Alex Pavlini

This was the most commented-upon post on my old blog.  Spammers trashed the comments.

When I was about seven or eight, I had my first hero. He was an unlikely hero for a kid of seven or eight, but that’s the way it was.

It was in the late fifties. We had just moved back to the Detroit Area, and we listened to CBE, the CBC Radio station in Windsor, Ontario. The morning presenter was a man named Alex Pavlini. Alex, as we referred to him around the house, was a zany character who played everything from classical music to pipe bands (at six-thirty AM, obviously, Alex was of the opinion that if he was up, we should be, too), to the Weavers (banned in the United States) to rather formal arrangements of folk songs. Although he was in his twenties, one could be forgiven listening to him for thinking that he was much older. He had a decidedly British accent.

Alex did truly zany things on air. He would sometimes pick up and strum an out-of-tune banjo (not trying to play anything) and once, he produced a piece of radio drama about the first Canadian satellite, which was launched from Windsor and orbited the globe on the top of Detroit’s Penobscot Building (then the tallest building in Detroit). He would juxtapose seemingly unrelated pieces of music.

Alex had other shows on the radio throughout the day. On one, he’d often read a book aloud. One of his favourites to read was The Wind in the Willows which, to this day, is my favourite book. I remember being sick one time and hearing part of it read over the course of my illness. I think it was things like that that made me hate going to school, which was far less interesting that what I heard on the radio.

Alex Pavlini, then, introduced me to music, and my favourite book. I enjoyed his antics all the way up until we moved away, to San Francisco, and then to Chicago. I didn’t hear him after we moved.

When I was contemplating going to university, I considered Canadian institutions. One was the University of Windsor. I wrote for their calendar, and leafing through it, found a mention of an “Alex Pavlini Memorial Bursary”. So, Alex had died. My many efforts have never led me to finding out what happened to him. Indeed, in looking at the online calendar for University of Windsor a few years ago, I discovered that they no longer have such a bursary. I expect that they consolidated a lot of smaller bursaries or something like that.


About bumbletonian

Musician, Flautist, Composer, Writer, Gardener.
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30 Responses to Alex Pavlini

  1. Woody Sempliner says:

    Found myself thinking of Alex Pavlini this morning. The idea of googling him came a bit later. (I am just that old.) And of course I was quaintly amazed to see information on him pop up as though all those mornings in my Detroit — long ago, adolescent and far away — were right there in the humming synapses of the all-knowing, all-seeing robots of Google.

    Alex Pavlini was urbane, whimsical, sophisticated, Canadian and in possession of a calm, rich, deep speaking voice, all things to which a teenage Detroiter could aspire. To me he was a refuge. I knew no one else who listened to him. Canadian media offered other avenues of escape — Postmark U.K., Hockey Night in Canada, Chez Helene (!), the press conferences of John Diefenbaker (!!), Jingles in Boofland (!!!) — but Pavlini was the gem.

    I tuned in to CBE to hear Alex Pavlini as often as I could; but two times remain indelibly in my memory. One was the morning when he called for requests, refusing to play anything until it was requested. This took some time during which Pavlini rattled around the studio humming, straightening things up, his chair squeaking, the door opening and closing as he left and came back. Sometimes he would report on what he was doing and occasionally he would renew his exhortation for a request. It was hilarious and unusually candid broadcasting. Brilliant. The other time was when I tuned in to hear his show and heard instead that Alex Pavlini had died driving his Porsche.

    Of course, it had to have been a Porsche.

    About nine years ago some very sad family business pulled me back to Detroit for a little over a year. During that stressful time one of the few bright spots was being able to listen to CBC radio again. I listened to the French station on the AM band and to CBC 2 on FM. I was amazed at the quality of the national CBC stuff like Jurgen Gothe’s “Disk Drive” and another show by the brilliant Shelley Soames. There were more. Later I was equally amazed to learn that a new CBC boss had replaced them all with an entirely new, snappier format. It was ruefully revisiting this loss that made me suddenly remember Alex Pavlini this morning.

