John Allan Slaight, CM, media mogul, philanthropist, reporter, broadcaster, magician (born 19 July 1931 in Galt, ON; died 19 September 2021 in Toronto, ON). After briefly working as a magician, Allan Slaight started his career as a radio reporter. He quickly rose through the ranks and bought his first radio station before his 40th birthday. By the time he sold his holdings to Astral Media for $1.08 billion in 2007, the media magnate had amassed more than 50 radio stations and a pair of TV stations. He also owned the Toronto Raptors and was a notable philanthropist, with numerous awards now named in his honour. Slaight was made a Member of the Order of Canada and has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Allan Slaight loved magic, especially mind reading. After seeing magician Johnny Giordmaine at Eaton’s one Christmas, he was hooked. Slaight got his first box of tricks under the tree that same year. He loved to impress friends and family with his sleight-of-hand and mentalist tricks. He started performing when he was eight years old, charging staff at the local bank where his grandfather was the manager $2 to see his show. For a brief moment in his 20s, Slaight considered doing magic for a living. Instead, he made it a lifelong hobby. He organized an annual conference in Toronto for the world’s top magicians and wrote or edited several books on famed Canadian magician Stewart James.
Allan’s father, John Edgar Slaight, was a lifelong newspaperman who started at the bottom and worked his way up. In 1945, he bought the Moose Jaw Times-Herald and moved the family to Saskatchewan. Not long after, he also became co-owner of the local radio station, CHAB.
In the late 1940s, while attending the University of Saskatchewan, Allan Slaight started his unofficial apprenticeship in the broadcasting industry at age 17, working as a cub reporter with CHAB and as an on-air personality, hosting a late-night jazz program called Spins and Needles. Caught by the radio bug, Slaight dropped out of university in his first year.
In 1949, Slaight met Ada Winnifred Mitchell. When he was 19, the pair eloped and moved to Edmonton, Alberta. After tirelessly looking for a radio gig, Slaight landed a couple of news reporter jobs with a pair of local stations (CFRN and CJCA). Then, in 1953, he became news director of Edmonton’s CHED-AM, where he remained for five years. He was eventually promoted to merchandizing director.
The next move for Slaight was east. In 1958, Slaight moved his young family to Toronto to become program director at nascent rock ’n’ roll station 1050 CHUM. The astute radioman used his magic touch to turn the AM station around, lifting it from a money-losing enterprise to a cash cow. CHUM quickly went from third to first in local market share. Slaight accomplished this through creative contests, key sponsorships and off-the-wall publicity campaigns. In a 2005 interview with the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, Slaight said this was the job he liked the best.
Wooed by sales promotion company Stephens & Towndrow, Slaight left CHUM in 1967. He moved his family to the UK to coordinate programming and sales for Radio Caroline, an offshore radio station wanting to bring commercial radio to England and compete with the BBC. The overseas venture was one of the few missteps in Slaight’s career. He returned to Canada after a year to form Allan Slaight Ltd., focused on advertising and communications. Radio, however, was Slaight’s first love and a return to broadcasting was imminent.
In 1970, Slaight bought his first radio station: CFGM-1310 AM in Richmond Hill. He turned it into Canada’s first all-country music station. This purchase was also made possible with help from investment partners that included singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. Slaight incorporated Slaight Broadcasting Ltd. and started to build a radio empire. Not long after buying CFGM, he added CFOX in Montreal and Sarnia’s CHOK. In 1977, he launched a new rock ’n’ roll radio station in Toronto, CILQ-FM, better known as Q107.
In 1985, Slaight Communications sold CFGM and Q107 and purchased Standard Broadcasting Corporation Ltd. from Conrad Black. Under Slaight’s leadership, Standard Broadcasting and Standard Radio grew from seven radio stations to a national network of more than 50. One of Slaight’s biggest accomplishments during this period was revitalizing CFRB and eventually transforming the AM station into an all-talk format.
Ownership of the Toronto Raptors
Slaight’s influence and impact on Canadian culture was not limited to broadcasting. In the 1990s, the media magnate was an early investor and part owner of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Toronto Raptors. Slaight partnered with Canadian entrepreneur John Bitove Jr., along with some other minority stakeholders, to acquire the new NBA franchise, paying a US$125-million expansion fee. The pair did not agree on which arena the new team should play in, which eventually caused Slaight to activate a “shotgun clause” in their agreement, resulting in the media mogul acquiring Bitove’s shares for $65 million, making him the team’s majority owner. In 1998, as the Raptors’ new arena (the Air Canada Centre, now Scotiabank Arena) was under construction, Slaight sold his controlling ownership to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. for a reported $467 million.
By 2007, Slaight’s media empire had grown to include 53 radio and two television stations. That’s when he sold these assets to Astral Media for $1.08 billion. He then turned his efforts to full-time philanthropy by creating the Slaight Family Foundation. Since 2008, the Foundation has supported a wide variety of causes — from health care and social services to arts and culture — both locally in Toronto and across Canada.
Today, Slaight’s oldest son, Gary, carries on his father’s legacy through the Slaight Family Foundation and Slaight Music, an artist incubator that invests in developing artists. It also has a boutique publishing arm. Slaight Music sponsors a variety of music programs and events, including the Juno Awards, the Polaris Prize and Canada’s Walk of Fame.
The Slaight Family Foundation also sponsors several awards. Canada’s Walk of Fame awards the annual Allan Slaight Music Impact Honour to a young Canadian who is using their talent to inspire others and make an impact. The Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize promotes Canadian albums from the past without regard to sales or genre.
In 2017, the Slaight Family Foundation made a $5-million donation in support of Massey Hall’s revitalization. In recognition, the corporation named the stage after him. Three years later, shortly before the hall reopened after more than two years of renovations, the Slaight Family Foundation announced an additional $5-million gift to support the ongoing revitalization. Massey’s main room is now known as the Allan Slaight Auditorium and a permanent commemorative plaque hangs in the lobby. During the reopening night concert at Massey Hall on 25 November 2021, Gordon Lightfoot told the audience: “No one has done more for Canadian music than Allan Slaight.”
Today, the Slaight Family Foundation continues to support many charities and organizations. Recent philanthropic gifts include $15 million to a dozen organizations across Canada that support women and girls, and another $15-million donation to 22 Canadian theatre companies to help them recover from closures caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Allan Slaight was born in Galt, Ontario, to John Edgar Slaight and Florence Eileen Wright. He was married twice. His first wife was Ada Winnifred Mitchell (1950–87). The pair eloped when Slaight was just 19 and moved to Edmonton, Alberta, to start a family. The couple had three children: Gary, Greg and Marie. Today, Gary heads up both the Slaight Family Foundation and Slaight Music. In 1995, Allan Slaight married Emanuelle Gattuso, who now runs La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso. She also devotes her time to philanthropy.