In Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk, host Dan Russell recounts the highs and lows of hosting a call-in radio sports program in Vancouver for three decades. Here is an excerpt:
One show, one host, 30 years. Longevity made possible because of audience loyalty. At least one full generation of Vancouver sports fans grew up with our show.
It still surprises me how often my voice is recognized while shopping, at a bank or just out and about with my family. It’s happened enough to make me wonder how real celebrities cope with constantly being identified. By nature, I am often shy, more nervous speaking in front of a room of 50 than I was talking to 20,000 people on radio or on television with at least 10 times more. Most people who stop me are generally kind. If female, the listener invariably takes great delight to tell me, as if she was the only one who had thought of this, “I go to bed with you every night.”
Others will say: “I listen to your show every night, but have never called.”
Still others ask: “How do you put up with some of the callers?”
Like an orchestra conductor, I’d like to think that handling calls, dancing through our phone board, changing the pace, assessing how much time a caller should be afforded and how much rope others should get, offering point-counterpoint, sometimes debating, on occasion offering empathy, and sometimes laughing were Sportstalk strengths.
This brings us to “The Pauser” (Paul Lafleur), a Sportstalk creation who, without debate, is the most popular caller in the history of Vancouver talk radio. He and I made great radio together, both instinctively knowing our roles. The Pauser was the shit disturber and I was the pawn master. He was so popular that even Don Taylor, who had briefly taken over my CKNW time slot, once invited The Pauser as a guest and asked him how he got his nickname.
“I used to call in when the show first started,” he answered. “When I first came on, Dan was totally back on his heels. My critique of the Canucks’ management was so stinging, so biting and so brilliant that Dan wasn’t sure if he should let me go on because he knew he’d have to answer to (Pat) Quinn and company. So he would rush me. And the more he rushed me, the more dead air I gave him.”
That was pretty much it, except for the Quinn part.
But his pacing was more brilliant than many seasoned broadcasters. He would speak rapidly, slow down, build up again, then suddenly jam on the brakes just as his sentence was about to end. I remember finally saying to him, “Quit pausing. You’re nothing but a pauser.”
And it stuck.
Most people think he drove me crazy. Sometimes he would, but I mostly used him to drive the ratings. I would even promo that The Pauser was on hold. Who else does that? Who promos an actual caller, then holds the audience for up to 20 minutes before putting him on? I used to hear from listeners who said they sat in their driveways waiting to hear him while wondering what their neighbours thought about a lone occupant sitting in the dark in their car.
Once on, Lafleur could entertain, aggravate or both. He was always prepared, filled with what he thought were cutting-edge ideas and opinions. Deep down, as a Vancouverite, he wanted the Canucks to do well but only if they did things his way.
Lafleur also menacingly began showing up at the Canucks’ training camp sites from which we were broadcasting. One night in Parksville after the players had returned from a pre-season game down the road in Cowichan, a few of them began heading up to their rooms. But before the elevator could close, The Pauser stuck his hand into the opening, causing the doors to reopen. That allowed him to say to future Canucks general manager Jim Benning, loud enough for the entire lobby to hear, “You’re a fringe player.”
Not a bad player. Fringe!
While training at Victoria’s Memorial Arena, The Pauser cornered Quinn in one of the nooks and crannies near the dressing room and started telling the Canucks’ super-boss how to run his team. I watched that exchange closely, not entirely certain Quinn wasn’t going to drill him.
Later that same night we tried not to allow the disruptive LaFleur anywhere near our live broadcast location in the lobby of Harbour Towers. Unable to disrupt from inside, The Pauser jockeyed his way into a small garden outside the window right beside our remote setup. After loudly knocking on the glass to get our attention, he then turned around, dropped his pants and, with cheeks touching the window, showed us a full “Pauser” moon.
The Pauser argued, berated and agitated better than anyone, while mixing in self-deprecating humour. I’d like to think I brought out the best in him, but maybe it was the opposite.
The Pauser also took great delight in bragging to our listeners about how Sportstalk made him a star and that he often ate for free at certain east-side restaurants because the owners loved him.
After he died at 60 in 2009, his Vancouver Sun obit included: “Known as ‘The Pauser,’ Paul will also be remembered by many old friends and hockey fans. Sportstalk will never be the same. Always entertaining, informative and a pleasure to hear. Who’s going to keep Brian Burke, the Canucks and Dan Russell in line now?”
The answer was: no one. At least, never in the same way.
Read more excerpts from Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk:
• Excerpt 1: ‘Sportstalk, go ahead’: Starting a Vancouver radio talk show juggernaut
• Excerpt: 2: ‘Thanks for having me on, Dan’: Brian Burke as Sportstalk’s best guest ever
• Excerpt 3: With ‘McKeachie-isms … you never know’: A dear, maddening friend to Sportstalk
• Excerpt 4: ‘Critique so stinging, so biting, so brilliant’: ‘The Pauser’ called some shots on air, and off, at Sportstalk
• Excerpt 5: ‘We connected’: Recalling Sportstalk’s night in ’94 riven by Rangers and riots
For more information, visit danrussellsportstalk.com.
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