Leslie Sole, architect of Canada’s first multicultural television station and former CEO of Rogers Media Television, might not have been as visible to the public as his glamorous high-profile wife, broadcaster Terri Michael, but both were legendary in the 1970s and ‘80s, when boomers were embracing the emerging FM radio format. The couple, who had retired in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, died in a car accident there on Nov. 5 while on their way to dinner. A pickup truck careened across a three-lane highway, smashing the couple’s car head-on, killing both of them as well as the driver of the truck. “It was no surprise they left together,” said Terri’s sister Lori Grant, referring to the dual deaths of her sister and brother-in-law. ‘They did everything together, including survive the world of rock 'n’ roll, which is notorious for destroying relationships. Theirs was very much a love story.”
Their story began with the birth of Leslie Allan Sole Jr. in Windsor, Ont., on May 21, 1951. He was the eldest of three children born to Violet and Leslie Sole Sr. His father was employed by Canada Customs while his mother worked for the Ontario government. Leslie attended St. Clair College in Windsor, majoring in Communications while also singing and playing guitar with a band that once opened for rocker Alice Cooper. According to his sister Sue, Les was quite the entertainer, known for doing the splits on stage. Having been a DJ for his college radio station, and with his performing background, he was hired as the morning announcer for CJOM in Windsor. That in turn led to a position as program director at their sister station CHOM-FM in Montreal. He was just 23 years old and about to meet the love of his life.
Mr. Sole’s future wife, Terri Michael, was born in Montreal, on June 19, 1954, to Nicki (née Maroupas), a nurse originally from Greece, and Morris Michael, an accountant. Terri attended Lemoyne D’Iberville High School in Longueuil on the South Shore of Montreal, before graduating with a BA in English from Concordia University (then Sir George Williams) where she also got a taste for hosting a music show at the campus radio station.
During the summer of 1974 she heard DJ Earl Jive at CHOM FM, whom she had met a couple of times, soliciting calls from listeners to critique an Eric Clapton show that had taken place the previous night at the Montreal Forum. Terri phoned in and spoke for several minutes without realizing she was on the air. The station manager was impressed by the caller’s mellifluous voice and intelligent analysis. “Did ‘The Live Earl Jive’ (as he was known), have any idea who she was and could he track her down?”
Ms. Michael was invited for an interview and hired to host her own music show. She had long been a fan of the station, listening to it on her transistor radio as a girl, under the bedcovers late at night so she wouldn’t get caught by her parents. Completely up to date with pop culture, and a big music fan, she found the job more perfect than she had ever thought possible. She confided in her younger sister that she had never met anyone quite like the station’s fun-loving, charismatic program director.
“When she met Leslie, she knew she’d spend her life with him," Ms. Grant said. “As a young adult, she was propositioned by lots of guys, but didn’t have a lot of relationships. It was clear that she was waiting for the right person, and she found that person in Leslie. It would amaze me to hear how she spoke about him. He was everything to her and she to him, immediately and forever. If there is such a thing as a soulmate, that’s what they found in each other.” Ms. Grant noted that both partners were intelligent, sensitive, empathetic, open-minded and generous. “Their bond was undeniable from the beginning and never wavered throughout their years together. They would do anything for each other and for their family.”
Their relationship began in earnest at CHOM-FM but the attraction didn’t sit well with station owner Geoff Stirling. He was strongly against staff romances but perhaps failed to realize he was dealing with two strong personalities: Ms. Michael, the first woman to independently host both a Canadian morning and afternoon show, had a friendly, bouncy style and a honeyed voice that appealed to listeners. It belied both grit and determination. Her 23-year-old boss, Mr. Sole, was a guiding force who believed in combining French and English phrases to give Montreal one of its first bilingual mainstream radio stations. He was instrumental in making CHOM the No. 1 FM rock station in the country by getting announcers to speak the language of the street.
“We would say, ‘Vous écoutez CHOM 97.7, and here’s some Led Zeppelin,’" Andrew Forsyth, a former disc jockey at the station said on social media. “Les was the guy that supported it because that’s the way our audience spoke.”
Despite the station’s success, the relationship between Mr. Sole and Ms. Michael remained contentious for the owner. It would have been a simple fix for one or the other to move elsewhere, but forced separation was not an option. If one was going to leave, they would do it together.
The couple resigned from CHOM-FM, moved to Toronto then married on Oct. 25, 1979. A son, Jonathan, arrived six years later. By then, Ms. Michael was well established as a radio personality, first at CKFM then later at Q107, CHFI and EZ Rock, where megastars of the day answered her well-researched questions.
“She would certainly get excited to meet some of the artists she admired most, like Mick Jagger or Peter Gabriel, but it wasn’t the highlight of her life," said Ms. Grant, a radio celebrity in her own right. "There are only two times when I recall she was flustered. One was when Smokey Robinson mentioned to her that she was beautiful, and she was looking at him with those amazing eyes and it threw her … she had to work on composing herself, and the other was when an artist that I’m not comfortable mentioning, propositioned her. There was no way Terri or Leslie would even look at someone else, and the artist just couldn’t believe that she would turn him down. It was clearly something that didn’t happen often.”
Mr. Sole, a creative executive who relished bold decisions, turned five floundering CityTV stations into successes and created OMNI, Canada’s first multicultural television station that eventually expanded its reach from Ontario west to Alberta and British Columbia. His 25-year career at Rogers Communications began in 1986. He was named chief content officer at Rogers Media after expanding its television division and served as CEO of Rogers Media Television before leaving the company in 2011 to enjoy life in Mexico. He received Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and the Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, for his contributions to his community and to Canada.
Ms. Michael made her own mark in television as well as radio. Naturally telegenic and enthusiastic about new challenges, she applied her considerable interviewing and writing skills to hosting a nine-year series called Famous Faces on the Biography channel, along with innumerable other broadcasts and public appearances, including on MSNBC in the U.S.
Her creativity and fashionista sensibilities led her to design her own line of jewellery. After seven successful years she closed the business in order to retire. Her voice could still be heard on Sunday night on Mexico’s CaboMil station 96.3 FM, where she hosted Total Recall, Forty Years of Rock for the sheer fun of it.
“We came to Cabo for the first time in 2000 or 2001 and instantly fell in love with the place,” their son, Jonathan, said. “When it came time to retire and escape the buzz of Toronto, … my parents immediately agreed on Cabo. This was their paradise. They absolutely loved the community and the people here. Cabo was a part of their soul in many ways.”
Leslie Sole and Terri Michael leave their son, Jonathan; Terri’s sister, Lori, and brother, Bobby; Leslie’s sister, Sue, and mother, Violet.