John Francis “Jack” Cullen (1922-2002)

John Francis "Jack" Cullen
John Francis “Jack” Cullen

Year Born: 1922

Year Died: 2002


Cullen, John Francis “Jack” (1922-2002)

Jack Cullen enrolled in the Sprott-Shaw School of Commerce and Radio in Vancouver in 1945 after a tour of duty as a radio operator in the Canadian Navy. He started his lengthy broadcasting career first as a news announcer and then deejay at CJAV in Port Alberni, B.C. in November 1946.

In April 1947 he moved to the engineering department at CKMO Vancouver. Shortly thereafter, he was on the air with an all-night show called “Pacific Patrol”. Later that year he took over a program called “DX Prowl” from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., selling his own commercial advertising time. He changed the name of the show to “Owl Prowl” and both he and the program became a huge success with Cullen reportedly making a whopping $1000 a month in 1948. “Owl Prowl” continued on CKMO for two years, with Cullen visiting community centres and doing deejay hops.

Cullen was approached by Bill Rea, owner of CKNW in New Westminster, to move over to that station. He was reluctant at first to move from a 1000-watt Vancouver station to a smaller and newer 250-watter located in the suburbs. However, on August 15, 1949 he made the move taking his “Owl Prowl” program with him. It was aired from 10:05 p.m. to midnight. Initially he also hosted the “1320 Club” (CKNW’s frequency at the time) daily at 3:10 p.m.

One of his early radio stunts was taping his first show for CKNW to be run at the same time as he was airing his last live show on CKMO. He constantly took a wire recorder around to local nightclubs to capture acts by artists such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland for quasi-legal use on his shows.

In 1954, Cullen moved back to CKMO, which became CFUN in early 1955. In 1957 he returned to CKNW. His “Owl Prowl” show continued with an enormous following on ‘NW until May 18, 1999, when the station discontinued it in favour of moving full-time to a news/talk format. Content of his programs, mostly jazz, big band and old-time radio shows was considered mainstream during the early years but became nostalgia in later years. In the late nineties he was named to the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame in the radio category at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver. His final radio shows were aired for a few months in 2000 on adult standards station CKST Vancouver.

Cullen purchased his first record, a 78, “Don’t Give Up The Ship” by Dick Powell in November 1935. From there his record collection grew to over 300,000, reputedly one of the largest personal music collections in the world. He also operated record stores in Vancouver over the years. He, along with CKNW newsman Jack Webster interviewed the Beatles during their Vancouver concert at Empire Stadium on August 22, 1964.

Cullen totally broke the mold of early formal broadcasting, which had been almost entirely scripted. He ad-libbed virtually everything and performed radio stunts, which were unheard of for the time. He broadcast from his own studios at various locations, sometimes from the roof of the building, from a cab or from the Grouse Mountain chairlift. His programs often contained bangs and crunches, as he would move around to pick a record or answer a phone with the mike on. On several occasions, CKNW station management had to issue apologies for his antics to federal broadcast regulators in Ottawa.

Jack Cullen’s final sign-off came at the age of eighty on April 27, 2002 at St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster, B.C. A celebration of life was held May 2, 2002 with numerous guest speakers, including Senator Ed Lawson, ex B.C. Deputy Premier Grace McCarthy and Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Famer Red Robinson.

Written by Gord Lansdell – May, 2002