Friday, September 30, 2011

The CHUM Way

This sign hung over the main studio door at CHUM
Hear Pat read this entry 

All kidding aside, life in Canada was a vast improvement from what I'd been accustomed to in the States.  Toronto was a clean city, nearly crime free and filled with people who couldn't imagine why anyone would want to declare war on anyone else.  There was an active amnesty movement there which worked with various US groups to shield American war objectors from US authorities.  Draft Dodgers were usually welcomed, and many stayed in Canada.  I know of quite a few Yanks who decided to renounce their American citizenship.  I didn't begrudge them a thing.  By this time I'd begun to sympathize with them, if it had been me and I was being told to go fight an illegal war I'd have headed for the border too.

The general tenor of daily life was far different in Canada.  Canadians seemed to possess a more cosmopolitan, less confrontational attitude than their Yankee neighbors.  The police were friendly, helpful and didn't even carry guns.  Sadly, that is one vestige from the old days that didn't make it to the millennium, the crime rate there has rocketed over the past 30 years.

As Spring arrived in Toronto I'd settled in nicely at CHUM.  I'd drop by the station for a few hours each day to record some spots, promos etc, then head home.  I rarely worked more than 4 hours a day, 6 days a week and got paid for a full day.  Pretty cushy stuff!  I found an apartment at “Place Du Soliel” near the intersection of Mt Pleasant and Broadway, a funky, hip part of town where the Davisville streetcar terminated.  One of the most comforting sounds in the world to me was the screech of that streetcar as it rounded the stop for it's return trip.  Don't ask me why, I just loved it!  There were lots of small, family style restaurants including a burger joint which also had a small steak house downstairs.  You had to know it was there or you'd never find it, but once you did you'd be having a steak dinner every night for $1.  I kid you not, steak and baked potato, one buck!

CHUM was far different from any other station I'd ever worked for, or any I've worked for since.  The CHUM philosophy, as my former colleague Warren Cosford referred to it, went "Good enough is never good enough."  I don't know if that phrase was ever written down in any corporate handbook, but from what I recall it seems about right.  Alan Waters, the stations owner was said to have remarked to Bob Wood "if the jocks need a solid gold chair, buy it!"  Well we never got a solid gold chair, but we got everything else.  CHUM was an intensely people oriented environment where everyone was valued no matter what their position might be.  Jerry the janitor was as well respected and valued as the highest billing sales person, or the highest rated jock.  Mr. Waters... we all referred to him that way, and still do out of respect... lived quite frugally.  He could have bought the biggest house and driven the finest car in town, but instead lived a few blocks from the station in a typical, Toronto style bungalow.  He drove a Dodge Dart and walked to work.  I recall seeing him from time to time as I cruised in for the Wednesday morning meetings in my Mercedes sports car.  I should have learned a lesson from him about the value of living an inauspicious life style.

When the station was challenged, as it often was by an upstart operator, we pulled out the stops and blew them out of the water.  I recall a campaign that one competitor, CFTR, started which involved buttons that they passed out to listeners.  We countered with the CHUM Starsign promotion, which involved passing out hundreds of thousands of buttons, each imprinted with one of the signs of the zodiac.  We set up kiosks in locations all around Toronto, hired models whom we dressed in custom made uniforms, and tied our giveaways to them.  It was a sensation in Toronto, everywhere you looked people were wearing CHUM Starsigns.  We demolished CFTR in a matter of weeks, but kept the promotion going for months eventually incorporating CHUM Carsigns too.  That was one of the bigger promotions, but we had something on the air all the time.

Summertime was our major promotional push since we targeted the teen audience, and they were out of school.  We'd show up everywhere, running concerts at Nathan Phillips Square, hosting free shows at the CNE bandstand and promoting the huge CNE grandstand shows.  If a major group was headed to Toronto, they were on CHUM and we were always on hand to share the stage with them at the CNE or Maple Leaf gardens... wherever!  From The Guess Who to the Osmonds to The Jackson 5, Three Dog Night, Chicago, T Rex, The Bay City Rollers... anyone who was anyone in the music biz found their way onstage with a CHUM DJ.  I recall on many occasions walking out at the CNE and hearing 20,000 people cheer.  It was unreal, and a little unsettling to be standing there knowing that every one of those people listened to me every night.  My wife recalls how she, her sister and everybody she knew in school would take their transistor radios to bed with them, put them under their pillows and listen to my show.  I have never experienced that kind of recognition since.

The perks of working at a station like that were tremendous.  Everybody wanted to have a CHUM DJ in their restaurant, at their show, wearing their clothes, having their hair cut... you name it, chances are we'd get it.  I recall one Toronto, exotic car dealer dropping a Ferrari Dino off for Jay Nelson to drive around town with the proviso that he return it after a week or so.  If we wanted tickets to a show or reservations at an exclusive restaurant, one phone call and we were in... just like that!  For years I had standing reservations and a private wine stash at Toronto's premiere jazz club, Georges Spaghetti House.  There would be a line a block long to get in, but my date and I would simply saunter to the front and walk straight to a private table.  What a huge departure from my experiences in other towns where they'd just as soon throw me out!

And of course there were other perks as well.  The Toronto gang has been wanting me to write about this, so coming up next... THE GROUPIES!!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Learning to be Cana'jun

  The flamboyant "Slave To Fashion" Don Cherry
Hear Pat read this entry 

Moving to Canada was a fairly painless process.  It's not really like you're going into a different country, more like dropping by your Aunt Gertrude's house.  She's your aunt all right, but she's... well... a little different.  With Cana'juns the differences are subtle, but distinct.  For instance the local delicacies might confuse a Yank on a visit to the Great White North.

