BCIT Broadcast Program graduate; hockey play-by-play community TV
1976-80; all-night host CISL Richmond 1980; CJOR Vancouver 1982 Sports Talk debut Oct. 15, 1984;
CKWX Vancouver 1988; CFMI-FM Vancouver 1989-97; CKNW Vancouver 1997; a.m. drive
co-host with Bill Courage CKST Vancouver May-July 2001; Sports Talk CKNW current
a well-known animal here in
I was, just sitting in awe, and I really got hooked on the whole radio thing. I
can honestly tell you from right then and there, I never even considered doing
another thing in terms of a career other than broadcast or other media."
sports for 15 years
Bob Mackin -
host Dan Russell behind the mic at CKNW's downtown studio on the 21st floor of the
By Bob Mackin
Dan Russell can gaze across Burrard Inlet from his
21st floor studio in downtown
and Lonsdale is the arena where Russell worked on Cablevision's black-and-white
junior hockey telecasts during the mid-'70s.
was the last community channel to have black and white cameras," he
the end of the '90s and Russell is celebrating a decade-and-a-half as host of
be a special moment tonight at
past 780 weeks, Russell has switched radio stations three times, followed the
Canucks to the Stanley Cup final in 1994 and
the fun of being the host," Russell says. "The listener never knows
what the next caller is going to bring up. They know Dan's going to be on at
father built him a toy studio where he pretended to be a disc jockey as a
child. In high school, the
miss that whole environment," says Russell. "You don't see radio
stations like that anymore, that was just great."
even better when Russell scored a regular on-air DJ gig from
moved with CJOR in 1982 to Fairview Slopes. In the fall of 1984, CJOR had a
hole to fill from
proposed sports talk show was the answer. It worked so well, it expanded to 90
minutes, then two hours and finally three hours. When CJOR switched from
all-talk to classic rock, Russell was out of a job. He quickly received four
job offers. He opted to move to CKWX for a year and then made a potentially
risky move to the FM dial on CFMI in 1989.
people had serious doubts whether a talk show could work on FM, it just wasn't
done," he says. "I remember people saying to me a lot of people don't
have FMs in their car yet. My counterpoint was most
of our listeners don't listen in their car, they're home already."
doubters were silenced. SportsTalk dominated the
was the last for Jim Robson, the Canucks' play-by-play voice on CKNW since
day-one and the man Russell dearly wanted to succeed. He even spent three years
honing his craft as full-time play-by-play announcer for the Western Hockey
League's Seattle Thunderbirds -- while remaining as full-time host of SportsTalk.
is one of the things I am most proud of that nobody knows about, to be able to
do two full time radio jobs in two countries at the same time. It was probably
the busiest I've ever been. We were doing shows the same night as games. Games
would literally end minutes before, sometimes seconds before, we'd go on to do Sportstalk. I don't think many people knew we were doing it
Jim Hughson (and later John Shorthouse) got the brass
ring. Russell had to settle for working a series of games televised on
pay-per-view in 1997.
"Y'know what, that was all I wanted, one game" he says.
"I got four."
long, Russell concedes, the desire for Robson's job distracted him from
cherishing SportsTalk, which crossed the hall in 1997
from CFMI to its AM sibling CKNW. He averages about 32,100 listeners every
quarter-hour. Surprisingly, about 45% are women. It's a show that Russell
thinks can thrive for another 15 years.
woke up one day and figured out this show is probably something a lot of people
would aspire to do and here you've been doing it all this time thinking about
doing something else," he says. "So maybe it's time to appreciate
what you're doing."
Russell is surprised at his show's longevity
Russell first took to the airwaves in 1984 to host a sports talk show, most
people felt it would be relatively short- lived.
20 years ago. Today, Sportstalk remains not only the
pioneer but still a dominant force in the
was never a feeling in my head that it would last this long," says
Russell. "There had been sports shows that had been tried before ours but
nothing really caught on. We came along and things just clicked."
a long and winding road for the durable program, which debuted on then-CJOR
Russell: "When CJOR went rock [CHRX], we took the show to CKWX [1130 AM].
After about a year, CKNW [980 AM] approached us but wanted us earlier in the
evening. We felt we were pretty established in the
to the contrary, the program lasted on the classic rocker until 1997, at which
point it jumped over to its current home, sister station CKNW.
you're the last sports show on in the market, the last thing I need is to hear
what everybody else has done. It's just not advantageous." says Russell.
not awake to hear the morning shows and I'm preoccupied in the afternoons and
evenings putting our show together."
run of two decades, the
probably enjoy doing the show more now than ever," he says. "The fact
that there's no hockey actually affords us the opportunity to do other
of Dan Russell.
