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This article was published 2/10/2016 (1139 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
He’s Winnipeg’s own rock music guru, known to everyone simply as "H." Howard Mandshein has been a staple on local radio for four decades, his distinctive baritone voice intoning his unrivalled passion for the music he plays. If Mandshein likes a song, you know it. He is an institution, a local legend of the airwaves and concert stages as master of ceremonies, as well as an ardent supporter of the local music scene.
"Howard is a sage," artist manager and impresario Gilles Paquin says. "He knows about music from A to Z. But more than that, he understands how music affects and impacts people. He’s one of the guys I’ll call to get an honest perspective on music. He has a wide understanding of popular music and is extremely well-informed. He’s like Winnipeg music’s very own Yoda."
In an interview from his home in Aurora, Ont., former 92 CITI FM colleague Andy Frost said Mandshein’s "passion for people and music makes him unique."
"He means so much to so many people, and yet he is a humble guy," Frost said.
Mandshein’s zeal for music is palpable.
"I think if you’re going to do something, you better give it your heart and soul," he says.
"If I’m playing, for example, Takin’ Care of Business for the 10,000th time, it may be the first time for someone out there listening. You have to keep that in mind. There are songs I’ve heard a thousand times, but when I play them again I’m still giving them the air guitar in the studio because those songs still move me. The music isn’t just background to me."
Born in 1950 and raised in Winnipeg’s culturally diverse North End, Mandshein was seduced by the allure of radio, tuning in late at night to Chicago’s powerful WLS radio. He also listened to local DJs as a kid.
"I have a special place in my heart for Doc Steen," he says of the popular CKRC DJ. "He really helped out the local music industry and did it for all the right reasons. He was a true gentleman."
As a youngster, Mandshein was babysat by David Steinberg, who lived a few doors down. Steinberg would go on to a distinguished career in comedy, writing and directing.
A defining moment in Mandshein’s life came at age eight when his mother, Evelyn, whose family roots go back to Swansea, Wales (Mandshein attended a family reunion there in 1994), was killed in a tragic car accident. Unable to look after Howard and his younger sister, his father, Max, placed his son in the care of his maternal grandparents.
"My dad wanted to look after both of us," Mandshein recalls, "but he was working. He owned a couple of cabs."
Mandshein credits his mother for his innate appreciation for music.
"She played piano and was really into the arts. I was told my mother was an early hippie. I’ve never played piano in my life, but I found music. Music became a salvation for me and gave me a direction in my life, and I credit my mother with that." Mandshein’s father died when he was 20.
He briefly dabbled in band management, helping land gigs for North End band the Boston Tea Party.
"Howard was very enthusiastic but also laid-back, with a good sense of humour," guitarist Ron Siwicki says. "He loved to promote local talent and promoted our band to anyone who could book us."
'I'm still amazed that I get paid for doing something I love' — Howard (H) Mandshein
Mandshein says, "I hustled for them for their sake, helping them have fun. It wasn’t about the 10 per cent. I used to also put on socials in my early 20s at places like the Native Club. Again, not for the money but for the music and the pleasure it gave to people."
After high school, Mandshein pursued a career in the hospitality industry, studying hotel management at what was then called Red River Community College, followed by three months working at Place Louis Riel. His infatuation with music led him to working at the Opus 69 record store on Kennedy Street. Manager Norman Stein wanted staff that knew music and could talk the talk. Indeed, a well-informed staff member was one of the attractions of the influential record outlet. Mandshein was a perfect fit.
It was at Opus he and I, both music obsessives, first met. He moved over to Mother’s Records on Portage Avenue to work for Murray Posner before owning a small stake in the Autumn Stone, the coolest place for music and various paraphernalia in the city in the mid-1970s.
"Howard was one of the first people I met when I moved to Winnipeg," Autumn Stone manager Andy Mellen says. "He has a great head for music and loves music."
Toronto-based booking agent and ex-Harlequin bass player Ralph James, a longtime friend and confidant of Mandshein, says he first met him at the Autumn Stone.
"He turned me and many others onto countless new groups, obscure records and international music magazines," James says.
Mandshein aspired to land a job with a record company, but that never panned out. His next move was to University of Manitoba campus radio station CJUM in the late 1970s. The station featured a more free-range music format than commercial radio.
