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While still in high school in 1954, Robinson started working as a disc jockey at the age of 16 at radio station CJOR. His first record 'spun' as a professional DJ was "Marie" by The Four Tunes. He was one of the first DJs to play Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and other Rock and Roll artists on a regular basis in Canada. In 1956, he won the Disc Jockey of the Northwest award from the Province newspaper in an audience poll, and he appeared frequently as guest host on the CBC Television network program "Cross Canada Hit Parade."
Robinson was emcee for the Elvis Presley show at Empire Stadium in Vancouver in 1957 and for the Beatles in 1964. He also became the program director of two Vancouver radio stations, CFUN from 1962 to 1968 and CJOR from 1968 to 1970. Over the years, he worked at many radio and TV stations in Vancouver and Portland, including CKWX, KGW, KGW-TV, CFUN, and the CBC, CISL (twice) as well as CFUN-FM. He also served in the United States Army until his honourable discharge. He has co-authored two books, Rockbound and Backstage Vancouver. Rockbound is his personal accounts of early rock and roll. Backstage Vancouver looks at the rich history of entertainment in Vancouver.
Robinson hosted the first television quiz show dedicated to trivia, titled Trivia, on Vancouver CBC Television station CBUT for three years. This show inspired three panelists to create Trivial Pursuit. The name Trivia as applied to a board game had already been copyrighted by Red and his business partner Jan Nablo. From 1976 to 1996, he hosted the annual "Timmy's Christmas Telethon" for the B.C. Lions Society for Children with Disabilities on a regional network of CBC affiliates in British Columbia, which helped raise over $75 million during his tenure as host. He hosted Red's Classic Theatre each Sunday at 9 p.m. for over 12 years on KVOS-TV. The program was broadcast from Vancouver to Seattle. On his program, he interviewed Tony Curtis, Charlton Heston, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney and others. In total he hosted 618 shows. In 1995, Robinson and a host of pioneer deejays were feted at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. He was one of a select group elected by his peers in radio and records.
As emcee of The Beatles' 8/22/1964 concert at the Empire Stadium in Vancouver, he came on the stage during The Beatles portion of the concert and interrupted the show at the behest of Brian Epstein because the crowd was getting too close to the stage. Red was going to make an announcement but before he could, John Lennon told him to “Get the f**k off our stage.”
Robinson was a feature writer for 20 years for Vancouver entertainment and television listings magazine TV Week. He was also a partner in the Vancouver advertising agency Vrlak-Robinson. The agency had over $35 million worth of accounts when Robinson retired from the agency business. He had previously worked in the advertising industry in 1967, but when asked to move to CJOR, Jim Pattison insisted that he sell off his business and dedicated his energies to the radio station. At that time, Robinson had become the first agency for McDonald's restaurants first entry into Canada. He became the first agency for the food chain and created their first regional commercial and appeared in it.
Playwright Dean Regan wrote a play about Robinson's early days in rock and roll and titled it Red Rock Diner. It played for a significant run twice in Vancouver as well as in Toronto and Kansas City, plus myriad other cities in Canada. Robinson was recently invited to emcee the Michael Bublé wedding reception held in Vancouver. The prestigious affair was attended by David Foster, Jann Arden, and Russell Peters.
Red's definitive biography "Red Robinson: The Last DJ" by Robin Brunet was published in October 2016 from Harbour Publishing.
Red Robinson retired from radio on August 27, 2017. Guests on his final CISL-AM show: longtime friends Bruce Allen and Pat O'Day.
Awards and honors
- Received the Canada 125 medal for contributions to the community over the years. Senator Ed Lawson presented it to Robinson on Timmy's Christmas Telethon.
- On July 21, 1994 Red Robinson was officially inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame and his name is now in cement in front of the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver.
- In April 1997 at the annual convention of Rotary, Robinson was presented with the Toastmasters International community and leadership award.
- Honored with a floor in the Lions International Children's building for his contributions to children with disabilities through his hosting duties on 23 Timmy's Telethons.
- Helped raise over $100 million to children with disabilities on the annual Timmy's Telethon which ran for 23 years.
- May 14, 1998, was the date Red received the ShowCanada Showmanship Award; this award was presented by movie exhibitors and distributors from across Canada.
- In March 1987, Robinson's colleagues in the broadcast business created a scholarship in his name at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in the broadcast division.
- As part of Expo '86, Robinson promoted the "Legends of Rock and Roll" and presented 41 of the best of the rock and roll world. This was a 13-week series.
- In 1991, Robinson was selected by the District of North Vancouver Centennial commission as one of the District's 100 distinguished citizens.
- Also in 1991, the Province of British Columbia made Robinson their official ambassador for a tourism initiative titled "Music '91" which took Red around the province promoting and emceeing shows for Linda Ronstadt, Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Jan & Dean, and a host of other entertainment giants.
- On the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's birthday, Robinson was among a select group given a gold medal in honor of this historic event. It was the Queen's Golden Jubilee award.
- In 2006, Robinson's home town of Comox inducted Red into the Comox Valley walk of achievement. Kim Cattrall is among those honored by the walk.
- In 2008, Sarah McLachlan presented Red with the Vancouver Music Industry Bruce Allen/Sam Feldman Legend award.
- The British Columbia Association of Broadcasters in 1989 presented Robinson with an honor as a Broadcast Pioneer.
- In 2008, the Pacific National Exhibition named their annual talent search in Red's honor. It was called the Red Robinson talent search.
- B.C. Heart Foundation, Canadian Cancer Society, Talmud Torah School of Vancouver, Haddassah-Wizo Organization of Canada, B.C. Kidney Foundation, Kinsmen Rehabilitation Foundation of B.C., Vancouver Aquarium Society, Kompufind Kidfinders Foundation of B.C., B.C. Lions Alumni Association, Award of Merit Expo 86, Broadcast Pioneers Honour Roll – B.C.I.T., Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame.
- In 1997, Robinson was elected to the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame.
- In 2000, Robinson was elected to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
- In 2006, the Red Robinson Show Theatre was named in Robinson's honour. Among those attending the gala opening were disc jockey Wink Martindale, entertainer Peter Reveen, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame President Terry Stewart, while Paul Revere and the Raiders and Bill Medley (of The Righteous Brothers) provided the entertainment. Robinson makes regular appearances to meet with the audience prior to many performances at the theatre.
- In 2007 Red Robinson became a member of the nominating committee of the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
- In October 2011, Red was awarded "Doorman of the Year" by the Vancouver Hoteliers Association, for his relentless promotion of Vancouver and its talent, and welcoming spirit.
- In 2012, the University of the Fraser Valley awarded Red with an honorary degree, a Doctorate of Letters. He was recognized for "pioneering contribution to the Canadian music industry, and his philanthropic work with the CHILD Foundation and the Heart and Stroke Foundation and other charities."
- In July 2016, Red was appointed to the Order Of British Columbia, the highest form of recognition by the BC Government.