbound on Steveston Highway and wound my way to the studios. I waited at the front desk as they got my prize. I later mentioned to my wife that I wished I could have had a tour of the station.

A week or two later when I arrived on Sunday morning, my wife told me that we had an appointment at 10:30. I had no idea what the appointment was for but I did not think too much about it. I got a few hours of sleep, awakened, and got cleaned up. We got in the car and drove south on Highway 99 listening to Red Robinson’s show on CISL. My wife told me to exit Highway 99 at Steveston Highway.

As we drove west on Steveston, my wife asked me if I recognized where we were going.

I was incredulous. “No!” was about all I could say. My wife had arranged for me to meet Red Robinson.

Red let us sit in with him for about 45 minutes. As we were leaving, my wife took a picture of Red and me by a jukebox in the station lobby.

Red Robinson and me, a meeting arranged by my wife Photo: Personal collection

Red Robinson was a DJ and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He got his start on radio in Vancouver in 1954 when he was still in high school. His first name was Robert. According to his autobiography he never went by “Red” until he was on the air. His fellow students did not know that after school he would go to the station for his air shift. He was concerned that those we now call “jocks” would not take kindly to his after school job so he used the nom de voix “Red” so that they would not know.

He met many of the stars of early rock and roll, many of whom he considered friends. He really appreciated their music and, in the formative years of the genre, the humility of most of the artists. He told of one night after a concert he, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, and Buddy Knox went for a burger at a White Spot (think Denny’s) and just sat around talking for several hours.

In the early 1960’s he went to work at a station in Portland, Oregon. Red would do imitations on the air. While he was there, Walter Brennan had a hit record with Old Rivers. One day Red’s manager went into the studio and asked Red to do his Walter Brennan imitation. After he did it, the real Walter Brennan walked in saying “I don’t sound like that!”

At that time, Red would have been in his mid 20’s. As he was a young man living in the United States, he registered for the draft. One day he got his letter from the President. He weighed his options: he could return to Canada or he could honor his obligation. He chose the latter. He served in the US Army at Fort Ord, California.

After his stint in the Army, Red returned to Vancouver. In 1964 he emceed the Beatles Vancouver concert. Vancouver Police told Red that if the crowd did not settle down, the Beatles would not be allowed to play. As Red tried to settle the audience, John Lennon cussed him out telling Red to let the group play. Red explained the situation and John backed down.

Red Robinson’s radio career went on for many years. He also branched out into television and advertising. He did a great deal of charity work.

Red Robinson passed away this week, two days after his 86th birthday. The music and broadcasting industries lost a gentleman, as did the world as a whole.

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