Photo Credit: Tom Harrison’s History of Vancouver Rock ‘n’ Roll

Rock and Roll Legend, Has Spun His Last Tune

Red lived till 86, but his life was a whirlwind.

From Vancouver’s first rock ‘n’ roll show to spinning music for 6 hours a day, the Comox-born icon’s career made history

For years, Red Robinson was the iconic DJ of BC.

A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, BC Entertainment Hall of Fame inductee, and recipient of the Order of BC and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal – Red received many formal accolades.

But the real standing ovations came from all those who listened to his music.

Born in Comox, he kicked off his career in Vancouver in the 1950s.

Red hosted Vancouver’s first rock ’n’ roll radio show on Nov. 13, 1954, when he was just 17 years old.

“I used to listen to Jack Cullen here in Vancouver,” said Robinson in 2017. “And he was just wild. He was all over the place. I thought, man, if I could do something like that, I’d be the happiest camper on the planet.”

He did, in fact, end up doing something like that.

On a whim, he phoned into CJOR’s “Theme for Teens” show with imitations of Jimmy Stewart, and it stood out enough to get him a gig.

“I called in a couple of days later as Peter Lorre, and it twigged on Al Jordan. He said, ‘Did you do Jimmy Stewart?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ So he said, ‘Come on down and be on the show.’ So I used to appear on his show, doing impersonations and little skits.

Al Jordan was a young broadcaster not much older than Robinson. Jordan allowed Red to write scripts for the show. He called the gangly teenager a “natural.”

Al Jordan moved on in the summer of ’54 for another job, and luckily for Red, his replacement was a dud. 

When he failed to show up for a shift right after Armistice Day, the program director decided it was time to test Red on a big stage, saying, “Well, Red, here is your chance. Show me.”

Long story short, Red killed it. It was all up from there.

His success grew until everyone at the station and the competition noticed him. Soon Red was spinning his new rock-a-billy music on the air six hours a day and winning the rating wars.

For Red, life only got wilder.

He started MCing the city’s biggest rock ’n’ roll concerts.

He met, interviewed and befriended everybody, from Bill Haley to Buddy Holly to Johnny Cash, The Beatles and Elvis.

“The best gig I saw had to be Elvis,” he said. “There was nothing like it beforehand. He was the first guy to rent stadiums. I’d MC’ed shows, but standing in front of 20,000 people was nerve-racking.”

For locals, Red was as much a star as the artists he opened for.

The star of his life, though, was his wife, Carole.

“We met in ’62,” he said. “It was a blind date, and instantly it happened. People that don’t believe in love at first sight are wrong — it was with me.”

The couple had three children, and Robinson balanced his family life with his career till the very end, remaining on the airwaves into his 80s.

Red’s early days in radio became the subject of a popular musical, Red Rock Diner. He wrote or co-wrote several books, including Rockbound: Rock and Roll Encounters, Backstage Vancouver (with Greg Potter) and The Last Deejay (with Robin Brunet).

He kept his energy going well into his old age, his health only declining after the death of his wife in 2020.

Red passed away peacefully after a brief illness on Apr. 1, just a day after his 86th birthday.

He is predeceased by his wife and son, Jeff, and survived by his daughters, Kellie and Cheri.

He’ll live on as a Canadian Rock Music Legend, and in all his fan’s hearts.