By Pat Bohn with Connie Thiessen
Radio lost a champion on Jan. 28.
Arnie Celsie, my friend and business partner of 25 years, a consultant and morning personality, passed away after a battle with cancer, leaving a legacy of influence in radio programming, marketing, mentoring and coaching, both in Canada and abroad.
Arnie started out in radio in the 1960s, entering consulting full-time in 1990 when he joined me at Bohn & Associates, which evolved to become SparkNet Communications. Arnie could synthesize thoughts the way no one else could and while known by radio executives for his direct, often sharp manner, there was always wisdom attached.
He was smart, passionate and had an incredible work ethic, viewing things somewhat the same as me, but also differently in that he was a morning man which gave him empathy for that part of the business, the talent side, which is really important as a consultant. He was always looking at things the way they should be viewed, seeing details that the others in the room often missed.
In addition to our extensive consulting for Rogers Communications and Rawlco Radio, Arnie was one of the co-developers of the JACK FM and Playing What We Want brand, which was licensed internationally. He was also part of the team that created and launched the successful NOW Radio brand in Edmonton.
In his private life, he was as incredibly gifted personally as he was in business.
Arnie made his wife Diane and their two kids his first priority, often creating unforgettable family experiences. When Arnie bought a sailboat, the entire family learned to sail; when he developed a love of Italy, the family took Italian lessons and learned to ride Ducati motorcycles, travelling Italy on motorcycle before buying a home there. A talented chef, he immersed himself in food and wine and hosted many dinners where relationships were nurtured.
He was hard to get to know initially as a person, but when you did you found out how enthusiastic he was, how very deep as a person he was and, frankly, that’s what carried over to radio…all of these life experiences he put together made for an incredible radio mind that went with it.
Accolades and remembrances have been pouring in from the radio family with whom we worked… Here are just a few:
Pam Leyland, President, Rawlco Radio
Arnie started with Rawlco as a consultant in 2002. He had a brilliant mind for radio and understood what the listener wanted and made what came out of the radio better. In 2014, Arnie joined Rawlco full-time as our senior programming adviser. Then the fun really began! Arnie inspired us, and pushed us, on a daily basis. He was a masterful coach, guiding, challenging and encouraging everyone with whom he worked. Arnie was an idea guy. Any idea kicked around with Arnie ended up being more creative and fun. We will miss Arnie’s inspiration, big laugh and friendship. Person by person, and as a company, Rawlco Radio is better for the time we spent together.
Chuck McCoy, Consultant, former VP/GM Rogers Radio Toronto
Arnie Celsie was a big part of my life and my career from the first time we met in 1987 right up until the last time I spoke with him, just a week before his very untimely death. When I met Arnie he was program director/morning man at CISL, Vancouver. Pat Bohn and I had just begun our consulting business and CISL was one of our first clients. Arnie’s station was newly licensed and his budget for paying consultants was “contra.” His offer of “contra” was a cell phone. Good deal? Well I am reminded that a car-mounted cell phone back in 1987 was valued at $2,500. Once I joined Rogers in 1989 and Arnie joined Pat’s consulting business, Arnie became my consultant. His advice and feedback was a real difference maker for many of our successful Rogers stations. Years later, I was so fortunate to work with Arnie again, this time as a colleague and then in our latter years together, he became a mentor for me as he was for many others in our business. His work with JACK radio stations and his vision and design for the incredibly successful NOW-FM in Edmonton are strong monuments to his programming genius. Arnie Celsie was one of the most creative, inventive, action oriented individuals I have ever had the pleasure to know. Most of all, and in so many ways, Arnie was good man and a good friend. My heart goes out to Diane and Arnie’s children, grandchildren and all those who worked with him and loved him. My friend you will always be sorely missed.
Geoff Poulton, President, Vista Radio
My boss at the time was Chuck McCoy who was then Vancouver market manager for the Rogers stations. He convinced Arnie and Pat to provide some consulting for the station I was managing, Mountain FM Squamish/Whistler. The cost? Some lift passes and restaurant contra.
This was a BIG deal for my little station! So Pat, Arnie and Chuck arrived to deliver the ‘monitor’ report which I was beyond excited to receive. I got off the morning show, a shift I had been doing for almost 4 years, and went into the boardroom. Arnie led the meeting (I had seen him in action many times in Vancouver) and when we got to the morning show portion of the meeting, I was pumped to hear his critique. Arnie looks at me and says “uh…. so… I would describe your on-air personality as…. uh…. you know… very… uh…. pleasant.” And with that my on-air career was over and we hired a new morning host within a month! I am so grateful to have worked with Arnie. He was wickedly smart, gracious, creative, funny and one of the nicest people in our business. I’ll miss him terribly.
