When he was a boy, Fitzroy Gordon helped his grandmother do the weeding at the famous Hope Botanical Gardens in Saint Andrew, Jamaica. In recompense, rather than toys or candy, he asked for a transistor radio, on which he could listen to jazz, ska and gospel, and to his beloved cricket games.
That radio marked the start of a passion and a calling – the means for him to connect to the outside world and for the world to connect with him. He would sit for hours at a time, marvelling at the power of something that was so small he could slip it in his pocket yet with the mere turn of a dial could make him dance, cheer or pray, and sometimes all three at once.
That passion stood Mr. Gordon in good stead as he tried over more than 10 years and through three separate applications to get the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to grant him a licence for a radio station to serve Southern Ontario’s black and Caribbean-immigrant communities. So did an innate stubbornness, said his long-time colleague and friend Alicia Wright-DaCosta, the current chief executive officer of what would become the embodiment of his vision, radio station CKFG, better known as G98.7 FM.
“He always said he would give everything to see it happen,” she continued. “And he did give everything, from houses to savings to cars.”
Nor would he compromise. Once, for example, while looking for money to help finance the license for the station, Ms. DaCosta accompanied him to a meeting with potential investors.
“Their answer should have been a clear ‘Yes.’ Instead, they spent the meeting telling him how he needed to change and realign his focus so that he could make more money,” she recalled. “He leaned back in his chair, got up slowly, thanked them politely and walked out. I asked him if he was angry and he answered, ‘No, if I was angry, it would be easier. I’m hurt.’ That was the man I knew. He didn’t get angry. He just knew what was right and wrong.”
Mr. Gordon, a tall, bowlegged man with a big smile and two nicknames – “Doc,” a nod to his role as the plainspoken “Doctor Love” on an overnight radio show he hosted for years and “Mr. G,” as the founder and president of CKFG – died suddenly in Toronto on April 30 after suffering a cardiac arrest. He was 65 years old, a community leader who believed in the power of music, debate and doing the right thing, and he never forgot where he came from.
Fitzroy Anthony Gordon was born in Jamaica on March 19, 1954, into what would eventually be a large family of 10 siblings. Both his parents, Kethura Stewart and Daniel Gordon, moved overseas when he was small, and it was left to his commonsensical grandmother, Sylvia McPherson, to raise him; along with imparting lessons in weeding out plants that, left unchecked, would run rampant, she taught him to work hard, trust in God’s will and stay true to himself, no matter what others thought or did.
“[She] always told me, ‘You never give up because you did not make it the first time. You just keep working hard until you are successful.’ That drive is in me today. I don’t give up at all,” he told the publication Canadian Immigrant in May, 2012.
In 1979, when he was in his mid-20s, Mr. Gordon left Jamaica for Canada in search of a better life. At first, he worked as a medical-equipment technologist, with stints in hospitals, nursing homes and private residences. Although the work honed his drive to help people, he also found he needed an outlet to escape the pain of the patients and their families.
At first, he found that release through freelance writing for several Canadian and Caribbean publications. It wasn’t long before he turned to the media full time. As a sports commentator for CHIN Radio, FAN 590 and for Score Television, he drew on his expertise in cricket and love of baseball and soccer. As an overnight talk-show host on the multicultural station CHIN, he once collected food and money from listeners for a woman who was hiding with her two children from a husband who beat her; when one respondent called him a “doctor of love,” Dr. Love became his moniker and the show was renamed to reflect that.
Still, it wasn’t enough. As a black immigrant from a poor country, Mr. Gordon knew full well what could happen to people whose skin colour was not white. He knew of the gangs, the projects and police, and he was frustrated by the fact that even though many professionals had come to Canada in search of a better life, as he had, they were still unable to find work in their fields.
He decided there had to be another way to make a difference – to give Canada’s black and Caribbean-immigrant communities their own positive, loud and compelling voice, complete with steel drums, jazzy rhythms and political discourse. And so began the quest for a radio station of his own.
“Every time I hear of a youngster being shot, my blood goes cold,” he told Canadian Immigrant. “I want to use this radio station to educate [young people]. To let them know there is a better way from doing drugs, a better way from carrying around a gun, a better way from joining a gang. I want them to understand that there is a better way and they can achieve it if they put their hearts to it.”
His quest would not prove easy. The CBC opposed his application to the CRTC on technical grounds – the call numbers were too close to their own and threatened to interfere with its signal, it claimed – and they were supported by other mainstream players, including Rogers and Bell Media. And Milestone Radio, which had founded the urban station, Flow 93.5, claimed that it was already serving the black community.
But in the end, he prevailed. After three weeks of testing the signal to determine it did not interfere with any other one, the CRTC granted Mr. Gordon’s Intercity Broadcasting Network to use the frequency. On Nov. 28, 2011, the station went live with the beat of Jimmy Cliff’s I Can See Clearly Now.
Afterwards, Mr. Gordon recited a prayer of thanks and handed the show off to hosts Mark Strong and Jemeni.
“He always said that the call letters, CKFG, included his own initials but that the station was bigger than him,” Ms. Wright-DaCosta said. “It is bigger than all of us because it is about community and our place in the world.”
The station’s tagline was “The way we groove,” but really, it was about the way people live. Among its programs was Grapevine, which Mr. Gordon hosted on Sunday afternoons and was required listening for anyone interested in local, national and international political issues. Named for Marvin Gaye’s classic song, the strains of its bass rhythm always signalled its start.
Along the way, Mr. Gordon had two sons, Korey and Andrew, with his first wife and another two sons, Tennyson and Nelson, with his second wife, Marvette Gordon.
His death sparked comments from politicians of all stripes, including Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said in a statement that Mr. Gordon was a “towering figure” who not only “showed leadership in the black community but also took a keen, active interest in the advancement of newcomers to Canada and of the City of Toronto as a whole.”
And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “Fitzroy Gordon brought people together, gave them a voice, and worked to make Toronto an even better, more inclusive place – both on & off the air. He’ll be deeply missed, but his legacy & contributions to Canada will live on.”
In addition to his wife and sons, Mr. Gordon leaves his siblings, Daila, Courtney, David, Winston, Maureen, Angella, Patricia, Cislyn and Pauline, and a sprawling, diverse community that he strove for much of his life to give a voice to.