Monday, November 07, 2005

Howard Mandshein

From the Winnipeg Free Press, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005.

PERHAPS it's only fitting that Winnipeg radio icon Howard Mandshein -- a self-described child of rock 'n' roll -- finds himself busier than ever in a calendar year feting that musical genre's 50th anniversary.

'H', as he is known to friends and colleagues, is around the dial and then some these days. In addition to his regular gigs on 92 CITI FM and campus station UMFM, Mandshein has also begun popping up on Shaw TV as a host for Q&A sessions with on-tour performers like Bo Diddley or Supertramp's Roger Hodgson.

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Rock radio legend Howard Mandshein has been on the air in this city for nearly 30 years and he's not even close to signing off

"I wish I was even busier," he says when asked about his frenetic pace. "There's still so much I want to accomplish."

Almost three decades into his broadcasting career, Mandshein remains driven by two things: a passion for the music that has shaped his life and a longing to prove himself to those who haven't necessarily shared or understood that passion.

"I'm from a family of over-achievers," he states flatly, "and in their eyes, I've under-achieved. Big time.
"My sister gets me but most of my family has always put commerce before art," he says, pausing to take a sip of his Evian and lemon. "But everybody measures success in different ways. I think I'm no different than that guy in a band who people keep asking, 'How long are you going to keep at it?' Well, you know what? I'm still chasing my hit record. When it comes to music, I still crank it up. I'm still a little kid."

* * *

If imitation is indeed a form of flattery, then Howard Mandshein has been getting his ego stroked for years.

"Just after I started at CITI, Jake Edwards had people phone in to do impersonations of me," he laughs. "Some guys were actually pretty good."

Mandshein, above all else, is an elocutionist's dream. Every word leaving his lips gets a royal pronouncement, as if each syllable was being spoken for the last time. It is a natural gift, he says. No lozenges, no mineral water, no sacrifices to diaphragm gods of any kind.

"Of course, there are some people who will tell you that listening to me puts them to sleep," he says of his inimitable -- and often convoluted -- song introductions.

Mandshein's fervour for music can be traced to a woman he barely knew.

"My mother died when I was very young," he says. "She played piano and, I am told, was very good."

The only recollection he has of her is being walked to school, "either in kindergarten or Grade 1, I'm not even sure which."
After his mother's death, Howard and his sister were shuffled among family members before landing at the door of their grandparents' North End home. "My grandmother and grandfather basically inherited us," he says. "There was nowhere else for us to go."

Mandshein volunteers that his early years were decidedly void of any shakes, rattles or rolls.

"I didn't even listen to the radio till I was about 11," he recalls.

The arrival of the Beatles, coupled with the British Invasion, changed all that. Overnight, the budding teen was consuming everything he could lay his hands on. Soon, Mandshein was taking to the streets to experience this city's thriving, Liverpool-esque community club scene.

"I think one of the defining moments of my life was seeing Burton Cummings and the Devrons at the Perth Canteen, just a few weeks before he would have joined the Guess Who," he says.

As the '70s dawned, the West Kildonan Collegiate grad ignored convention (i.e.: Tony Orlando) and instead went out of his way to sing the praises of such left-of-the-dial acts as Rory Gallagher, Alex Harvey and Audience to any friends who would listen.

In 1978, Mandshein was granted his first official soapbox from which to communicate his ardour to the world -- a world populated by those tuning into CJUM, the University of Manitoba's upstart alternative station.

"I was just in heaven -- instant heaven," he says in of his initial date with a microphone. "It was like, 'Here's my record collection, I'm going to play it for you and hopefully I can turn you onto some things.'
"I would literally have a stack of records under my arm when I left for work. I was THAT geek."

Mandshein and his scholarly style didn't go unnoticed for long. CITI was only a year or so old when the commercial juggernaut recruited him in 1981. Terry DiMonte, now the morning man at CHOM-FM in Montreal, recalls Mandshein's first week on the job.

