This morning I sat on the steps of the Terry Fox Plaza in downtown Vancouver with George Stroumboulopoulos and chatted about the city, music, hockey, and his greatest passions in life; radio and motorcycles.
I first met George at the David Suzuki Foundation/Vancouver Fashion Week wrap up party earlier this year and introduced myself since our paths had crossed on Twitter. Fresh off the plane from Ireland, and on his way back to Toronto, George hosted last night’s Edge of the Fest at the Vancouver Comedy Festival and will also be on stage with Steve Martin tonight.
With a nickname like “Canada’s Boyfriend”, Strombo has a dedicated following across the nation and his visits to Vancouver are always a treat. It’s no Toronto (aka centre of the universe) but what our city lacks in 24-hour dining it makes up for in with its moderate climate and friendly locals. On Twitter I can observe people sending him their best wishes, offering directions to the nearest sushi joint, or talking about how they saw him on the street and got tongue-tied.
Sitting out in the sunshine, our conversation moved into the realm of radio and having John “I grew up on NPR” Bollwitt on my left and George “I want to bring awesome music back to the masses” Strombo on my right was truly delightful. George got his start at a radio station in Kelowna and from a young age had a passion for music. He told us his mother used to take him to the local park and play songs for him on her acoustic guitar, which is something that could truly make me passionate about music as well. Although his first years in broadcasting were during what he called a “dark age” of commercial radio (1987 – the early 90s) he hasn’t lost his love of the medium.
I think that George would have loved to live in Vancouver during the days of the Smiling Buddha and what warmed my heart was when he mentioned something along the lines of DOA and Skinny Puppy being the best bands to ever come out of the West.
While making a single motion with his finger as though pressing the “power” button on a boombox, he said that he believes radio is the ultimate way to communicate and connect — it doesn’t get much easier than that. George said that it’s the element of surprise that has been lost in the iPod generation; you never know what’s going to come up next on the radio and you don’t want to miss it since it’s only there for a few minutes until it’s gone again. Listeners can look up songs or be sent on mass internet scavenger hunts based on a note or a riff of interest they heard for a brief moment that a song was on the radio.
Then there’s the “driveway moments”. These happen when you get home in your vehicle and even though you’ve turned off the ignition, you can’t turn off the radio. Great dialogue, a thought-provoking discussion, or your new favourite song just make you pause and put your life on hold until you’ve had your fill. Or, in George’s case, flip off the ignition and race as fast as you can into the house so you can turn the radio on in there to pick up where you left off 10 seconds ago in the car.
This isn’t to say that radio as we know it is perfect. It must evolve, it must move forward, and it must celebrate the music of our past while introducing us to the tunes of our future. Podcasting is in, social media is in, and all of these tools can simply augment your sound and connect your audience even further.
Unfortunately my own recording gear (our trusty iPod non + Belkin Tune Talk combo) failed on me so I have 45 minutes of silence instead of our banter (hence this text-heavy post). The only thing I can remember word for word is when he quoted a broadcasting mentor of his, Bob Mackowycz, who he worked with at The Fan in Toronto. Mackowycz, currently of Vancouver’s Shore FM, told George “never talk down to your audience, and f*ck ’em if they don’t get it.” This wisdom is something he takes to heart every day and applies with each episode of his television show, The Hour.
Although we could have chatted about music all afternoon, the subject matter of our chat did move into the realm of hockey as we were sitting mere blocks GM Place. Fearing that Toronto-dwelling George was a Maple Leafs fan I was pleased to hear that the Habs are his team. However, he suffers from a type of game-day social media fear as do many others I know. When you cannot catch a game live it is imperative to avoid all internet communications, especially Twitter, otherwise someone somehow will spoil the outcome for you. As far as the Canucks go, George’s only opposition to the team lies with their jersey choice — and I believe a strong representation of Vancouverites may be with him on that one.
Since I had learned a few months ago that George was a Sherlock Holmes fan (and has read the entire Canon), I had to ask a question on behalf of my mother who is the President of the Vancouver Sherlock Holmes Society. She wanted to know who he thinks would make the best Sherlock Holmes in film today, especially since Robert Downey Jr is Holmes in a soon-to-be-released movie. Strombo said that Basil Rathbone was the best of all time but Hugh Laurie — especially as House — embodies Holmes. Side note for those interested, the Sherlock Holmes group in Vancouver is called The Stormy Petrels of BC and in Toronto, they have The Bootmakers.
Although it was intimidating to interview Canada’s best interviewer, it was such a pleasure to simply sit and chat with someone who is so passionate about their work. It’s something that is deeply inspiring and I believe there are only more great things on the horizon George, who has got to be one of the hardest working individuals in Canadian entertainment. The next time he’s in Vancouver (which will hopefully be for more than 72 hours) I said I would show him around a bit. I’m not sure where I would start on a personal tour of our city although I can say that there will not be a steam clock involved at all.
You can keep up with all of Strombo’s travels, activities, and wicked music recommendations on Twitter @Strombo and you can catch him every night in your living room at 11pm on the CBC. Canada’s only late-night talk show, The Hour featuring George Stroumboulopoulos, kicks off its sixth season tomorrow night and George will spend the full hour with Burnaby’s own Michael J Fox.