By Donovan Tildesley
Thursday November 13th, 2014
It was only by coincidence that I came across the tape. Preparing to move into my new condo, I began sorting through a large plastic box underneath my bed, filled to overflowing with cassette tapes. Granted, I’ve been recording digitally for the past eight years, but there is still 24 years of my life preserved on these now-Dinosaur-age devices. Near the top of the box I found this tape from November of 2004, and it jogged my memory back a decade. This was former Z95-3 evening host, and virtual newcomer to the Vancouver radio market Kid Carson, with his first-ever morning show! But in order to tell Kid’s story, let’s first take a look at the state of contemporary radio at this time.
Allow me to back up about a year; summer 2003 to be exact. The CHR format as we new it was floundering, in Canada at least. Gone were the boybands and smooth R&B groups of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Replacing these acts were the likes of 50 Cent, Kelly Rowland, Shawn Paul, and a rapidly-growing popularity of Urban music. There was still pop/rock, of course, but the feel-good pop music was slowly being pushed aside in order to make room for these edgier black acts. Many cities, including Vancouver, now had full-time Urban radio stations, a format unheard of in Canada until the launch of Toronto’s Flow 93.5 in 2001. This was also the time when the JACK format was peaking across the country, which lead to further listening fragmentation. To this day I believe that many CHR PDs were overly-reactive to this shift in music. Rather than staying the course with CHR, they opted to add more rock and ‘90s (aka “safer”) music to the playlist, which only watered-down the once-powerful CHRs into wimpy-sounding Hot ACs. Is this point based on any research? Absolutely not! This is only how me, a then late-teenage radio purist saw it back then.
Vancouver’s Z95.3 was no exception. When the newly-launched Beat 94.5 stole 2.5 of their audience share in the Spring and Summer 2002 BBM Ratings, they tweaked the once-mighty CHR powerhouse. Less Urban, more rock, more recycled ‘90s. Ratings continued to erode. The Beat wasn’t any better programmed (in fact the station had three different PDs in the first 15 months!), it was just the new kid in town, and Z was scared. As ratings continued to drop, Z knew something had to be done. So in August 2003 they fired long-time morning host Darren B. Lamb, utility jock Chris Kalhoon, and midday personality Erin Wilde, bringing in three new voices from Ontario; Nat Hunter, Drew Savage (previously known as Andy Rogers), and Kid Carson as replacements. Nat was to be teamed with Buzz Bishop on mornings, Savage would take afternoon drive, and the Kid evenings. It appears that the station was making a valiant attempt to recapture their CHR glory. We never like to see good folks lose their jobs, but as a listener, I felt that some new blood might revitalize the once-mighty Z.
I was on holidays when the changes took place, but can still remember the eager anticipation I had of listening to the station upon my return. I hadn’t heard of Hunter or Savage, but knew a little of Carson’s work, having spent several weeks in Toronto in Summer 2001. At the time, Kid was doing swing on Kiss92, Toronto’s larger-than-life CHR powerhouse. This station harkened back to the glory days of the format; “big voiced” production, up-tempo music, and hot jocks. Kid did not disappoint! I still remember getting goosebumps the first break I heard of his on Z. He didn’t just talk over the Top Hour jingle, he owned it!! Normally there was a slight pause between when the jingle singers sang “Z95.3” and “Vancouver”, which other jocks never touched. Kid had to throw in a “WHERE??!!” Prior to the “Vancouver”. Kid managed to hit the post on most song intros, and he had amazing phone skills. I was sold! Then there was Halloween Night 2003, when he lisped through at least the first hour of his show, telling the listening audience he was “a Kid withhhh bracessss!”. Great theatre of the mind radio, which no one else in Vancouver was really doing at the time. Plus you could tell that he was into the music he played. Alicia Keys was one of his favourite artissts, and I think he had a crush on her at one point. One night when “You Don’t Know My Name” was pitted against another new track on the “Z Hit Election”, he informed us repeatedly that if Alicia didn’t win, he would be camping out in Stanley Park for the next week. This was late Autumn in Vancouver, and for Kid’s sake I’m glad Alicia won that night!
Despite his high-energy and goofiness, there was a certain sincerity to Kid’s personality. I always felt he was talking directly to me as a listener, and that he’d be the type of guy I’d want to sit down with, have a beer, and just shoot the breeze. I later learned that Kid hadn’t had it easy growing up; being raised by a single-mother along with his sister in Toronto. They’d had to use the Food Bank some Christmases, and at seventeen he’d left home. Perhaps the sincerity I was hearing was jenuine gratitude? The gratitude of a guy in his early-20’s who had been given a big break in order to pursue one of his greatest dreams.
