Rob Braide
Rob Braide

A Conversation with... Rob Braide

Rob Braide is the Chairman of the Board for the National Music Centre. The 30+ year veteran of the music and communications industry is a former Vice President of Standard Broadcasting, Astral Media and Stingray Digital. He is also the President at Braide Media, a Montreal-based broadcast media company.
He knew he wanted to be in radio after hearing Dave Boxer play The Beatles on CFCF for the first time in 1964. As a younger man, Rob spent five years studying electronic and computer composition at Carleton University’s Faculty of Music where he helped in the launching of Canada’s first student commercial radio station, CKCU-FM (Radio Carleton).

An all Night show at Montreal’s CHOM FM made him throw his Master’s thesis over his shoulder and run away to join the circus. Ten years as a DJ, Music and Program Director at CHOM and for at time at CKGM as well, and he was ready for a change.

In 1987, broadcasting icon Gary Slaight asked him to take over the GM position of the Montreal-based Standard Radio stations: CJAD and MIX 96 (and eventually, CHOM in 2002); Rob acted as VP and GM of these stations for over twenty years. Later, with the acquisition of Standard Radio by Astral Media Radio, Rob also acted as VP, Branding, Communications and Industry Relations for Astral Media Radio. In January '09, in addition to acting in a senior consultancy position with Astral Media Radio, Rob founded Braide Media Inc., a full service multi-media consulting firm, joining Stingray Digital in 2011.

A proud Montrealer, Rob has been involved at the board of director level of many community and para-municipal organizations, including
• the Montreal Board of Trade;
• Le Palais des Congrès;
• The Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Performing Arts; and
• St. Mary’s Hospital.

Over his storied and successful career, Rob has sat on the boards of directors of many organizations, including the Montreal Children’s Hospital and Musicaction, and acted as Chairperson of the YMCA’s Kamp Kanawana Capital Campaign and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB).

