Volunteer Spotlight: John Donabie

By: Melissa Rodway

John Sylvia Hotel We have another reason to listen to CIUT 89.5FM. John Donabie. John comes to us with many accolades. He was inducted into the Canadian Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame in 2013. He has interviewed John Lennon…twice. When Lennon asked Ronnie Hawkins who should interview him, Ronnie recommended John Donabie, which tells you how top of mind he was for musicians. When John and I started talking about The Last Waltz, he casually mentioned that he was there, and that you could even catch a glimpse of him as the doc opens. His friend Levon Helm phoned him, asking him to come to the farewell concert as his guest. It wasn’t just musicians that John kept in the company of. He was the emcee for Gregory Peck at Roy Thomson Hall, was on a first name basis with Robert Duvall and had many a conversation with George Carlin. John has interviewed and rubbed elbows with so many entertainment giants… Bob Dylan, Boz Scaggs, Huey Lewis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet, Elvis Costello, ZZ Top, Van Halen, Joe Cocker …. honestly, the list is endless. In John’s words, “it’s almost who I didn’t get to interview”. While his impressive CV is infinite, I was most taken by John’s candid and easygoing nature; he does little to disguise his love of radio, music and people.

As a young boy of five or six years, John was glued to his family’s Westinghouse table radio, eventually moving it into his bedroom by the time he was ten. He read the newspaper into a microphone, constantly recording himself. He loved it. As a teenager, John was already an avid music collector and was fascinated by live music, buying whatever 45s his allowance would permit. He began hanging around the local radio station (CKLB in Oshawa) where the hunting and fishing host let him read the best places to go to hunt and fish that week. Always pushing further, John worked his way into getting to know the overnight guy who frequently let him on the air which eventually resulted in him getting a full time night gig. As John puts it, “all night is perfect, that is where you can make your mistakes”. The rest is history. From CKLB, he went on to work at CKFH, CHUM-FM, Q107 (he was Q’s first announcer), CFRB (for 15 years) and Jazz FM. John has also worked in television, hosting CBC’s “Afternoon Delight” and contributing to “Canada AM” on CTV. He also hosted the John Lennon memorial service at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. John is an ongoing guest speaker at Seneca College and also lectures at Humber College.

While a self-proclaimed, natural musicologist, John also feels he is a true communicator; he loves conversation, he loves to talk to people and he loves the art of the interview, all of which come easily to him. His advice is to always be prepared as a “guest will know in two minutes if you haven’t read the book or done your homework”. John also tries to find areas that are “so off the beaten path, the guest doesn’t know he will go there. Then he can lead them somewhere they didn’t think they would go”.

John’s new show at CIUT is called “Mixed Bag”and airs Saturdays from 2pm to 4pm. He plays everything from roots to rock to jazz to blues to alternative, mixing up genres and making them flow while also throwing in some spoken word vignettes. And oh yes, there will be interviews. Although John knows that this is exciting for those who remember the good old days, his hope is for young people to get into the show. When asked what he was most looking forward to, John was not shy in discussing his excitement to not only be back on the air, but to be in free form radio again, a return to his roots where he can play and interview anyone he wants …no rules and total freedom. He mentioned that some of his friends don’t get why he’s doing this. His answer? “That’s not for you to understand, it’s for me to be thrilled by”.

Welcome, John Donabie.

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