Legendary Vancouver DJ shares stories of moon landing party 50 years ago

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Aldrin salutes the deployed United States flag on the lunar surface. Photo: NASA / Neil A. Armstrong
This July, it will have been half a century since two American astronauts walked on the moon for the first time.
It was a major “where were you when” moment, if you were alive at the time. On July 20, 1969, most people around the world with access to a TV were glued to it, watching the stunning event live.

Legendary Vancouver DJ and self-taught astronomer “Jolly” John Tanner was one of those people.


John Tanner and Craig McCaw on roof of Planetarium mid-1970s. Photo courtesy of John Tanner

Tanner moved to Vancouver in 1964 from his hometown of Kelowna to accept a job offer from Red Robinson to work at CFUN Radio on West Fourth Avenue.

Ever since, Tanner has been intrinsically linked to local radio, the Planetarium, and many of the major pop culture events and movements this town has seen over the past 55 years.

In 1968, while working as a DJ at LG73, John Tanner began working part-time at the Planetarium. Phot
In 1968, while working as a DJ at LG73, John Tanner began working part-time at the Planetarium. Photo courtesy of John Tanner

“I started working at the Planetarium as a part-time lecturer the first year it opened,” recalls Tanner, now 75. “That was in 1968. In fact, I did the very first presentation ever at the Planetarium. It was called ‘The Way of the Stars.’ I have always been big into astronomy.”

By 1967, after a fruitful run at CFUN, where he literally called the play-by-play of Beatlemania and the free love revolution happening right outside the station’s window, Tanner was working for the open-format radio station LG73. A year later, he accepted the part-time gig at the Planetarium and worked both jobs.

John Tanner, shown here in 1977, with an elementary school class using the Vancouver Planetarium’s t
John Tanner, shown here in 1977, with an elementary school class using the Vancouver Planetarium’s telescopes. Photo courtesy of John Tanner

He remained at the Planetarium (now called the Space Centre) for 47 years, retiring in 2015. Starting in 1977, Tanner would host the Planetarium’s light shows with Craig McCaw, his amateur astrology buddy from childhood and former member of the Poppy Family. The light shows morphed into the famed Planetarium laser shows that matched music with stars and steadily blew stoners’ minds until 2012.

John Tanner and Craig McCaw produced the Planetarium famed laser shows that matched music with stars
John Tanner and Craig McCaw produced the Planetarium famed laser shows that matched music with stars and steadily blew stoners’ minds until 2012. Photo courtesy of John Tanner

When it comes to the moon landing in the summer of 1969, Tanner can recall it with great clarity.

“Craig and I had a Planetarium moon landing party that night,” remembers Tanner. “Except the Planetarium didn’t have a TV yet, so we were all over at our house, which was nearby at 1438 Arbutus, right across the street from Kits Beach.”

Many other soon-to-be legendary Vancouver DJs were in attendance, including Fred Latremouille and J.B. Shayne.

“While the landing was happening on TV, we were able to step outside and look up at the moon,” says Tanner still with wonder in his voice. “It was so weird to think that they’re up there walking around. It was very spacey and surreal, and a momentous time for all astronomy and space fanatics.”

The surreal nature of the party didn’t stop there.

“There was a guy named Andy at the party, and he had this pet monkey named Willy. It was a spider monkey, and quite well behaved,” Tanner says. “But when Neil Armstrong stepped down onto the moon and said his famous line [‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’], we all went nuts and started screaming. Well, that monkey completely freaked out. It leapt from Andy’s shoulder onto J.B. Shayne’s back, and shat all over him. J.B. tore off his shirt and threw it outside.”

Opened in 1968, the Vancouver Planetarium is now known as the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. Photo cou
Opened in 1968, the Vancouver Planetarium is now known as the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. Photo courtesy of John Tanner

On Thursday, July 11, 2019, the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the famed moonwalk with an event entitled “Apollo 11: Music and Exploration,” including a performance by Vancouver band Elastic Stars inside the iconic Planetarium Star Theatre.

Colin Cowan is the lead singer and songwriter for Elastic Stars. He’s a hilarious guy, an amazing performer and a bit of a monkey in his own right. He’s also a journeyman musician originally from Moncton, who has played bass in such bands as Black Mountain, Destroyer and Dan Mangan’s band. The cosmic Elastic Stars is all his own.

“We really do have a lot of songs about the moon and the cosmos,” Cowan says. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve always been fascinated about space, the moon landing specials, and people’s natural instinct to look up into the sky and wonder what’s out there.”

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 mis
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Photo NASA

The man behind beaming up the idea for the party is Michael Unger, programs coordinator at the Space Centre.

“In looking back at the Apollo missions in the 1960s,” says Unger, “I was struck by how influential they were not only on a human exploration level, but across all aspects of society, especially the arts. Elastic Stars seemed to be the perfect fit, as they have a cosmic perspective in their music that would provide the perfect soundtrack for our retrospective look at this incredible mission.”

Apollo 11: Music and Exploration with Elastic Stars takes place at the H.R. MacMillian Space Centre on Thursday, July 11, 8 p.m. The event will include a set by the Elastic Stars, and a panel discussion on the Apollo missions, and the future of space exploration. Tickets are $25 and the event is 19+. Cosmic costumes are encouraged. No word on whether Willy the Monkey will be in attendance. Or J.B. Shayne.