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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Pat! I have been following your story just waiting for you to get to the part about Toronto. I guess you could say I'm a blast from the past but here's how I fit into it:

    You used to the the Chum Grease Dances and my friend and I were in Jr. high school at the time(Northmount Jr. High in Willowdale) and we all lived close to each other. Somehow, we got chatting with you and offered to allow us to come and help you out at your dances. My friend Kim and I would leave with you and the roadies, go to the schools and she and I dressed up in our best 50's apparel to attend. We got the crowed involved, did the locomotion with everyone and even helped you find your "Brylcreem" victim.

    I guess looking back I never understood why you let us be part of your entourage, but I will never forget how much fun we all had. One of the schools we visited that I think stands out the best was Vaughn Road Collegiate, do you remember? That place was packed and hoppin'!

    Anyway, thank you for allowing us to join you because it was so much fun. Once Summer came we all went off on our separate ways and you moved on some place else; such as life.

    However, I hope you will remember me, my name is Nancy and I am the author of Bella's Blog, who follows you (in case you were wondering who that was) LOL. Please feel free to drop me an email at, I'd love to chat with you.