Ordinarily we would never kick things off by asking an interviewee for ID.
But because radio personality Wolfgang Fritzsche has at different stages of his career answered to Mel Corey, Buster BoDean, Beau Dean and, for the last 30 years or so, simply Beau, we were initially curious what it says on his driver’s licence.
"It says Wolfgang Fritzsche. I’ve never had my name legally changed," says the host of BOB Mornings with Beau!, heard weekdays from 6-10 a.m. on 99.9 BOB-FM.
"My mother, who just turned 91, still calls me Wolf, as do a few buddies from high school. But to be honest, I’ve been Beau so long it sounds weird at this point to be called something other than that."
Beau, inducted into the Broadcasters Association of Manitoba’s hall of fame in 2017, may know radio but he’s not as quick at math. After being congratulated on 2020 marking his sixth decade on the airwaves, he puts down his coffee cup, remarking, "Six? How do you mean six?"
After a scribe counts aloud on his fingers, "1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s...," the married father of two and grandfather of four leans back in his chair, muttering, "Holy.... I knew February is going to be 48 years since my first (radio) job but when you put it that way, six decades… Man, am I ever old."
Fritzsche was three years old in 1955 when his parents, Alexander and Hildegard, moved to Winnipeg from Lingen, a town of 54,000 in northwest Germany. He grew up in East Kildonan and the basement of his family home on Melbourne Avenue was where he first caught the broadcasting bug.
In 1967, the year the National Hockey League doubled in size from six teams to an even dozen, he and his younger brother Claus received a dual gift for Christmas: a Coleco table hockey game that included replicas of players from all 12 teams, including Fritzsche’s beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. The siblings spent hours playing that game and while doing so, Fritzsche would provide the colour commentary, calling out skaters’ names and announcing goal scorers. At some point he thought, "You know, I think I’d like to do this for a living."
During his senior year at Miles Macdonnell Collegiate, with dreams of becoming the next Foster Hewitt, Fritzsche enrolled in a correspondence course offered by the Toronto-based Career Academy of Broadcasting. Every few weeks, he received a new lesson in the mail, which he would complete, on reel-to-reel tape no less, and send back to Ontario to be marked. Because he hadn’t completed the curriculum by the time he graduated high school, in July 1970 he took an assembly line job at New Flyer Industries, where his father worked. The second he netted his broadcasting diploma, however, he handed in his notice, figuring he’d be behind a microphone in no time.
"Unfortunately, that’s not quite how things turned out," he says with a laugh. "I applied at every little station I could think of — Portage, Brandon, Dauphin, Kenora, you name it — but all I got back was, ‘Sorry, no openings at this time.’
"Finally, six months after I left Flyer, literally the day after I received my last unemployment cheque, I got a call from the station manager at CHTM in Thompson, asking if I was interested in moving north."
Fritzsche spent 13 months in Thompson, where he was known as Mel Corey, a tag he settled on after spotting a story about a like-named golfer in the pages of the Winnipeg Tribune. In 1973 he was recruited by a station in Regina. There, still billed as Mel Corey, one of his duties involved driving around town in a so-called Money Mobile, which he would park in front of homes, announcing over the radio that the people inside had 90 seconds to step outside to collect a bag of cash.
"That was an absolute hoot," he says. "Every once in a while as I was pulling away, I’d spot somebody in the rear view mirror chasing our car down the street, after they came out a few seconds too late."
After a year in Regina, Fritzsche decided what he really wanted to do was travel the world. He was living in Hawaii in 1976 when Reg Johns, a buddy of his working at CKRC, got in touch to see if he wanted to return to Winnipeg. There was one condition: if he took the job, he’d have to change his name to Buster Bodean.
"It was kind of weird but I really wanted to come home so I said ‘Sure, what the heck?" Fritzsche says, explaining his on-air character was patterned after an American disc jockey Johns fancied, also named Buster Bodean, who spoke with a southern drawl and was a bit of a wild child.
"I was working with Raccoon Carney at the time. It was tons of fun but as a listener, I can just imagine what we sounded like: two goofs screaming their heads off, rarely shutting up long enough to play a song."
Following a two-year stint at CKRC, Fritzsche headed east; first to Montreal, where he met Sharron, his wife of 39 years, and after that, London, Ont., where the couple’s two sons were born. In February 1989 he received a call from Mark Maheu, a disc jockey he’d worked with in London who had since become the station manager at Winnipeg’s Q94 FM. Maheu was hoping Fritzsche — by then he was going by Beau — would be his station’s new morning man.
