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Cover Story - Part II

AFTER TEN YEARS: STILL HERE FOR THE BEER – PART II

AFTER TEN YEARS: STILL HERE FOR THE BEER

Just Here For The Beer Radio
10th Anniversary Special Two Hour Edition

Saturday Oct 10th 2020, 3-5 pm
Sunday Oct 11th 2020, 10-Midnight 
Radio TSN 1040 AM

Part II: “A New Beginning”

In Part I, we learned how veteran broadcaster Joe Leary came to know and work with upstart beer educators Rick Mohabir and Colin Jack. The first episode of Just Here For The Beer Radio went on air in October 2010, and a few months later, Colin’s passing brought the newborn radio show to a crossroads.

Can This Show Go On?

Joe Leary and Colin Jack had only done three radio shows together before Colin’s death. But they had a series of 2011 episodes booked and paid for at the radio station.

Joe was shaken by Colin’s death, but knew these shows didn’t come with refunds. He said to Rick, “This is an awkward conversation, but we’ve got a show booked for next week and we’ve got to do it. We can’t let the show fall apart.”

As a business partner in Just Here For The Beer Ltd., Rick understood that the show must go on. But it wasn’t going to be easy. “Colin was the face of the company,” Mohabir admits. “He was the Just Here For The Beer guy, and I kind of liked it that way. It gave me an opportunity to handle everything on the back end. When we did things like Canada Cup of Beer, I’d be the one meeting with the insurance guy, the table rentals, the porta potties. I was sort of second-tier with most of the brewers. When Colin passed away, that kind of pushed me to the front.”

It probably helped Colin that he’d done a number of media appearances over the years before the show debuted. Now Mohabir, until then the quiet partner, would have to step in as “next man up” and take on this role…and there wasn’t much time to grieve. Only nine days after delivering a eulogy, the next radio show loomed.

Rick was up to the challenge. In his favour was his naturally warm and outgoing disposition. Like many others of Caribbean heritage, Rick is easy to talk to, and he quickly became a natural complement to Leary’s interview style. He also had the business side which allowed him to step in and run the admin aspects of Just Here For The Beer. That was great for Joe, who could focus on the content and broadcasting.

Joe and Rick in October 2012

As the years have passed, Rick has grown into the talk show co-host role. Colin was a big personality, but Rick has a big voice that is great for radio and his good humour brings positivity to the biweekly proceedings. Although it can’t be seen on radio, he’s quick to flash a broad smile that sets guests at ease.

That’s important when asking people to speak on the airwaves. “Our role is to make them feel comfortable talking about their brand, because a lot of times, radio is a new environment,” Leary confirms. “Most people deal with it well, and some have become superstars. We’ve cultivated a good roster of people who know what to say and not say—we’ve only had two F–bombs in ten years.”

Shows were held in the kitchen area at CISL. “Folks would come down and bring beer and have food run in,” Leary recalls. “It was a big old kitchen party. Meanwhile, we’re on a live show and we’ve got a hard 60-minute deadline.”

That could lead to some interesting times keeping things moving when a segment was over and the hosts had to get the guest out so the next one could come in before the show went back on-air.  “When you’re talking about beer people who have been drinking for a good half hour waiting their turn, you’re herding cats,” Joe remembers.

Joe likes to joke that the show was always going to stay live, until one afternoon when Cariboo Brewing brought in a beer called Big Black Bock, and the ensuing hilarity caused a rethink about the wisdom of walking that tightrope. Soon after, the show began pre-recording the episodes.

Outdoor taping during COVID in 2020! Recording the shows on location has changed their dynamic

That led to another major tweak which changed the character of the show: recording on location. “When we started, we were in a very sterile radio station studio environment,” Joe points out. “You could bring in some beers but there was no ambiance.”

“Then I was laid off by Bell Media in 2013, at which point I didn’t want to even go in the studio”, Joe continues. “So, we found a bar to do the show, and then we found the fact that bars would pay us to come there…and we’ve never looked back.”

Leary notes that his favourite part of the show has become the resulting social aspect. Case in point was an episode at Coquitlam’s John B. Pub in which the management was on air reminiscing about John B. stories, and listeners started messaging in about their own memories.

