A Conversation With .. Steve Anthony

A genuine legend in Canadian radio and music television, the popular caffeine-addicted host reflects upon a colourful career, including the halcyon days of Q-107 and some of his memorable on-air interviews at MuchMusic.

A Conversation With .. Steve Anthony

By Bill King

I’ve watched more Steve Anthony on television than I have had contact with him in real life. When I arranged this interview, I was reasonably sure which lane to inhabit. I usually try to have a cup of coffee or tea lined up for our guests alongside with my co-pilot Jessica Bellamy. Anthony texts me beforehand: “If you don’t have coffee when I get there, I promise I’ll make this the worst interview you’ve done in your entire life!” To avoid a disastrous encounter, I make sure Stevie’s coffee was in play.

Anthony: Have you seen this scene in Swimming for Sharks? Kevin Spacey plays a vicious movie executive. Then this intern comes in replacing another intern. Kevan Spacey asks for a coffee with sweet n’ low, and the intern comes back with something other. Spacey does this classic ripping diatribe - “Stop. Learn and Listen! You don’t have a brain; you can’t think.”


The cruelest ever. I’m glad I got him three sugars – that’s brown sugars. Here’s a bit of that fun!

Any drama growing up in Montreal? Did you terrorize the neighbourhood or were you just a terrific kid?

I think my brother was a goody two shoes and still is one of the greatest guys on the planet. We never got in trouble, yet my sister got in tons of trouble. So that kind of steered the way for me to be able to get away with stuff. The one thing I think that got me through was that somehow my dad instilled a level of goodness and of caring about people and for one, he never did evil things and also worked hard. I think I got my first job when I was five.

Did you start in radio at five?

I still talk about Mr Paguette down the way. Mr Paquette had the perfect golf-green lawn, and everyone was afraid of him because if you walked on the street and you kicked a stone on it, he'd come out with a shotgun or something. Mr Paquette made dandelion wine, and there were fields and fields around where we were. He would pay us; I don't know 25 cents to bring a garbage bag full. I mean, this is slave labour. But that's fine. 25 cents is 25 cents to bring dandelions to him, just the buds and he’d make wine which he didn’t share with the kids. Don't worry about that. I remember working from the age of five and then even in college I had three jobs, and I was running a radio station, and I was going to school.


Getting into radio?

My brother went to McGill and McGill had a radio station much like this one (CIUT 89.5), and I would sit in with my brother, and I was fascinated. My brother was integral to my music tastes because they were eclectic. He was just smart. I knew Joni Mitchell before people knew Joni Mitchell. I knew Captain Beefheart before people knew Captain Beefheart and The Mothers of Invention. Does anyone even remember a band called the Fugs?


River of Shit?

Also, at the same time, the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The first two albums I purchased with my own money were Paul McCartney's RAM, and Cast Your Fate to the Wind, the soundtrack. My brother got me into this thing. I did everything I could and not to emulate him; I just thought he was cool. And then we discovered something called “skip”. When I say 'we,' I mean me with an enormous ego. I refer to myself in the plural. We would voraciously consume “skip.”


What happens is the sun ionizes the atmosphere and then a.m. signals can't get through they will beam off of it and bounce back down to earth and then bounce off water sometimes and bounce back up. You can listen to stations from all over. We would listen to stations from the United States of America. Not that Montreal is a small place, it's a big place, but not a lot of worldly travelling at the age of fourteen. You just listened to these guys like John “Records” Landecker from Chicago and even stay up all night listen to a Larry “Superjock” Lujack in the morning because it was still dark and when the moon comes up you can't get “skip” anymore. The sun comes up again.

We would listen to’ skip,’ and all these things and I would record them and I would study them, and I would know all their breaks and the tonality. When it came time to speak myself, it wasn't from a starting point of not knowing anything. It's like your own poetry. But if you memorize, you know Kubla Khan ‘a stately pleasure dome decree,’ you memorized it, and it’s stayed with you forever. So, when you say something like that, you're more comfortable with it.

Getting into radio was the whole bit. I said I ran the college radio station and it was nothing. It was turntables and black light posters and a lot of guys smoking pot and going on air. I just took it over and made it into a radio station. It was a coup. I had like a hundred people on the radio station. You’re doing the news, and there's three of you on the show as opposed the one guy that was there.