Poutine is a particularly important Cana'jun staple, right up there with Tim Horton's and Swiss Chalet Chicken it's part of the Essential Canuck Food Group.  "Poutine" is a French word which, in English, roughly translates  to "Pile of Glop."  Poutine began in Quebec, when a group of French Cana'juns were trying to figure out what to throw at English Cana'juns during a “Vive Le Quebec Libre” rally.  They thought of using horse manure, but being polite and all decided to use gravy instead since it looked just like manure and didn't smell as bad...  well, usually anyway.  One French Cana'jun demonstrator accidentally dropped his gravy stash into a plate of French Fries and VOILA a new delicacy was born.  They added the cheese later because... well, because Cana'juns add cheese to everything.

Canucks don't say “oooot and abooot” they say “Awot and abawot”   This linguistic aberration began when a Canuck mother asked her adolescent son, who was chewing on a mouthful of Poutine at the time, where he was going.  He replied “Ah sfhhaid ah'm goin' awot and abawot”   It just caught on.

There are different words for everyday things in Canada, and it can be confusing to an uninformed Yank.  For instance, if a Cana'jun says “Have a Blue eh”, he's offering you a beer.  If he says “Have a Blue and sit on the chesterfield eh”,  he's offering you a beer and inviting you to have a seat on the couch.  If he says “Have a Blue and sit on the chesterfield, but don't spill it on the broadloom eh”, he's offering you a beer, inviting you to have a seat on the couch but wants you to be careful not to spill any on the carpet.   If you ask a Cana'jun “What's up eh?” and he replies “SFA eh” he's using an acronym for “sweet fuck all” which in Cana'jun means “nothing."

Cana'juns use “eh” as a delimiter for every kind of sentence.  Interrogatory, as in “Nice day out eh?”   Exclamatory, as in “The Maple Leafs really suck this year eh!”  Or as a substitute for a period, as in “I'm doin' SFA at work eh” “ Eh” is the quintessential Cana'jun expression, it can be used in any circumstance, at any time, and any Cana'jun will understand.  Try it yourself, walk down the street in Toronto, pick out someone at random and just say “Eh.”  They'll nod their head in agreement.  They know exactly what you mean!

Although they have banks in Canada, nobody uses them to get money.  Unlike the US and the rest of the world where you go to a teller window or an ATM to withdraw some cash, in Canada  you just go to the Canadian Tire Store and buy a bottle of brake fluid.  They give you back a pile of money!  Weird huh?

Hockey is NOT the Cana'jun national sport, at least not the ONLY national sport.  For years Lacrosse was.  Problem is nobody knew how to play Lacrosse let alone spell it, so in 1994 they decided there would be two national sports.  Hockey would be the Winter national sport, and is played in the Winter.  Lacrosse would be the Summer national sport and is played in the... ummmm... Spring, which in Canada is from July 31 to August 3.  So much for Lacrosse !!!

Most stores in Canada are just like the ones in the States except for one thing...  

Did he just say they have stores that only sell beer in Canada?  


In Toronto... or Tronna, as it's properly pronounced by natives.. there are lots and lots of stores called the "Brewer's Retail".  Years ago the major brewers in Canada cut a deal with the government to control all sales of beer themselves, thereby insuring that there would be plenty of "Blue" available to quench the thirst of every person above the age of 19 in the country.  That's the theory anyway.  Tell you what...  stop by a Brewer's Retail when Hockey Night In Canada is on.  HAH... good freakin' luck!!!

Which brings me to the final idiosyncrasy of life in Canada, they LOVE Don Cherry!  Don Cherry is a commentator on Hockey Night In Canada, and does the Coach's Corner show.  That's well and good, but what's especially endearing to Cana'juns about Don Cherry is his wardrobe.  He wears the most outrageous get ups since Rupaul, and has no excuse for it... he's definitely NOT a drag queen!!   A former player and coach, he played in one professional game in 1955 where he was tragically hit on the head with a puck, and he's been dressing that way ever since.

 That's about all I can think of that's different in Canada

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Scott Carpenter Is Born

Don't you love that page boy haircut?  What the hell was I thinking?

When I called Alden Diehl and tendered my resignation I assumed he'd be a bit angry, after all I hadn't been with the station very long but I was surprised when he congratulated me and said it would be a great move.  It seems that everybody except me was well aware of CHUM and it's stellar reputation.  All that remained was to jump on a plane and head to Toronto.

When I gave Deb the good news she seemed a bit distracted, not exactly thrilled to be moving to Canada.  I'd been staying in Detroit and returning to Toledo on weekends, I couldn't help but notice how quiet she was when we were together.  She dutifully accompanied me when I drove up to Toronto, but returned immediately after I settled in to a hotel.  After she left the fact finally began to sink in, she and her boss were an item and I was a third party.  Deb had been my best friend, I wondered if best friends should ever get married.  Of course my own behavior was far from stellar, let me just reiterate... I was a SERIOUSY naughty boy.  But now as I sat alone in a luxury hotel room in what was surely the greatest city on earth, about to embark on a career at one of the worlds greatest radio stations, I also had to recognize that within 2 years I'd seen two marriages go up in smoke.

I'd arrived on New Years Eve 1970.  That afternoon I met with Bob and we tossed around what name I'd be using at CHUM.  Dean Scott, it seemed, was the name of a Canadian jock that Bob had known so he wanted to avoid any confusion.  “I know... how about Scott Carpenter?” he suggested.  Scott Carpenter was also the name of a Mercury 7 Astronaut, but that didn't seem to concern him so Scott Carpenter it was and has been ever since.  Scott Carpenter today is one of the most recognizable names in Canadian radio history.  People always ask me how I came up with the name, I always tell them “Ask Bob Wood!”

I was scheduled to go on the air the next day so naturally I hit the sack early.  About 12 O'Clock I was awakened by the sounds of people partying in the street.  My first instinct was alarm... “What, are these people NUTS? It's midnight, they could be killed out there on the streets like that!”  Then it dawned on me, I was no longer in Detroit.  This wasn't “Murder City USA” where even the baddest of the bad would refuse to go after 10PM.   This was Toronto, Ontario Canada... a whole new country.  No, take that back... a whole new world!  I began to realize how lucky I was, and what a wonderful opportunity had just opened up to me.  I'd been pretty depressed when I'd gone to sleep, but now I felt on top of the world!

