On May 28, 1974, Deep Purple were playing a concert in London when guitarist Ritchie Blackmore started riffing through some finger-picking tunes before tearing into their biggest hit “Smoke On The Water.”
The performance was recorded for broadcast on the BBC, but for the last decade-and-half(ish) the song has truly belonged to CFUR campus radio and its longest-serving volunteer. When you hear those riffs, it means it’s time for Air Guitar with Greg the Egg.
I’m actually not sure when Greg first made his way onto the radio, but by the time I found 88.7 “The Fur” on my radio dial, he was already an institution. Every Friday from 2 to 4 he would be there on his “big Air Guitar show!” playing tracks from his favourite “Poppunkarocknroll!” bands ranging from the Ramones to KISS to Black Sabbath. On paper, it sounds like your typical classic rock station rotation, but in practice it’s anything but. For one thing, songs are often album or alternative cuts, not the same high-rotation stuff you get everywhere else. For another, the show’s main attraction is Greg himself.
On the air, Greg the Egg is a force. As he explains in this episode, he’s the only host at CFUR who has to keep his mic levels low because of his propensity for bursting into bouts of yelling, whether it’s about the poor performance of the Canucks or an outburst cutting himself off for talking too long. These moments of back-and-forth with himself are some of most endearing. In one regular segment, his “little brother Ritchie” (actually greg making a silly voice) comes on to trash talk his favourite sports teams. In another, he opens his literal joke book to read aloud, then goes off-mic to provide both the laughter and the heckling. It’s odd and confusing and fun as heck.
People often assume this is what Greg is like in real life, and so did I, until I actually met him. It was my first day after being hired as the station manager of CFUR, when he humbly introduced himself, offered me a Tim Hortons coffee, and said he hoped I wouldn’t fire him (bearing in mind this is a volunteer run station). I wasn’t sure if he was serious, and honestly I’m still not. But it didn’t take me long to realize that Greg off-mic is one of the must humble and self-deprecating people you will ever meet.
As the best-known member of the CFUR team, I would try to offer him up for interviews with the newspaper or small magazines if we ever wanted to get some publicity. He always seemed shocked that there would be any interest in this, and would only agree to be photographed if could wear his B.C. Lions logo mask over his head. Some people do this sort of thing to create an air of mystery. Greg would do it because he was too nervous to have his face in the paper.
He’s also extremely dedicated. One night, the computer we use to stream music and repeat programs overnight had gone kaput in the early, early hours of the morning. Greg heard it happen (he works night shifts) and not knowing what else to do drove up to the university to host an impromptu version of his show for hours, from something like 2 until 8 in the morning on the lowest-frequency station in the city.
That attitude is exactly what makes his show work. Air Guitar sounds like what I imagine rock radio used to be, back when it was still the world of rebellion rather than corporate boardrooms. Greg’s enthusiasm for the music is contagious, and there are numerous bands I used to think of as bloated eighties one-hit wonders that Air Guitar has caused me to reconsider. He’s constantly championing new bands that he comes across, particularly the locals. And there’s the sense that it could all go off the rails at any minutes, in part because it sometimes actually does.
In a world of playlists and podcasts, Air Guitar is something best experienced on the radio, as it’s happening. Pretty much anyone who’s fan has discovered Greg by shifting aimlessly through the dial and coming across this persona yelling about how the Lions rule and disco sucks and needing to stay tuned in just to find out what happens next. It’s like a secret club- if someone knows Greg the Egg, he’s cool, man.
Sadly, Greg is stepping away from the microphone. Having recently retired from his paid job, he’s retiring from his volunteer, one, as well. Last night CFUR held a volunteer tribute party for Greg, and his fans got to see his next step- playing bass and vocals in a Ramones tribute band called The Razones. Having championed rock and roll on the radio for so long, he finally has time to champion it on the stage, as well. Appropriately, the audience wasn’t huge, but it was incredibly enthusiastic- just like we’ve been for Air Guitar. Just before he stepped on stage, Greg even let me snap this picture, no mask required.
— Andrew Kurjata (@akurjata) April 2, 2016
The best thing ever is about to happen. Happy retirement, Greg.
SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT!
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