DJ - Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Broadcaster
Inducted December 8th, 2006
Robert Gordon (Red) Robinson has said that he is a country boy at heart and the “country” for him is the Comox Valley. Although he moved away in 1943 (when he was six years old), he spent the next 10 summers at the family farm at Rosewall Creek. He was the eldest child of the Robinson family and also a member of the Surgenor family of Fanny bay.
In the late 1920’s Red’s father (Gordon) and his uncles worked in the woods with their gyppo outfit, “Malaspina Logging Company”, working mainly on the Sechelt Penninsula. During the Great Depression Gordon found his way to Fanny Bay where he was employed at Totem Sawmill. At a dance at the Fanny Bay Hall he first met Alice Surgenor, they were later to be married.
When their eldest son was born in Comox in 1937 he was given the names Robert Gordon, Gordon for his father and Robert for Alice’s brother Bobby Surgenor, who at age 19 had just died of TB. But the world knows Robert Gordon Robinson as “Red Robinson”. The family increased a year later with the birth of Red’s brother Bill in 1939 in Comox.
The Robinsons moved to Vancouver where Gordon worked at the Boeing Aircraft Plant. Alice and the two boys continued to visit Fanny Bay to spend the summers at the family farm. For Red, the world at that time centered on summer and the times spent with family.
Ironically, at age 14, Red was very awkward and shy. When his uncle Earl suggested he go to the dance at the Fanny Bay Hall, Red was reluctant. His uncle threw the pitchfork off the truck, jumped down and told him, “You’re no better than any of them and just as good.” So Red went to the dance.
Just two years later, the enterprising young Robinson, who was attending King Edward High School, started booking acts up and down Vancouver Island. From Duncan north in community halls at Chemainus, Port Alberni, Nanaimo Fanny Bay and the Native Sons Hall in Courtenay, Red hired such groups as Buddy Knox, Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash.
Robinson got his start at the age of 17, spinning records for CJOR in Vancouver, and while there he had a storied career, he said that it has not always been easy. “In my career I had to struggle,” said Robinson. “It’s like the old saying, you can’t appreciate what you get unless you work for it and struggle for it.”
One of Robinson earliest mentors was Jack Webster, the tenacious journalist and popular pioneer of talk radio. He remembers Webster chastising him for not being able to type, asserting it would take him too long to write the news. Webster told him he would have to take typing classes but Robinson complained he would be the only man I the class.
“And what’s wrong with that,” said Webster. “Even today I can type 70 words a minute, thanks to Jack,” quips Robinson. “Jack was a tough task master but when the job was done, at the end of the day he was very appreciative,” added Robinson.
In his career he met all kinds of celebrities including some of the biggest names in the history Rock & Roll including Buddy Holly, John Lennon, and of course, Elvis Presley. He was Canada’s first Rock & Roll DJ and emceed Elvis Presley’s concert at Empire Stadium in 1957 and the Beatles concert in 1964. Red has been a regular Elvis Week Emcee at Graceland, which takes place each year in August.
Red Robinson was inducted in to the BC Entertainment Hall of fame in 1996.
He was inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1997. In 1995 he was also recognized in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
“But,’ he said with a cracking voice as he successfully fought tears and tapped the podium for emphasis, this “Walk of Achievement” honour is more meaningful because this is where my roots are.”
“Elvis was my favourite and he could sing everything.” Said Robinson. “He was the most down to earth guy. He always called everyone sir. I said, ‘excuse me, you’re two years older than I am”.
Besides his passion for music, Robinson is also passionate about helping those less fortunate. He has hosted Timmy’s Christmas Telethon since it began in the late 70s, helping to raise over $100 million for children with disabilities. He also helped develop the Children with Intestinal and Liver Disorders foundation (CHILD), which so far has raised over $13 million.
Robinson’s own son died at the age of 33 from the gastrointestinal Crohn’s Disease. “It’s not easy losing a child, it’s not,’ said Robinson. “But if you can turn lemon juice into lemonade, do it.”
Red has co-authored 2 books, “Rockbound” and “Backstage Vancouver”. Rockbound is Red's personal accounts of early rock and roll. "Backstage Vancouver" looks at the rich history of entertainment in Red's home town.
Red hosted "Red's Classic Theatre" each Sunday at 9 pm for 12 1/2 years on KVOS. The program was seen from Vancouver to Seattle. On this program he interviewed Tony Curtis, Charlton Heston, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney and others. In total he hosted 618 shows.
He learned his work ethics from his relatives. He is very proud of the long line of farmers, miners, loggers, locie drivers and sawmill workers who lived in nearly every small community from Nanaimo north on Vancouver Island.
We'd like to acknowledge the Comox Valley Echo (Judy Hagen, Hunt For History) and the Comox Valley Record for their research and articles about these Comox Valley Walk of Achievement Honourees.
Special thanks to Bruce McPhee whose support enabled us to create this website and the Honouree signage along Fifth Street in Courtenay, BC.