December 20, 2018
Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018 we pay tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones.” Today we are shining the light on Steve Parsons.
When I crossed over from Moffat (soon to be Shaw, then CORUS) to head over to WIC to run ROCK 101 I ran into Steve. I was always looking around for my RPM Magazine and could never seem to find it. One day in comes this young guy, goes over to the shelf where the RPM was, grabbed it and then proceeded to head out. I said wait a second, “Who are you and when will you be bringing that back?” etc. Steve in his own fearless way said, “Who are you?” (crickets). My left eyebrow went up as it is won’t to do in such situations. We moved on from that awkward introduction and he told me he was the all-night guy at CKNW and that he was working on what music they played and that he liked to keep up on what was going on.
We would work around and with each other a few times over the years and a bunch of us would get together at my house in Toronto and it was always entertaining to see Steve take on someone, which would invariably lead to the pack taking him on. The trash talking was stellar and no one better than Steve. Both of us being super competitive would lead to many hellacious golf matches full of shit chat which was always a laugh to us anyway. There was one time when a worried 365’er Jim Conrad said to us “civil fellas, civil.” It was always good natured. We’d be back and forth in our winnings and I believe this is still unfinished business.
Steve says he was not one of those guys who grew up with a radio under his pillow at night falling in love with the craft. He consumed it like everyone else but was a music fan first, who in no way ever thought his interest would lead to a career. So out of high school he did what everyone was supposed to do, he went to University. It was at UBC that he caught the radio bug. UBC has a tremendous campus radio station (CiTR) and it was there that Steve was first allowed to step behind the mic and as he calls it ‘pollute the airwaves with some pretty horrible long-winded meanderings.”
Without that opportunity he points out that he’d still be looking for work as his Urban Geography degree was not going to deliver. So, he applied for the radio program at BCIT and thankfully was able to type fast enough (yes, they tested for that he says) and he got in. BCIT’s radio program was a fantastic launch pad to so many great things for him and many. Without that program he wouldn’t have met the late and great John Ashbridge. Without John Ashbridge and CKNW he wouldn’t have gotten his first job at KBS Trail (Kootenay Broadcast Systems in B.C.- Trail/Nelson/Creston). Without KBS he wouldn’t have met lifelong friends Bob Robert Addison, Sean Leslie, Dan Szabo etc. Without KBS and John Ashbridge again he wouldn’t have made it back to Vancouver and CKNW. Steve recalls “The ‘Top Dog’ was fertile ground in those days. So many greats. So much opportunity.” After various on-air incarnations including a networked overnight show called the Nightshift (in those days there were actually live jocks on at that time), Tom Plasteras hired him as APD for NW. He says he had no idea what he was doing but it was his first opportunity in radio management. As those who know him know only too well, he does enjoy weighing in on a multitude of topics so from that point forward he knew management was for him. It was when 365’er Ross Winters gave him the chance to become Rock 101’s Music Director, that his career really started to take shape.
Ross’s training programs are always good ones. His tutelage and recommendation led to Steve’s first PD job in what many of us feel is the greatest radio market in Canada: Winnipeg. At CORUS’s Power 97 in 2000 they captured lightning in a bottle. CJOB/Power 97 GM 365’er Garth Buchko was incredibly supportive in letting them do what needed to be done. Their on-air staff, imaging and promotions team was absolutely first class. BJ (Burke) and Hal (Hal Anderson), Ace Burpee, Marlin Brown, Jim Jones, and Lochlin Cross are all members of that Radio All-Star team. Steve called it “an embarrassment of riches.”
Ambition got the better of him and CORUS President at the time John Hayes hired him into Hamilton/Toronto to program the very recently launched New Country 95.3: “I was the perfect hire. I knew absolutely nothing about Country. It didn’t matter. Again, the support from a staff of pros built what I still believe was one of the best Country stations in Canada. 365’ers Stu Jeffries and Colleen Rusholme killed it mornings, Bob Steele anchored Drive, Rob ‘Jr’ Leclerc in middays, Sam Cook in evenings, Scott Clements driving the hot imaging, 365’er Nadia Cerelli-Fiore keeping us all organized and thank god we had Rick Walters to tell me the difference between Lee Ann Womack and Martina McBride. We had huge cume ratings numbers (weekly circulation), a smaller share than liked but a TON OF FUN.” Partway through that process, one of his favourite people in the business Suzanne Carpenter added Y108 to his duties. Hamilton is a tough radio market. Y competes with so much out of market influence: Q, The Edge, HTZ, all powerhouses in their respective fields. They doubled down on Hamilton and launched their famous ‘Toronto Sucks’ campaign. Says Steve: Dave David DeRocco and I reveled in that one.”
After three years in Ontario, it was back to Vancouver for the dream gig as Rock 101’s Program Director. The next five years gave him an opportunity to work with another set of radio all stars: 365’ers Bro Jake Edwards, Oly the Joke Guy, Corrie Miller, the late and great Neil Macrae, Steve Dunbar, Alece Anderson, and 365’ers Martin Strong, Robin LaRose, Dean Hill, and Graham Hatch. Mike Cohen and 365’er Crosby McWilliam he says: “Were able to do some pretty stupid shit at Rock 101. Our CAB winning Bro Jake’s $20,000 Gong Show is right up there with some of the craziest radio I’ve ever done. Thank god it was the diary method. We wouldn’t get away with that in PPM.” (‘Diary’ was the BBM method in all markets at the time. BBM became Numeris, the diary ratings method continues in medium to small markets, and in the Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto markets it became the current method, Personal People Meter which is immediate ratings measurement).
