TORONTO — Radio personality Gord Atkinson, who exposed the world to a young Paul Anka and rubbed elbows with Elvis Presley on his popular "Campus Corner" show, has died at 94.
His son Peter confirmed the longtime staple of Ottawa’s CFRA-AM died early Monday after recently suffering a stroke.
Even from his earliest days, the Toronto-born and raised Atkinson seemed to have entertainment in his blood.
He got his start in the late 1940s as a Canadian publicist for Decca Records, the U.K. label that was home to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” before making a break for local radio.
Atkinson’s first stops were at CFRB-AM in Toronto from 1948 to 1950 and then CHUM-AM from 1950 to 1954.
But it was a move to the nation’s capital in 1954, where he took a gig at CFRA-AM, that offered Atkinson the opportunity to really make a splash as the host of “Campus Corner,” a two-hour weekend show that focused on youth entertainment.
"Campus Corner" gave a platform to rising Canadian stars and trumpeted some of America’s biggest musical acts too.
Over the years, Atkinson became friendly with Presley, Frank Sinatra and Ottawa-born impressionist Rich Little, long before his stints on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and in Las Vegas.
He interviewed George Burns, Jimmy Stewart and Julie Andrews, to name only a few.
“He knew Bob Hope and Bing Crosby personally,” said friend and colleague Dave Watts.
"And it was in the 'Campus Corner' show that Gord introduced the world to Paul Anka and debuted his song 'Diana.'"
Atkinson would air his love for entertainment on "Campus Corner" and its weeknight iteration "Campus Club" for 13 years, leaving an impression on a generation of performers.
"Years later, these big stars would remember this fellow from Ottawa," said Steve Madely, who worked with Atkinson at CFRA in the 1980s.
"He always was well researched before he did an interview. He just had that knack for getting people to tell their story and he, in turn, was a great storyteller."
Those skills were on display in his weekly series "Showbill," launched in 1967, which took a wider lens to the world of entertainment with in-depth biographies of the famous names from music and film.
In 1974, Atkinson would record "The Crosby Years," an all-encompassing look at the singer's life to mark 50 years in showbusiness. The program was structured around three interviews conducted in Crosby's home where Atkinson used his friendship with the performer to shed light on a different perspective.
"The Crosby Years" went on to receive widespread praise, including the U.S. National Radio Award.
Atkinson retired from radio in 1990. He is survived by his wife Elaine, seven grown children, many grandchildren and one great-grandchild, his son said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2021.
David Friend, The Canadian Press