Since making his debut on radio station CJOR in the mid 1950’s, Red Robinson has literally done it all. Having virtually covered all of the entertainment bases throughout his storied career, Red set the bar high for future generations of broadcasters to follow. In the process, his list of accomplishments is impressive indeed.
Red was the first disc jockey to play rock and roll on the radio in Vancouver. He was the MC in 1957 when Elvis Presley played Vancouver and presented The Beatles onstage in 1964 during the height of ‘Beatlemania’. Red Robinson has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame; he was bestowed with a theatre in his name and a play ‘Red Rock Diner’ created in his honor. And those are just to name a few. The latest in this ever-growing list of well-deserved accolades came in July when the broadcast legend was awarded the Order of British Columbia.
In a career that’s spanned multiple decades and placed him at the forefront of the music scene in the process, where does this one rank? “It’s gotta be up there,” Robinson tells me from his Gastown office, where the walls are literally adorned with pictures taken with the entertainment industry’s biggest names over the years. “I mean some of the others are unique like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but because I was born and raised in British Columbia, I think the significance is there for me.”
It was an on-the-spot audition as a teenager that opened the doors of radio stardom for Robert ‘Red’ Robinson while still in high school. “I was shaking like a leaf I can tell you,” he says of that eventful first day on the air. “When I left the studio the General Manager pointed to the receptionist and said, “Look at that switchboard all lit up – that’s all you.”
That was just the beginning of what would become a remarkable broadcast legacy that brought Red Robinson face to face with the legends of the rock and roll era. It’s not hard to imagine who he puts among the top of the list. “Elvis”, he states emphatically. “You have to look at it this way; he had three movies out; he had all the hit songs and by the time he got to Vancouver it was the biggest attendance he had ever had. No one rented stadiums in those days; nobody was big enough. I’ve met a few people – and Elvis was one of those – that when they walk in the room, they don’t have to say anything. All of a sudden there’s an aura.” Similarly, The Beatles rank among his Top Three celebrity highlights, stating that those two acts “Literally shook the world – they were gigantic!”
To list his other most cherished encounter throughout the years, Red veers away from the rock and roll realm. “The third person that impressed me so much was Nat King Cole,” he adds. “What a gentleman! When I read years later about all the stuff he had to put with at that time…..it was terrible, but he stood his ground and was also a nice guy – a real gentleman of the highest magnitude. He didn’t let any of that stuff grind him down.”
Still rockin’ the airwaves in his weekly ‘Red Rock Diner’ radio show heard every Sunday from noon to 4:00pm on CISL 650, Red Robinson maintains a true zest for life and professes a love for a business that has seen radical change over the years. While the medium and the model may be different in 2016, Red’s key to success remains constant. “First of all, have a passion and don’t get into it for any other reason, he says. “I was never motivated by money. I wanted to do the job. I loved it and I still do.”
Robinson never lost that passion, nor did he lose self control in a business loaded with perks but replete with pitfalls. While many of his contemporaries weren’t so fortunate, how did he stay grounded throughout? “Alice, my mom,” he says unequivocally. “The family keeps you grounded and you never do anything to embarrass them. I remember winning an award in 1956: ‘Top Disc Jockey in the Northwest’. I’m on the air just a year and when I take the trophy home, my Irish grandfather says, “Son, I want you to remember something: honour seeks the man, the man doesn’t seek the honour.”
The Order of British Columbia is an award that honours any current or former longtime resident of BC who has demonstrated a high level of individual excellence, distinction and achievement in any field of endeavor that benefits the people of the Province.
Congratulations Red Robinson, OBC
Red inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, 1995.
2016 – Red Robinson awarded the Order of British Columbia.
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