  2. Cory says:

    DO you remember the year he died? It was a very very sad day.
    The story I heard was that he had gone to Windsor (or was it London) to visit his girlfriend and was teaching her to drive. She was the one driving the car.

    • bumbletonian says:

      There were a number of responses when I had this up on my old blog that knew of the day he died. I’m hoping that someone will come forward again with the information. I have heard enough contradictory things that I don’t rightly remember.

    • Woody Sempliner says:

      It could have been 1962,3 or 4. I’m sorry. I can’t be more precise than that. The only detail I can recall about the accident is that he was in a Porsche. I have assumed all these years that he was driving.

  3. John Johnson says:

    Thank you for this blog and the comments. I have been remembering Alex for many years, and over that time have often tried to tell people about him. I met him when I was around 18 and working part time at Heller’s Men’s Wear on Ottawa Street in Windsor. He was a great friend of Ferris Gault (worked at the store) and came in often. He took me for a ride in his Porche! I started listening to him on CBC and it’s led to a lifelong connection to CBC Radio.
    My remembrance is exactly that…teaching a friend’s daughter to drive. I had moved to Toronto and heard the terrible news there somehow. I’ve obviously Never forgotten him and hope his family and friends know how much people thought of him. Thank you!

  4. M.Bondy says:

    My Uncle John was Alex’s brother. It was great to see someone that had such great memories of Alex. I have passed this blog onto Alex’s niece so she could share it with Alex’s sister.

    • bumbletonian says:

      I have said it before here that I am amazed at the numbers of people who remember Alex Pavlini and remember him to the degree that they want to share their memories of him. I am honoured that my blog entry and the various replies will be going to Alex’s family.

      • m j stoneburg says:

        I also loved listening to Alex Pavlini as a resident of Dearborn and Ann Arbor during and after graduate school. Listening to a flute/guitar piece on the radio reminds me of how I tried to find information about a piece played fairly often then. I might be able to get information nowadays.

      • bumbletonian says:

        I don’t remember what the piece was called, but I do remember that it was played by guitarist Laurindo Almeida. I’ll try and find it. Upon a quick look, it might not have been Almeida. There was a very popular guitar flute duo back then. I remember it sounding as though it would have been difficult to play in some places (I am a flautist).

  5. I could almost have written this blog entry and many of the comments myself. A reminder that this is Canada Day prompted me to google Alex’s name. I was an avid listener — ie, hero worshipper — when I lived in Detroit. I had a folk music programme on WQRS-FM, a shoe-string artsy station, and boldly asked Alex if I could borrow some of his records. He was unbelievably generous. He was a template I fashioned my radio persona on, and I even remember leaving the live mike on and going off to find a record in the library, though I don’t remember hearing Alex do that. He was blown up by a petrol explosion on his boat but survived. It’s a pity he died so young. I still quote one of his weather forecasts: “Winds 15-20 mph, gusting to 30 and disgusting to 40.” I hope some of you will unearth recordings of his programmes. He was a fine person and brilliant entertainer.
    Richard Marsh
    Dublin, Ireland

  6. Daniel says:

    Good morning. Welcome to coffeebreak.

  7. bruce mccall says:

    2/20/16: Alex Pavlini was my best friend when I lived in Windsor. I was a sports car maniac and Alex, always needing to be trendy, took my advice and drove a Triumph TR-3 before he got his
    Porsche 356 coupe, which I had recommended. He was on vacation somewhere outside of Essex County in the summer of 1963; he was given a driving lesson to the teenage daughter of a friend; she was at the wheel on some back road, lost control and hit a tree or some other rigid object. Alex
    was killed by the inside rear-view mirror piercing his temple. Stupid way to die. I still feel guilty that
    I’d talked him into the Porsche.- Bruce McCall

  8. Don L. says:

    I grew up in Grosse Pointe Park next to Detroit and I, too, fondly remember Alex Pavlini. My recollection is that he was killed in a car accident. A sad day for this teenager.

  9. Arthur Lieb says:

    Does anyone know the name of the morning program? I am writing a book and have an anecdote about him.