My first night on the air at CHUM went well. I quickly learned that Bob Wood was what you might call a “hands on” programmer.  The “Bat phone” lit up constantly, and he'd always have a comment about something I'd done.  Mostly positive reinforcement, Bob Wood was a genius at making you feel good about what you did with comments like “That was a great set Scotty keep it up” or “I love the energy you project on the air!”  Bob was particularly impressed with the funny nicknames I gave to various Toronto institutions.  Toronto became “Big Funky.”  The Yonge Street subway became “The Yonge Street Cannonball” etc.

One day Bob called me into his office and said “You've got the basics down great, but you need to take it up a notch.  Around here, you need to become a personality, not just a top-40 announcer.  We'll help you, but ultimately if you're going to succeed here you have to be special.” What the hell was he saying?  For years programmers had been pounding into my head that the music was the star, I was to be part of the background.  Now this guy wanted ME to be the star! Well that's what John R did after all, but how was I supposed to do it?  Bob lent me his collection of Robt Orban one-liner books.  “Use these for inspiration, a one liner is the purest form of humor, you can do anything with it.  You can slip it in over the intro of a record, or you can make a longer bit out of it since the beginning, the middle and the end are already there."  Bob had an extensive network of people he could call on to tape some of the greatest jocks in the country... Charlie Tuna at KHJ, Dr Don Rose at WFIL, Robt W Morgan at KHJ... the list was endless.  We had jock meetings every Wednesday at 9AM and everybody... that meant even the “star” of the station, the morning guy... was expected to be there too.   As a matter of fact, there was no single “star” at CHUM, every jock was treated exactly the same and every show was treated as morning drive.  The quality control at CHUM was amazing!

The staff was amazing too.  Bob Wood, and Larry Solway before him, had assembled the most diverse and talented group of DJs in North America.  In AM drive was Jay Nelson, well known in Toronto from his days in Buffalo as “Jungle Jay” on TV.   He was amiable, funny and plugged in.

Following Jay we ran the only pure talk show on any top-40 radio station in N. America. John Gilbert was a former carny barker who'd quit school in the 8th grade.  Imagine the illegitimate son of Jerry Springer and Rosie O'Donnell and you'd have Johnny.  He'd get tongue tied over words he never learned to use, but the audience loved his unsophisticated yet intelligent approach. When Pierre Trudeau was in town he ALWAYS stopped by John's show.

Johnny Mitchell was another Yank brought in from Grand Rapids, Mi. Johnny was smooth and funny. He had impeccable timing and was a perfect entertainer for that show.

In the afternoon was John Rode whom Bob had hired from WRKO in Boston.  He was well versed in the Drake formatics, but was brilliant with situational comedy.   He saw “funny” in places most of us would never think to look.

Evenings were the realm of Tom Rivers a full-bore, top-40, hit-honkin', joke tellin' bad boy who LOVED to do things to piss Bob off.  He was a great big kid at heart, and there wasn't a malicious bone in his body.  Don't you KNOW that Riv' and I became FAST friends, and we remained so until he died in 2004.

Late nights belonged to Chuck McCoy.  “The Chucker” and Bob had been friends back in Winnipeg, and Chucker followed Bob to CHUM.  He was great on the air, but really wanted to join the management team.  He eventually did, first with CHUM, and now as a vice president of Rogers Broadcasting.  Chuck was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall Of Fame in 2009.

Roger Ashby held down the overnights.  Roger came to CHUM as a teenager in 1969 and has been there ever since.  Today he is the most successful morning man in the country, and was inducted to the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame.  Roger has spent over 40 years at one station, that's unheard of in the revolving door world of American radio.

And finally there was the new kid on the block, Scott Carpenter who wondered how in the daylights he'd fit in.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

1050 CHUM, Toronto

The iconic sign at 1331 Yonge.  It remained there for nearly 50 years, and adorns CHUM's new home at 250 Richmond W.

Some context might be in order at this point. It's always said that one should describe the ambiance as well as the action of a particular scene in order to provide context, so here goes.  It was the Fall of 1970, and a restless time in this country.  Richard Nixon had been President for a year and a half.  Many of us were not happy about this, I regarded Nixon as a slime bag and a crook.  Additionally, the Vietnam war had invaded just about every nook and cranny of our daily lives.  One couldn't watch the news, listen to the radio, or engage in conversation without some vestige of the war making itself known.  Whether in the style of clothing we wore or the choice of vernacular, the choice of literature or the choice of music, and most importantly the choice of friends the war was THE definitive event of the age.  One was either pro-war (establishment) or anti-war (everybody else). I was definitely part of the “everybody else” crowd!

I think that anyone who ever put on a uniform retains a defensive point of view about the country and fellow soldiers years after their service.  Viet Nam was, to me, an abomination.  I felt betrayed by the country's leaders, first Johnson and now Nixon.  With Johnson, I felt he'd done the honorable thing by refusing renomination.  Nixon on the other hand was the opposite, a sleazy political hack who represented the worst of this country.  Also the brutal attack by Daly's Pigs on protesters at the Democratic convention made me sick to my stomach.  These people had every right to assemble and protest,  Daly had NO right to turn his storm troopers loose on them.  I was disgusted with what I saw, and like many former Viet Nam era vets began to think that my country had lost it's way.  To add insult to injury I was living in Detroit, the murder capital of America.  What a complete change from my experience of years before, a time when a 14 year old musician could spend the entire night there in complete safety.  Since the riots, you could get killed just walking down the street.  It didn't escape my notice that life in Windsor, Ontario was 180 degrees the opposite.

