Jean-Marie and Lorraine Heimrath with Gary Slaight front-and-centre. Pic: Playback
Jean-Marie and Lorraine Heimrath with Gary Slaight front-and-centre. Pic: Playback

Today, Jim Jj Johnston Salutes Jean-Marie Heimrath

Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018, we pay tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones”. Today we are shining the light on Jean-Marie Heimrath.

JM and I met around at various functions and conferences etc., which seemingly is how I met most people. I knew about his record company background and that he was while on the team that broke Supertramp worldwide out of Montreal. When he and his partners went at that, they created the brush-fire that led to a global platform for this internationally acclaimed and wildly successful band.

When I came to Toronto to work for Gary Slaight, I got to work hands-on with JM. He was the VP/GM of Sound Source and his merry band of top pro's sold, created and placed a vast array of content on radio stations across Canada and beyond. The way it works is you give the syndication company commercial time (which they sell) in return for the programming. JM like a good VP/GM was always looking for more commercial time, and thus I hatched 'The Time Bandit' nickname for him. We had so much fun working together, and I can't say enough good things about him.

JM was born in New Jersey and came to Canada in August of 1966 where he studied graphic arts at Ecole des Beaux Arts in Montreal in 1968. Later that year he saw an interview on TV about a new communications studies program at Loyola College which was then part of the University of Montreal and was determined to get into the Faculty of Communications Studies. After filing his application, he received a “thanks for your application, but no you’re not accepted.” Not one to accept a no (in JM’s world, a ‘no’ is a ‘delayed yes’). He showed up the first day of registration and was questioned by the chairman of the faculty as to why he was there. His answer was "someone is not going to show up, and I’m going to take their place. I got in, and that set the course for my entire career.”

After graduating from Loyola, he accepted a position at TVO in Toronto but never showed up for the job. Instead, he received an invitation to join a group of French broadcasters for a year to work in Grenoble on a pilot TV project that eventually became part of France 2.

After returning from France, he got into the record business by accepting a position in Montreal with Island Records and Daffodil Records (Frank Davies) to act as their promotion manager for Eastern Canada. While at Island, the late and great Shelly Siegel, who had no promo people in the east, asked him if he could help him promote Heart’s first release 'Dreamboat Annie'. Shelly had no money, but JM said yes anyway and just felt thrilled to be asked to help. The record, of course, went on to be a huge hit and still has massive airplay on Classic Rock/Hits station especially in Canada where that records counts as Canadian Content.

A year later JM accepted a position at A&M Records as their Eastern Sales Rep. While at A&M he was arrested by the Montreal police for illegally putting up “Crime of the Century” posters on construction walls. Joe Summers bailed him out and had a good laugh. Jean-Marie moved back to the promo desk at Capitol Records/Arista Records but shortly afterwards was asked by PolyGram to move to Toronto for one year to help with restructuring their promo department. At the time he was seeing a young French Canadian (Lorraine) and was a little reluctant to accept the PolyGram offer to go to Toronto.

Toronto wasn’t exactly an attraction for a French Canadian, but they were in love, and she said 'yes let's go to Toronto, but just for a year'. Forty-two years later they’re still in Toronto', happily married with two incredible grown adults that have given them four amazing grandchildren. He says he can’t imagine what would have happened if they didn’t come to Toronto.

In 1980 Telemedia Broadcasting purchased all of Jack Shune’s radio stations in Ontario and CKFH in Toronto. Jean-Marie took on an assignment with Telemedia to rebrand those stations and act as the promotion director of CKFH which rebranded as Metro 1430. Andy Barrie and the late and great Big Jim Brady both joined this ambitious project, under the direction of the late and great Les Sole, but in spite of all the efforts, it didn’t do so well.

In 1983 JM made a move to Telemedia Networks and worked with Ron Hewat in network sales. Hewat is as amazing as they come and working with him was a joy. He was also the voice of the Toronto Maple Leaf radio broadcasts for many years, and no he wasn’t related to Foster Hewitt. Ron could cook up some deals and, when working for Gary Slaight later, Gary would often joke he was going to check Ron’s garage for possible contra plundering.

Without knowing it, network sales would set JM on a new course in the years to come. Telemedia was the right holder for the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Maple Leafs broadcasts. JM wasn’t exactly a sports nut and persuaded the amazing Paul Williams to let him lead the music and spoken word programming for the network. Paul apparently wasn’t pleased with his attitude off the top, and at one point he thought Paul was going to fire him but instead he challenged him to solve a problem that the network had with selling the non-sports programming. He did come up with a plan that turned the category into a profit centre, and he became pals with Paul.

Four years later he got a call from Gary Slaight who had arrived from Q107 to take on the reins at Standard Broadcasting. Gary wanted to set up a network and asked Paul Williams if he would be interested. Paul declined but suggested that JM would probably be. A lot of back and forth and one evening he got a call from Gary who decided to hire someone else but wanted him to come in as the marketing director of the new Network. Although disappointed, he thought this would be his chance to do something he was passionate about. Nine months into the job, Gary decided to change things up and gave him the keys to Sound Source. After losing a large sum of money, they turned it around and became profitable in year four.

Many things set Gary apart, and one of those is patience about the business. If he believes in an initiative, he will give the resources and the time to seed and bloom. JM says this was probably the most exciting time of his life. Gary gave him the rope to hang himself and the freedom to hire some incredible people like the late and great Les Sole, Heather Edwards, Sarah Andrews, Melody Seiger, Shelia Brazys, Brad Gilliland, Brad Thompson, Graeme Schmidt and 365’er Lesley Soldat. Collectively they built the biggest commercial network in Canada. Says JM: ”I am forever grateful to have worked with such dedicated people.”

During all the excitement at Sound Source, Gary also asked him to take on Iceberg Radio when Ted Boyd stepped down. He describes that as a steep learning curve. Ted and his group had pioneered the first streaming 250 Music Channels when no one knew what streaming was.

After Standard sold to Astral Media, JM was invited to leave eighteen months later after piloting the Media Lab, a progressive initiative that would address some of the challenges radio would face in the future. Unfortunately, he says, it never materialized.

After getting his footing back, he launched SparkNetworks out of Vancouver and took on projects at TFO (French language TV), Business Development for JumpWire Media and Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

After spending a few years working those projects: “It was time to shift gears, slow down and spend more time with my wife and our four grandkids. Of course, being the restless type, I am I became curious again and launched The Podcast Exchange in January 2018.”

JM sums up: ”I’m still having fun and learning new stuff every day. None of this would have been possible without the support of hundreds of people. People that I have enormous respect for and who gave me a chance, and if there is one person that I can single out it would be Gary Slaight, a man that has been a tough but fair leader.

"In parting, I would like to say that if you’ve had a successful career and you get to the top don’t forget to send the elevator back down because no one gets to the top by themselves. You owe it to the people that are starting out.“

He is always a blast to work with. Cool, fun, humorous, creative, passionate, smart, respectful and ahead of the curve. His new endeavour is right up his alley with Podcasts well into the cycle as a great source of alternative content. If anyone can create, market and monetize this to full potential, it is him. Well done, and still rolling. Atta be JM!

Thank you, Jean-Marie Heimrath for being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share JM’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.

– Jim JJ Johnston is the multi-award-winning CEO, President and Chief Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries.

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