"A friend suggested I introduce myself to Mike Gillman at CJUM," he recalls. "I started out on a Tuesday night and never looked back."
A few months after Howard hit the airwaves, Andy Frost also joined the station.
"I used to listen to Howard all the time on CJUM," Frost remembers. "He played really good music, doing the afternoon shift. I contacted him, and he invited me down to the station. I realized when we met that I had seen him at record stores downtown for years. We’ve been friends ever since and still speak regularly."
In the fall of 1979, FM rock station 92 CITI station manager Gary Christian hired Mandshein away from CJUM.
"He saw something in me," states Mandshein. "He hired Andy Frost and I on the same day."
Mandshein said Christian had a supportive management style.
"Gary Christian was the kind of boss who always made you feel you were doing something important and were good at it," he notes. "He knew how to get the best out of everyone. He always pumped you up. This is the kind of guy he was: I remember one time, this was pre-cellphones, and I’m on the air. He was driving down Portage Avenue listening to my show. I did a bit on air that he really liked, so he went out of his way to find a pay phone and called me at the station. ‘Killer f——— bit, Howard! Killer! Go have a great show.’ He was so inspirational. That’s the kind of support people need."
Christian also served as a mentor to Mandshein.
"Gary Christian taught me to imagine that you’ve just met the most beautiful girl in the world so you’re high up there in your emotions," Mandshein says. "Then the next day you get some devastating news about a death in the family, so you’re way down in your emotions. He told me to find that middle ground between the high of highs and the low of lows and always be consistent. That’s your bar. It makes common sense."
Mandshein also praises fellow CITI FM DJ Brother Jake Edwards.
"I had a deep respect for Brother Jake. He was a mentor to me and a major influence. He had a phenomenal work ethic. I really admired him."
Ralph James says, "Back in the day CITI FM was the most unconventional rock station. Howard was a huge part of a team of incredible on-air personalities including Brother Jake, Andy Frost, JJ Johnson, Terry Dimonte, Steve Warden (and) Tim Bradley, who kept their boss, Steve Young, running as they more often than not deviated from the playlist but created great radio."
"I grew up listening to Howard," former 92 CITI colleague and friend Joe Aiello, who is now with Power 97, says. "I was a fan before I even met him, so getting the chance to work with him at 92 CITI was like a dream come true. He’s Winnipeg’s music historian. The guy does his homework."
Mandshein’s dogged support and enthusiasm boosted the careers of many local bands.
"Howard saw and championed the efforts of a generation of Winnipeg musicians in what I call the ‘golden era’ of the Canadian record industry, with the likes of Harlequin and Streetheart and Orphan and the Pumps and Queen City Kids coming out of the Prairies," states Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president and general manager at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.
"These artists were all trying to gain the attention of the power brokers in Toronto, and Howard was there to tell their story and play their tunes and play them again and remind us all how great those songs and these bands were."
Mandshein’s credo has always been to give the listener something more.
"I hate when you hear a DJ saying, ‘It’s two in the afternoon, and here’s the Who.’ Give the listener some meat," he says. "That’s just in my DNA. I never steer people the wrong way. They always get the straight goods from me."
James says, "As a broadcaster, Howard’s always pushed the envelope, breaking new music, telling his audience in-depth information about the artists he’s playing."
Over his lengthy career, Mandshein has interviewed many of rock music’s biggest movers and shakers. Some have become friends, including Trooper’s Ra McGuire and Tom Cochrane. He is also friend and confidant to Burton Cummings. Asked who he would most like to interview, he pauses before stating, "Van Morrison." The mercurial Morrison is known as a difficult interview.
"I’m a huge fan, but I’d be scared to meet him because the experience would only let me down."
He also mentions Bob Dylan but demurs, "What could Howard Mandshein ask Bob Dylan that hasn’t been asked of Dylan already? What could I bring to an interview with him that would be different and spark his interest? ‘Were you nervous at your bar mitzvah? Did you rush it? Did you mumble like you do your songs? Was your dad proud of you?’"
While his enthusiasm is well-known, he admits to only swearing once on-air during an interview with music legend Ronnie Hawkins.
"I said, ‘Ronnie, it’s a f——— sin that you aren’t a huge star! A f——— sin!’ I got hell for that."