All of this came crashing home to me one night as I was crossing the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor.  Going into Windsor was always a pleasant experience, I'd say hello to the guard, exchange some pleasantries and drive away occasionally promising to play a song for him.  The trip back to Detroit could be a trying experience however.  The U.S. Border Guards were constantly on the lookout for pot smugglers and draft dodgers.  I'd had my car inspected more than once coming back from work.  Also the guards were not well trained or supervised, and unlike their Canadian counterparts, occasionally showed a bit of attitude.  One of them had a particular distaste for me for some reason.  He was a heavyset guy with a silly looking pencil mustache, and he'd always give me the run-around whenever I came through his station.  He knew I was an Air Force vet, we'd established that weeks ago when I showed him my discharge papers, but that didn't stop him from harassing me and running my name through the computer every time he saw me.  One night he went too far:

“Park over there, I'm gonna check your car and put your name in the computer” 

I guess he figured the Air Force might have rescinded my discharge.  Once inside he sneered at me and said “Can't be too careful, we get a lot of draft dodgers through here.”  Now for someone who had subjugated 4 years of his life to cover this little prick's ass, being called a draft dodger was about the worst insult in the world.  My ears were turning red, he could see I was pissed and he seemed to relish the thought. I'll bet he never thought I'd do what I did next.  In two seconds I was across the top of the desk, and had the bastard by the collar.  I slammed him against the wall and screamed “Listen you son of a bitch, if I ever hear you use the words 'draft dodger' again in my presence, I'll tear off your Goddamned head and pop it like a f^%$ing pimple!!!”  Exactly how I was going to do that is a mystery even now, since the guy outweighed me by about 70%,  I was about 130 lbs soaking wet.  The guy pulled loose and glared at me, ready to do battle when behind me I heard “Break it off, break it off... go ahead man, just leave... just leave man get out of here!”   It was the shift supervisor, a much younger guard whom I'd dealt with before.  I could have been in seriously deep shit grabbing Mr Mustache, he was a federal officer after all, but the supervisor must've understood the situation.  I drove to work fuming, and went through the incident time after time in my mind the following day.  How could I live in a country like this?   I began to search the Windsor want ads for an apartment. Canada was beginning to look better and better all the time.

The next night Neil and I were discussing the impending departure of Don Regan to CHUM.  Neil opined how CHUM was a hugely successful station, but he didn't understand why. “They have tons of money, but they sound kind of old fashioned. Kind of loose.”  I answered that I'd only heard of the station, and didn't know much about it.   “You will” he said.  At the time I had no idea what he meant.  I arrived home that morning and hit the sack, intending to grab some snooze time then look for a place in Windsor.  At about 11AM the phone rang waking me from a sound sleep.  “What the hell is this?”  I thought as I said “Hello?”  “Dean? This is J. Robert Wood.  I'm the program manager of CHUM radio in Toronto.  Perhaps you know of us, we just hired one of your colleagues, Don Regan.  The reason I called is, we have an additional opening here and wondered if you'd be interested in it.  Don brought up a tape of your show, I think you'd fit in nicely here.  If you're interested I'll make arrangements for you to fly up and have a look at the place.”

I was most definitely interested! I'd heard that Toronto was the greatest, most cosmopolitan, progressive city in the world.  The next morning I was on that plane to Toronto.  A limo was waiting for me at the Airport, I asked the driver to turn on CHUM.   Neil was right, it had a sort of old fashioned quality to it. Kind of loose... not a lot of production value.   When we arrived at 1331 Yonge Street, I was ushered into Bob Wood's office.  “Dean, we start everybody off here doing weekend fill-in and production.”  The gears started turning in my head.  The week-end stuff was always a part-time job at the stations I'd worked for, here they pulled a full-time salary.   Neil was right about something else, they had money all right.   “You'll pull a 5 hour shift on Saturdays and Sundays.  During the week you'll be expected to come in for a few hours each day and record commercials.”  Sounded good so far!  “How about I have Esme (Esmeralda Vaughn, Bob's secretary) show you around town a bit?”

We jumped in the Limo and visited Yorkville, the Toronto equivalent to Haight Ashbury, at the time all head shops, record stores and alternative culture flats.  We went by Toronto's beautiful City Hall complex, and watched the people skating on the public rink.  We went downtown and dined at Winston's, one of the finest restaurants in town.  Compared to Detroit, or any American city I'd ever seen, I thought I'd landed in paradise.  When we returned to the station I told Bob I'd think it over.  He said that was fine, but he'd like a decision by the end of the week.  When I got back from work the next day I called Bob back and accepted the job.  “That's GREAT Dean, I know you won't regret it.” he said.

Over the years Bob and I have often discussed how right he was.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

So Long Pat Bergin... Hello Dean Scott!

In many ways CKLW was the essence of what made 70's Top-40 Radio special.  In the past, individual personalities would create their own shows.  Guys like Alan Freed and Cousin Brucie would choose their own music and get paid handsomely to do so.  Hence the “Payola” scandal, which sent some Djs to jail and ruined the careers of others. This forced stations to tightly control their music lists, and cost the Djs enormous amounts of payoff money.  But the slick promoter always had a way to get a record played.  A promo man approached an old friend of mine years ago in the parking lot of an influential, Detroit station.  He had to catch up with my friend in the parking lot because he'd been banned from the station's lobby.  The conversation went something like this:

Promoter: “Geeze, ya' know I've got this record by 'Elmer and the Fudds' and I really need to get some airplay, how about giving it a spin or two on your show?”

Pal: “I dunno' man, sounds like a stiff to me!”

Promoter: “Well I just need a couple of spins so the company knows I tried.  Say my “niece” and her girlfriend are visiting this week, they wanted me to show them around but I'm busy.  Do you suppose you could drop by the hotel?  They're in room 810... here's the key.”

Pal: “Sure man, I'd be glad to.  Give me the record, I'll put it on the show just to see if it gets any response.”

Like I said, there was ALWAYS a way to get a title on the air!

CKLW eliminated all of that nonsense.  Promoters would visit Rosie on specific days only, and her decision was always final.  If she thought a song had merit, she'd play it.  If not... right into the round filing cabinet.