    • Coffee Break, I’m almost certain. Alex was my model when I worked as a radio presenter starting in 1959.

      • Arthur Lieb says:

        Thank you so much for your quick reply. You did well for a roll model. Always enjoyed his humor.
        I remember one beautiful day when he shamed all of the “supervisors” listening to his show. On such a beautiful day you should give them the day off.
        My experience was a little different. He announced a recording that he was going to play. Some other composition came on the air. I called the station and he answered. I corrected him and he politely said “Thanks for listening” and hung up.
        Peace and consider yourself lucky that The Donald is not your leader.
        Arthur Lieb, formerly of Detroit

  10. bumbletonian says:

    Alex had a couple of programs (or programmes, as he doubtless would have spelled it then). He was on first thing in the morning at six, and then later on in the morning, when he did Coffee Break. I remember that show, because when I was home from school, I used to listen. He introduced me to the book, The Wind in the Willows on that show.

  11. Paul helman says:

    I have very fond memories of Alex. I still recall some of his comments and that theme song by a Germa modernist composer of the 20’s

  12. Paul, do you — or does anyone else — remember the name of that tune? I have no memory of it, though I can still recall the sound of Alex’s voice,

  13. Kim Sulek says:

    Where can we find audio of Mr. Pavlini?

    • bumbletonian says:

      Kim, I really don’t know. I wonder if we can find audio of Mr. Pavlini. Maybe I should send an email to CBC Windsor. I very much doubt that we can find anything, but it is really worth a try.

    • In my head. Every time it’s breezy I hear his voice forecasting the weather one day: “Winds gusting to 25, disgusting to 40.” Alex was the radio equivalent of the unputdownable novel; he was unturnoffable. He was my radio idol and unknowing mentor. I was bold enough to ask him if he could loan me some folk music records, as the WQRS record library was skimpy, and he generously did. I can’t think of anyone in the public eye or ear who was so genuinely and deservedly loved. I’m grateful to bumbletonian for stirring up comments and memories.

      • Woody Sempliner says:

        I was in high school during what Martin Mull once called “the folk threat.” Folk music on the radio was rare, and I listened to every second of what was there — “there” being Detroit — with the same hungry intensity as I listened to Alex Pavlini’s voice of reason from across the river. So, of course, I listened to your program and I believe there was a folk show on WDTM hosted by someone named Larry Miller. I sometimes tell of hearing a very young Joni Mitchell singing live one Saturday night (it could have been a Friday) on a local Detroit station; but, until seeing your post, I thought the station had been DTM. Could you be the Richard last seen “in Detroit in ’68” who said “all romantics meet the same fate”?

        I will completely understand your not responding to the question above. I am just giving vent to a long harbored point of curiosity. What we share in our heads is the voice of Alex Pavlini.

  14. bumbletonian says:

    By 1968 I did not live in the Detroit Area. We moved in 1963 and by the end of that year, I lived in Chicago. I was at the large gathering at Lincoln Park right before the police waded in at the Democratic National Convention. Also, I’m Robin, not Richard.

    • Woody Sempliner says:

      Ah, Robin, my apologies. I guess I do not know how to use this medium. I was responding to a post of 26 Feb 2019 from Richard Marsh to Bumbletonian.

  15. bumbletonian says:

    I think I’m the one who doesn’t get it. Maybe I need to read more closely.

  16. William Grant Thompson says:

    I too remember Alex very fondly as a teenager living in Windsor, at University during visits home, and as a young GP driving to country house calls in Tavistock Ontario. He was a very talented, if a bit eccentric man, who dared to play classical music on morning popular radio. At least when I tuned in, his Theme was a lovely passage from Brahm’s 2nd symphony. Hearing that tune led me to google him. Wonderful that so many remember him as fondly as I. I found it sad when he died. A great loss to Windsor Radio.

    • bumbletonian says:

      It is still amazing to me that the post I made so many years ago now still gets so many responses. Funny that this week I’ve been reading “The Wind in the Willows” again. As I said in my original post, it was Alex who introduced me to this book. I usually re-read it in the spring, but it works this time of year, too.

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