Submitted by Phil Mackesy with photos by Jack Lew
Sixty years ago this August, Red Robinson burst out of the radio and into my life!
As a teen growing up in Ontario, my favourite DJ was WLS Chicago’s Dick Biondi. Dick’s high-energy patter and that giant clear-channel WLS signal filled my transistor radio with the sound of The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, Martha & The Vandellas, Dion, Roy Orbison and so many more. Moving to Vancouver in summer 1963, it wasn’t long before I found the same rock’n’roll magic here with C-FUN and Red Robinson. Like Biondi, Red was so much more than the music he played! Non-stop promotions, dances, concerts and personal appearances set him apart from everybody else on the dial.
Fast forward 10 years to summer 1973. I had followed the footsteps of my DJ heroes to Vancouver Island, and after a year of small-town radio, figured Vancouver was the next step. CKWX program director Bob Bye offered me all nights on 1130. I still remember Bob saying “The single most important part of your job is to wake up our morning man, Red Robinson!” I nearly fainted. The chance to work with Red Robinson was a career highlight for me, and Red inspired me every day with his passion for radio, music and entertainment. As is typical in our business, a series of jobs took me across the country, but we stayed friends. Visits to Red’s Vrlak-Robinson ad agency were always the highlight of trips to Vancouver, and hearing Red on CKWX and then CISL reminded me how much he still dominated local radio.
Fast forward another 25 years or so…old friend Tom Jeffries and I were dabbling in website development. The first call we made was to Red. He agreed this new medium was the perfect outlet for his amazing collection of images and interviews, and redrobinson.com would be a great place to document all of his event appearances and the people he met along the way.Five years later when social media took hold, Red joined Facebook and then Twitter. Bringing Red’s amazing collection to YouTube and SoundCloud was a highlight for me, and our recent podcast venture with Amazon, Apple, Google and Spotify introduced a lot more folks to his amazing body of work. Red Robinson never slowed down: promoting the Red Robinson Show Theatre, the Red Rock Diner stage play, two books with author Robin Brunet and his final CISL show in 2017 were some of the busiest and most fulfilling times for both of us.
And now, almost 60 years after I first met Red Robinson, he’s gone. I’m still processing his loss, but the amazing outpouring of love and respect for Red is something I won’t ever forget. Not just from his friends in the industry, but from longtime listeners and all the people whose lives Red touched. Their experiences fill the comments on his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages and I know it’s been a huge comfort to his family and friends.
Red had a great send off Sunday at the Commodore Ballroom, and hundreds of Vancouver media personalities showed up on a rainy Sunday afternoon to pay tribute. A huge round of applause for event organizer Bruce Allen, show producer Gary Durban, MC Al Murdoch, along with speakers Wally Oppal, Terry David Mulligan, Larry Hennessey, Jim Byrnes, Andrew Loog Oldham and Wink Martindale! It wouldn’t have happened without help from the amazing staff at the Commodore and our friends at White Spot Restaurants. Special thanks to Red’s friend, illustrator and Elvis tribute artist Terry Aaron Wong for his wonderful “Redhead” design, prominently featured at the event. It was fun to see so many there proudly wearing their Red Robinson’s Legends stickers, and it looked great on the Commodore big screens!
Red Robinson’s impact will be felt long after his passing. We’re planning a public event in August for ALL of Red’s friends and fans who didn’t get a chance to pay tribute, and we hope it will be the start of some form of permanent recognition for a genuine Vancouver icon. Much more to come from Red’s vast image, audio and video libraries, and there are lots of stories still to be told!
I’ll leave the last word to Red: “Join me, won’t you?”