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.

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