Recently, Mandshein’s longtime support of Supertramp and its leader, singer/songwriter Roger Hodgson, composer of such rock classics as Dreamer, Breakfast in America, Give a Little Bit, The Logical Song and Take The Long Way Home, was acknowledged when Hodgson personally requested Mandshein introduce him at a recent sold-out Club Regent performance.
"I was blown away when I heard he wanted me," gushed Mandshein. Hodgson signed a framed poster of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America Mandshein has hanging in his house, writing, "Howard, thank you for giving a little bit of your heart. With much love, Roger Hodgson."
Radio is a transient business where maintaining a career most often means moving from city to city, station to station to keep a job. Mandshein has been fortunate to remain in his hometown.
"This is a business where guys come and go, and you often don’t leave of your own accord," Aiello says. "Howard has managed to defy that. He’s the Gordie Howe of Winnipeg radio."
There have been opportunities elsewhere, but Mandshein prefers the local milieu.
"I couldn’t move around the country," he says. "I’m a North End kid. I love the North End. It’s in my soul. People ask me why I don’t move south, but why would I? My home is right here. My sister keeps asking when I’m moving out to the West Coast. I tell her I like a blue sky even when it’s cold."
His secret for longevity in an unstable vocation? "I’m not ambitious," he says. "I don’t ask for much. I stay out of management’s way and out of office politics. That’s important. And I keep my mouth shut. For me, it’s all about the music. I’ve been fortunate that I never had to leave the city."
"H has been a constant in the Winnipeg broadcast scene," Donnelly says, "from the ’80s through today. I can’t recall a minute where he wasn’t part of the on-air music experience in Winnipeg. His unique delivery and vocal style, plus his homegrown colloquialism such as calling AC/DC ‘the house band,’ ‘Butch’ for Burton Cummings, and ‘seriously!’ for just about anything good or bad have made him a standard piece of FM entertainment in this city."
Mandshein briefly left CITI in the mid-1980s to work at CJOB FM’s KIS 97 but returned to CITI a few years later. During his spell at KIS, he and I hosted several feature shows on artists or music genres, trying to outdo each other in facts and trivia.
While his public image is ubiquitous, only a select few know the private Howard Mandshein.
"I think everybody in radio is introverted until they’re on a public stage," he says, revealing his own shyness. "Radio gives me a means to walk up to someone and say, ‘Hi, I’m Howard Mandshein, 92 CITI FM.’ If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be able to walk up to somebody like that."
Unbeknownst to many, Mandshein enjoyed a long-term relationship with his common-law wife, Lori Sigurdson, who died in July after a short battle with cancer. "She was a very private person," he says.
The two came together in 1994, and he was devastated by her death.
"One of the nicest persons I could ever ever want," he says of her. "Someone asked me, ‘I guess you feel depressed,’ and I said, ‘I’m not depressed, I’m sad. Look at the positive side: I had someone come into my life that I loved.’ That was wonderful."
At the time, CITI FM management suggested he take some time off, but Mandshein preferred to be on-air.
"Music is my world. It’s my best friend," he says. "The power of a song still transports me."
At 66, does Mandshein think about retiring?
"What am I going to do, play golf? I just want to keep doing this until I can’t anymore," he says. "My grandmother lived to be 90, and two of her siblings lived to 95. I’m in good health. Music keeps me young. I feel like a 50-year-old."
Had they lived to witness it, what might his parents think of his life and career?
"My father was a mensch, and I hope I’m the mensch he was," he says. "He always rooted for the underdog, and I’m the same. He really believed in charity, and I believe in that, too. He would go out of his way to do a good deed."
And his mother? "I think my mom would be proud of me because I’m a good person. She’d be happy if I was happy. It was never about climbing that highest mountain. If what you do brings you happiness and you don’t hurt anybody, that’s what counts. You can look yourself in the mirror and do things for the right reasons."
"I must have an angel watching over me," he says. "I am thankful every day for having a career doing something I love. It’s a great feeling when you can get up every morning and go do something you love and you’re not cheating anybody. I never made the big money, but that never meant anything to me. I was never motivated by the money. I’m still amazed that I get paid for doing something I love."
John Einarson writes about Manitoba’s music history. Tune in to his show, My Generation, Tuesday evenings from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on UMFM 101.5 or stream it live from umfm.com.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, music historian John Einarson is an acclaimed musicologist, broadcaster, educator, and author of 14 music biographies published worldwide.