Steve says, “All good things must come to an end so when I was forced to find a new opportunity in 2010.” There was lots of company politics at the time in CORUS (to be told later) but I know first hand that Steve’s exit had nothing to do with him or his performance. Says Steve: “In the end, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Luckily Sherri Pierce and Patrick Zulinov over at SHORE-FM were looking for some help and after a brief and fun time there, Rob Farina came to the rescue hiring him and moving Steve into a National Programming role with Astral where he flourished. Says Steve: “This was a career defining move. Without Rob I’m not where I am today.”
His two years-ish with Astral ended with the sale to BELL. After running the Vancouver/Toronto divested stations as part of that deal for a year and a bit, NEWCAP hired him into Toronto as Operations Manager for boom and Flow 93.5. He recounts how lucky he’s been to work with such crazy talented people. On boom alone, Chris Ebbott left 365’er Lorie Russell and Steve a fantastically successful station that featured more members of radio’s All Star Team: KJ, Jeff Spindel, Derek Welsman, Matt Storey, Jeff Chalmers, Drew Ferreira, Stacey Anne Thompson (at the time Meredith Shaw and Vanessa Murphy), 365’ers Troy McCallum, Wayne Webster, Stu Jeffries, and Maie Pauts. Every single one of these people are absolutely unique in the presentation of their craft.”
He calls transitioning Flow to 93-5 The Move as ‘incredibly fun’. He feels he’s been lucky enough to work with Blake Carter, Paul ‘Mastermind’ Parhar, Peter Kash, Alicia ‘Ace’ West, Ricky ‘Ricohet’ Bains, Jeunesse Montgomery-Spencer, Josie Fenech, and 365’er Scot Turner and says there is no more dedicated group to a format unique to the country.
Today Steve is the GM of Stingray Toronto and National Director of Programming and he’d be remiss in not noting the work relationship that is likely the strongest of his career: “Steve Jones has been an incredible supporter and champion of my career over the past 4 years. It’s his leadership that has allowed me to be me in my job. I’m an opinionated sarcastic pain in the ass. For whatever reason, that’s acceptable in his world. For that, I’m incredibly thankful.”
Steve states that no one is successful in this business without the support of key people along the way. For him it has always been his Promo Director: “I’ve been incredibly blessed to have worked with Ace Burpee (yes he was a promo guy at one time, and so good-:), Nadia Cerelli-Fiore, Dave DeRocco, and John Downey and 365’ers Crosby McWilliam and Aaron Buckley. Every single one of these people are grinders, unrelenting in their pursuit of perfection. The crazy stuff we’ve done together has in large been driven by them. Countless hours and hours of extracurricular work most of us forget about or take for granted. These are the people that make it happen.
Without the above noted people, I wouldn’t have my absolute career highlights. Radio as we all know is about giving back to the community and every time, we ask our listener to do it, I beam with pride. We’ve built Habitat for Humanity homes in Winnipeg and Toronto, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Vancouver’s Children’s Hospital, made a ton of wishes come true through the Make A Wish Foundation and my favourite of all, conceived of and built The Woerlen Family Memorial Playground. THIS is radio at its finest. This is why we do what we do…and also because you get to meet Jimmy Page.”
I told you Steve is competitive. He wanted to make sure this was in his salute: “Steve Parsons (major two-time and lone champion of the Pat Cardinal ‘Put Me Down for a Five’ Golf tournament defeating Brett Gelfant, Al Smith, Ross MacLeod, Steve Jones, 365’ers Derrick Ross, Steve Coady, Warren Copnick, and Rob Chubey, and coming soon: Tony Szambor.)
Parsons sums up: “Six moves. Four of those times I’ve asked those closest to me to pick up and move. My wife Fabienne Middleton Parsons is the ying to my yang. She’s the nice one. She put her career on hold to let me pursue radio. We moved to Winnipeg 7 months pregnant, knew no one and made it happen. My kids Claire (born in Winnipeg) and Maddie (born in Oakville) have rolled with the punches and have turned into two of the most incredible women to walk the earth (I’m a touch biased). I can’t thank my girls enough for their support of this crazy ride. We’re a team – we’ve done this together. We believe that all the moving has strengthened our family unit immeasurably. For us the moves have been a blessing and not a curse.”
When I first went back to Vancouver, in one of our conversations Steve shrugged his shoulders and said, “You don’t seem to be a fan?” I wan’t sure where that came from, but it gave me the opportunity to tell him quite the opposite. We worked hard, through situations, made great radio and had a lot of fun. I was a fan then, and a fan now and am very proud of him.
Fearless, talented, hard working, sarcastic and fun, energetic, smart, personable and above all, a terrific family man. I just love how much he cares about his girls and his adoration for his parents and his parents in law. Keep making a difference Steve. Atta be!!
Thank you, Steve Parsons for being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share Steve’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.
Jim JJ Johnston is the CEO, President and Chief Programmer/Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries worldwide.