Bombastic broadcaster recalls talk radio heyday



January 12, 2016


Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, astronomically paid battling broadcaster in the balmy days when CKNW styled itself Vancouver’s Top Dog, is in shaky health and thinks he’ll die in 2017.

Mind and speech, he’s as sharp as ever. I assured him he looks fine.

“I wish I felt as well inside as I look outside,” Rafe replied. He turned 85 on New Year’s Eve, has balance problems probably due to a long-undiagnosed stroke, and uses a walker in his Lions Bay townhouse shared with wife Wendy. An electric scooter at the door gets little use these days.

Rafe would not like the formulaic panhandling-for-pity story reserved for the old or ill, and he won’t get one here. Even less, the definitive account of his riveting life, where the line between his private and public affairs was tremulous. Nor, a study in itself, his aggressive pride in B.C. – a Don Quixote tilting at windmills that sometimes blunted his lance in retaliation. (Such was his contempt for Eastern Canada that he once yielded as far as pronouncing this Ontario-born word-grinder “an honorary British Columbian,” but withdrew it when in my Vancouver Sun column I accidentally wrote kindly of Toronto.)

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Trevor Lautens / Contributing writer/ North Shore News

Former Vancouver Sun columnist Trevor Lautens writes every second Friday on politics and life with a West Vancouver bias. [email protected]


  1. Talk Radio Hosts like Rafe were such a Godsend, professional, provocative, intelligent and fair. He helped me think about issues and formulate a lot of my opinions pro and con to his radio chatter. He was never afraid to give it to any politician, Premier or Prime Minister. Talk radio needs hosts like him and not the pablum-like, safe space crying, low in knowledge hosts we see much today.

  2. I will never forget the evening in April 2013, when Rafe received a Lifetime Achievement Award from mine and his alma mater (albeit over 50 years apart), St. George’s School. A good part of his speech was devoted to his recollection of a number of boys being publically caned in front of the entire school, due to some innocent prank (I think it involved taking a vehicle on a joy ride). You could have heard a pin drop. Apparently this was considered acceptable practice circa 1948. Not so for Rafe, who soonafter left the School, not to return until that night almost four years ago. His emotional and impassioned speech may have lead to his stroke the following day.

  3. When the day comes that Rafe moves on from this life, it will be a test of CKNW management how they treat his passing. I hope they devote significant airtime to his contributions to the province, the broadcast industry and the Top Dog.

    I don’t seem to recall them giving much too much focus to the death of Gary Bannerman, although maybe I missed a tribute or two.

    Great to see Trev Lautens still churning out the copy. He and Alex McGillavrey (hope I spelled it correctly) were two of the most colourful characters in the Sun newsroom, back in the day.

  4. He’ll be a great loss and there is little likliehood we’ll see his like again. It was shameful but telling, the way Corus engineered his dismissal from “NW, largely because he was both a thorn in the side of the two major political parties and because he was constantly critical of the bean counters at Corus. It was no co-incidence his departure also marked the beginning of the long slide in the ratings for what was the Top Dog and is now the piddling pup. Hang in their Rafe, though we often disagree, you are still doing a great job.

  5. The current crop of so-called talk show hosts lack the knowledge, skills and most important, the life experience to peel back the layers of the onion and connect the dots on most issues in any thought-provoking way. At NW, most of the hosts, News readers and producers sound like kids in a candy store…’Look Ma, I’m on the radio!’

  6. @just sayin

    You nailed the mess at NW especially the children that produce the shows. It started with Jessica Gares producing the Bill Good show. The current crop of producers make Jessica sound like a seasoned veteran. Never mind the Golden age when Rafe was on air , I would quite happily settle for Bill Good, Phil Till, Jon Mcomb, and Mike Smythe. Bring back Terry Bell and Tom Mark so that the news is being read by someone that actually understands the copy and doesnt just recognize the words.

  7. 13 and “Just sayin” said it well. That Nikki though is a breath of fresh air. Bright, articulate, can pronounce words properly and use them in the proper context. I feel she could replace Silly Sara, Frick and Frack or the Prince of Pomposity and double “‘Nw’s rating in that time slot overnight.

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