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
by Stuart Chase
a well-known animal here in
"There 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."
Talking 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
At 23rd and Lonsdale is the arena where Russell worked on Cablevision's black-and-white junior hockey telecasts during the mid-'70s.
"It was the last community channel to have black and white cameras," he recalls fondly.
the end of the '90s and Russell is celebrating a decade-and-a-half as host of
It will be a special moment tonight at when he'll offer his familiar "pleasant good evening" to listeners around the province via the WIC Radio Network and around the world via the Internet.
past 780 weeks, Russell has switched radio stations three times, followed the
Canucks to the Stanley Cup final in 1994 and
"That's 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 , but they don't know quite what's going to happen when he's on."
father built him a toy studio where he pretended to be a disc jockey as a
child. In high school, the
"I miss that whole environment," says Russell. "You don't see radio stations like that anymore, that was just great."
It got even better when Russell scored a regular on-air DJ gig from to Saturday mornings.
Russell moved with CJOR in 1982 to Fairview Slopes. In the fall of 1984, CJOR had a hole to fill from to between Burns' live hotline show and re-runs of ex-premier Dave Barrett's morning program.
Russell's 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.
"Most 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 to slot and became a gathering point
for Canucks' fans during the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs. After the heartbreaking
game seven loss to the Rangers in the final, Russell
spent a personal-best seven hours on-air from
That game 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
Instead, 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."
For too 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.
"I 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."
The Province 2004
Even Dan Russell is surprised at his show's longevity
When Dan 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
"There 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."
It's been a long and winding road for the durable program, which debuted on then-CJOR [600 AM].
Says 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 slot, so then we were offered ROCK 101 [101.1 FM]. One of the issues we had back at that time was the fact that a lot of cars didn't have FM radios in them."
Concerns 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.
"When 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.
"I'm 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
"I 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 things."
2004 Mike Beamish
Profile of Dan Russell.
Going on 20 years, Dan Russell's Sportstalk has been the No. 1 jock talk show on radio. And there's a reason why -- the host
Talk 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.
When sports 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 Canucks.
20 years at his gig as the host of Sportstalk, heard
from to locally on CKNW radio, the
43-year-old Russell is the king of the late-night airwaves in
"I 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."
Russell's 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
Before 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.
"I'm 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
"The 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 that."
The 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
"I'm 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.
Bemused 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.
No 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
Another 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 to bed.
A former 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.
Russell 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
Sports 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 to
Ironically, 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.
"I think it probably turned my life in a way it needed to be turned," he says.
"If 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."
Working 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.
"There's 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.'"
In your 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.
Indeed, 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.
"Those 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."
A 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.
"I 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."
Russell is one of the fortunate few for whom there was a continuous link between childhood play and adult work.
From the 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.
His 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.
Disc jockey, play-by-play announcer, newscaster, program director, station manager. The pay was non-existent and so was the audience.
"I'd 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."
A radio 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.
Russell 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.
"It was so magical to me," Russell says, "just to be in that environment. I couldn't wait to get to work."
The 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.