Don't be surprised if Justin "Drex" Wilcomes brings a bit of Howard Stern to CKNW Radio
Justin Wilcomes is an anomaly in the North American world of talk radio.
At 35, the Australian-born broadcaster is younger than most. He lives in New Westminster, not in an expensive penthouse along Coal Harbour or in an exclusive neighbourhood in West Vancouver.
The man known simply as Drex insists that he's not rich and that he's not a political junkie.
"We live in a multicultural melting pot, don't we?" Drex says. "And I've talked about it many times on the radio."
One of his biggest gripes is a North Vancouver-based group called Putting Canada First, which loathes the sight of Asian languages on signs in Canada.
Drex says that after he criticized the group on CFOX FM, it argued that it's a not-for-profit organization.
"You know what?" Drex responds to the Straight. "The KKK is also a not-for-profit. We live in a city where everyone is from somewhere else. Even if you were born here and grew up [here], your family is from somewhere else. No one is from Vancouver, but we alll want to live here because it's an amazing city."
Drex has been working in radio since he was 15 years old—a job he landed because his mom was dating the manager of the station.
Early next month he'll reach his dream of hosting a talk show when he takes over the 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. slot on CKNW Radio (980 AM). He quips that his move from from CFOX to 'NW means he'll no longer play records by Nirvana and Soundgarden.
Whether he succeeds or fails, one thing is certain. He'll never be seen as a member of the establishment, unlike recently retired CKNW morning hosts Bill Good and Philip Till.
"If it looks like bullshit, I'm going to tell you it's bullshit," Drex says defiantly. "I don't like spin. And generally if you read it enough, you can tell when something has been spun. I'm not buying into that crap anymore and I don't think people in Vancouver want to buy into it anymore. They want the truth and they want someone to stand up for them."
This attitude explains his distaste for politics, which he calls a "big game of spin".
That said, Drex still plans on covering the biggest story of the day on his show, even if it involves elected officials.
He hopes to train the show's attention on people affected by the events he's discussing.
"We're going to see if we can come up with solutions and we're going to hear from everybody," he promises.
In the process, Drex may rebrand a station that has, for many years, been seen as the voice of old white guys in Vancouver.
That's despite the presence of Simi Sara and the more recent addition of Michael Eckford as a host.
"I'm not a rich white guy with rich white guy problems, so I'm not going to talk to other white guys about those problems," Drex says jokingly.
When asked what those problems might be, Drex repeats his mantra about finding solutions for ordinary folks.
His liberal inclination is occasionally on display on his Twitter feed, which includes a blast at televangelist Joel Osteen as a "snake-oil salesman".
Among his likes are Burgoo, Vancouver Canadians games at Nat Bailey Stadium, and the Doug Coupland show at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
He ranks the gum-covered bust of Coupland on Howe Street as his favourite part of the exhibition, calling it "gross, but very, very interesting".
"When I was at the FOX, I wanted to take some cameras down and see how much it would cost me to get someone to lick it," Drex says. "Legal said 'no'."
Drex studies radio closely
Beneath his light-hearted facade, Drex is a serious student of broadcasting.
When asked about his inspirations, he first mentions Stan Zemanek, a take-no-prisoners Aussie who hosted late nights in his home country.
Zemanek, who died of a brain tumour in 2007, was a hard-right winger who routinely called his critics idiots, oxygen thieves, half-wits, and numb nuts.
"A lot of people who were Stern haters for the longest time are starting to see the other side of him as a television personality on America's Got Talent," Drex says. "Everyone always passed him off as a rude, crude individual, but I don't think that's really accurate."
Like Stern, Drex wants to ask questions that others might not dare to bring up on the radio.
"I think people know when they get interviewed by Howard Stern or even agree to be interviewed by Howard Stern, they're going to be asked something they probably don't want to answer, but they answer it anyway," he says.
But Drex says his biggest influence of all has been his dad, who worked as a butcher for 40 years. "He deals purely with logic and always sees...the light at the end of the tunnel. Take a problem to this guy and he already knows the solution."
Drex's dad and his stepmom are working with aboriginal communities in Australia's Northern Territory. While Drex may have become more broad-minded as a result of his father, he says that his upbringing along the Sunshine Coast of Queensland also shaped him.
He compares this part of Australia to B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, where people tend to be more open to new ideas.
In early 2013, he achieved some notoriety across B.C. when he asked Premier Christy Clark if it's better to be a MILF than a cougar. It was a Howard Stern–like question and it cost him his job at a Courtenay radio station, the fourth time he'd been fired in his broadcasting career.
Drex says he understands why some people might think his question to the premier was out of line.
However, he also points out that to those who understand the nature of his job, "it was totally within the realm of possibility of me asking it."
He acknowledges that the MILF comment defined him in the minds of British Columbians and this annoyed him for about six months.
"That's now part of me, so whatever," Drex says. "I'm not going to let it affect me. I've worked very hard to do this job because I really enjoy it."
So what's the biggest misconception about Drex? "That I've been doing this [broadcasting] five minutes. I've been doing this 20 years. Talk radio was always my end game. I just had to figure out how to get there. The guys at CKNW gave me a great opportunity."
Best of all, he doesn't have to wear a collared shirt on the job.