In 2010, he was inducted into both the Canadian Association of Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music and Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Bill King caught up with this well recognized industry superstar for A Conversation With... shortly before he flew off for a couple of weeks tramping through vineyards in Europe. As you will read below, Rob's unbridled enthusiasm for life and living spills over onto the page. In fact, Bill was only able to get one question in. Without further ado....
Bill King: What’s your position at National Music Centre?
Rob Braide: I’m the chairman of the board of directors. I live in Montreal and go to Calgary once a month for meetings. It’s pro bono — not employment, which is fine since I’ve kind of retired. Wish I could retire more.
So far we’ve raised over $125 million towards our campaign goal of $168 million. We’ll be opening the building next spring, but we’re planning on doing a few events around the Junos. We’re excited that the Junos are coming back to Calgary. Jann Arden announced it at the Juno broadcast back in the spring. She was actually at the National Music Centre construction site with a jackhammer wearing a hard hat and (Calgary) Mayor Nenshi was in Hamilton for the broadcast as well. Construction is about 70% complete and the place is gorgeous. The architect is Brad Cloepfil and the design has won architectural prizes around the world for being one of the most ambitious pieces of architecture in recent memory.
We are hosting a few Juno events in March, but we’re not opening to the public till a few months later. We’ve just assembled a new board of directors and we’ve got to find funding from across Canada, people that understand. As David quoted me in FYI Music, “Music doesn’t just happen at the centre, it happens at the margins.” We’ve got to tell Canadian stories from other places beyond Toronto and Montreal and Calgary. We’ve got to spread out. Part of my role is to help find the resources to enable us to tell these important stories.
There’s a wonderful story, Bill. Randy Bachman came to Calgary in April when we announced that Bell was giving us $10,000,000 for naming rights to the place — it’s going to be called Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. So Randy arrived with a 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar he had brought home from the Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The reason he brought it up was, as he said, there was never a place in Canada before to put it.
So the story behind the guitar goes that the Guess Who were playing a gig in Nanaimo and a guy offered Randy his Mosrite guitar to play for the night. After the show when Randy went to return the guitar, the guy offered to trade. So for his Mosrite and all the cash in his pocket — about $70 — Randy became the owner of the '59 Les Paul on which one day he would write “American Woman.” The value of the guitar today is quite a lot higher, as you can imagine!
As you know, the '59 Les Paul is considered one of the greatest guitars every made, and there were only 300 made (of this model) and nobody liked them then because they were too heavy. Electric guitars at that point were mostly acoustics with a pickup slapped on it.
Legend has it that Randy’s Les Paul is one of three that were sold in a little guitar shop in Nanaimo. The second one was bought by Jimmy Page and the other by Keith Richards. Here’s a great Canadian story, again, a little guitar shop in Nanaimo, on the margins, informed the music of not only Bachman Turner Overdrive — also Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. And Page and Richards still use those guitars today. That’s what the National Music Centre is going to be about. It’s about telling stories that go from coast, to coast, to coast.
I’ve had resistance from people who think the National Music Centre should be in Toronto. I respect that and think Toronto has been responsible for putting Canada on the map internationally. I’ve always believed that and always will, but I think there are stories to be told outside of the centre to not only inform people from the margins, but those living in the margins of the country.
Bill, we own the Rolling Stones Recording Mobile Studio. We have a guy who is an electronic whiz who has spent the past few years rebuilding that thing to its original analog state. It still has the original Helios board, considered one of best boards every made. In Studio Bell, it will be a permanent exhibit and artists that take part in our residency program may be able to record new music off of it. Zeppelin recorded on that, the Stones built it to have greater control over their recordings and used it for Exile on Main Street in 1971 after leaving England for tax reasons. They took a 1960s diesel Lowry and built this studio. It’s not a Canadian story, but Canadians will be able to use it — as well as people from around the world.
We have Elton John’s piano, which he wrote his first four albums on. We’ve got the largest string instrument collection in North America starting with a polygonal virginal from Venice in 1560. We have one of every Hammond B-3 models ever made.
I did my master’s thesis in music and never got it because I went to be a DJ at CHOM — and I did it on an instrument called the EMS Synthi 100 and it was one of the last massive monophonic synthesizers. I’m talking '74 –'75, I never saw one again. We were building analog to digital conversion units using the statistics department's PDP 1120s’ and doing some pretty wild shit — I was paying attention to Stockhausen and those guys. Well, I walk into the National Music Centre, 35, 45 years later and there are only three left and one is there. The reason it’s there is that during the days of Soviet socialist realism the state had control over all music and art in Russia. It turns out this PDP 1120 arrived in Moscow and the cultural police decided it couldn’t come out of the box because the owner’s manual had a picture of a woman in a bikini on it and it was never opened or used.
We’ve got Theremins — we’ve actually got TONTO — do you know what TONTO is? It’s Stevie Wonder’s massive synthesiser he did his first albums on. It’s an amazing wraparound synthesizer — all of this rebuilt and accessible to the public today through our programs.
My job is to chair the board, which I’ve done before with the Radio Starmaker fund — the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. The families and banks, the province and federal government, have all supported us. I’m also in charge of the committee that runs content and operations so I’m hanging around with our technical director Tyler Soron and trying to predict what technology will look like 18 months down the road so we can build something that is adaptable as technology changes.
The National Music Centre began a long time ago with a focus on organ music and keyboard instruments, but over the years and through the leadership of Andrew Mosker, we’ve built a huge collection. The National Music Centre has been open and running in Calgary for many, many years and thousands and thousands of schoolchildren go through it every year. A number of Canadian artists have been there already to create new music and support our vision.
One of the cool things about this place is that it’s built around the old King Eddy Hotel, which is a place of legend in Calgary. We’ve taken it down, numbered the bricks and rebuilt the thing and it’s the centerpiece of the new facility. And we’re bringing the King Eddy back to its former glory as a live music venue.
As you can tell, I’m right into it!
Photo credit: Norman Wong

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