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Long-time Vancouver radio DJ hanging up the headphones after decades on air

Dean Hill will be signing off and not returning to the Vancouver airwaves.
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After 27 years on Rock 101 and almost 50 years in Canada's radio industry, Dean Hill is retiring.

Rock 101's Dean Hill didn't plan to be on the air for nearly 50 years when he was younger.

His route to radio first took a detour through a sawmill on Vancouver Island. One day, he had a bit of an accident.

"The paramedic in the back of the ambulance, looked down on me bleeding in the back and said 'Maybe this isn't your line of work,'" Hill tells Vancouver Is Awesome.

Once he recovered, he followed that advice, and his interest in music and record players, and showed up at CKDA, a radio station in Victoria. They liked his stuff, hired him and he spent the next 47 years on air, with stops in Calgary and Toronto before returning to the west coast.

"The only job I ever begged for was to get out of Toronto," he says; that led him to CFOX in Vancouver.

Over a few years he moved to Rock 101 (a station manager hired him over the phone while Hill was in a hotel in Singapore), CKLG where he and the morning show team won a national award, and then back to Rock 101 where's been for over a quarter-century, starting in 1995.

Leaving Vancouver for somewhere 'chiller'

"It's kinda freaky, it's scary, it's kinda exciting, it's also time," says Hill of his approaching retirement. "It's been 26, 27 years at Rock 101."

"I just accidentally figured out the other day I've been doing radio for 47 years."

Over those years he got to rub elbows with rock legends ("Malcolm Young from ACDC bummed a smoke from me at the Coliseum"), saw the industry move from vinyl to digital and been sent to Disneyland several times for work (including a tour of the secret room in the theme park's Matterhorn).

That's one of the things Hill is thankful for over his career, the adventure's he's had, with highlights like MCing for the Who and interviewing Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant twice.

"It's been, just, nothing but fun," he says.

Some of that fun has been lost the last couple of years, as the pandemic turned the Rock 101 office (along with many, many others) into a lonely place. Only a handful of people have been working on the same floor as Hill these days.

At the same time the big city life is wearing on him.

"I'm not enjoying Vancouver as much as I was in the late 70s. It's a different place. I'm moving to Nanaimo; it's chiller, there are no bridges, the traffic is better," he says.

The slow pace will match up with his plans to dive headfirst into "all the things you're supposed to do when you retire" like travelling, meeting new people and joining clubs.

Dean Hill's tips for future radio DJs

With decades in the radio booth, Hill has picked up a few tips and pieces of advice for those aspiring to get on air themselves.

"You can't graduate from broadcast school and expect to get a job at CFOX," he says. "You've got to start small and get to know how to do everything; news, sports, be a DJ, get to know the music well, make sure to pronounce names correctly."

That means leaving Vancouver for a smaller market.

"You have to get out of Vancouver, you have to get to a small town," he says.

Another is to make sure you're relevant to listeners when talking to them and shy away from talking about yourself.

"Give me something I can use; be relevant, and be local," he says, noting he's a details-oriented guy, which has helped him avoid some pitfalls.

Following that advice, he's been able to have a long career on the local airwaves, and he's thankful for the people who spend time listening.

"It's been a great career and I just want to thank everyone for listening," he says.

"If you've ever listened to my show I really appreciate it and I love you for it, whatever station it may have been on," he adds.

Hill's last show will be on Rock 101 (101.1 FM) in Vancouver on Friday, July 15, 2022.