Broadcasting

IN LIKE A LION, OUT LIKE A LION

West Coast talk radio will miss Rafe Mair

KEN MACQUEEN June 23 2003
Broadcasting

IN LIKE A LION, OUT LIKE A LION

West Coast talk radio will miss Rafe Mair

KEN MACQUEEN June 23 2003

IN LIKE A LION, OUT LIKE A LION

Broadcasting

West Coast talk radio will miss Rafe Mair

KEN MACQUEEN

Rafe: noun, incessant public verbal barrage; verb, attack in the morning hours from the British Columbia airwaves (Gordon Campbell was Rafed today. It was brutal.)

RAFE MAIR, the man who defines B.C.’s bare-knuckle talk radio, has been Rafed. Gassed. Canned. Fired by Vancouver station CKNW after 19 years on air. Publicly hung out to dry, his neck wrung like a chicken. You get the point, Rafe Mair has been silenced. Sort of. One suspects this unnatural quiet is temporary. As his beloved Churchill once said: “Some chicken. Some neck.” Churchill wasn’t big on surrender. Mair isn’t either.

A short list of Mair’s targets includes: every federal government in living memory; the Charlottetown constitutional accord; Maclean’s for its coverage of same; the Globe and Mail for being Toronto-centric, Alcan, for threatening a B.C. salmon river, Izzy Asper’s CanWest Global Communications Corp. empire for smothering public debate; every B.C. government since the Bill Bennett cabinet Mair served in, and, ad nauseum, B.C.’s aquaculture industry, again for threatening salmon.

His own Rafing came in the morning, as Rafings do. Those who tuned in on June 9 after the 8:30 news, expecting Mair’s opening editorial, instead heard one of the corporate suits Mair so despises. “I’m here to inform you that CKNW has ended its relationship with Rafe Mair and the Rafe Mair Show,” said station program director Tom Plasteras. He called the reason an “internal matter.” He thanked Mair for “taking talk radio and CKNW to another level.” It was bloodless. Mair would have mopped the floor with Plasteras, if he wasn’t home counting his fat contract buy-out.

His departure is not remotely an internal matter, as much as CKNW’s owners, the giant Corus Entertainment Inc., may wish it. B.C. has a long, loud history of cranky broadcasters. Jack Webster built his reputation as a ferocious interviewer at CKNW— once, in 1963, barging into B.C. Penitentiary to negotiate a hostage incident. Pat Burns, at rival CJOR, built such a hotline following that CKNW tried to poach him by offeringin 1965—the unheard of salary of $14,400 a month, a car and a custom studio.

Mair himself was no slouch in the salary department, earning more than $300,000 a year by most reports. In exchange, the 71year-old lawyer delivered Canada’s largest local talk-show audience—some 239,000 listeners per week. His great numbers, though, were from the wrong demographic. Most listeners were 50 years plus, and largely retired—not the sort advertisers can lure into mortgages, hot clothes and minivans.

Mair had seen it coming. In his book, Still Ranting, he wrote last year: “My fear for CKNW is that it’s going to be, once I’m out of the way, just another radio station.” He railed on-air against the corporate style of Corus, which had replaced local family ownership. The relationship was further soured by a feud with his producer, lawyer Dallas Brodie, who has not commented publicly on

the dispute. Mair says she complained to management about his salty language, his requests for coffee (with chocolate sprinkles), and that he accused her of “acting like a little girl with her knickers in a knot.” If that’s a true measure of the complaints, Corus has a case of selective sensitivity. Far worse is heard daily on air at another of its Vancouver properties, MOJO Radio—an alltalk station that aims, crotch high, at a young male demographic.

CKNW, predictably, was flooded with irate calls and e-mails, and some messages of gratitude. Equally predictably, Mair’s Web site—www. rafeonline. com—was abuzz with conspiracy theories. Yet Mair, in successive interviews, seemed almost relieved.

He’s a mix of bluster and vulnerability. He has made a cause of his fight with depression. Once, sitting in CKNW’s 21st-floor studio with the microphone off, he described an ugly stretch in 1998 of what used to be called a nervous breakdown. But he never missed a broadcast. “This was my cave,” he said of the place where so many have sweated out a Mair interview. “This was the place I couldn’t be attacked. I felt safe and secure.” His office, also on the 21st floor, had no windows. He’d edge along inside walls to the studio, where the blinds were drawn against the city far below. Mair is deathly afraid of heights. Getting to the place he felt safest was a daily act of courage. That’s the price of being on top: it’s a long way down. [ifl