Perhaps the biggest surprise I encountered at CHUM was Mike Cooper. Mike couldn't have been much over 18 when he started. He came to us from Hamilton, about 20 miles away, and was well versed in the CHUM approach to radio, having listened to it his entire life. Mike was a surprising choice to most of us who'd never heard him. Normally Bob Wood would look for a long-time radio vet to fill a position on the station, not a fresh faced kid with a permanent deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face. I mean it... you could never tell if he was thinking of something to say, or had just that moment woken up and couldn't figure out where he was. Any concerns about how the kid would fit into the lineup were resolved the second he cracked the mike, however...this guy wasn't just good, he was spectacular.
Coop was a natural on the air the way certain athletes are naturals in a given sport, to him it came easy. At least you would think so watching him. He'd clamp the earphones on and hold them tight to his head. When it came time to do a break, he'd gesticulate wildly with his hands like an Italian mother bragging about her “son who's a priest.” He had (and still has) impeccable timing. Not only that, but he was gregarious and enthusiastic. If there was a get together of the usual, rambunctious bunch of CHUM bums, he'd be there every time. He became a family member immediately!
Coop was not only a great formatic DJ, but had a major love of wacky, publicity stunts. One year during the Canadian National Exhibition, Coop managed to set the Guinness World Record for riding a Ferris Wheel . He ate, drank, slept and lived on the thing for over 21 days . He was allowed to get off for a few minutes occasionally to stretch his legs and attend to... ahem... personal business, but other that that he was on it constantly. The station built him a special, enclosed seat that kept him out of the elements. It didn't protect him from vandals however, at one point some punks sneaked into the CNE grounds at night and roughed him up. We had to hire a security firm to protect him. At the end of his ride he was awarded the keys to a brand new car, which he immediately sold, then pocketed the money.
However the most significant contribution Mike made to Toronto radio was what I think of as the greatest publicity stunt in history, he had himself assassinated on the air! Here's how it went down. It was April Fools day, 1976. Coop began to talk on-air about some strange phone calls he'd been getting, some guy was calling him repeatedly and making threats. Coop played it off saying the guy must've had a fight with his girlfriend, but as the calls supposedly continued he began to feign some concern on the air. Then, right in the middle of a live commercial, you could hear the door open and Mike talking to someone, presumably in the room. There was a heated exchange, then the sound of a gun going off several times, Mike screaming and then the thump of something hitting the ground. Listening to the tapes of this I get chills to this day, it was that realistic. After a few seconds passed, Mike came back on the air and said “April Fool!”
Great bit huh?
It was, except that the Toronto Police Precinct down the street didn't get to hear the “April Fool” part, they were already on their way to the station and had called for backup. Coop later told me he was getting ready to intro a record when he saw the business end of a rifle sticking through the studio door. The cops were NOT amused, especially since by now there were cars from several precincts surrounding the place.
The next day Bob Wood called Coop in. He played a tape of the bit, looked Coop in the eye and told him “That was the greatest bit I've ever heard on the radio. Unfortunately I'm not sure I can save your job.” Coop wanted to say “Tell me about the greatest bit part again!” but thought better of it. That day Coop was given his walking papers.
But the story has a happy ending boys and girls. No one in their right mind would've let a talent like Mike Cooper get away, and sure enough Bob had a backup plan. He'd leave Coop at home for a couple of days and invent some excuse to bring him back. Maybe a jock was “sick” and he needed someone on the air. YEAH, that's the ticket!!! Within a few days Coop was back in the air chair, having accomplished what is now known as the “Great April Fools Day Assassination.”
A few years ago Coop, Sandee and I got together at a bar in Mississauga to hash over old memories. When Coop relived this incident his eyes lit up, his hands gesticulated wildly. and for a few seconds he was once again a 20 year old kid who pulled off one of the greatest stunts in radio history.
They said at the time that radio was for fully grown men who hadn't grown up. I can state unequivocally that, even after 40 years, most of us STILL haven't grown up. Thank HEAVEN for that!
Bruce Marshall adds:
I was the op on that little stunt. I'd worked in radio a grand total of weeks at that point. I was 17.
Coop told me that Woody had said the, "best bit in radio..." part. But he didn't tell me the, "job in jeopardy..." part.
So I saw Woody in the hallways a few days later and said something about, "hey, what about that great bit that Coop did, huh...?" I'd never seen steam come out of Woody's ears until that point. I was told something along the lines of, "if you are ever involved in anything like that again," he'd make sure I didn't work anywhere in Canadian radio. Owww...
...And the cop cars had NOT come from the local division. They came from every corner of the city. You've never seen so many cop cars at a cop car auction. And one of the things that pissed the cops off was that they had responded to trouble at CHUM the same way they'd respond to one of their own in trouble... And to find out it was a stunt got them pretty upset.
2 o'clock on a weekday morning in 1976 Toronto... There were HUNDREDS of cups of Timmies that got tossed out the window as the cavalry started a'comin' from every corner of Metro..
Looking out the newsroom window to the north - all you could see was cop cars skewed every which way where they'd drifted to a stop... Looking south.. The same... The cop cars with flashing lights as far as you could see faded in the distance down Yonge Street.
...But a HELL of a baptism into radio!