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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Exit may reunite two old radio pals

Posted: 06/29/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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It's Thursday morning, three days after Larry Updike was told his contract wasn't being renewed as the host of CBC Radio's local late-afternoon show, and he's seated beside me in the Fort Garry Hotel's breakfast room, talking about how it went down that last day, when in walks a job prospect.

Actually, it's Tom McGouran.

And he wants Larry to work with him again. For the fourth time.

Tom and Larry, who rocked and rolled through the early 1980s and into the mid-1990s, have the distinction of being fired the three previous times they worked together.

Although, contrary to what some remember, they weren't fired for a fake on-air hostage-taking episode that panicked listeners into calling the cops.

Larry wasn't even in on the gag, so Tom took the two-week-suspension hit.

That's showbiz, commercial-radio-style. By 1994, after an aborted bid to break into the Vancouver market, Tom and Larry parted when they could only find work at competing Winnipeg stations. And now Tom, like Larry, is out of work again, too, basically having been forced contractually to take the year off with pay after being dumped last September from 92 CITI-FM, where he'd been paired with Joe Aiello for nearly 20 years. CITI is also the last local station where Tom and Larry did an act that often sounded like a couple of guys who had been partying all night and still hadn't been to bed.

At least not to sleep, anyway.

That was a zillion ratings books ago, though, even if it seems like yesterday to fans like me. And yet all along, they've maintained an off-air togetherness as pals no one could fire.

Which is evident by what Tom chirps when he joins us, just as Larry is discussing his surprise firing Monday.

"What Larry doesn't know," Tom says, trying to lighten the moment, "is I made a few anonymous phone calls. I said, 'I need my guy out.' So he shouldn't take it personally."

We're all laughing now.

And it feels as if they've never been apart; as if I'm joining their act in progress. Or rehearsal.

But there was a touch of intended truth in Tom's little joke. A month earlier, Tom and I had sat together over coffee at the Fort Garry and he had mentioned he and Larry had been talking about teaming up again.

And now, as of September, when both their contracts expire, they're free to do that at any local station that wants them.

"It's wide-open," Tom says. "We're not focusing on a particular format. That's why we're going to shop at all the stations in town."

Of course it's a different commercial radio market than when they were starting out as kids, much like most of their 18- to 24-year-old listeners. The biggest change Tom sees, other than how much more corporate and competitive commercial radio has become, is how DJs don't seem to have as much personality or to be having as much fun.

"And that's what we're about to instil back into it," Tom says in his signature raspy voice.

Ace Burpee fans might have something to say about Tom's take on current radio personalities, and probably will. Anyway, Tom has already put together a demo tape of vintage Tom and Larry moments. It's at https://soundcloud.com/tom-larry if you're interested.

 

Naturally, there will be those who say, with justification, that a Tom and Larry comeback show on Winnipeg radio in any format is, to put it delicately, unlikely. But not as unlikely as how these two guys got together in the first place. Both knew from an early age what they were intended to do in life, and apart from that -- and being brought up in Toronto at roughly the same time -- that's all they had in common.

For Tom, being on radio, having fun and maybe raising a little hell doing it, is all he has ever wanted to do. While for Larry, being in the pulpit preaching the gospel was all he was ever supposed to do. Tom can remember being in the kitchen as a five-year-old listening to Toronto's dominant station, CFRB, and wanting to be one of the voices that came out of the radio. Larry, meanwhile, was preaching from his preacher father's Pentecostal pulpit by the time he was 14.

But in his early 20s, having been married and divorced, and having all but lost his faith, Larry was about to meet a partner he'd neither really lose, or lose faith in.

By then, Larry had worked in small-town radio to support himself as a pastor. Now he was employed full time as the music director at Winnipeg's 97 FM when Tom was hired.

As Larry details in My Word, the memoir he thought he had finished until this week's abrupt career detour, everything changed when the cherubic-cheeked Larry encountered the simply cheeky Robert Plant look-alike.

"In 1980," Larry writes, "I felt like a failure; disillusioned, betrayed, naive, vulnerable, exposed and ignorant. The anger built. That's when I met Tom McGouran... That's when I went wild."

Starting with Tom introducing Larry to his first taste of beer.

"It's all in my book," Larry says. "It's always come back to Tom and Larry."

"And," says Tom, "we're going to write the last chapter."

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 B1

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