In the 50's and 60's Detroit radio was dominated by well known personalities like Lee “The Horn” Allen, Terry Knight, who upon announcing his departure from CKLW a few years before had caused girls all over Detroit to go into mourning, Robin Seymore and others who relied on a gift of patter and razzle-dazzle to get their shows across.  At CKLW we had a carefully designed, locally focused playlist, an enormous signal, and specific rules for talent to follow.  No long, rambling “bits” were allowed.  We were encouraged to say what we thought was relevant, but to do so as succinctly as possible: in essence, the definition of effective communication.  The station was all about maximum amounts of music.  When we “stopped down” we did so at “stop sets” carefully determined to cause as little interruption to the music flow as possible.  There would be no more than 2 1/2 minutes of commercials... two 60's and a thirty... maybe a promo and a jingle out into another “music sweep.”

Since there was already a Pat (Pat Holiday) on the air at CK' Alden insisted that I choose a different name.  This was the first time I'd used anything but my real name on the air, but I gave it some thought and came up with “Dean Scott.”  So it was Dean Scott who entered the cavernous main studio for his first shot at big time radio.  The main studio at CK' was a huge room with heavy curtains around the walls, it must have been used for live music shows in the past.  In the middle, on a raised platform sat the jock's desk.  There was a huge digital clock, a series of cue lights and a light bulb for the “bat phone”, which Alden could use to call into the studio, at the front right.   On the extreme right sat a stand which held the playlist under a piece of plexiglass.  We used grease pencils to mark off the songs when we played them.  In the front of the studio was a large glass window looking into the control room where the board operator sat.  We never touched a board there, the “op” played the songs, commercials, promos and jingles all of which were on tape carts.  Also to my right was the “hitline console”, with 20 lines continually blinking.  This was serious stuff!

 Sitting behind that desk, knowing you're being heard by hundreds of thousands of people, is an amazing rush. It's a little scary at first but, I had long ago learned to envision my audience as one person so I got over it quickly.  During the day they had a staff of hitline operators to handle the calls, but we were expected to answer the phones at night.  With 20 incoming lines that could be a full time job in itself.  I made sure I found out which area each caller was from, so I could keep track of who was listening and where.  I'd make sure to target requests, weather mentions etc accordingly.  On one occasion I got a call from someone who sounded like they were talking on a short wave radio.   In a manner of speaking they were.  It was a trawler engaged in research at the North pole.   Our 50,000 watt signal had bounced off the ionosphere, and “skipped” back to earth some 3290 miles away.  The sailors had managed to get through on a “phone patch” set up by amateur radio operators.   I may be the only DJ in the world able to say I played a Bob Seger record for people at the North Pole!

I got to work with some top flight pros at CKLW.  People like Bill Winters who did the morning show, Frank Brodie, the smoothest mid-day guy on the planet, Pat Holiday was on in the afternoon, Steve Hunter held down the early evenings, Jim Jackson was on the late night shift, and I did the overnight.  Steve Hunter in particular was especially helpful to me.   I traveled with him on occasions where he'd make appearances at dances in Windsor and Detroit.   We'd jump in his 240Z and go 90-100mph so he could show up, say “hi”, collect $200 and hit the road to the next one.  He'd easily rake in $600/night.   Jim Jackson was also a great friend to me.  He was a Canadian who came in from Edmonton, and introduced me to the Canuck way of life... in other words how to order beer by the tray full!!

I was having the time of my life there but was mildly curious one night when my board op, Neil Gallagher, told me “Do a good show tonight Dean I have to run tape.”  This was nothing new, Alden always had an aircheck running for quality control purposes, but Neil was admonishing me “bring it up a little, give me some more energy.”  I wondered what the hell was going on.  What I didn't know at the time was that J. Robert Wood, esteemed Program Director of CHUM/ Toronto had asked Don Reagan, a CKLW jock who'd given his notice and was on his way to CHUM, to bring up a tape of me.   Bob had been traveling through Detroit, heard my show, and decided he liked what he'd heard.

And now after hearing the tape, Bob Wood was dialing the phone.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And Now Ladies and Gentlemen...The Big 8!

 Frank Brodie in the main air studio at CKLW, Detroit/Windsor
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I remarked before how difficult the radio business can be on marriages, the number of people who can survive the many twists and turns of this career choice is small indeed.  The problem is often compounded by the fact that radio people are extremely insecure, almost anyone who works on the air can be replaced at any time.  I had one Program Director tell me “put your finger in a bucket of water, and pull it out.  The hole that's left is how much you'll be missed when you leave.”  Another well known consultant once likened on-air talent as “pieces of meat... use them and throw them away.”  I learned this early on in my career, and determined that if I was to be a “piece of meat” I'd be a damned expensive one, so I made sure that I had a exit plan in the ready when I needed it.  Also I decided that I would never feel any loyalty to any radio station... that's playing the sucker, and I was nobody's sucker.  If someone offered me a better deal, I wouldn't hesitate to jump on it.

For a talent like myself on his way up in the business, I couldn't waste time reflecting on my current status, there were just too many opportunities out there.  Everybody that ever sat behind a mike longed to work in one of the top markets.  The big cities like New York, L.A. Chicago, Philly etc.  is where the money was, and that's where the glory was.  The stations in those towns were legendary.  In New York there was WABC, the kingpin of ALL American Top-40 radio with fantastic air talent such as Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie and Herb Oscar Anderson.   In L.A. It was KHJ with Robt. W. Morgan, Charlie Tuna and Humble Harv.  In Chicago there were WLS and WCFL, engaged in a classic top-40 battle.  In Toronto there was 1050 CHUM, the greatest Top-40 station in Canadian radio history and one of the four or five top stations in the entire world.  It was to play a huge role in my future.  

But for now in Detroit there was CKLW!