"The small crew that was already in place at CITI was pretty tight so when Howard came over, there was a lot of tension," he says over the phone from Quebec. "At that time, the university station was way outside the box so we didn't know how he was going to fit in."

Any doubts in that regard dissipated within a matter of days, DiMonte recollects.

"What we soon discovered about Howard was that he had a passion for music that was palpable -- you could cut it with a knife. We ended up becoming a really solid team."

"It was an unbelievable time," Mandshein agrees. "Everybody there was a music guy, we'd go to all the shows together, drugs were in abundance -- it was nothing short of an adventure."

It was also a time when Mandshein began forging his reputation as a meticulous researcher.

"I don't know if it was insecurity or not, but to use a sports analogy, I always felt like that guy on the fourth line in hockey who only gets a 30-second shift every once in a while. Anytime I was on air, I took the approach that somebody out there was listening for the first time and that I'd better do my best to win them over."
Despite Mandshein's own misgivings in regards to his talent, DiMonte says it was evident from that start that H was a force to be considered.

"Even today, Howard is still one of this country's most knowledgeable, hardest-working and best broadcasters.

"And as good as he is at his work, he's an even better man," he gushes. "He has never gotten even close to the credit that he deserves."

Mandshein's first go-round with CITI ended in 1986 ("I've never been fired," he explains with a grin. "There were only times when management didn't get me.") He eventually landed on his feet across town at 97.5 FM, where he soon came into his own as the nightly host of The Howard Hour.

"It was an absolute blast. I had carte blanche. And anytime you have a green light in commercial radio, you've got to be thankful," he says.

Mandshein's tenure at POWER lasted for eight years. In 1996, he made the move back to CITI, where he continues to preach from the rock 'n' roll pulpit every Sunday morning as host of the Sunday Morning Resurrection (6 a.m. to noon). H can also be heard on CITI Wednesdays through Fridays, from 7 p.m. to midnight, and again on Saturday mornings.

Mandshein has also since returned to his old stomping booth at the University of Manitoba as host of Free Range Radio (Mondays, 6:30-8 p.m.). It's a refreshing atmosphere, he says, to be around "kids" half his age.

"It helps me stay on top of things. There's always a network of people saying, 'Howard, you have got to check this out.'"

Mandshein's experience in the industry is relied upon by a group of colleagues who tend to view him as a reference tool.
"There's a lot of 'Did you ever see these guys?' or 'Tell me about that show.' What people must understand is that I've lost a few cells along the way."

Station manager Jared McKetiak addresses the question of what business a commercial jock has of working in a predominantly underground environment.

"I guess that would be the instant perception, kind of 'Why is he here?' But when you hear Howard do interviews, you realize that he's one of 'us.'"

McKetiak notes that the toughest part about working with Mandshein was getting past his own perception of the man.

"For about a year I was a producer on his show and in the beginning I was somewhat apprehensive," he says. "I grew up in a small town where the only two radio stations I listened to were 97.5 and 92. So, it was a bit daunting to suddenly work alongside a so-called Winnipeg radio legend," he says.

"But as soon as we met, Howard was very open to any ideas that I wanted to bring to the table. That's always been the thing that's most remarkable to me; despite everything that he's accomplished, Howard has no trace of an ego whatsoever."

Mandshein agrees that 30 years in the same market is almost unheard of in the radio business. Not that there haven't been times when greener pastures beckoned.

"Over the years, I've had people approach me saying, 'Howard, I've got a job for you at this or that station.'

"I don't know why I never left, to be honest. I don't really have family here anymore. Maybe Winnipeg's just my security blanket. Or maybe it's simply a case of no guts."
Terry DiMonte is quick to dismiss both of his chum's excuses.

"Here's one of the things about Howard that I've learned through the years. Even if he had the opportunity to leave, he never would," he says. "He might tell you he was going to go because staying didn't dovetail with his ambitious or intelligent side, but Howard knows down deep that he would never leave.

"He is as much a North End kid as the MacLean brothers, as Burton is," says DiMonte.

"That city is part of the fabric of his life."

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