An Interview with Dan Woods, Degrassi's Mr. Raditch
As many of you know, I’ve been on a personal mission to recap every single episode of the ‘80s Canadian teen drama Degrassi Junior High for a few years now. Because the Degrassi production was such a low-key affair, I always had a feeling my recaps would get noticed by some of the actors from the show. But I always assumed it would be along the lines of the Asian kid who is not Yick Yu, or that girl in the high school years who was always carrying around a jar of peanut butter.
Imagine my surprise to hear from one of the actors who’s been with the Degrassi franchise the longest. Dan Woods played teacher (and later, principal) Dan Raditch on all five seasons of Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, and then returned to play Raditch again on Degrassi: The Next Generation for four more seasons.
Despite being one of the “adults”, to me Mr. Raditch has always been a key ingredient in the Degrassi formula, and the show just hasn’t been the same without him. (Well, okay, maybe Joey, Caitlin, and Spike leaving also may have been a factor.)
Join me now as we discuss the beginnings of the Raditch character, what Dan did in the downtime between the two shows, and what he’s been up to since leaving TNG in 2005.
First, tell us about how you came to be cast as Mr. Raditch in Degrassi Junior High. I would imagine that the audition process wasn’t all that intense or competitive back then. Were you living in Toronto at the time? Had you heard of the earlier Kids of Degrassi Street series?
Actually, I had never heard of Degrassi before the auditions. The Playing With Time people saw me three times before casting the role. At first, I was told I was up for the part of the gym teacher, which never did materialize in the first season—Good thing I didn’t get that part. I was living in Toronto and was actually going to give up on acting. I had applied for a job as a caretaker with the Toronto Public School Board, and had been accepted for a second interview. I had also interviewed the week prior for a job at CHWO radio.
What was day to day life like on the “set” back in those days? Was there a lot of work involved, or would you say that playing Raditch was a pretty cush job? Some of the younger cast members have talked about how they had to do their own hair, makeup, wardrobe, etc. Does this mean you actually owned all those lavender suits?
The Junior High set was very interesting for me. Being fresh out of theatre school, it was a great experience. A small crew and no union hierarchy to deal with meant you could learn a lot about the process. Yes, we did do our own makeup and hair. But that wasn’t a big deal. The wardrobe… Well, it was the ‘80s! Because mine was a little more expensive, the production did acquire some suits and ties for me. But some of them were my clothes. That lovely yellow sweater at the school dance? Still got it!
I know that the Degrassi writers often looked to the kids to draw inspiration for some of the storylines. Did you and the other adults ever have any input into the writing? (Like, say, coming up with the name “Rompin’ Rockin’ Raditch”?)
Oh, yes. Not story lines, so much as phrases and individual lines were improvised all the time. Yan Moore, the head writer, was very open to our input and encouraged us to give the characters as much depth as possible. The “Rompin’ Rockin’ Raditch” line was something I threw in. I did get that job at CHWO, so I threw in a little cheesy DJ rap for fun. The name is actually a steal from two places: musician Ronnie Hawkins, who used the nickname Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins, and a DJ friend of mine in Hamilton, Rockin’ Robbin, who hosted a Friday night “oldies” show on FM 108.
What’s up with the episode where Mr. Raditch forgets an exam, and has to rush home to get it? Was that your idea, or the writers’? Do you think this was a sign that perhaps Raditch had a substance abuse problem? His suits were always too expensive for a teacher’s salary, so isn’t it possible he was also dealing on the side?
LOL… You’re on the right track with that! It was an attempt to give Raditch a little backstory. Looking back, I think I went a little over the top with it, though. I’m a lover of “shtick”. I did a lot of improv in Toronto before Degrassi. I had studied at Second City and worked with most of the guys who went on to form Kids in the Hall. Even Mike Meyers was in one of my classes. So, when given the chance to ham it up a little, I seldom take a pass. If you look closely at the scene, when I come into the classroom, I have a speeding ticket in my hand, too. A little too “method”, perhaps.
As for substance abuse? No, not really. I always thought Raditch would be more interesting if he was “upwardly mobile”. Being a yuppie was the “in” thing back in the early ‘80s, so I often imagined him sitting on a patio, sipping lattes in Yorkville after school, and hangin’ with the beautiful people. That was long before Starbucks came along.
What’s the real scoop on why they ended Degrassi High after five seasons? Was it poor ratings? Were the kids getting too old? Were they unable to continue meeting your rising salary demands?
Poor ratings? No, just the opposite. It had much more to do with old school show business, and the adage of “always leave ‘em wanting more”. Although, the kids aging was likely a part of it. But really it was more like a Seinfield thing than anything else. I asked (writer) Yan Moore about it, and his comment was, “It’s getting hard to think of any more problems to give these guys.” When you think about it, those kids went through every teen problem you can think of, and a few adult ones too. It’s a shame, really, because I was negotiating a million dollars per episode for the next season.
After nine years, you reprised the role of Mr. Raditch, now Principal Raditch, on Degrassi: The Next Generation. What do you think Raditch was doing with himself in all that time, but more importantly, what was Dan Woods doing in that span of time? Your IMDb profile only shows one appearance in the memorable role of “Barfly”.