"My wife didn’t really want to move; we had just bought a new house and she liked London a lot," he says. "But because the offer was so good — I’d never worked for a company as big as CHUM (a chain of stations sold to CTVglobemedia in 2007, and the owner of Q94 at the time) before — she eventually came around to the idea, at which point they hooked me up with some guy named Tom Milroy, who I couldn’t get away from for the next however many years of my life."
Milroy, reached at home, chuckles when asked if he recalls the first time he and Fritzsche worked together, on a Good Friday morning in March 1989.
"Like it was yesterday," says Milroy, the host of The Saturday Morning Show on 680 CJOB. "I’d been employed there for three years already, doing stuff for both CFRW and Q94, when they introduced me to Beau. At first I was basically delivering the news during his show, not too much sidekicking, but as the two of us started to talk more, going back and forth on whatever was going on in the world that day, the show kind of started to build.
"We were both from Winnipeg, we both had two sons around the same age... it was just a natural fit," Milroy goes on, guessing the 23 years they spent together as an on-air duo might count as a record "somewhere."
"We still get together for lunch, probably not as often as we should, but for sure, we’re definitely still buds."
In time, Beau and Tom were joined in the booth by a succession of women, first Caroline Hunter, then Frasier — whom Fritzsche recalls was never reticent to discuss her "love life or crazy dogs" — and finally Dez Daniels, who spent seven years working alongside the guys.
Daniels, presently heard on After Hours With Dez on Q94.3, says there’s a good reason Fritzsche, whom she refers to as one of her "radio husbands," is closing in on 50 years on the airwaves: he is hard-working and enjoys a good time, in equal measure.
"(Beau) has many gifts that make him a listenable guy but probably my favourite thing about him is his ability to make you feel like you are the most important person in the room," she says when reached at home.
"Although he always preferred to be ‘in control’ by running the board, he was never arrogant and never had any issue with letting the other people in the room take the credit or get the laugh. He was the guy that let his idiosyncrasies out and never had any stress about being the butt of the joke for the sake of a good bit."
Back in the 1990s and 2000s, when billboards and bus benches bearing his and Milroy’s image were a common sight, Fritzsche could barely pop out for a bite without somebody yelling out, "Hey, Beau!" Now that his mug isn’t plastered around town as much, it’s more his intonation he’s recognized for while he’s chatting with a cashier at Safeway or placing an order at the drive-thru.
"People will say, ‘I’d know that voice anywhere’ or, my favourite, that I sound a lot taller on the radio," he says, grinning. "But it’s always an honour to be recognized. If they ask me to autograph a slip of paper or old Top 40 chart, I’m never going to say no."
Lately, Fritzsche is feeling like he’s come full circle in his career, after Mark Morris, his on-air partner since February 2017, was let go in November following a wave of cuts by parent company Bell Media that also cost longtime CTV Winnipeg anchor Gord Leclerc his position.
"It’s the first time since the late ‘80s that I’m hosting a show by myself so, yeah, it kind of takes you back a bit," he says, adding it was a "shock to the system" when he learned about Morris’s dismissal but given the nature of the biz, "you’re kind of used to it."
When the R-word is raised, Fritzsche, still a popular pick to emcee charity events in Winnipeg and throughout the province, smiles again, acknowledging this isn’t the first time somebody has posed that question.
"People are always asking me when am I going to retire, though my wife Sharron certainly isn’t one of them; she enjoys her quiet mornings too much," he says. "I just can’t imagine what I would do. Radio isn’t just a job, it’s been and is my life."
About that... does Fritzsche ever lie in bed — generally it’s lights out at 10 p.m., as his alarm goes off at 4 a.m. every weekday morning — and wonder where life would have taken him, if he hadn’t signed up for that correspondence course, 50 years ago this month?
"Of course, like every other Canadian kid I wanted to play in the NHL but quite frankly, if I hadn’t ended up in radio, I don’t know what else I would have done," he says, setting his glasses on the table.
"Sometimes I think back to my first shift in Thompson, reading the news at 11 p.m. on a Friday, my hands shaking and feeling like I was going to die. And then I think of how far I’ve come and what radio has given me, especially for a person who, in high school, could barely string two words together, I was that shy. I guess it all worked out, huh?"
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.