Long time CKNW sports broadcaster entertained listeners for 30 years
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“There [were] two sides to Neil Macrae. One that didn’t give a shit and one that had a big heart! Combine both and you have one of the most unique personalities on the planet! I miss him every day!”– “Bro” Jake Edwards
March 30 marks four years since the death of former CKNW sports broadcasting legend, Neil Macrae. He succumbed to breast cancer—a disease largely (but wrongly) associated with women—at 65 years old.
His career spanned 40 years and 30 of them were with CKNW Radio (and ROCK 101). Macrae was engaging, entertaining, polarizing, funny, witty, and controversial—but you still listened. His sports commentary at 8:15 am. His morning banter with another broadcasting legend, Brian “Frosty” Forst was must-listen radio. During one morning sports broadcast, following a poor effort by the Vancouver Canucks the previous evening, Macrae never sugarcoated about how he felt: “It’s games like that, that makes you understand why Elvis shot so many televisions!”
Macrae was a gifted self-promoter. He secured sponsors as often as mosquitoes secured themselves to families at summer picnics. He knew how to push the right buttons and engage his listeners with his commentaries which were often laced with sardonic wit and humour that on occasion made morning listeners spit out their coffee. Tom Plasteras, former CKNW programming director, remembered many times feeling trepidation due to listener backlash because of Macrae’s brash and controversial style, telling CTV News Vancouver: “It was must listen to because you never knew what he was going to do, what he was going to say. In my role, half of me was not looking forward to the next 24 hours because of what was going to happen in the office. But the other half of me knew it was great radio.”
But Macrae would anger not only some listeners as he also felt the wrath from fellow colleagues such as radio legend “Big” Al Davidson. The Vancouver Sun reported that in 1987, Macrae and Davidson were involved in a high-profile dispute leading to Davidson being fired by CKNW for “threatening” Macrae’s life. Davidson claimed he was making a joke during a Canucks and Bruins game that was misinterpreted as a threat. Davidson later won a wrongful dismissal lawsuit but died in August 1991 at age 66.
Macrae would also have a memorable on-air clash with then Vancouver Canucks GM, Brian Burke, in the late 1990s. Macrae would flippantly refer to Daniel and Henrik Sedin, as the “Sedin Sisters”—infuriating Burke. It is very politically incorrect today, but that was Neil; he did not care what he said or what you thought of him. Truthfully, he was not saying the Sedin twins were real “sisters.” He just said they were so you would listen—and people did! He once told the Vancouver Sun, “If 50 percent hate my guts and 50 percent want to listen to me, it means they are all listening. No matter how you cut it, it boils down to ratings.” He later told Global News that he had to do something as a broadcaster in order to stand out: “If people don’t have a reaction one way or the other towards you—you’re probably out of work.”
Macrae left CKNW Radio in June 2012. He appeared on The Bill Good Show to say his goodbyes with longtime colleagues phoning in to wish Macrae all the best—along with those roasting him on his last day. Macrae was never impeded in delivering his own salty insults at fellow radio colleagues including longtime friend, “Bro” Jake Edwards who Macrae said of him: “You’re dealing with an idiot. So, it’s not hard to beat him. So, we just yell at each other. And I just call it another tough day at the office!”
Edwards spent 17 years with ROCK 101 before moving to TSN 1040 for six years before retiring in 2019. He was inducted into the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame in May 2019. He says Macrae was one of his best friends and he misses him dearly; he told the Other Press in a Facebook message that “there [were] two sides to Neil Macrae. One that didn’t give a shit and one that had a big heart! Combine both and you have one of the most unique personalities on the planet! I miss him every day!”
Macrae stayed on with ROCK 101 (FM sister station of CKNW) until 2013 before retiring. The Vancouver Sun reported in April 2017 that Macrae had been fired by ROCK 101. However, Jake Edwards said that was not true: “He was not fired… They just didn’t renew his contract! Let’s put it in hockey terms, there was no extension to the contract!”
According to Macrae’s obituary, off the air, he was the opposite of the cranky and sarcastic Don Rickles-esque persona he portrayed when he was on the air. Macrae was a nice man who had a good heart. He devoted himself to numerous philanthropic causes. For two decades, he generously sponsored and was the leader behind the Macrae/Parsons Golf Tournament while also raising money for several charities. In 2003, after the devastating forest fires in Kelowna, Macrae organized a special charity golf tournament raising nearly $1 million for residents who were left homeless. Macrae was married to Laurie Rix.
Two years after Macrae’s death, Rix went public and spoke about her late husband’s battle with breast cancer while also raising awareness that it affects women but also men too. “We kept a really tight lid on it and it wasn’t until after he passed away […] that his family decided he would want something good to come of out of his breast cancer, such as awareness that the disease can affect men, too,” Rix told Global News. “He would be okay with that information being made public.”
Perhaps it was fitting that Neil Macrae, himself, would best summarize his own legacy by stating during his final CKNW broadcast in June 2012 that he had no regrets about his controversial style: “I realize there are many that hate me, can’t stand listening—and that’s fine. That’s all part of the game. To the people I took shots at, to the people I took runs at, for the ones I exposed as frauds, you all deserved it. If I said you were wrong, did something stupid, made a dumb trade—I honestly meant it.” Macrae’s loyal listeners would not have wanted it any other way.