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Obituary: DJ Robert W. Knight was an Ottawa radio legend

Ottawa Citizen logo Ottawa Citizen 2022-07-16 Blair Crawford
DJ Robert W Knight was a fixture of the Ottawa airwaves for decades with CFGO, The Bear and CHEZ 106. Knight died last week from injuries he suffered in a scooter collision. © Provided by Ottawa Citizen DJ Robert W Knight was a fixture of the Ottawa airwaves for decades with CFGO, The Bear and CHEZ 106. Knight died last week from injuries he suffered in a scooter collision.

He was “Your Favourite DJ.” The drive-home host with “The Five O’Clock whistle.” The on-air voice who wouldn’t just spin your request, but would take the time to make you feel a personal connection to your favourite station, be it CFGO, Energy 1200, The Bear, or venerable CHEZ 106.

When news spread last week that Robert W. Knight had died, it was as if fans had lost a touchstone to their youth and the days of Top 40 AM radio.

“He was one of the last great DJs,” said friend Art Stevens, a producer at CFGO.

Born James Wilkinson in Montreal, Knight began his career in Pointe-Claire, Que., with CFOX, but came to Ottawa after that station switched to an all-news format in 1977. He landed a job with fledgling CFGO — “The Go 14” — which was then challenging powerhouse CFRA. He took the name Robert W. Knight because it sounded better over the air. Using a middle initial was popular with American DJs, and “Knight” was a natural for a guy in the 10 p.m to 2 a.m. slot.

“He got here and just immediately filled the spot. He became everybody’s pal,” Stevens said.

“He was a very creative guy and he knew how to connect with an audience. Before social media, the only way to do that was through the request line. Robert did that so well. Listeners would call in and, rather than just take their request, he’d engage with them. He’d win them over — one listener at a time.”

Eventually Knight would go head-to-head against CFRA’s dominant Mark Elliott , the two DJs battling for audience in 15-minute increments.

“There was the outside perception that they fought for every quarter hour, and that’s true. That was the public-facing side, but they were friends, too,” said Mike Irvin, a producer who worked with Knight at CFGO and later at CHEZ. “I wouldn’t call them good friends, but they were friends.”

A couple of times a year, Elliott and Knight would get together for beer and go through the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement ratings, Irvin said.

“With the BBM numbers, you can compare quarter hours. And they’d compare notes. Mark would say, ‘Look, I got you in the 6:15-6:30.’ And Robert would say, ‘But I got you in 6:30 to 6:45.’ It was a pretty big deal.”

When Elliott famously quit CFRA mid-show in 1986, he went to work at CFGO and for a time became Knight’s teammate.

Irvin said Knight was an incredibly hard worker who was dedicated to his show and his audience.

“There were some times he’d come out sweating. It was the passion he had. That four hours on air was like a marathon for him. Once he got in the air chair, he’d do everything he could to do stuff, to get good phone calls … It was amazing.

“He treated everyone with respect. There was never any ‘sneer’ afterward. He had regular callers, and he treated them like a one-time-only caller and he made sure they felt like they’d been heard.”

In the early 80s, Knight even did a stint as one of Canada’s first VJs, hosting a weekend music video show for CHRO-TV.

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When CFGO switched to a sports format, Knight moved to The Bear, giving that station a live DJ on weekends, when most stations used syndicated shows.

“There was no expectations at all for him. It was, ‘Come in and be a live jock,'” Irvin said. “Robert had the phones going. He worked so hard to connect to people. And, all of a sudden, the books for the weekend looked like, ‘Oh, my god!'”

Later Knight moved on to successfully host CHEZ’s afternoon drive-home show. He did commercial voice-overs, specializing in high-energy pitches.

One friend asked Knight why he never left Ottawa for a bigger market. “Why? And become Robert W. Who?” he replied.

Off-air since the mid-2000s, Knight reinvented himself again, scrambling for ways to pay the rent. He cleared sidewalks in the winter, even delivered pizza. In recent years, he worked at Costco on Merivale Road, relishing face-to-face contact with customers. He’d abstained from alcohol and began to live a healthy lifestyle, Irvin said, always maintaining contact with radio industry friends, sharing news and the latest ratings.

He motored around town on a scooter and reportedly died from injuries in a collision, but Ottawa police would not release information about the circumstances of the crash. Knight never married and had one brother, who lives in Pointe-Claire. His Blossom Park apartment has been cleaned out, but there has been no death announcement.

But his many Ottawa friends and fans have flooded social media with memories and tributes.

“His style of delivering his words was an art form unto itself! A genuinely talented, friendly, kind and funny guy,” Wendy Daniels wrote.

“RWK always took time to answer my endless questions and laughed with me at my goof ups on air. Beyond kind,” Katherine Dines wrote.

J.C. Coutts, a DJ in Bruce County, recalled this advice from Knight: “A few words have always stuck with me: “If it ain’t fun — it ain’t radio”.

Robert W. Knight was 69.

 DJ Robert W Knight was a fixture of the Ottawa airwaves for decades with CFGO, The Bear and CHEZ 106. DJ Robert W Knight was a fixture of the Ottawa airwaves for decades with CFGO, The Bear and CHEZ 106.

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