Photo by Malcolm Parry/Vancouver Sun
the Fifties the adult world looked upon us as a rebellious generation.
As a part of that rebellion we had discovered the merits and talents
of black singers. To buy a record by Lloyd Price, Ruth
Brown, Wynonie Harris or Laverne Baker you had
to go to a record store and ask for it by title and artist. The
record clerk would bring it from the back of the store or from under
the counter in a plain brown sleeve. They were called race
records and were not featured on the racks along with all
the nice lily-white recording artists of the day. This in itself
was an attraction to the youngit was our feeling that if it
was bad it just had to be good. The popular
music slush of the era was not to our liking. Singers such as Frankie
Laine, Vaughn Monroe, Patti Page, Eddie Fisher
and the Four Aces were older cats and not singing to us.
Teenage music as we know it hadn't been invented at this point.
There was a radio show for Vancouver teens in 1953
called Theme For Teens, an hour-long show on CJOR hosted
by Al Jordan. Jordan played the standard hits of the day
and invited listeners down to the studio to take part in the show.
He also accepted phone calls. I got enough nerve one day to call
him and impersonate actor James Stewart. Stewart was in town at
the time and I thought it would be great fun to phone Jordan's radio
show and spoof him. I must have done a convincing job because Jordan
put me on the air and thought I really was James Stewart. I forget
how the dialogue went but I do remember it was brief and I hung
up quickly. It was a few weeks before I could work up nerve enough
to call his program again. This time I called in the voice of actor
Peter Lorre. This time it clicked with Jordan that someone was doing
impressions and he stopped me midway through my call and asked who
I was. I identified myself and he invited me down to the show.
to this I had been collecting every magazine available on recording
artists and deejays and decided to create an interesting "show
business" name for myself. There were two reasons: one, to
create a name people would remember and two, to hide my identity
from my school pals if and when I ever made it behind a microphone.
I chose Red Robinson because of my hairand it's
significant that the initials were also the initials of the new
music form. I visited the Al Jordan Show after school one day and
stayed on to join in the fun each afternoon. I created a daily skit
called Rod Gat, a parody on the then current Mike Hammer
books. The mail this skit drew was unbelievable, and all the while
Jordan was taking time to show me the ropes in radio. He eventually
allowed me to take over the controls and engineer his program for
As Theme for Teens grew I became more
and more involved and less and less interested in school work. I
had decided radio was going to be my full time career. In the Fall
of 1954 Al Jordan left the show and program manager Vic Waters,
a great deejay in his own right, asked me if I would like to try
to maintain it. I jumped at the chance. Without question the first
day on the air by myself was the most hectic and nervous time of
my life. I knew this was it, this was going to mean a quick start
toward my goal as a career deejay or I was going to blow it entirely.
I hit the air and kept on moving records through a full hour, on
nervous energy alone. At the end of the hour the control room door
flew open and Waters said the show was mine. He said the telephone
reaction was great and he could live with what he had heard. What
he had heard was a very immature voice, but a young man whose enthusiasm
overcame a lack of announcing ability. I was totally hooked. I skipped
school to learn everything there was to learn about broadcasting.
employed at CJOR I was also attending a University of British Columbia
course on broadcasting. During the day it was high school but after
school until midnight or one o'clock in the morning I was totally
immersed in radio. Having the freedom of expression and the stewardship
of my own program I started playing those Lloyd Price records.
In 1954 I moved swiftly to offering the music my high school peers
were searching the dial to hear. I read every article in Cash Box
and Billboard. I learned that Alan Freed was holding theatre
parties at the Paramount in New York. I wanted to do the same. Nothing
was really happening in Canada but in the United States Rock and
Roll was on fire. I was determined to bring this new fad to my audience.
In September, 1954 while other stations were playing hits like Hey
There by Rosemary Clooney I was playing Sh-Boom with
the Crew Cuts and the Chords. Pop stations were featuring
The High and The Mighty with Victor Young and his
orchestra and Little Things Mean a Lot with Kitty Kallen.
I was playing Shake, Rattle and Roll by Joe Turner
and a forbidden record by Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters
called Honey Love.