I’ve come to realize that many good things in life (and especially in radio) don’t always last, and so it was with the 2003 reincarnation of Z. The Fall 2003 BBMs saw them at a 5.4, an all-time low at that time, and rumours abounded of yet another change. That change came in early March of 2004, when the braintrust at Standard Broadcasting decided to take the station in a different direction, this time going after JACK’s younger adult demos. Gone were the jingles, much of the newer CHR music, and jocks were restricted to 2-3 short breaks an hour. It was honestly sad to listen to, and I could tell that Kid felt the same way during his first break on day one of the new format. “Its just after 6:00, I’m Kid Carson, and this is Stupid.” (Kid was referring to a Sarah McLachlyn song, but I know what he really meant). The once-mighty Z had been castrated, and the Kid had been nutered. For the time being at least…
Fast forward to fall 2004, and over to the Plaza of Nations where The Beat 94.5 called home. Scot Turner, the third PD since the station’s launch in February 2002 had just been shown the door. Seeing a whole in the marketplace, management at the floundering independent saw an opportunity to capture some of the younger demos alienated by Z’s journey into Jackdom. With Music Director Chris Myers moving into the PD chair, The Beat retooled their Rhythmic CHR format, and began playing “all of today’s hit music, (and) not just some of it”. The challenge was getting the on-air talent, many of whom had been with the station since its launch as an Urban CHR, to adapt to the new format. The morning show was of particular concern. To this day, I feel that both Slim and Big D had great on-air chemistry, but looking back, I realize they didn’t embody the type of sound the newly-formatted Beat was aiming for. In somewhat vulgar laymen’s terms, they sounded too “black” for the new format. Too his credit, Big D (AKA Dylan Willows) has gone on to enjoy several years of success as one-half of “The Morning Zone” in Victoria.
So on October 28, 2003, a press release announced that Slim and Big D were out, and that “The Kid Carson Show” would debut on Monday November 15, with former evening co-host Nira Arora assuming the same position alongside Kid. In speaking with Chris Myers months later, I learned that it was in fact Kid, feeling smothered by the new format constraints at Z, who had initially approached The Beat. Having no available shifts at the time, they regretfully had to turn him down.
The move made sense on a number of levels. First, Kid was now a known name in the Vancouver radio market. Second, he epitomized the new demographic The Beat was now aiming to reach. And third, but perhaps most importantly, he embodied this larger-than-life starpower persona common among many successful morning personalities. The question was, would it work? Kid was used to injecting his personality into a music-intensive format. Furthermore, I don’t believe he’d ever worked with a co-host until this point in his career, and sharing the stage can prove difficult for some intensely creative people. But PD Chris Myers had a long-term vision for the show. To paraphrase what he told me on a visit to The Beat in March of 2005: “The show hasn’t reached its full potential now, but it will in another 2.5 years.”
On the morning of Monday November 15, I was camped out in my then-girlfriend’s dorm room in Nanaimo; alarm set for 5:25, and a fresh 120-minute cassette in my Sony Walkman recorder. 5:30 came with a new Kid Carson Show intro, but no Kid! It wasn’t until 19 minutes later, after several songs, out of-date promos, and several instances of dead air that Kid made his debut. I learned later that he’d had trouble sleeping the night before, overslept, and then locked himself out of the building! Yet with his usual congeniality and good humour, Kid made light of the situation; giving the listening audience a small glimpse into what he must have been thinking and feeling on that morning. At the time, the initial chemistry between Nira Arora and he had its awkward patches, but listening back a decade later, I don’t think they could have sounded any better on that inaugural day.
I’ve said before that I’ve never formally worked in radio, but in the summer of 2005 I had the opportunity to intern at The beat for seven days. On my second day, I had the chance to live a piece of history, when Chris Myers informed a jubilant staff that for the first time ever, The Beat had solidly edged ahead of Z95-3 in the BBM Ratings! I’ll never forget the feeling of pure elation in the room that day, or the celebratory barbeque that followed on The Beat’s expansive patio! As my first time actually working in a radio station, I also got a better feel for the people there. The talent, who to me had always seemed bigger than life, were somewhat aloof off-air. Not rude by any means; more so intensely focused on doing their jobs. The only ones who spoke to me during that time were Barbara Beam, and Kid Carson. On one of the days, I was set up to do some some audio editing work an an office that Kid used. He shook my hand, remembering that we had met before at a Beat Cares fundraiser, and commented on how heavy my laptop bag looked. Nothing more, but I could tell that he was a kind-hearted person. If I had been older and less self-conscious, perhaps I would have put forth more of an effort to engage him in conversation.
As for Kid’s show, I was a faithful listener, at least for the first two years. The chemistry between he, Nira, and Amy Beamin grew exponentially over that time. What ultimately drew me away was the return of Fred and Cathy to the Vancouver airwaves; a team I listened to casually as a child, but was never fully able to appreciate until their final go-round on the then Clear FM. By the time F&C left in 2007, The Kid Carson Show just didn’t resonate the same way to me as it did in its formative years. Perhaps it is analogous to moving away from a town for a short period, only to come back to find that the friends you once had have now developed other friendships with new inside jokes to go along with them. Perhaps the show had grown up (both Nira and Amy had children now), and I was still just a kid finishing university. Kid himself was also evolving from the fresh-faced and fun-loving disc jocky I first remember hearing, and now embracing the self-help and pop-psychology world of Malcom Gladwell, a world to which I couldn’t wholly relate. Over the years, the show became less about the music that Kid was at first so passionate about, and more about the everyday lives of the protagonists.
That being said, I take my hat off to Kid. A child born into difficult circumstances, who through talent, skill, and incredibly hard work, has overcome obstacles put before him, and made a name for himself in Canadian radio. I’m sure that more can be said, but I’ll finish on this note. To close off one of his Friday evening shows on Z95-3, Kid once said, “If I see you downtown this weekend, I’ll buy you a beer”. Well, Kid, that was over ten years ago. Let me buy you one!