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Vancouver’s Red Robinson Officially Retires
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John Mackie Vancouver Sun

Red Robinson has tried to retire a few times.

“I had big parties and everything — it was terrific,” he laughs.

“It became a thing with me. Maybe next year I can retire again.”

But each time the easy life beckoned, he missed the buzz of going on the radio. So the legendary disc jockey has remained on the air for 64 years.

For the last several years Robinson has held down a Sunday slot on CISL. He celebrated his 80th birthday on air March 30.

But CISL was recently sold and will be changing formats from oldies to sports in September. So this week, Red decided it was time to finally retire for good.

“I’ll tell ya what did it to me,” he said.

“My grandson is 14. He’s always bugging me, ‘Grandpa when are you going to retire?’ I knew what he meant — spend more time with him. A couple of weeks ago I said ‘Aden, I’m retiring.’

“He said, ‘Grandpa, you mean we can spend more time together?’ That got to me. It’s the right move. You’ve got to go sometime, right?”

His last day will be Aug. 27. This week, he started going through some of the boxes of memorabilia in his office. Going through a box filled with autographs Robinson came across something special — a Buddy Holly signature from his lone appearance here on Oct. 23, 1957.

For many rock and roll fans, a Buddy Holly autograph is the holy grail because they’re incredibly rare. The Lubbock, Texas native was killed in a plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959, when he was only 22 years old. Holly had been a star for less than two years when he died.

Holly was in town with the Show of Stars, a revue that featured eight acts now in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — Holly, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, the Drifters, Eddie Cochran, Clyde McPhatter and LaVern Baker — as well as Frankie Lymon, Paul Anka, Jimmy Bowen and Buddy Knox.

“They each got to do two songs, and if they had a lot of applause they did one more,” said Robinson.

“It was put together by Irvin Feld, who owned Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus. I think he had watched (rock and roll DJ) Alan Freed in New York and decided to do his own (travelling show).”

Robinson interviewed Holly backstage.

“I’d run out, do an interview, then (go back onstage) and introduce the next act,” he recounts.

“In my interview with Buddy Holly I asked, ‘How long do you think rock and roll is going to last?’ He said, ‘Oh, I think ’til Christmas but not much later.’ Those were his exact words.”

Robinson also has an Elvis Presley autograph from when Elvis played Empire Stadium on Aug. 31, 1957. Red was emcee of the show, and there’s a great photo of Red and Elvis with a giant teddy bear that Elvis’s fans gave him, in honour of his hit Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear.

The teddy bear is now in Red’s office.

“It’s a panda,” said Robinson.

“I kept it, ’cause he didn’t want to take it on the train. But the vest rotted away. It’s stupid the stuff I’ve held onto in a way, but it meant something to me.”

Elvis’s teddy bear will probably wind up at the Museum of Vancouver, where Robinson is donating much of his collection.

“I may keep a few things that I think my kids might want,” he said.

“(But) they don’t want much. I understand that — they didn’t experience it.”

There is all sorts of cool stuff in his office — photos of Red with stars like Holly, Roy Orbison and Debbie Reynolds, Sun Records drink coasters, an ancient Sparton record player, and a wonderful 1958 poster for a “Skin Tight, Pin Striped Purple Pedal Pushers” contest.

“This is nothing compared to the locker I’ve got,” he said.

“There’s everything from the old Red Robinson Show Theatre, all the walls (of memorabilia), including the sign from the theatre.”

It’s a one-of-a-kind collection, from a one-of-a-kind Vancouverite.

jmackie@postmedia.com



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