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Farewell to a ‘Boy Disk Jockey’ - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER -- Yesterday, I went to the Jack Cullen memorial tribute at the Shriners Hall in Burnaby. It was a do I had to go to, because I like many others grew up listening to Cullen’s Owl Prowl, which aired on CKNW for nearly 50 years. It was the least I could do. Sev Morin, Jack’s best friend, was the master of ceremonies and did so with a bit of levity and requisite emotion. Jack’s brother Lorne spoke and talked about Jack’s early years “boosting” (buzz word for stealing) records for a collection that by the time he left CKNW hit 300,000 items. Everything from old transcriptions of radio shows, records, tapes, and CD’s, Cullen was king at culling things musical and the sort.

Also on hand to speak was CKNW’s John Ashbridge, the 7:30 am newscaster on CKNW, whose dulcet tones filled the full hall. There must have been nearly a thousand folks -- mainly grey to white haired -- crammed in that room. I stayed near the back of the room behind the suits of the present CKNW, and sportscaster Neil Macrae. Neil was overheard later, talking about the years he spent listening to Cullen, saying, “You lie in bed, and he entertains you. I don’t have many things in my bed that entertain me, so you listen to Jack.” Another speaker on the program was the energetic disk jockey of rock, Red Robinson. Robinson, himself an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, grew up idolising Cullen and spoke well of his competitor and hero.

As above, the crowd was grey to white haired. It was mainly casual suits, as even Neil Macrae ditched his usual garb of shorts and slippers for a jacket and cowboy boots. He stood beside CKNW’s pinstriped program director, Tom Plasteras, who if I’m not mistaken was around when Cullen was unceremoniously dumped in 1999. Former promotions dean at ‘NW John Plul was on hand too. Plul, who left ‘NW to work in the provincial government on the Expo ‘86 file, was joined by his old tourism ministry boss, former Socred cabinet minister Grace McCarthy. Her husband Ray was there, as Mrs. McCarthy was greeted by her former cabinet colleague, now CKNW talker Rafe Mair. The two of them exchanged handshakes in the middle of the hall, surrounded by cameras, and Independent Senator Ed Lawson. Senator Lawson -- a 32-year veteran of the Senate and who has 2 years left on his sinecure -- brought down the house with a couple of dirty jokes. Red Robinson said that’s what Jack would have wanted.

Gossip maven Joy Metcalfe walked passed me, before working the room schmoozing with the throng of Jack well-wishers. The elusive Frosty Forst, the morning DJ at CKNW, got a kiss from Joy. Frosty’s appearance was a rarity, as he has consistently refused appearances in public in his nearly 35-year reign on the morning airwaves at the CKNW. When prodded by Red Robinson as to the year they both started at CFUN, Frosty curtly responded, “I don’t remember.”

Wilf Ray worked the room, being the only chap there, wearing a name tag on his lapel. Ray can be heard on 600 AM weekends. Belle Puri, the CBC’s veteran reporter, was spotted and took a bow from the audience. Seems she was a protégé of the late CKNW bombastic sportscaster, Al Davidson. When Davidson’s name was mentioned, I quickly turned my gaze to Neil Macrae, ‘NW’s current bombastic sportscaster. See, Macrae and Davidson never got along. It got to the point where Davidson threatened Macrae with physical violence at a hockey game. Macrae sort of flinched at the mention of his late nemesis.

Gary Bannerman, Rafe Mair’s predecessor at CKNW, was in the audience; as was 600 AM’s record spinner, “Big Daddy” Dave McCormick. Weathermen, Norm Grohmann and Phil Reimer were spotted, formerly of BCTV and CBC respectively. The former retired from CKNW, whilst the latter remains the butt of many Frosty Forst jokes. Former CKNW boss Bill Hughes was a speaker, and that baritone was still there. In the audience as well was the widow of former CKNW owner (as well former owner of BCTV and the Vancouver Canucks) Frank Griffiths. Mrs. Emily Griffiths -- who was seated with Cullen’s family, his widow Alma and kids Colleen, Kelly, and Dean -- received warm applause from the crowd.

A latecomer to the proceedings was flamboyant Realtor Faye Leung. Leung, who helped bring down former premier Bill Vander Zalm, arrived in garb akin to her tacky style. She was donning her trademark hat -- a purple one with two giant pins; and a coat of blue and white fur that looked like it was lopped off of a rabbit. She was clutching an equally loud bag and a pair of female cowboy boots that were sequinned and gold(!). It made one want to heave.

Former Vancouver councillor Don Bellamy, now resident of Burnaby, spoke. The former alderman served in the navy with Cullen and regaled the crowd with stories of Jack’s love of the drink. CKNW’s former top newsman, George Garrett walked in, and sported his protruding front teeth, which are fake of course, sustained after being beat up covering the Rodney King fracas in Los Angeles a decade ago this week. CKNW’s current top newsman, Ted Field arrived late, as he was following pig-farmer Pickton’s lawyer Peter Ritchie after his client’s latest hearing. Field, plugged his tape machine into the hall’s PA system hoping to collect clips for a story, as former boss Bill Hughes looked on. One sort of got the feeling that Hughes, missed lugging around the recorder over his shoulder. See, Hughes did just that, hopping on busses talking to tourists for decades on CKNW’s novelty bit, the Roving Mike; as much a part of the ‘NW heritage as the Owl Prowl.

John Mackie and Joe Leary, of the Sun and Province papers respectively, were beckoned to take a bow for their glowing tributes to Jack in their papers. In the foyer of the Shriners Hall was a great display of nostalgia and papers of Jack Cullen. I didn’t get a good chance to peruse the evidence, but I did spot an old CKNW microphone, and some interesting correspondence from Gary Bannerman, and even an ‘item’ from Joy Metcalfe’s predecessor in gossip, the late Earle ‘The Pearl’ Bradford.

Bobby Hughes, this town’s version of Frank Sinatra was there; though absent were two Cullen favourites Kenny Coleman and Michael Bublé. Both had their records played on the Cullen show and both got a bit more notoriety for it. Bublé, incidentally, is making it big in Los Angeles now, working with the likes of Paul Anka and David Foster, plus he’s done the odd movie or two. Definitely a Burnaby boy done good.

Sterling Faux, former announcer of the 6/49 numbers on BCTV and now a CKNW talker and possible replacement for Rafe Mair if they choose to not renew his contract, was seen leaning against a back wall; as was the lean and lanky former BCTV sportsman, who now shills on the radio, John McKeachie. There were many more among those that came to celebrate the life of Jack Cullen. I was pleased to be one of them.

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