Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Meester Reevers

People often ask me about the CHUM environment.  After all here was a station that could influence thousands of record sales simply by printing the name of the song on the CHUM Chart.  They inevitably want to know about the promotions, the contests, the physical layout of the place... they're usually shocked to hear that I couldn't care less about any of that.  To me the secret of CHUM's success was “the family.”  A close group of people who were far more than colleagues, we were best friends... lifetime friends, really.  I have never seen this in any other radio station.

Tom Rivers was the first person I met at CHUM.  As I was touring the place for the first time, I encountered him in the hall. He was tall, well over 6 feet, and had the goofiest grin I'd ever seen on a face in my life.  He had a way of looking both quizzical and amused at the same time, as if he was thinking “I have no idea who this person is or what this person is saying, but it's funny as hell!”  Tom was as irascible as he was talented.  Many consider Tom the best air talent they'd ever heard.  For most people, that would've been plenty but not Tom, nooooooo Tom had to be the omnipresent thorn in the side of management.  Name a management directive and Tom would break it.  Name a programming rule and Tom would ignore it, all the while grinning that goofy, quizzical grin of his as if to say “You CAN'T be serious!”

Let's take the “proper dress” episode for example.  One day, for whatever reason, Bob Wood decided that we were to wear dress clothes to work.  Since this was radio and not TV nobody ever figured this one out, but the dress code was imposed anyway.  Now imposing a dress code on Rivers was akin to planting a boot in an attack dogs ass.   We knew it was a matter of time until the battle of wills began.  Sure enough, one day I was relaxing at home when the phone rang.  “Ahhhhh, Scotty?  Rivers isn't dressed properly for his shift, can you get down to the station right away?  I'm pulling him off the air.”  I found some “proper” clothing and high-tailed it down to the station.   This scene repeated itself for an entire week with Rivers showing up in jeans, being shown the door, and me having to come in to do his show.  One day I heard Rivers on the air, and hurried down to the station to see who had won.  There he was, in jeans, sloppy Tee-Shirt and flip flops with that damned, stupid grin on his face.   The “dress code” was never addressed again.  Good thing too, since Rode was threatening to come in wearing a pinstripe suit, flowered tie and a fedora!

Then there was the “no eating while on the air” edict.   Apparently Bob had read that digesting food caused a person's energy level to drop, which shouldn't have been too surprising to anyone who'd ever downed a Big mac and tried to stay awake.  At any rate, Rivers was not about to concede to THIS ignominy.  Devouring large orders of food from the “Crow's Nest” across the street was akin to a religious ritual with Rivers.   They'd answer the phone and as soon as they knew he was on the other end say “AHHHHHH, MEESTER REEVERS!!!!”   They knew they were going to make some serious cash, three hamburgers and a HUGE order of “chips and gravy” were a daily habit with him... he was a junkie!  No sooner was the edict issued than Rivers settled into his seat, picked up the phone and ordered a 7 course meal delivered from the gourmet restaurant down the street.   As Tom was relishing his feast, Bob stuck his head in the door and saw the massive number of plates on the desk.   “Enjoying your meal Tom?”  Tom smiled his goofy grin in response.  The “no eating” order soon hit the skids too.

Next was the legendary “Parking Lot Caper” in which Wes Armstrong, the station's sales manager decided that he'd had enough of Rivers' constant violation of the rule which forbade jocks from parking in the station's, tiny lot.  Only management and sales people were allowed spaces there and Wes would dutifully patrol it, attaching stickers to the windshields of offenders.  The damned things were nearly impossible to get off, and naturally Rivers had accumulated about 100 of them.  One day Rivers parked in the lot as usual, but this time climbed up to the roof so he could see Wes come out with his handful of stickers.  As soon as Wes opened the door, Tom signaled to his partner in crime... I believe it was a jock called “Smilin' Jack” something or other... to yell out that Wes had a phone call waiting.  Wes went back into the building only to find that there was no call after all.  Instantly, he knew he'd been had.  He ran out back to discover River's car gone, and his own car plastered from front to back with stickers and all the air let out of his tires.

During the "American Graffiti" inspired 50's craze I ran dances at local schools.  Rivers played the iconic personification of 1950's ethos, "Commander Grease."  He'd dress up in Chinos, and an ESSO shirt with a pack of Players rolled up in the sleeve.  With the spotlight on him, and the refrains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" roaring in the background, he'd light up a smoke, pull out a tube of Brylcream and proceed to dump the whole thing on his head, ending with a flourish just as the last notes played triumphantly.  Then he'd stand there in the light with his dumb-assed grin as the crowd went berserk!

Rivers either quit, or was fired 5 or 6 times from the station.  Once he decided he wanted to move to California, so he “borrowed” one of the CHUM News Cruisers and drove to San Diego where he called Bob to resign.   Roger Ashby had to fly out to recover the car.

Tom's life went into decline in later years, at one point he filed a wrongful dismissal suit against CHUM.  At the 50th reunion, I recorded some bits with him, I was shocked at his appearance.  The bottle had definitely taken it's toll, he was unkempt, was missing a couple of teeth, and seemed out of touch.  Within a year he'd turned his life around completely.  He looked healthy, clean and well groomed.  He'd beaten the bottle, married his long-time sweetheart Nancy Krant, and been hired for a talk show at an Oakville radio station.  I appeared on the show with him a couple of times, and we fielded calls from many former listeners.  Sandee and I visited with him and Nancy at their cottage near Peterborough.  Ultimately Tom landed back on the air at CHUM.  The last time we spent time together was at a Chuck Berry Tribute show back in 2004, a few weeks later I learned that Tom had passed away from cancer.

Everybody that knew Tom loved him.  You couldn't help it really, he was the kind of guy that you couldn't dislike.  I remember him writing how he'd visited his old nemesis Wes Armstrong in the hospital just before Wes passed away.  He wrote how he'd left Wes' bedside and cried all the way home.

I'm sure that Wes, back in 2004, looked down on Tom from Heaven and shed a tear or two himself.

1 comment:

  1. Oh...HOW WELL I REMEMBER BIG TOM RIVERS !! I simply phoned Tom one afternoon while I was working at WHFM in Rochester , N.Y. ...and told
    him how I absolutely enjoyed his on air "PERFORMANCES"...and next thing I know...he's inviting me to come over to Toronto to "hang out" with him, like the following Saturday !!! Needless to say...I was in awe of
    the chance to meet with one of my "idols" at the time (others included Johnny Dark - WRKO, Boston, and Mike Novak - KFRC ...AND Chip Hobart - RKO )...I was a Big Drake Fan ! So, off I headed...met Tom IN THE STUDIO at CHUM...during the last 1/2 hr. of his show that day...didn't get any better !!! We "chilled" all afternoon...first at his small apt. in Toronto...then , at one of Toronto's lush , green parks ! I left for Rochester sometime in the early eve. that day...Higher than a KITE !!!
    I'll cherish my memory of such a Unique and wonderfully warm and FUNNY... BIG TOM RIVERS.


    P.S. That encounter helped me to build a career
    in radio for many years...in short order...Programmer Larry White Hired me at the all new W A X C, in Rochester...home of such notables as Greaseman, Bob Savage, Dave Mason, Tom Birch, Ferdinand J. Smith...and so many others !