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!!!

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