20 years, Dan Russell's Sportstalk has been the No. 1
jock talk show on radio. And there's a reason why -- the host
radio has a reputation, sometimes deserved, for being vulgar. But vulgar takes
its root from vulgaris, Latin for "the common
people", and Dan Russell is certainly that: The people's choice.
talk radio is good, it has the comfortable feel of a couple of guys at a bar,
getting loose, doing the male thing, bonding over a discussion about the
20 years at his gig as the host of Sportstalk, heard
was a radio junkie," Russell says. "When I was a kid, I listened to
Larry King as much as possible. I've always been a huge admirer. His
interviewing skill is second to none. He asks short questions and knows when to
keep his mouth shut."
aspiration was to be connected with the broadcasters who, almost as much as the
players, are the makers of indelible memories for millions of listeners.
loved the instant communication of radio, the 'theatre of the mind',"
Russell says. "I would just sit by the radio for hours, listening to
stations like KFI [
24th largest media market in
just not enough sports content in
the arrival of all-sports radio stations in the Vancouver market such as Team
1040 AM and Mojo AM 730, at least 15 rival shows have
come and gone since Russell went to air on CJOR, Oct. 15, 1984, with the first
one-hour segment devoted exclusively to sports. By 1994, the format was
suffering diarrhea of the mouth. At that time, there were five local shows --
four on radio, one on BCTV (John McKeachie's
280-Jock) which came on after the late-night news. All but Russell's Sportstalk have had the plug pulled.
not even sure if my show lasted a year," says McKeachie,
now with Mojo. "Dan had the advantage of being
the first in the market, but there's more to it than that. People don't realize
how hard he works and how conscientious he is. He put in a lot of long hours,
building his show and his audience, in the early years."
Barnes, who produced Gallagher on Sports, which aired on CKWX for 20 months
before it was cancelled in 1990, is the first to admit that when it comes to
sport talk in
best part of Dan's show is not the guests, it's him," Barnes says.
"He's changed stations a million times [CJOR, CKNW, CFMI, My City Radio,
an Internet station and two go-rounds with CKNW], and he's gone through a lot
of different regimes with the Canucks. But he's carved a niche. He's blazed his
own trail, really. Before he came along, there was nothing in this town like
sports world has changed drastically since Russell launched Sportstalk
in 1984 and nothing has changed more than the coverage. Back then, there
weren't all-sports radio stations, all-news stations, a platoon of
sportswriters filling pages of hockey copy on a daily basis or the plethora of
local TV stations and national cable networks such as TSN, Rogers Sportsnet and The Score stampeding into locker rooms.
antediluvian '70s, Ted Tevan began his sports
broadcasting career as the host of Sports Rap, a one-hour segment on CFOX radio
a very rough guy," says Tevan, 67. "If
you've nothing slick to say, I tell my listeners to get off the line. Now!
'You're Gone'." As part of his take-no-prisoners schtick,
Tevan's dismissal of a weak caller is accompanied to
the sound of machine-gun fire or exploding dynamite.
by his notoriety, Tevan is an example of the special
penetration sports talk has in the lives of its adherents. Three times in his
career, Tevan says, he has kept callers threatening
suicide on the air, talking sports, until they could be reached by the police.
embodiment of the sports geek himself, he is quick to switch the conversation
to politics or world affairs if the situation warrants.
biggest game is still the game of life," he says. "If something truly
important -- Sept. 11, the war in
golden oldie in the jock talk genre is John Short of Edmonton, a 67-year-old
media maven and admitted workaholic who goes virtually non-stop from the time
the morning paper hits his doorstep to the time the next day's edition is put
publisher of the Ridge Meadows News and managing editor of Alberta Report,
Short used to do 300 radio shows a year, in addition to turning out five
columns a week for the Edmonton Journal. He started his sports talk career as a
post-game host of Oiler games and began his own show,
appropriately named Sportstalk, in 1982, on CFRN.
came to Short two years later when CJOR gave him a chance.