CKLW was part of the RKO radio chain.  Located across the river in Windsor, ON it was a 50,000 watt, clear channel, fire breathin', Top-40 monster.   It was consulted by none other than the Great Kahuna of all consultants, the legendary Bill Drake.  Unlike WTTO, which relied on a tightly controlled playlist devoid of any local artists, CKLW boasted the greatest music director in radio history, Rosie Trombley.  Rosie could sniff out a hit from 2000 miles away.   Of course being within a bridge ride to the hottest music town on the planet helped a LOT.  Berry Gordy would actually hop in a car, and drive over to Windsor artist in tow, just to court Rosie's attention on a song.  She was untiring in her efforts to find great songs by Detroit artists to play.  Bob Seger wrote “Rosalie” as a tribute to her.   She could make any record a hit just by adding it to the CKLW playlist for a few days.

The “Drake Format” was really only an attempt to tame the excess clutter of most top-40 radio, and streamline things so that the music could flow unencumbered.  Bill insisted that we never play less than three songs in a row and that they be separated by short, acapella jingles which would serve as a bridge between two songs... fast to fast, fast to slow, slow to fast etc. Production was king with the Drake stations, and the format was designed to make the talent sound good.  RKO had a great farm club too.  Once a talent got their feet wet in the Drake formatics in a smaller RKO station, such as WHBQ in Memphis or WRKO in Boston, Bill Drake would bring them up to Detroit or San Diego, and later to WOR in N.Y. Or KHJ in Los Angeles.  It was a system that relied on a combination of great, locally focused programming, and flawless on air execution.  In other words, it's where I wanted to be!

WTTO was doing OK I suppose, but there were signs that things were beginning to fall apart.   Once Mike Joseph had depleted his bag of tricks, and we ran out of options for big giveaways, we began to see ratings slip again.  Now here's where the wise Program Consultant pulls his quick getaway.   Inevitably these tightly formatted stations lose listeners because they're just too sterile, too predictable.   When the novelty wears off, so does the audience.  So what does a slick programmer do?   Fire a jock of course!!!  “We know the format works, the fault must lie in the execution, fire such and such...”  By passing on the blame to some poor air schmuck, the consultant buys some time to fix what's really wrong.   But, of course they never do since “fixing” it would require a repudiation of everything he sold the station owners on in the first place, so the wise consultant knows when to cut bait and run.  That way he can say the the station failed because they didn't execute his brilliant formatics well enough, and in order to preserve his reputation he simply HAD to leave.  

Slick huh? I could see it coming.

I had driven up to Windsor to drop off a tape at CKLW. I really didn't think I had a snowball's chance in Hell of getting a job there... I'd have been delighted if I could just get a look at the place, but alas there was no one around to take me back.  I handed my tape to the guard at the desk and asked him to pass it along to Alden Diehl, the station's Program Director.  The guard agreed to do so and I left, not even thinking that Alden would ever get the tape let alone hire me.  But lo and behold, a couple of days later I got a call:

“Pat? Alden Diehl here.  I listened to your tape, and loved it.   Frank Brodie is coming off the overnight to work mid-days, would you be interested in taking over the all night show?”

WOULD I?   Man I broke the world's land speed record getting my fanny up to Windsor!   I was ushered back to Alden's office and hired immediately.   He took me around to meet Rosie, one of the most pleasant people I've ever had the good fortune to know.   I met Pat Holiday who was MOST enthusiastic to meet me, since he'd been working a double shift until they got someone.  Most importantly I was given my introductory packet and asked to be ready to start in a week.   I was on cloud nine, CKLW was my biggest dream, and I was sure it would be the highlight of my career.

I was wrong, it was just the beginning!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Paul Is Dead... Kinda, Sorta

Article in the Michigan Daily about the "Paul is dead" rumors

WTTO proved to be the kind of gig that serves as a great step off point for bigger and better things. The extraordinary level of top down management made it difficult for Jim to do much on the programming side, but the constant gimmicks Mike employed to keep the station's ratings up helped me build a solid track record. I never had a down book... meaning a low rating... all the time I was there.

It befell us, therefore, to express our creativity off the air and we did that with constant, in-your -face, style promotions. When we did a bumper sticker promotion for instance, we went out on the street handing those stickers to anyone and everyone we could find. Where they stuck them... road signs, the sides of trucks, mailboxes, and most importantly all over the bumper of our main competitor's car, didn't matter. The night jock at WOHO, “The Mojo Man", was apparently waiting with a pistol one night when some of our over zealous fans decided to go after his car. No shots were fired, but they did manage to cover that bumper up.

Another little soiree began as a response to something my old pal Terry Knight did. Perhaps you remember the “Paul Is Dead” rumors back in 1969. Presumably there were “clues” buried in Beatles albums dating back to Sgt Pepper. “Revolution #9” when played backward sounds eerily like “turn me on dead man." The order of the Beatles on the Abby Road cover and the way they were dressed supposedly symbolized a funeral. George, dressed in denim was the grave digger. Paul (or his double), in a suit without shoes was the body. Ringo, dressed in black was the undertaker and John, dressed in white was the priest. The OPP patch on Paul's uniform on the Sgt Pepper cover symbolized the Ontario Provincial Police officer (Billy Shears perhaps) who found his body after a terrible car accident, while the Beatles were in Toronto. The inclusion of some lines from King Lear at the end of “I Am The Walrus”:

Gloucester: “What, is he dead?”
Edgar: “Sit you down, father. Rest you.”

It went on and on. I heard about the rumor one night while listening to Russ Gibb on WKNR, but I think the idea sprang from a song Terry had recorded just before he started managing Grand Funk, "Saint Paul." Some of the lyrics seemed to refer to Paul in the past tense:

You had a different view
Hey there Paul what's new?
Did Judas talk to you or did you put the whole world on?
I think there's something wrong
It's taken you too long to change the world
Sir Isaac Newton told you it would fall
You didn't listen St Paul..

Terry later claimed that the song was inspired by a brief encounter with the Beatles in London just as they were breaking up. Whatever the case the rumors were hot and heavy, and I was determined to get in on the action. I found all the “clues” I could and put them on tape cartridges, then recorded a 3 hour special based on the theories I'd heard on Russ's show. It was outright plagiarism, but who cares? I got the thing on the air and man-oh-man did that raise hell in Toledo!

