EDMONTON RADIO: Yukon Jack’s Big Yap worse than his bite
The Bear radio personality dropped several bombshells during a recent interview: He wasn’t born in Canada, he’s not into hockey, he’s in favour of gay marriage, he’d rather listen to gangsta rap than rock ‘n’ roll and – perhaps most damning of all – he’s not that angry in real life.
“I’m a very polite young man,” he declares over coffee at Starbucks following his thrice-weekly workout one recent morning. “I’m very pleasant. That’s one of things I get: ‘You’re a lot nicer than you are on the air.’”
Well, he is. Yukon Jack comes across as a friendly, straight-talking 35-year-old guy you might like to have a beer with. He’s recently married and wants to have kids. He spends his weekends putting on hardcore shuffleboard tournaments in his garage. He’s a comic book nerd. As one fellow radioman once said, he’s very serious about his silliness. And when Yukon Jack puts on his frowny face for work to assume the mantle of Edmonton Radio’s Angriest Man, his umbrage is serious business. The co-host of The Paul Brown Show, heard every weekday from 5:30-10 a.m. on the Bear 100.3 FM, has become notorious for his daily commentary known as “Yukon’s Big Yap.” By the time he ends every rant with his trademark tagline, “In the meantime, I’ll just shut my big yap,” it’s too late. The Yap has already unleashed its bite.
Like Joe the Plumber – anointed the everyman voice of conservative America – Yukon doesn’t care about credibility. He doesn’t sweat research. He doesn’t claim to be an expert. A typical Yap is just a personal gut reaction to an issue relevant to Edmontonians, often written, he claims, in as little as 10 minutes before going to air. Thinking of what to write about takes a lot longer than the actual writing, he says, and he gets a lot of his ideas from The Edmonton Sun: “It may not be the biggest story, but it’s the headline, so they made it the biggest story. This is what matters to our listeners.”
Yes, the precious “P1s,” Primary Listeners, which in the Bear’s case is “white, male, beer drinking, truck driving, 25 to 34.”
A lot of P1s pay Yukon a compliment: That he’s saying out loud what so many people dare not to. But as he gets older, Jack has to wrestle his cartoonish radio character with his real self, to gauge how much of his personal life to use as material and how much is just an act. Now he has to watch what he says about women lest he be banished to the doghouse at home. Being honest and human is the key to touching any audience, in modern times more than ever. So when the P1s say they love Yukon’s Big Yap, “part of me is flattered, and one part of me, I’m kind of like, ‘That’s what I’ve become?’”
Oy, he’s just insulted the P1s.
Well, that’s his job. He wants to push people’s buttons. One particular edition of Big Yap teed off on minor hockey, basically saying that if you don’t want your kid injured in a hockey game, he doesn’t have to play hockey. “I got shit on for that,” he says. “I got called every name in the book. The racists came out. You wouldn’t believe that stuff that people were saying.”
On another occasion, Yukon suggested that good teachers should be rewarded more than lousy teachers. A local school blackballed him from his annual Reading Week appearance for that little comment. They weren’t offended by a “Really Tough Contest” in which a man gave his own father a prostate exam on live radio (let your imagination run wild), but mess with the teacher’s union and you’re expelled! Yukon spouted off on street racing after an accident that injured two area youths: “My attitude was, hey, better these two young assholes than my mom getting plowed over on the crosswalk. You know what I mean? Again, you’ve got to be sensitive, because that young asshole is someone’s kid and someone’s brother and they got injured. I ran into a guy who had an issue with that. He wanted to argue.”
A lot of people who meet Yukon Jack want to argue. He’s been threatened more times than he can count, mainly over the Internet or on the Bear’s request line – “but never to my face.”
Gee, I wonder why? While Yukon’s bark may be worse than his bite, he does cut an imposing figure. Born in Scotland, raised in Mill Woods and forced by his machinist dad early on to get a “big boy” job so he’d know the value of real work – he wound up humping 50 pound bottles of water around all day for Culligan – young Yukon wanted more than anything to get into NAIT’s broadcasting program. His marks weren’t quite good enough, so he used charm on the ladies who worked in the registrar’s office where he happened to be delivering water every two weeks. Jack wound up being No. 31 in a class of 30, and upon graduation got exactly what he wanted: “This position at this station in this city.” He says he used to be a “super P1” – despite the fact that he was in the AgriCom watching pro wrestling with his dad while the rest of Edmonton was over in Rexall Place watching the Oilers win the Stanley Cup, and while his friends were listening to Guns N’ Roses, he was blasting Straight Outta Compton in his ’63 low rider Impala.
Like most local radio celebrities, Yukon started in promotions before landing the Saturday night slot on the Bear, which is traditionally used to test out promising new announcers. He “worked his way up” to morning show co-host eight years ago and has been there ever since. Noting both freedoms and restrictions in being a commentator on rock radio, he says his bosses never tell him which side of a given issue to pick, only that it be something that will “resonate” with listeners. He had to be careful with the Bill 26 Yap because many of the Bear’s advertisers are bars whose owners oppose the new drunk driving bill.
“It’s a tricky one,” he agrees.
There’s a weird twist in Yukon Jack’s Cinderella Story: He happens to have the same first and last names as his co-host Paul Brown. What are the odds? Might as well be zero if you do the math. The “other” Paul Brown for whom the show is named is part of the reason the “real” Paul Brown is able to maintain his angry Yukon Jack persona for four-and-a-half hours every day.
He says, “Paul is very frustrating to work with and that helps me stay up the whole time. He’s not a natural broadcaster. He can’t read, he can’t write and he can’t speak. But he’s talented. He’s quick. He’s not stupid. And he’s very funny. But there are a lot of challenges to work with. And I can say that about him because we’re like brothers. I can tell him to fuck off and our relationship doesn’t change.”
Let’s review: Yukon Jack has banged on both his primary listeners and his co-host, risked the wrath of Bear advertisers, plus he’s poked hockey dads, teacher’s unions, young assholes, cigarette taxes, dandelions, Edmonton’s murder rate, hell, just take anything that makes the front page of The Edmonton Sun and chances are Yukon has yapped about it. On a personal note, he even devoted one of his Yaps to me: basically “Mike Ross Sucks,” in response to a pre-emptive strike I wrote for the Sun about a Bear-sponsored rock concert featuring Three Days Grace. Neither of us can find a copy of that particular Yap. “I believe I was being unoriginal by shitting on your unoriginality about how unoriginal a band was,” he recalls.
I’ll take that as an apology. We cool now?
Getting serious here for a moment: Aside from the schtick, away from the angry man act, what genuinely makes the real Yukon Jack lose his temper? He pauses for a long time before answering, “Hatred. Narrow mindedness. When you can’t shake somebody into seeing the light.”
Yes, a career in talk radio punditry beckons – and it’s definitely going to be based in Edmonton.
“I would love to have Bryan Hall’s career,” he says. “I’m from Edmonton. I live in my dream home with my dream girl, drive my dream car and have a dream job. If I got fired tomorrow, I wouldn’t leave Edmonton – and they know that.”
That’s a powerful position to be in when you’ve got a big yap and know how to use it.