Gord Downie steps on to the stage in Toronto. Downie, the poetic lead singer of the Tragically Hip whose determined fight with brain cancer inspired a nation, has died. He was 53. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Red Deer radio stations crank up the Tragically Hip in wake of Gord Downie’s death

Often the soundtrack to road trips, hockey rinks, camp fires and more of Canadian life, the music of the Tragically Hip will continue to echo after the death of its lead singer on Tuesday night.

The day after Gord Downie died, Red Deer mourned by turning on the radio.

Radio stations across Alberta and Canada played Tragically Hip songs throughout Wednesday.

“We all knew it was coming, but we all hoped it wouldn’t be today,” said Jeff Murray, local program director and midday host. “We decided a few months ago, we all hoped it wouldn’t be years from now, but we wanted to honour him and we thought the best was to do that was with his music.”

Murray said the phones “have been ringing off the hook all day.” They took requests for everyone’s favourite Hip songs, trying to play everybody’s favourites.

Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an incurable form of cancer earlier this year.

Radio stations were flooded with Hip requests.

Peter Michaels, another local program director and midday host, said it happened partially organically. They had planned to dedicate the show to Hip requests, in a similar fashion to how other artists had died recently such as Tom Petty and Chris Cornell. But Red Deer called in with the requests.

“With something like Gord, we did the lunch that way, but then I played the Live Between Us album after the lunch was done,” said Michaels. “I told the guys to play as much Hip as they want to play.”

Michaels had a chance to meet Downie in 2007 when the Hip performed in Red Deer, and admitted it was a little intimidating at the time.

“He’s so eloquent and a smart man and I’m thinking about what I say to Gord Downie, what do I ask him that he hasn’t been asked a million times,” said Michaels. “He’s a Boston Bruins fan and I’m an Edmonton Oilers fan. At that time the Oilers were looking at trading for Brad Stuart from the Bruins. I asked him ‘what do you think it would take for the Oilers to get Brad Stuart from your Bruins.’ He laughed, smiled and we had a good conversation about that.”

The 1989 release Up to Here was the one of the first albums Murray bought and it has been his favourite release from the band since. Michaels said it was too hard to pick a favourite Hip album, as the answer changes regularly.

“The morning guys, Brad and Tony, were chatting about the first time they ever heard Tragically Hip,” said Murray. “They couldn’t pinpoint the exact day, but they remember the first time they heard it and thought ‘this is kind of cool.’ All the announcers here had that moment.”

Founded in 1984 The Tragically Hip released 13 studio albums as well as one live album and one greatest hits album. But they never broke through into mainstream music in the U.S.

“Part of me, and I feel guilty for saying it, but I’m glad they didn’t make it in the States,” said Murray. “It means they’re all ours. They are so Canadian and Canada’s band and part of me is kind of glad they didn’t get to take ownership of them.”


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