Raditch obviously continued with his goal of world domination through the Board of Education. I stayed in radio for a number of years as an on-air personality, doing voiceovers, and later worked as a junior executive. I left radio for a job in advertising in ’95. I was an account executive and worked with General Motors’ ACDelco division. In ’96, I pitched an automotive show idea to the Speed Channel, and they liked it—even with me as the host! Since then, I’ve produced a feature film (which is why I was the Barfly), a documentary on homeless youth, and two more series for the Speed Channel.
Ever since TNG started, I’ve been wondering if the “Degrassi Community School” of TNG is really supposed to be the same school as Degrassi High. Because they look nothing alike. Do you think it’s possible that Degrassi High burned down in the years between the two shows, and maybe there were 4 or 5 other schools unlucky enough to carry the Degrassi name in the interim that also burned down?
I don’t think the name “Degrassi” is a curse on buildings or anything like that. Actually, I believe they tried to incorporate a number of the architectural features from the original school into the TNG building. I imagine they tried to imply that it’s the same building, but updated. Still, there was no ramp to push bananas with your nose. That was disappointing.
On the Season 3 DVDs, there’s a deleted scene from the TNG episode “Take On Me” (the Breakfast Club parody) that shows you getting hot and heavy with Ms. Hatzilakos (Melissa DiMarco). You’ve got to be annoyed that this scene was left out of the episode. Why do you think it was cut? Is it because it was too hot for TV, or because it would have finally given us definitive proof that Raditch is not gay?
That scene is on the DVD? Really? Damn, I’ve got to pick up a copy! I’m not certain why it was cut. I gave that scene everything I had. Just ask Melissa! That was my one and only onscreen kiss! Not a bad way to start, eh? I think I did it so well that Melissa hasn’t had another one since. Grrrr, baby!
Actually, we did play around with Raditch’s sexuality over the years. When I was on set for the first day of TNG, the props department had placed a picture of a woman and some kids on the desk, and I asked them to take them down. We blatantly played around with the possibility of him being gay. I’m not sure how the Speed Channel audience would have reacted to that.
In one episode, the father of one of the kids announced that he was gay. Melissa (McIntyre, who played Ashley) had no idea, and it made her question her judgment of people. When she’s sent to my office, I’m in the middle of having lunch at my desk, which was laid out in a very prissy manner with dollies, fine china for tea, etc. Bruce (McDonald, the director) had them put a number of sexually ambiguous items in the office to add to her confusion. There was a rainbow pen in the pen holder, and a photo of me dressed in fishing gear with my arm around another man. It could all have been very innocent… or not!
In season 4 of TNG, Principal Raditch was written out of the show. I understand the real reason you left Degrassi is because you also host a show called Chop Cut Rebuild for the Speed network. Chop Cut Rebuild seems to be aimed at a much different demo than Degrassi, so can you explain what the show is all about, and how you got involved in producing and hosting? Also, when can we catch new episodes?
As I noted earlier, I created, produce and host Chop Cut Rebuild on Speed (and you thought it was just Raditch that had a substance abuse problem, eh?). Chop Cut Rebuild is an automotive series that documents the restoration of vintage and classic cars from start to finish. It’s a lot of fun to make. We’re on our seventh season now.
When we began the second season, production moved to California, and I was commuting back and forth to work on Degrassi for a couple of years. Juggling jobs as the producer and host of my own show was starting to become a handful. A number of times I flew to Toronto overnight and slept in my dressing room after arriving at 6 AM, and then caught a flight back to L.A. that night. I was fine with it, but my crew was seeing it take its toll after two seasons. I jokingly mentioned to the writers that if they needed to kill off someone that year, I would volunteer! To my surprise, they opted to just transfer Raditch so he could make a return if the Speed Channel thing didn’t work out.
Chop Cut Rebuild is on 7 days a week on Speed: 4 PM Monday to Friday, and 8:30 AM on weekends.
As host of Chop Cut Rebuild, I’m sure you deal with lots of professionals in the automotive industry. Have any of them ever recognized you as Mr. Raditch?
Yeah, all the time. Mostly I hear it from people who have teenage kids. One of the builders keeps trying to put Raditch quotes into Chop Cut Rebuild. Every so often when I ask what something is, he’ll reply, “It’s a Swiss Ball… from Switzerland!” That doesn’t make the cut on our show. LOL.
Are you open to coming back to Degrassi for a guest appearance as ex-principal Raditch? What sort of scenario do you think would bring Raditch back to Degrassi? Is it possible that Chop Cut Rebuild could do a special two-part crossover with Degrassi, where Mr. Raditch returns to help the kids restore a classic school bus?
Open to it? Heck, I’ve got a petition started! Degrassi was a very important part of my life. I loved the show and the people who work on it. I’d be there in a heartbeat. As for how it could happen, obviously the writers would make that call. But Raditch is old enough to take early retirement, and he could be a substitute teacher from time to time… Just so long as they don’t give him a “Mr. Colby” storyline.
In closing, I’d like to thank Dan for taking the time to answer my dumb questions, and for being such a good sport about me making fun of Degrassi Junior High as much as I have in my recaps.
And to those of you who enjoyed those recaps, I can now make an official announcement that they will be returning… eventually. Hopefully, this interview will tide you over until then. If not, you can rest assured that I still have another Degrassi-related article or two up my sleeve.