Bob McCown, host of Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 in
"Dan's the champion, with 20 years in one place [Short was off the air
from 1999-2000]," he says. "He called me from
concept of a sports talk radio program was first offered to him 20 years ago,
Russell figured he would have trouble holding listeners' attention span for an
hour. Now two stations in
talk does something radio is supposed to do but traditionally didn't do very
well: It targets the elusive audience of 25-54-year-old men, hard to reach
consumers who are mobile (business people, outside sales, delivery truck drivers ) and not in contact with television or print from
Russell feels his show is better now that he's married, with two young girls,
and sports isn't his be-all and end- all. Unlike Larry King, who acknowledges
that his work comes before relationships (just ask one of Larry's seven ex-wives),
Russell thinks that marriage and family have added some balance to his life.
think it probably turned my life in a way it needed to be turned," he
there were 38 hours in a day, I'd probably spend 30 hours following sports, trying
to make my show the best it can be. The interesting thing is, I've never
enjoyed Sportstalk more than I do now. Maybe it's a
combination of having balance in my life and being in the marketplace so long.
I think the word is confidence. I feel I can go on the air and pretty much
handle any situation that comes up."
on radio, a medium suited to everydayness, Russell's show is a hotstove lounge for those looking to vent, whine, spout or
discuss. Callers shouldn't be confused with listeners, who make up about 98 per
cent of the sports talk audience.
more media now and fans are more aware of what's going on because the team
[Canucks] is so covered," Russell says. "But our show is so firmly
established that it doesn't matter if the news is old by the time we come on
the air. I know our listeners are loyal because they're there all the time.
It's like one big gathering every night. I know people have told me, 'You go to
bed with me and my wife every night.'"
mind's theatre, you can picture Russell as a little boy in his suburban
Richmond bedroom, listening to velvety Vin Scully
give his audience goose bumps describing a meaningless Los Angeles Dodgers
game. Or he would press his ear to a transistor radio to hear Jim Robson's call
of a Canucks' game from New York or Chicago, picking up the roar of a distant,
thrilling world, like the sound in a seashell from some exotic, faraway shore.
when the descriptive masters of play-by-play get it right, they transport the
listener there and make him see. Scully, in his 55th year as the voice of the
Dodgers, and Robson, the original voice of the NHL Canucks, could make Stevie Wonder see.
were the guys I looked up to as a kid," Russell says. "In no
particular order, Vin Scully, Jim Robson and Larry
King were at the top of my list."
broadcaster is important to a sports franchise since he turns listeners into
fans. Russell can draw upon a huge fund of hockey knowledge because he did
junior games as a play-by-play announcer for years, hoping that Jim Robson's
seat in the announcing booth would one day be his. He finally got to do some
Canucks' radio play- by-play last season but only as a fill-in for Robson's
successor, John Shorthouse, whose wife was expecting.
certainly threw my hat in the ring, and I've provided dozens and dozens of
[audio] tapes over the years," Russell says. "It was really a kick
when I got to do some [Canuck] games. I love doing play-by-play, but what I
learned was that I love doing Sportstalk more."
is one of the fortunate few for whom there was a continuous link between
childhood play and adult work.
time he was in elementary school, Russell spent his idle time holed up in the
basement of the family home, playing the star of a make-believe radio station.
father Ken, a life-long B.C. Tel employee, was one of his formative influences.
He helped Dan set up a mock broadcasting studio, with turntables, microphones
and a log book. Dan was the show.
jockey, play-by-play announcer, newscaster, program director, station manager.
The pay was non-existent and so was the audience.
just broadcast to myself or into a tape recorder," Russell says. "My
family and friends chuckle about it now. My dad used to say, 'Dan, I really
hope you get into radio. If you do, I know I can turn you off.' It was the
standard family joke when I was a kid."
addict, Ken Russell would take his son along to watch disc jockeys and talk
show hosts on location at a store promotion or the PNE. While attending the
broadcast journalism program at BCIT, Dan worked as a board operator at CJOR
and became the first all- night DJ at a new station in Richmond, CISL, upon
graduation from BCIT in the spring of 1980.
In 1983, he
did a one-hour weekly guest appearance on CJOR, talking sports on a late-night
show with host David Berner. From such a small
stepping stone, he rose to his current perch.
remembers with affection the cutthroat heydays of talk radio in Vancouver, when
gravelly-voiced "hot line" stars such as Pat Burns (who referred to
female callers as "Doll"; the men as "Mac") and prickly
Jack Webster ("Turn your radio down, madam!") dominated the airwaves.
was so magical to me," Russell says, "just to be in that environment.
I couldn't wait to get to work."
wonder is that he calls it work. Marinated in freewheeling conversation for
most of his life, Dan Russell gets paid to do what comes naturally.