CHEK personality Gordie Tupper hangs up his microphone

Gordie Tupper sorts through a cardboard box filled with the remnants of his 30-year television career.

The CHEK personality, who retired on Wednesday, finds an almost-empty bottle of Sailor Jerry’s rum, a trophy from Victoria’s version of Dancing With the Stars — where he danced the rumba — and a baseball cap covered in branded pins.

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“After 30 years, this is the stuff that’s important to me,” he says.

Known as the voice of CHEK, Tupper has announced countless parades, played weatherman and hosted charity drives. He’s perhaps best known for his light-hearted segment CHEK Around, in which he and a cameraman took to the streets to ask Victorians silly and offbeat questions.

“It may have been the first reality TV show,” said Tupper in his office, the walls bare save for a hand-drawn countdown sheet that said “0 Days. Goodbye.”

Tupper said the idea for CHEK Around was floated by his station manager, Jim Nicholl, who pitched the idea to other on-air personalities, only to have it pooh-poohed. “I said: ‘That sounds like it would be a riot,’ ” he said. “I got CHEK Around because no one else wanted to do it.”

With the gumption to say anything to anyone, Tupper wasn’t afraid to provoke and have fun.

“Any goofs, they were part of the show. I said all kinds of things I’d probably get thrown in jail for now. There’s nothing I won’t say to get a reaction from people,” Tupper said.

Some people got angry and others walked out, but enough viewers relished his interview style to give the show longevity.

As a teen at Vic High, Tupper loved to listen to the banter of rock and roll DJs such as Red Robinson. With a baritone voice of his own, Tupper was inspired to get into radio. In the late 1960s, he was hired by the old CKDA Radio to host the morning show.

He took a 10-year hiatus from media to sell waterbeds before being hired by CHEK in 1988.

Things came full circle a few days ago when someone called Tupper to congratulate him on his retirement. It was Vancouver radio legend Red Robinson.

“Honest to God, I was in shock,” he said. “I almost teared up.”

Tupper worked closely with Michaela Pereira, who went on to work for CNN and now hosts her own show, MichaeLA, on HLN, a CNN spinoff.

In one clip, he pushes the unsuspecting Pereira into a pool. An old photo pinned to a bulletin board shows the pair posing on the street in front of a CHEK Around van.

Tupper has interviewed his share of celebrities — including singing Taking Care of Business with Randy Bachman — but he said it’s the interviews with everyday Victorians that were the most interesting.

“Everyone’s got a story and it’s probably more interesting than some boob entertainer who’s in town and wants to talk about themselves.”

After about 20,000 interviews, Tupper said he constantly runs into people who tell him “you interviewed me as a kid, or you interviewed my dad.”

Tupper laughs about the time he was covering a movie shoot in Brentwood Bay and popped into a corner store to ask the owner if any of the stars had come in.

The owner insisted that, nope, no celebs had walked in. It was only upon reviewing the tape later that Tupper spotted actor Timothy Bottoms roaming around in the background of the shot.

In a world filled with death and tragedy, Tupper relished the lighter side of the news.

“Happily, throughout my broadcast, radio and television career, I never had to do news. I don’t take anything I do seriously. It’s all for fun.”

But with the ups come the downs and Tupper remembers well the mood in the station in the spring of 2009, when CHEK’s former owner, Canwest Global Communications, handed out layoff notices, with plans of shutting down on Aug. 31.

“We literally didn’t know until hours before the station shut down that it was going to continue,” Tupper recalls.

“It was this cliffhanger that went until 6 p.m. one day and everyone was preparing not to come in the next day.”

CHEK employees pooled together their money, found some financial backers and bought the station for $2 (plus $2.5 million to cover operating losses).

Tupper thinks the whole saga has made-for-TV-movie written all over it.

Tupper, a father of two and grandfather of four, retired the day before his 70th birthday. He and his wife of 48 years, Sue, promptly left for a vacation in Maui.

When asked if he has any advice for the next generation of TV personalities, Tupper quipped: “Go into real estate.”

In all seriousness, he said anyone entering the media world, especially with the ruthlessness of social-media discourse, must have a thick skin.

Michael Woloshen, CHEK’s director of creative services, has worked with Tupper since the 1980s and said he had great TV instincts.

“He had that positive energy. He understands his role to let people speak their mind, but he’s also spontaneous enough to embrace the situation,” Woloshen said.

“We’ve been blessed to have Gordie stay on. We’ve had personalities come and go on to bigger and better things, but the fact that he stuck around and was able to be the face and the voice of CHEK in so many ways … he’ll be sorely missed.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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