Walt Grealis (1929-2004)

Year Born: 
1929
Year Died: 
2004

Pioneer

Grealis, Walt (1929-2004)

Countless Canadian recording artists and composers owe much of their exposure and success to Walt Grealis, a dogged advocate of a Canadian "star system" who promoted changes to federal broadcasting regulations in the 1960s and 70s and was a founding father of the Juno Awards.

Remembered affectionately as "Canada's Music Man", Walt staked his name by encouraging radio airplay, and along the way rallied not only the support of the music industry, but created the term "CanCon", ever since a regular reference to Canadian content in broadcasting.

Walt Grealis was born in Toronto on February 18, 1929 to a family of lrish, Spanish and Cree descent.  He left high school after grade 10 to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but switched in 1952 to the Toronto police force.

By 1960, the music bug had bitten and Walt worked in a promotion role for Apex Records, and later moved to London Records.  In 1964, with business partner and long-time friend Stan Klees, Walt launched RPM Magazine – a "weekly tip-sheet" - not only for the Canadian music industry but for Canadian radio broadcasters who quickly adopted it as a vital resource in their programming.
{It is ironic that his career was defined by letters - from RCMP to just RPM}

Part of the magazine's 36-year legacy were the Golden Leaf Awards, which were simply established through a poll of readers' favourite artists. In 1970, the Golden Leaf Awards evolved into the Juno Awards. Then, in 1975, the magazine founded the Big Country Awards. which later became the Canadian Country Music Awards.
After intense music industry lobbying in Ottawa, fanned by continuing support by RPM. the CRTC's radio regulations were revised in 1971 to mandate 30 percent domestic quotas on radio airplay. The package also gave rise to the adoption of Stan's MAPL coding to identify Music, Artist, Production and Lyrics - any two of which in a record qualified it as "Canadian".

In 1984, in recognition of Walt's drive, accomplishments and national passion, the Canadian Academy of Arts and Sciences (CARAS). which had taken over the administration of the Juno Awards, established "The Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award," to be presented annually to the person judged by his or her peers for making the most significant contribution to the Canadian Recording Industry.

In 1993, with the approval of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Walter Grealis was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

On the news of Walt's death at his Toronto home on January 20, 2004, after several years of battling cancer, his stalwart friend and partner Stan Klees issued a news release on behalf of Walt's family that spoke volumes of the man's selfless devotion to the music industry;

        "He wanted to die quietly, without any fuss. Walt requested
          that there be no funeral and that he was to be cremated privately, 
          with no memorial or celebrations of life planned."

Of the hundreds of tributes following his death, the web site CountryMusicNews.ca defined the stubborn focus Walter Grealis exhibited:

"It took great courage and foresight for Walt to establish  the  ‘Canadian Dream’ internally to a nation that had always looked externally to the neighbouring United States for verification of its success” 

Written by Joseph Chrysdale - August, 2004

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