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The decline of Rafe Mair - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER Rafe Mair is no longer with radio station CKNW. Yesterday morning, at what would have been the start of his program, CKNW's program director Tom Plasteras made the following announcement: "I'm here to inform you that CKNW has ended its relationship with Rafe Mair and The Rafe Mair Show. The decision is an internal matter and is no reflection of Rafe's journalistic abilities or the quality of his show. We are committed to providing our listeners with top quality journalism and news commentary and we will be announcing a replacement program in the coming weeks. We thank our employees, advertisers and listeners for their continued support. On a personal note, I would like to thank Rafe for taking talk radio and CKNW to another level. His work ethic, intelligence and feistiness combined to serve this city and province in ways unparalleled. Rafe is an icon in our industry and we thank him for 19 brilliant years at CKNW."

The news of Rafe Mair's departure led CKNW's newscast at 9.00 yesterday morning, and was the subject of many calls on the open line throughout the day. BCTV led its noon hour telecast (as well the suppertime one) with news of Mair's departure, the Plasteras announcement and shots of Rafe Mair sailing off into the Lions Bay sunlight. Commenting on his demise from CKNW, Mair said that it was all expected, and that he commended Corus, the company that owns CKNW, with the way they handled his termination. Mair, who didn't deny it, said the end of his tenure at CKNW had something to do with his behaviour towards his female producer. Dallas Brodie had reportedly complained that Mair had forced her to get his coffee and that he swore in her presence. She filed a harassment complaint to her employer Corus, yet Mair refused to accept punishment from CKNW or Corus, if any, because he is not an employee, rather he has an independent contract to broadcast for them. He did admit that he and Corus were not a good fit to begin with when they took over not so long ago, and that, "the business that was going on with my producer acted as a catalyst, but I suspect that this day would have come irrespective of this, somewhere down the line."

He had recently re-signed a contract that would have kept him broadcasting with CKNW for another 27 months, and since then, he began opining on the air that it probably would mark the end of his broadcasting career. Mair, who recently went on holidays, returned on the 26th of May with an editorial where he stated: "I'm not fond, to say the least, of the corporate ownership of CKNW. They inherited one hell of a station, and think it can get along with less and less on the theory that if you feed a horse one less straw a day, pretty soon he'll get along without. In fact neither radio stations nor horses can long survive that way."

Last week I was to have posted an item on the frosty relationship developing between Mair and CKNW. He had come on the air denouncing the poisonous environment at CKNW as though living in "Alice in Wonderland," exposing attempts by Corus to reprimand him for comments he had made to a female employee of Corus, in the privacy of his office. One suspects from the events of yesterday, with this anecdote, that the female employee Mair mentioned was in fact Ms. Brodie (a former lawyer herself) who subsequently aired her grievances to the management of the station, thus the termination of Mair was in fact based on this internal matter.

Many rightfully wonder if the cause of Mair's abrupt dismissal had anything to do with his age. He is, after all, 71-years old. Bill Good stated on his program, whilst taking calls from his listeners, that Mair believed it was time for fresh blood at the station. One doubts that it was Mair's age that was the cause of his firing. If it were the reason, then why did Mair sign a three-year contract last summer, and why did Corus offer it in the first place?

Others wonder if Mair was fired for his vitriolic stand against salmon farming and the aquaculture industry in British Columbia. Mair has not hinted that it was the cause of his dismissal, and I am satisfied that he was not let go because of his editorial positions or because of any pressure from the provincial government. Were that to be the case, I would expect the feisty and opinionated Mair to set the record straight. Thus far he has had ample opportunity in the media and on his own website to do so. Clearly his departure was inevitable nearly two weeks ago, when he began his show by answering the query if he was afraid Corus would fire him, and he said: "All I can say is, one can only hope."

I've written in the past in this space that CKNW is more than just another radio station. Its history has impacted the history of this province and this region. Rafe Mair has played a vitally important part in that station's history for the last 19 years. Alongside legends like Jack Webster and Gary Bannerman, Rafe Mair did impact the politics of this province. And unlike Mr. Webster and Mr. Bannerman, Mair happened to impact the politics of the nation at large. Whether it was his opposition to the Kemano Completion project or his infamous stance against the Charlottetown Accord, he was the voice of British Columbia.

I wrestled with whether this piece would rehash a lot of the gossip that's appeared in Frank magazine or on BCTV, or if this would serve as a sort of eulogy for the broadcasting career, of what even the CBC even that the temerity to call an icon. Rafe Mair has been a legend, and in a way this column truly was modelled after those editorials he would do every morning when he signed on at 8.36 a.m. Rafe Mair was well informed, versatile and opinionated. That's what he was paid for and his listeners and the management got exactly that. And then some.

This is not the end of Rafe Mair's career, but it's certainly in decline. CKNW is the top station in the market, and Rafe Mair was this region's most vociferous voice. Together they were unstoppable and now that they're no longer in tandem, as Philip Till said on CKNW yesterday afternoon, British Columbians are the poorer for it. When it came to intergovernmental relations between BC and the federal government, no talk show host in this province no one got it better than Mair. Perhaps his previous career as a cabinet minister in Bill Bennett's government in the 1970s had something to do with it, but he was a learned media personality, something of a rarity nowadays.

The end had to come, as it always does with the fullness of time. It was expected too, with his pronouncements of recent months, but what is disheartening is the circumstance in which he left. What burns up steady listeners is that he was not given a proper send off. Admittedly, even Mair would rue the day that would have come soon, when it came time to call it a day and a career. But that's way the cookie crumbles and so Rafe Mair is silenced with listeners hoping he'll reappear somewhere else. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. He'd probably want to relish the rest of the days he's got left, spending them sailing, buying books, travelling and fishing with his beloved Wendy and chocolate lab Chauncey.

I will miss Rafe Mair's inquisitive brand of shit disturbing. In highly politically correct times, we needed it. Whether or not he'll reappear or not, he'll be blunted by the fact he'll be without CKNW's immense audience. It is hoped that management at Corus will realise that though the ratings won't decline so much, it was because of Rafe Mair that it remained strong and steady in the 14 or 15 years he held the prime morning slot of 8.30 to 11.00.

On reflection of Rafe Mair's departure, I think of the late Jack Cullen. Mair's departure pales in comparison to the horrendous dumping CKNW did of the legendary Cullen. Mair's 19 years at CKNW pales in comparison to Cullen's over 50 years, and of course his own dumping from CJOR 19 years ago, that led him to the air waves of CKNW. At least Mair's satisfied with being "showed the door with a wall full of money."

BCTV made an interesting point on its newscast last night. They pointed out that Mair's audience was a much older group, thus far less desirable to advertisers. I touched upon this in yesterday's piece on the Tony Awards. Older audiences, even with their higher incomes, are not the demographic salespeople go after. 77% of Mair's audience is over the age of 50. 50% of his audience, over the age of 65, and 54% are retired. With Jennifer Mather filling in ably for Bill Good last week, she is rumoured as one of the names that could replace Mair, as have the names of David Berner or John Pifer. (From some conversations between radio insiders I've heard names from Joy MacPhail, Glen Clark and even Russ Froese bandied about.) I suspect CKNW will move either Philip Till or Jon McComb to the morning slot, something they've been planning to do for years. Whomever they'll put in Rafe Mair's place, that man or woman will feel the unenviable pressure of replacing a man who's shadow is far more imposing than his bark, which in itself was rather prominent, considering all the press it attention it has gotten. Rafe would probably concur, that when you live hard, you die harder.

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