I'd no sooner finished the show than the calls started flooding in. Everybody either wanted to hear a rehash of everything I'd done, or had new “clues” of their own to offer. It seemed as if no one had actually heard Uncle Russ that night, so my plagiarism went undetected. SCORE ONE FOR ME! Hey, I already said I was shameless!

The next day when I got to work there were hundreds of calls from listeners waiting for me, and more importantly from the media. Everybody and his brother wanted to interview me, and get my opinion on whether Paul was really dead. Of course I accepted all of the invitations, and became an instant celebrity in Toledo with my face all over the 6 O'Clock news and my picture in all the newspapers.

I mentioned earlier that I was a late bloomer, and that women hadn't noticed me until I was in my 20's. Well by now I must've "bloomed" some more, because as soon as my picture hit the paper I started getting calls from women... LOTS of women... some of whom would show up at the station in extremely provocative clothing wanting to “interview” me. Many were no more than high school brats trying to look 25. I recall one who showed up wearing a see- through dress with nothing underneath!. Even the receptionist... who used to wear some pretty provocative stuff herself... was outraged. She called me in the studio and said “Pat, there's a young whore waiting to see you. Did you ask her to come by, or should I send her away?”

I HAD to come out and take a look! C'mon, wouldn't you?

I have to admit here and now, when it became obvious to me that I was becoming attractive to women I didn't exactly run to the shelter of my home and marriage and meditate. I was a willing subject. Maybe it was because I never felt attractive to girls at all back in my adolescence, but more than likely it was because, well, they were there. Lots of them. I'm not saying I had dalliances with all or any of them... I've decided to leave all of that out of this reminiscence. But you have to understand that once I began to sense the way the wind was blowing, I was a naughty boy. A very, naughty boy.

And it didn't escape my attention that Deb was beginning to spend a LOT more time with that "very handsome" boss of hers. I can't blame her, I wasn't the worlds most attentive husband. If I wasn't working on some project at the station, making an appearance somewhere or riding around on my motorcycle I was most likely hanging around with Felton or some of the other station folk. Unlike WKNX where she was involved with everything I was doing, at WTTO she was involved with nothing. Also, Deb was basically a small town, home girl. This radio lifestyle was definitely not to her liking.

My career was beginning to take off, but once again my marriage was about to make a crash landing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Famous Fifteen Sunshine... Clunker!

The Famous Fifteen Sunshine Machine

The gig at WTTO proved to be a good one.  True there were no dances or other outside appearances to augment my salary, but on the up side I really didn't need the extra cash.  My new job paid quite a bit better than the old 'KNX salary, and Deb was able to find a great job almost immediately.  Deb was a technician in a dental lab back in Saginaw, and before that in Grand Forks.  She'd mentioned how handsome her new boss was.  I should have listened more carefully.

Doing afternoon drive at a tightly formatted station like WTTO was a challenge.   Mike Joseph was a stickler about making comments that focused on local areas or events, but squeezing that into a 10 second record intro was difficult indeed.  He also insisted on weird, formatic idiosyncrasies such as not mentioning the title of a song if they were the first words in the lyric, not using the word “degrees”... he felt these things were redundant, and redundant chatter was NOT acceptable in Mike's world.  He insisted on strict adherence to his hourly format clocks where he'd indicate the tempos of songs he wanted played.   They were either “Up” or “Sweet”, and woe be to the jock that got one in the wrong place.  He said he'd researched the market thoroughly to determine what segment of the audience was available for each hour, but I later learned he just pulled it out of his rear end.  As a matter of fact most of the reams of “research” he presented was apparently from other markets.   Like most radio consultants Mike was 25% legit and 75% B S, but that 25% worked really well. The station was a huge success and my afternoon ratings were through the roof.  A great position to be in, believe me!

The problem with these tight playlist formats is what the industry calls “burnout.”  You can only maintain a playlist of 15-20 current titles for so long until people begin to get tired of hearing the same songs over and over.  Unlike Mike's later format incarnations, we did play older titles on WTTO.  He took advantage of that when the ratings started to drop by running his tried and true “Battle Of The Biggies” promotion in which listeners would call in to vote for their favorite song from the past.   Each song would be played over and over against a new competitor until it was voted off.  This not only involved listeners intimately, but helped establish the playlist for the next ratings cycle.  This worked a couple of times until listeners got tired of it too.  Finally during a ratings slump, Mike pulled this little dandy out of his can, “I know, give away a CAR!!”

Whoopee, THAT”S never been done before!!   He said cynically, then slapped his own hand.

So the general manager of the station went boldly where no WTTO manager had been before, straight to the Chevy dealer, hat in hand to beg for a car.  The amount of advertising he traded off for this car was staggering, but he got the thing and it was a dandy... a brand new Z-28 Camaro complete with a 396 and four on the floor.  We needed a snazzy name for this fabulous set of wheels, and Mike called an all hands meeting to hash it out.  We must've sat there for an hour before I piped up... “Well, the station's logo is .Famous Fifteen', and it's summer... why don't we call it “The Famous Fifteen Sunshine Machine?”  The room fell silent as Mike slowly contemplated.  “Famous Fifteen Sunshine Machine, Famous Fifteen Sunshine Machine...” he rolled the phrase over and over, carefully weighing each word for maximum impact.  “Famous Fifteen Sunshine Machine it is!”  The room erupted in cheers.  I should have felt good about this, but it was only because they wanted to get the hell out of there.
We took the car to a sign painter who painted Famous Fifteen Sunshine Machine on the sides  with paint which was supposed to wash off when we gave it away.  Part of the daily responsibilities of each jock was to drive the thing around Toledo, going to different neighborhoods each day so that people could get a look at it.  With that performance package, getting us to drive it around was NO problem.  It wasn't long before we began to test the car out, much to the chagrin of the local constabulary and the management of the station.  Toward the end of the summer we were to give the car away in a huge drawing.  By this time that car had been in every Toledo neighborhood, and more often than not, in every bar parking lot of every neighborhood.  We needed a BIG finish for the contest. 

