The magic of Allan Slaight: how an amateur magician became a legend in the business world

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Magicians never say it, but Slaight’s life in business, philanthropy, and fun speaks volumes.

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The Canadian Magicians Archive is an A-to-Z online reference guide for tour providers, past and present, who have made a name for themselves in the magical circles of the country.

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Under the letter “S”, for example, is Max Scott, founder of the London Magician’s Guild; Alfred Walter Scudds, member of the Order of Merlin; and Richard Sherry, a renowned escape artist and manufacturer of escape equipment.

A few entries later, Allan Slaight, who, using the stage name Will Powers, traveled to western Canada in the 1940s to “do magic and mental reading shows”.

Slaight, it should be noted, pulled off a few other tricks, such as: recognizing that being a professional magician was not going to pay the bills and, with time and effort, some showman’s imagination and flair, build a broadcasting empire and get fabulously rich.

He also helped lasso an NBA franchise for Toronto, owned the Raptors for a while, wrote three books (on magic), donated tens of millions of dollars to a host of good causes – research on the cancer, the arts, education, restoration of a grand piano that once belonged to early rock and roller, Fats Domino – and died at his home in Toronto on September 19 at the age of 90, with his family by his side.

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Slaight’s final act of disappearance after a long, well-lived life had those who knew him best eager to share their stories about him. David Ben, a professional magician who befriended the radio mogul 40 years ago – after befriending tricks – recalls Slaight speaking about his radio debut of Toronto in the 1950s.

He wasn’t a mogul at the time, but just a guy who had worked in Alberta and was hired as a program director at CHUM-AM, a Toronto radio station, seeking to capitalize on the craze for rock and roll.

Slaight, who once told Ben that “evil is necessary,” needed to hire a promotions manager. He got a curriculum vitae marked with cigarette burns and, well, he sensed the malice and hired the applicant, Allen Farrell, on the spot. Together, they came up with a series of promotional wonders to gain audience share, such as playing an underwater DJ for three days at the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show.

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Under Slaight, CHUM-AM has become the dominant player in the Canadian market. The history of rock and roll was written.

“Allan had this knack for recognizing talent,” said Ben. “Hiring him Allen Farrell, it was like Lennon and McCartney hooked up before Lennon and McCartney met.”

“These two guys have transformed rock and roll radio in North America. “

Slaight has previously explained his winning radio formula to Financial Post columnist Diane Francis. “Play Top 50 music, put on some wacky promos and get good media coverage. “

It worked.

Slaight left the CHUM in 1966. Four years later, he mortgaged his house and borrowed a shipment of money to buy his first radio station. Others followed, before consolidating his place in the big leagues by buying Standard Broadcasting from Conrad Black – yes, our Conrad Black – for $ 196 million in 1985.

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Slaight quickly turned around and offloaded the only television station included in the deal, in Ottawa, for almost $ 180 million. The end result was an amateur magician with a private empire of radio stations at his disposal, and basically no debt.

“Allan led the consolidation of radio in Canada,” said John Bitove, another old friend and admirer, who asked Slaight at a party what he thought of helping him land an NBA franchise. for Toronto and got a response that, to paraphrase, was, “Let’s go. “

Of course, there was magic involved.

Bitove remembers being in a hotel room in New York City with Slaight, his father, John Bitove Sr., David Peterson, the former Liberal premier of Ontario, and a few others. The group was killing time before heading to an NBA press conference to showcase the new Canadian basketball franchise.

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Slaight has been asked to do magic. He borrowed a lit cigarette from Bitove Sr., and snatched the pocket of Peterson’s costume.

“We all look at this and think the cigarette is going to go away, and instead he pits a hole in the sleeve, hands it back to Peterson and says, ‘Ah, sorry, I screwed this one up. “

Nonsense.

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Slaight, notice, was a political agnostic when it came to gag magic. He has already cut the tie of former Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, Peter Lougheed, in half during a protest.

“Allan loved to laugh,” Bitove said.

When he threw parties, his magician friends were invariably on the guest list. The festivities always ended with a magic trick. His act of hocus pocus was to ask a guest to pick a book from the library and ask them to think of any word in the book – then correctly guess what the word was.

So how did he do it?

Magicians never say it, but Slaight’s life in business, philanthropy, and fun spoke volumes.

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