The message was obvious to the youth of British
Columbia and northwest Washington. Here was a young, high-voiced
rapid-patter deejay playing their kind of music. It all came together
when a Decca recording landed on my desk in July of 1955 . . . it
was Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock, and it changed
the music world forever. I had graduated from High School the month
before and this record holds a lot of significance for me. It launched
Rock but it also stabilized my career: from that moment on it was
uphill. The skyrocket had taken fire and was soaring. The music
world would never be the same again. Radio would never be the same
The radio station sent me out on a remote around
this time and it was a rampage. The remote was at a record store
and the line-ups filled the street. At one shoe store remote so
many teenagers turned up they broke all the showcases with just
the mass of their bodies. The shock of these events hit parents
hard and it was apparent in newspapers' Letters to the Editor. One
columnist referred to me as "The Platter Prince of the Pimply
Set". A writer referred to me as "The Pied Piper of Sin".
All of this of course added to the popularity of my show and the
music. Everyone hated itexcept the teensand the show
grew. I wasn't about to let my new found discovery die. I took the
records to high schools, parades, I rented airplanes and flew throughout
British Columbia and Washington taking the music with me. At first
I appeared with records at "sock hops," but these graduated
to local Rock and Roll bands and then imported name stars from the
U.S. I would appear anywhere a young crowd was gathered, theatres,
ball parks, even to the beach for outdoor sessions.
Radio was now more than ever available in automobiles
and then along came the transistor. Now you could take radio with
you wherever you went. This mobility allowed radio to grow and grow.
It had not died as many had suggested it would with the coming of
television. Records and radio were the entertainment art forms for
youth along with movie theatres and drive-ins. All that was needed
now was a music form. Rock Around The Clock became the teenage
world's national anthem.
success of this record told the producers a new music form had been
born. Some radio stations, either out of desperation to stay alive
or because of an imaginative deejay, started playing this new brand
of music called "Rock and Roll". The difficulty was it
took a deejay who was tuned in to the tastes of the times. I was
"of" that generation. I understood the music, the audience
and the excitement of a new discovery. And it was exciting. New
artists, new music, new areas to enjoy. It was dance hops, live
performances, new dances, new moviesand it was totally ours.
Every major act played this city during the fifties,
either in night clubs like The Cave, or at one of the halls at the
Pacific National Exhibition. The PNE was one reason Vancouver was
on the list for all major acts. It was one of the biggest annual
fairs in North America and was always on the circuit tour of the
major booking agencies. And the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was a fine
facility. Acts that worked up and down the Pacific coast always
stopped off in Vancouver as part of their West Coast tour. I had
met over the years every major act in the music world when many
did not stop to play cities such as Seattle or Portland. My American
friends couldn't understand how these celebrities always seemed
to find time in their schedules to perform in our city, but play
here they did and still do.
I started my deejay work on CJOR it was Western Canada's first 5,000
watt radio station. In those years the radio dial wasn't jammed
up as it is today and you could hear CJOR over most of Washington
and clear to Alaska. When I moved in 1957 to CKWX it was Western
Canada's first 50,000 watt radio station and at night the signal
could be heard in Northern California.
benchmark years for Rock N Roll were 1954 through 1957. I am proud
to say the first regularly scheduled Rock N Roll radio show in Canada
was "Theme For Teens" in 1953. Realizing the power of
the radio show and its gigantic following, concert promoters started
booking acts into this city starting with Bill Haley and the
Comets in 1956. They were followed by the famous touring shows
of Rock N Roll featuring all the main singers of the genre such
as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino,
Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke and so on. But the main event
came in August of 1957 when Elvis Presley appeared at Empire
Stadium. After this Vancouver was firmly established as a major
destination for every Rock N Roll act that followed.
Cleveland lays claim as the first American city
to feature Rock N Roll on the radio with the deejay who coined the
phrase, Alan Freed. Vancouver was the first city in Canada to launch
the brand new music form.
Vancouver is Canada's pioneer Rock N Roll city and
proud of it. The tradition began here.
(For more from Red, check out his web site at www.redrobinson.com)
Archive - People »
- Places »
- Events »
- Books, etc. »