Now only an idiot would decide to take a car that cost the station probably two years worth of free advertising to Milan Dragway, and race it!  Did someone call?

Jim Felton, the station's Program Director and my long time partner in crime, and I packed into the Camaro and away we went to Milan, MI.   The idea was that we'd just run the car by the crowd and announce that the giveaway would occur the following week.  Upon arriving, however, the race announcer suggested we might get a little more impact if we actually raced the car... after all, it was a muscle car in the first place.   I looked at Jim, Jim looked at me... ”good idea” we thought.   Jim had no desire to race the car himself, so he took on the task of handling the annoucements to the crowd.   They handed me a helmet and down to the car I went.  When it was my turn I confidently eased up to the line, next to me was a souped up 1965 mustang with a HUGE air scoop on the hood and pipes that made it sound like an earth mover.   The lights flashed green and I floored it, tires smoking, engine screaming as I slammed it through the gear range.  

The Mustang beat me but not by much, I'd turned a respectable 13.2.   That was the good news.  The bad news was, now I couldn't get the damned thing past second gear.  It appeared that I'd blown the transmission!  Jim and I hobbled back to Toledo using only the back roads since we couldn't drive the car over 30 mph in second gear.  It took us forever to get back, and we dropped the car off at the dealership.  "Something's wrong with the transmission, we were driving it no more than 30 mph, and she gave out on us."  The technician gave us a wry "30 mph my ass" look, and took it into the shop.

It turned out that I hadn't blown the transmission after all, but that was about the only thing that hadn't been screwed up on that car.  That special paint washed off all right, but weeks in the sun had left the words "Famous Fifteen Sunshine Machine" indelibly inscribed on the doors since the rest of the car had faded slightly.  The tires were nearly bald from the many impromptu street races we'd put it through, the engine was starting to tick, the interior had stains on the seats, from what I wouldn't care to guess... let's just say that girls LOVED that car... and it squeaked like a turn of the century Flivver.  The poor guy that won it was overheard saying to his wife, "What a piece of JUNK!"

But we did get ratings!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

To Toledo And Beyond!!!

Johnny And The Hurricanes Circa 1959 

Quitting WKNX on such a definitive, shall we say... note?... most assuredly negated my chances of making nice with my former employers, and regaining my old job.  When I left a station I REALLY left a station, with only a couple of exceptions they'd never have me back.  This tendency toward grand parting gestures has come back to haunt me more than once in my career, I can be an arrogant S.O.B.  On the other hand, I've never regretted it even once.

But the fact remained, I was now unemployed and would have to get crackin' to find another job.  I had other, serious business to deal with first however, by now I'd been served with divorce papers and did not challenge the action.  Judy had been dating someone for some time and as soon as the divorce was finalized she'd remarried, now it was my turn.   

Do you get the impression that I was impulsive in any way?  

Deb and I were best friends, so to me it was a no brainer.   We left Saginaw, and drove to N.D. to get married.  We had a nice visit with her family at their farm in Reynolds, and stopped by Fargo's legendary KQWB on the way back just to see if there were any openings there.   I swear if I'd been able to hook up with that station, I'd have never left.   It was brilliantly programmed by Deano Day, and boasted some of the greatest air talent in the country.  Unfortunately there were no openings, or maybe I just wasn't good enough to crack the lineup, so back to Saginaw it was.

I'd sent out a tape to the station in Detroit that had expressed an interest, but by this time they'd hired someone else.  A quick look through Billboard magazine brought up an ad for an afternoon gig at WTTO, Toledo.   I'd been through Toledo a couple of times and liked it, so I jumped in the car.  It was July 20, 1969, and as I was passing through Detroit I heard on the radio that Apollo 11 had just touched down on the surface of the moon.  This turned out to be a good omen for me because, after a short interview, I got the job.

WTTO was the first station I ever worked at that was completely controlled by a consultant.  Radio consultants had been around for years, but few exercised such total domination of the format as Mike Joseph.  Mike had streamlined several enormously successful stations including Flint's WTAC and New York's WABC.  Using a combination of extremely succinct DJ patter, and an extremely short playlist he turned those stations into regional giants.  Every song was weighted according to it's popularity, and played accordingly.  Any patter that we as air personalities might bring to the show would be short, to the point and generally over the intro of the songs we played.  It was mostly non-stop music and, when we did stop down, our comments had to be under 60 seconds including weather mentions or other station biz.  He carefully researched the station's reach to see which areas could deliver the most listeners in our demographic target...18-24 year olds... and made sure that we mentioned those locations in requests, weather etc.   In other words, this was a no nonsense, bare bones, more music monster!

 Upon arriving in Toledo I immediately set out to learn as much about the town as I could.  That meant cruising the streets with a map to get the lay of the land, familiarizing myself with the routes drivers would use on their way home so I could address their commute on the air, and stopping by the various restaurants, malls, parks and, of course, watering holes.  It was in a club called The Carousal that I ran into an old acquaintance.  Toledo's favorite sons Johnny and the Hurricanes were playing there that week, they had hit the charts many times in the 50's with instrumental rock songs such as “Red River Rock”, “Reville Rock”, “Beatnik Fly” and more.   I knew their former drummer, “Bo” Savich quite well in my musician days back in Detroit.  Johnny Paris (Pocisk) was the sax player, and the leader of the group.  After some catch-up style small talk he said to me,  “I've got something in my sax case you've gotta see.”

Star Club Ad Circa 1962
He opened up the case and pulled out a photo of the marquee of the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany.   On the marquee, in huge letters, were the words “Tonight Johnny And The Hurricanes” and below, in little tiny letters “Also The Beatles”

It's nice to know that at least SOME of us early Michigan/Ohio rockers made an impact after all!