There's a guy named Mike Cool. I think it's a mentalist Mike Cool or something like that and I a remember line I stole. I give credit where credit is due. You can't be stoned if he's trying to hypnotize you. He said, ‘here’s who can't come up and volunteer to come up on stage. If you've heard the word ‘ear’ in the last three hours, you can't come up.’ Everybody’s scratching their heads. He pretends too suck in a long drag of weed and holds and goes….’eeear.’ I would always use that. If you heard the word ear, you can't be on this radio station.

More history. CFOX was a Montreal Top Forty station on the west island. I got to know a couple of the jocks over-night. I would drop in, and I learned how to use a professional board, and they would work from the booth. You have someone who's operating and engineering the show for you which back then disc jockeys managed their board and did their own thing. I would run the board. I got all this experience of knowing what to do and where to take cues and blah blah blah blah. I had all that stuff, and then I went to college and did the same and I was then encouraged to send tapes out.


I don't know if that hadn’t happened I’d probably have stayed in college or university forever like a lot of people. How many degrees? You’re forty-five, and you have seven degrees. And you've never had sex. Except with yourself. When I sent it out, I got offers, and so I took one.

The big break was here in Toronto, Q-107. That must have been a lot of fun!

It was. It was when Andy Frost was there, and John Derringer, Jake... Jake was doing mornings, Gene Valaitis was there, and you were on Sunday mornings doing Q-Jazz, and there was Shirley McQueen. Who else was there? John Dickie! We had this crazy collection of personalities, and it was big fun. Now to pat ourselves on the back. OK, listen you guys talking about like its old school. They were the glory days at that time there.

There were record reps and people in the industry across the country, and this is true what they said. There were two radio formats in this country: Q -107 and everything else. That's how it was. Bob Mackowycz! Bob Mackowycz was integral to that as well. And Gary Slaight, who was the general manager/ owner. They just encouraged us, and there was a time when that worked. In any other time, it might not have worked. If you took a radio station of people and they are all energetic, they're all inspirational, and all creative, and let them do what they want to do, it wouldn't necessarily be successful. In fact, I don't even know how successful Q107 was other than word of mouth. I don't remember what the ratings were.

But guys like Jake, you know, Brother Jake and Gene Valaitis doing stuff and running with it, and I was allowed to do whatever I wanted on the radio, who gets that opportunity? Then I translated it to MuchMusic, and I was allowed to do whatever I wanted as long as the cops weren’t breaking down the door.

I’m sure in practice this made the transition from radio to television a bit easier other than you had to be visual now. 

Exactly. And there's a big difference there. Except that it was the same vibe. I mean obviously there's the visual part of it, but the Much Music thing had the same vibe. Meaning, a bunch of people get together, and they are creative, and you give them the keys to the car. Hopefully, they won’t crash it and will bring it back and put it in the garage when they’re finished. We'll see you again tomorrow. That was it. And that was just awesome. Like we weren't the best people. We certainly weren't ,you know. Our infamy was that we were just on a fame level, above petty thieves.

I think with respect to how famous we were, we were accessible to people, and they realize that so that we got away with more because we weren't that untouchable person. We were just Steve, Erica and Michael.

You all had big personality especially on the doorstep of the coming video revolution. It was all new. And then you had the bands you got to interview. What interview has stuck with you through time?

One that I remember, and it turns out that it's not exactly the way I tell it because someone found a videotape of it. It's all kind of mangled up, but it’s the spirit of it. How I remember it. It was with Joey Ramone, and I don’t know who else. One of the other Ramones. Joey had the sunglasses on all the time, and he had the bangs sometimes over his head like a sheepdog. I think I was dressed in army fatigues or something. I must have turned him off right away. The first thing we do when we come on is me saying, “you’re were late because you were spending so much time in goddamn makeup, right?” They go, “yeah sure.” You know, put down these hardcore punkers that took so long. They weren't very giving. I would ask questions and I thought they were pretty well-thought-out questions, and I would get these horrible almost monosyllabic answers.