Jim MacLeod, President & CEO Radiocorp Management, former President Numeris, BBM Nielson:
Much of the success we found with K Lite FM in Hamilton was due to Arnie. While I had been managing stations and groups, K Lite was the first venture where I had my name on the licence. Arnie started working with our PD, David Jones – another great find – and instilled in us the discipline to be great. What had once been what stations liked, became the discipline that started with finding out what the core listeners liked and sticking absolutely to that. Novel idea. Logic, even. Hard work, too. One of the acts was Hootie and the Blowfish, and for some reason I did not like their name. Great music, bad name. Well, resistance was futile in the face of that calm Arnie persuasion and onto the playlist they went. For years, every time I heard Hootie and the Blowfish, an image of Arnie popped into my head! K Lite quickly dominated both BBM numbers and revenue reports and 23 years and multiple owners later, the station is still the force to be reckoned with in Hamilton. Yeah, we did okay and then some, and that programming foundation was laid by Arnie Celsie. A long overdue thanks, my friend.
Ian Walker, JACK FM and JACK FM 2 Oxford, UK
I first met Arnie in 2008 and it was love at first sight! It was so refreshing for me to meet a radio contemporary from across the pond that was so passionate and energized about creating a new radio brand for the UK that would ‘shake’ up the industry. Arnie’s colourful personality along with his dogmatic determination to get things done has been a driving force behind the success of JACKfm Oxford (the most awarded local commercial radio station in UK history). Arnie’s guiding hand and positive and sometimes cutting, critical feedback allowed our small team to build a radio station that is now enjoying its highest-ever listening figures, whilst also enjoying record revenues. I had the pleasure of spending a week with Arnie in Oxford designing JACK 2, the first-ever JACK brand extension. Arnie always challenged, was a magnificent sounding board and never ever let a good idea go to waste. I also had the pleasure of embarking on a road trip to Bolzano, Italy with Arnie. After our client visit, Arnie and I managed to polish off two bottles of Barolo together and I have never laughed so much. Arnie Celsie was a one of a kind!
Larry Gifford, Senior PD, CKNW NewsTalk 980
It is not overstating facts to say that without Arnie Celsie, I would not likely be working in Canadian radio. I first met Arnie when he cold-called me. At the time, I was programming KIRO Radio in Seattle. He was very complimentary and made a rather forward request. He wanted to send some Rawlco managers to Seattle to see what we were doing and how we were doing it. He was persistent and assured me our secrets were safe with him. After some internal hand-wringing, we relented. He was grateful for the access and kept in touch over the years. Going through old emails of his this morning, I was reminded how we shared thoughts on talent, format clocks, jingle packages and more. Eventually, Arnie recommended me for a job in Vancouver (that I didn’t even know I wanted) and introduced me to another great radio mind, Brad Phillips, who was GM of Corus Radio Vancouver at the time. I’m very thankful to have met Arnie and more so to have learned a couple of great lessons: knowledge is better when it’s shared, connecting people is rewarding and always answer your phone, because you never know who might be on the other end. Radio lost a great friend and champion, rest in peace Arnie.
Julie Adam, SVP of Radio, Rogers
I loved Arnie Celsie. He was a force. A creative spark. A radio trailblazer. And just a great human being. On the business side, I was inspired by how he challenged every situation with questions like “what if?” or “how about?” or “how can we make it better…different…special?”
On the personal side, I loved hearing him talk about his family and his wonderful trips to Italy. He did that a lot. He was a family man and I admired that. I’m grateful that I had the chance to know Arnie and will cherish his “what if…” attitude forever. RIP Arnie Celsie. You will be missed but you will never be forgotten.
Gary Miles, former CEO, Rogers Radio
Arnie, I still tell the story to all that I have mentored about senior radio executives and hordes of minions all sitting around at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon as you went line by line, and white sheet by white sheet, through the monitor results with the capper being: “And now I would like to highlight the promotion/position statements of XYZA,” and you flipping the page to show a blank white sheet and saying “there are no positioning statements and promotional activity.” Everyone was on the floor holding their sides. As you know, this became part of Rogers programming lore. As in baseball, we played in the sun and the rain and the cold and played day in and day out. You Arnie, always played 100% of the time and won more often than anyone.
James Stuart, VP/GM Radio/TV Western Canada, Bell Media
Arnie Celsie was the smartest man in the room. He was a brilliant programmer who was always one or two steps ahead of everyone else. A new format? Arnie thought of it before you. A new way to do a typical format? Arnie was way ahead of you. A format design that attacked your station? Arnie won before you knew it was happening. It was an honour working with the man. He made me a better programmer and he made me a better broadcaster. I can’t say I knew him well personally, because we never had that relationship. Ours was based on him helping me get better when we worked together or me trying to figure out how to beat him when we didn’t. When Arnie came to monitor to our station, the feeling in my gut was worse than the day a book would be released. Arnie’s word and review held more sway on how the station was really performing, than ratings would. You might get a bounce in ratings, but Arnie could see through a bad station getting lucky with ratings. I may not have liked it when he took me to task on a poorly-created clock or a bad jock decision, but he was right. Radio around the world, has lost a champion.
Arnie was diagnosed with terminal cancer in November. Upon his diagnosis, his doctor asked what was on his bucket list. Arnie replied as honestly and as tersely as any opinion he ever delivered to a client: “I don’t have anything on my bucket list. I’ve done everything I wanted to do.”
Most people talk about it. He did everything that he wanted to do. What did he do with his time? He chose those 90 days to write a children’s book for his grandson. Arnie’s passing makes us all poorer, but better for having known him.