The show moved to AM 1410 (then TSN’s second station, now BNN Bloomberg Radio), then to TSN 1040 in September 2017. Joe notes that it grew exponentially in that time period: “It’s morphed a long way but had just the humblest beginnings.”

Growing with the Industry

As the show became established, so did BC’s craft beer industry. “Our show could not have been timed better,” Leary enthuses. “It was 2010. I think there were 51 breweries in BC at the time. Now we’re north of 200.” The show struggled to fill time in the early days, but the growth means there are enough clients now to develop a solid roster.

The radio show represents a niche opportunity for smaller advertisers to get on radio in a way that would normally be impossible. “Let’s say you walked into a major radio station” to enquire about commercials, Joe explains. “They might be looking for a fifteen-thousand-dollar advertising buy or something like that.”

On Just Here For The Beer, small businesses can access a major radio station with an audience of beer drinkers, many of whom are on (or ready to join) the craft beer bandwagon. Each sponsor gets around 10-12 minutes of airtime with which to showcase their new releases. Joe calculates, “We do 24 shows a year. Each show has four segments for breweries.”

“We buy the time, and (in the pre-COVID world) it came with a dedicated producer (their master of the mixing board, Justin Kwan) included in the price”, which Joe adds has not increased since 2010. Rick says of their microbrewing clientele, “Since we are so craft heavy, and because they helped us grow, we owe them some loyalty.”

Rick and Joe with the show’s technical producer, Justin Kwan.

What’s Brewing readers might not consider every guest of the show to be “craft beer”. Sponsors such as Pacific Western Brewing and their Cariboo brand may raise eyebrows among those whose beer ethic was formed in recent years. But PWB is BC’s oldest independent brewery, and their willingness to support a show that mostly showcases the much smaller craft breweries who compete with them—and who could in theory throw shade at them—has to be admired.

This goes back to Rick and Colin’s original attitude, which they thought of as ‘inclusive’. Canada Cup of Beer welcomed almost anyone who wanted to get the word out, and in theory so does the show. “The show is 95 to 98 percent craft, but we never called it Just Here For The Craft Beer,” Joe asserts.

That being said, Rick and Joe aren’t looking to sign up Molson for a Coors Light promotion. Nor would promoting a foreign macro label like that be of interest to Molson, Rick explains. “They realize that that’s not what our show is; that’s not going to work the best for them.” On the other hand, their subsidiary Granville Island Brewing is a regular attendee.

Their lack of pretentiousness is a result of the founders’ formative years drinking suds, back when good beer was something people didn’t have a lot of access to. Joe’s introduction to beer was stealing his dad’s Lucky Lager. He’s come a long way.

“I think the first craft beer I ever had was Shaftebury,” Joe recalls. He thought it wasn’t bad, which was a good reaction for a non-craft drinker. He credits Granville Island’s Winter Ale for being the gateway beer that finally pushed him into discovering better beers.  “When we started the show, I hated IPAs,” Leary confesses. But his palate grew on the job. “Now, that’s all I drink.”

That might explain the recipe selection when it comes to JHFTB’s collaboration series with BC breweries. Doing its part over and above the radio exposure, the show’s beer series has featured creations like Lighthouse Brewing’s Just Here For The Beer Imperial IPA and Fuggles & Warlock’s The Four Hops IPA.

 


Social Distancing on set

Going Into Lockdown

With all the obstacles Just Here For The Beer has faced, nothing could have prepared it for 2020. Of course, the same went for its clientele. No brewery business plan includes a pandemic contingency.

Leary recalls, “The thing that really concerned us when this COVID thing hit was, bars and tasting rooms have got to shut down. Initially, there was no end date in sight, so I’m thinking, ‘what does this mean for us’, because we do all our business at pubs and tasting rooms. I’m screwed.”

“We shut the show for two months,” Joe continues. “We lost one show in March, we did no shows in April, and then we started to call around. The bars and restaurants and breweries were pivoting and doing home deliveries and take-out. I talked to a couple of sponsors and they said, ‘Hey, we’re doing okay. Let’s bring it back up again.’”

“I’m so glad that the industry survived”, Leary summarizes, noting that there have actually been some benefits. “It made a lot of people think more about supporting local.”