It’s getting tedious because they're doing the Ramones thing. We play a video, and then I get a pair of hair scissors, and when we come back I warn him; “if I get any more monosyllabic answers, I'm going to cut your bangs.” And he says, “I will take those scissors from you, and I'll slash your throat.” I went, “wow, that's rock n’ roll.”

You had a long run of great interviews.

When Much Music celebrated 30 years, which is a bunch of years ago, it was a 30-minute special! It was insane. Somebody from Much Music PR brought down a bunch of 8x10 snaps they had for me for a morning show on CP 24 to go through, so I could flag a couple that were cool so when the hosts of the 30-minute special come down and do the interview we have all of this stuff that’s relatable. It was a bag about five inches tall. These photos were only taken between 1990 and 1992. That's all there was. I was on the air there from 1987 to 1996.

If that was just for a year and a half or a two-year period, extrapolate those numbers to another seven years or more, eight years - imagine how many other interviews that is. It's unfathomable how many I did myself. It's honestly a blur. I remember that REM was the cat's pajamas. REM was considered the greatest band on the planet, at least that's how Rolling Stone had that covered. And I was assigned to interview them. Everybody was flipped out. Because you got the assignment? No, that I was going to mess it up. This was a really important rock band, and I was going to screw it all up. A social conscience band. You know, they have something to say. They've got a message. But they liked the interview.

Interviewing six guys from Aerosmith at a time. That was like chaotic. I remember vividly. Remember a song called “The Voice”? “We live in fear .. ooooh," Oh, that guy. I don’t remember his name, and it was probably the best interview I ever did. I don't recall the guy's name. Interviews you didn’t think were going to be great turned out to be great interviews.

How did you end up in a helicopter and how did you handle that?

They were launching a show. Those of you who don't know this, stop it. Bell Media owns CP24 Breakfast. Breakfast Television is the competition. Rogers owns them. They both are on at the same time of day against each other. Stop writing the people at CP24 and saying, ‘Oh I really love you on BT.’ Do you have any idea how irritating that is? Ten years on the air and they're still doing that.

What was happening was that Bell Media bought everything belonging to CHUM. They bought all the CHUM properties and then the CRTC said - CHUM owns City TV, and that's a network across the country, and you are CTV, and you’re a network, and you can't have both, it's a monopoly, so you have to sell City TV. So, that's why they sold City TV including Breakfast Television to someone, and that someone was Rogers. Up until then, because they're the same company, CP24 had a news program. What they did was simulcast on Breakfast Television in the morning slot.

But the moment that these things got separated, obviously there's a blank there because Breakfast Television went along with City TV to Rogers, so they had to fill in them with the show that they were launching called CP 24 Breakfast. CP 24 Breakfast was to confuse people. They weren't sure if I was going to go, but they auditioned me and then decided to go with the guy from MuchMusic. I won’t mention his name because they thought he would bring a youthful kind of appeal to it, but they wanted me on the show.

So, the only way to do it that made some sense was they shoved me in a helicopter and said do traffic, but I don't even know how to do traffic, and they knew that, so I was told to go and play. So I did. I was messing with people going – ‘Yeah, I think there’s traffic here’ - because we have people doing traffic on the ground and they didn’t need me. In those days when we couldn't fly, I'd be messing around doing stuff from wherever they keep the chopper up in Buttonville. One day they said, come in. Then they put me behind a desk, and that was it. I did the helicopter for about three months out of nine.

Did you enjoy your years at BT?

I had a great time. Breakfast Television again, precisely the same thing as Much Music for me - for the Live Eye. I was allowed to do whatever EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER I wanted, and there were no rules. If you wanted to have an asbestos eating contest, we could. If we wanted to go on top of the CN Tower and get sterile because of the radio signals, we could. Nobody said, there were no rules. Here we go again. Now there are all kinds of safety rules that are in place.

You’ve said you had no issues getting up early morning? 

No, no, no problem. In fact, I still do, but that has to do with the prostate. I have no trouble sleeping which is great. If I wake up in the middle the night, I can go right back to sleep.

And what about the future?

I’ve got businesses. I’m president of one company and V.P. of another company.

Intertwining Currents by artist Matthew Davies
Courtesy Photo

Intertwining Currents by artist Matthew Davies


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