At the time of our interview on the hastily-added second patio at Red Truck Beer’s Truck Stop, JHFTB had done four post-COVID shows. “We’ve had no problem getting brewers slotted in, paying money; they’re all doing well,” Leary reveals.

Although tasting room traffic remains limited, he feels that many breweries may now be better positioned for the future than they were prior to COVID. For instance, JHFTB supporter Old Yale added a massive patio and has been hiring to keep up with demand. About the sudden patio licensing, Joe wonders, “Why does it sometimes take governments six to eight to ten months to approve something that you’re able to turn around in 72 hours?”

Of course, there is no guarantee that advancements like these will continue after COVID. Will governments permanently allow these changes? Leary’s thinking on this echoes Justin Trudeau’s response to being asked why his highly diverse cabinet featured so many women: “Because it’s 2015.” Joe’s take on why the current liquor law advances like extended patios, curbside pickup and restaurant beer to go should remain: “Because it’s 2020.”

Joe has empathy for what these businesses have gone through. “Every bar is trying to do their best to survive. Let ’em survive.” Rick agrees, “Let ’em survive…and thrive.”

10 Year Anniversary event at Monkey 9 Brewing, Oct 9th 2020

Looking Back on Ten Years

After Colin’s passing, Rick kept his memorial promise and the Canada Cup of Beer was held a few more times. But Rick noticed that newer Vancouver festivals were drawing people and sponsors away, making an already burdensome marketing challenge even tougher.

CCOB eventually succumbed to the inevitable. The final festival was held on July 13th, 2013 under a clear blue sky at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium. Bottles of Antidisestablishmentarianism Amber Ale, created at Dead Frog Brewery by family friend Tony Dewald, were sold to raise money for the Colin Jack Scholarship Fund. It was a fitting finale, but thanks to radio it wasn’t the end of Just Here For The Beer.

Joe’s broadcasting career has taken him from employee to entrepreneur. On this he says, “When you’re a career broadcaster you face a lot of unemployment, because formats change and personnel changes. I just wanted to stay employed.”

Rick looks back on Canada Cup of Beer

“It comes back to Stu Ferguson”, says Joe of his former boss at CFUN. “He was the original visionary that suggested this concept.” It may see de rigeur now, but beer radio certainly wasn’t in 2010.

As a business arrangement, JHFTB Radio has worked out well for Joe Leary and Rick Mohabir. For Joe, it’s provided countless contacts and become the launchpad to a mini empire of four liquor-oriented shows on three radio stations. Joining the biweekly TSN 1040 beer show are monthly shows Through The Grapevine and Hand-Crafted Spirits on BNN Bloomberg Radio 1410, as well as Ciders, Sodas and Cocktails on Sportsnet 650. In total, the franchise provides a replacement for his former broadcasting career.

For Rick, who works at Coast Mountain Bus Company, JHFTB allows him to be part of an industry he happens to enjoy. Leveraging skills from his day job, Rick has added Just Here for the Beer Brewery Tours to the mix. Pre-COVID, the beer bus could handle up to 20 guests for tours on Saturdays and Sundays.

For Rick, there is also the comfort of continuing what he started with his closest friend before a painful loss.

Thinking of how the arc went with the beer events and radio over the past decade, Joe wistfully reflects, “Had Colin survived, JHFTB might be an even more substantial enterprise.”

“Every year on the anniversary of the show, we pay homage to him”, Leary reveals. “We always say he would be so damn proud.”

Speaking for myself, I think Colin would be amazed at how his idea of teaching a mini school course has produced a 15-year-old institution his friends can continue to build on.

They could pack it in anytime they choose to. But after ten years of getting the word out about beer—through all the ups and downs, the stress, and the sacrifices—as far as Joe and Rick are concerned: this show will go on.

Memories Gallery

Rick & Joe: Cover photo shoot by Brian K. Smith Photography, Summer 2020

 

  Issue:

Dave Smith

Editor of Beer Me BC and What's Brewing Magazine. Writing credits include The Publican, BC Ale Trail and the BC column for the Northwest Brewing News. Accredited Member of the BC Association of Travel Writers. Craft beer fan since the late 1990s, CAMRA BC member since 2004. Along with wife Ivana, he travels Cascadia as half of the beer duo BeerSeekers.


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