A monthly column by Doug Thompson
Issue #9: September 2020
THE 1050 CHUM STORY: 1959 CHANGES, NOTHING BUT CHANGES
By the time 1959 rolled around, CHUM’s fortunes were most definitely on the rise – ratings were way up and more and more advertisers were booking commercials on this new Toronto radio upstart. Program Director Allan Slaight continued to make changes to CHUM’s on-air staff. Harvey Dobbs, who was no one’s idea of a Top 50 DJ, came off the air and went into the CHUM sales department full time, where he did extremely well with such long-term clients as Herman Furs and Mann & Martell real estate.
Harvey Dobbs had been at CHUM for years prior to May of 1957 and had strongly opposed the switch to rock and roll. But Mr. Waters had been adamant that he was definitely changing the sound of the station and those who wanted to, could stay.
Dobb’s on-air style was out of place on the ‘new CHUM’ as he did not like current popular music at all. He was much more comfortable with big band swing and the crooner ballads of an earlier era. He continued to play some of that music on his mid morning program. You can hear Harvey Dobbs as he sounded on CHUM in 1957 and ‘58 in the CHUM DJ Hall of Fame archives here at chumtribute.com. Check out May 11, 2020 or September 23, 2019.
The first CHUM chart of 1959, dated January 5, showed the caricatures of all 7 CHUM DJ’s on the air at that time.
Not long after Harvey Dobbs transitioned into sales, original ‘57 DJ Phil Stone also retired from the airwaves, becoming CHUM’s first Public Service Director, a position he held until he left to form his own public relations firm in 1966.
CHUM was Phil’s first client.
That left only Pete Nordheimer as the last original May 1957 CHUM DJ. Pete had also been at CHUM prior to the May ’57 switch and had adapted well to the new format, even though he occasionally sounded ‘a little formal’ compared to the zaniness of Al Boliska and the rest of the younger CHUM DJ’s. But Pete gamely went along with all of the promotional stunts that involved the CHUM DJ’s (and there were many)
Photo below is Pete Nordheimer at the annual Sportsmen’s Show log rolling (Pete’s on the left).
On February 3rd, 1959 tragedy struck the music industry when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson aka ‘The Big Bopper’, died when their Beechcraft Bonanza plane, piloted by Roger Peterson, crashed while flying from Clear Lake, Iowa to their next gig in Moorhead, Minnesota. CHUM paid tribute to the fallen stars on the air and on the back of the February 16th CHUM chart. Ritchie Valens double-sided hit, “Donna” b/w “La Bamba” had been number one on the CHUM chart that year from the week of February 2nd until the week of February 23rd.
At CHUM in 1959, there were three Allan’s, actually two Allan’s and one Allen. Allan Waters (always referred to by the staff as Mr. Waters), PD Allan Slaight and Promotion Director Allen Farrell. Both had arrived at CHUM in 1958 – Slaight in the Spring and Farrell in the Fall. Slaight and Farrell (who, at the time, were both called Al), had previously worked in Edmonton, although at different radio stations – Slaight at CJCA and CHED and Farrell at CFRN, where he’d worked with a DJ and singer named Mike Darow. Farrell suggested to Slaight that Darow would made a great addition to the CHUM DJ staff.
Slaight agreed and in early ‘59, Mike Darow became the newest CHUM DJ.
Once Darow was in place, the CHUM DJ line remained the same for the next two years.
Midnight to 6AM – Bob Laine
6 to 9AM – Al Boliska
9AM to Noon – John Spragge
Noon to 1PM – Al Boliska again (a shift he absolutely hated doing)
1 to 4PM – Pete Nordheimer
4 to 7PM – Mike Darow
7 to Midnight – Dave Johnson
Mike Darow quickly fit into the sound of CHUM 1050. The fact that he was also a good singer was a great bonus. Within a few months of Mike’s on-air debut, CHUM creative writer Garry Ferrier had Mike record an original song Garry wrote, that was inspired by Johnny Horton’s hit “The Battle of New Orleans” a number one on the CHUM chart for 7 weeks from June 1st until July 13th. Garry’s song was called “The Battle of Queenston Heights” and was released as a 45rpm single on the Apex label. The song entered the CHUM chart at # 33 for the week of July 6, 1959 and moved up to # 21 the following week. Two weeks later, it climbed to # 11, it’s highest position on the CHUM chart. “The Battle of Queenston Heights” was on the CHUM chart for a total of 9 weeks, before finally dropping off the first week in September.
In 1974, CHUM jock Terry Steele ‘wrestled’ pro wrestler Sweet Daddy Siki for charity. It was a great publicity stunt, but it was not CHUM’s first time in the ring. Morning Mayor Al Boliska did it first in May 1959 when he wrestled Whipper Billy Watson (a charity match for Easter Seals) and just like in ‘74, CHUM made a HUGE promotion out of this.
Weeks before the event at Maple Leaf Gardens, Boliska boasted how he was going to ‘wallop’ Watson and ‘make mince meat’ out of him. Promos airing at the time called it ‘the fight of the century…just not THIS century’. Maple Leaf Gardens was packed with wrestling fans alongside CHUM listeners. As expected, Watson whipped Boliska, but it made for a great show. Boliska and Watson both hammed it up and Easter Seals was the beneficiary. It was another zany stunt from the furtive mind of CHUM’s Promotion Director Allen Farrell.
Of course, CHUM couldn’t just let Al Boliska’s loss in the ring end there. Al had a few days of vacation coming, so Allen Farrell sat at his typewriter and came up with a new twist – Al Boliska was so distraught at losing to Whipper Billy Watson that he wouldn’t be back on the air until he got professional counselling.
Farrell’s promo copy went like this: “C-H-U-M is looking for a professional hypnotist. CHUM’s Al Boliska needs help. Boliska, the man who lost the CHUM Championship. Boliska, the man who was defeated by Whipper Billy Watson, is now a subdued and self conscious shell. This man needs HELP! His confidence must be restored. Hypnosis is the answer. Hypnotists are to contact Program Director, C-H-U-M, Toronto.”
CHUM listeners ate it up and mailed in hundreds upon hundreds of letters encouraging Al to get better. The ‘Happy Hungarian’ joyfully returned to the CHUM morning show refreshed, renewed and rewarded.
In just a couple of years, CHUM quickly became THE radio station for teens and young adults…however, there was ONE small problem and it was owner Jack Kent Cooke’s CKEY, which had noted CHUM’s success and had also began playing rock and roll. Gone were the air personalities of CKEY’s MOR format like Mickey Lester, Gerry Myers and Martin Silburt (who later became a CHUM salesman). In their place, Cooke brought in young ‘up and comers’ who knew and liked this new popular music. DJ’s such as Brian Skinner from CKY Winnipeg; John Dolan and Larry Theissen along with Danny Roman and Duff Roman, who had been at CHED in Edmonton previously.
Through secretive methods that would make the CIA jealous, CHUM management discovered that CKEY was having a portable broadcast trailer built and that the manufacturer was based in Peterborough. CHUM’s Promotion Director Allen Farrell recalled that super secret caper in his book: “The CHUM Story: From the Charts To Your Hearts”.
“Dropping everything, we scurried up there [to Peterborough] and saw the ‘EY design and early renovation. Hey! We could improve on that. After Allan Waters and George Jones looked it over and approved a sale, CHUM went into full promotional gear. We called it CHUM’s Satellite Station, asked listeners to watch for it and told them to look for its space-age design and bright red and white colours. ‘EY, who wouldn’t be taking delivery of the trailer for at least two months, didn’t say a thing. We assumed they thought, like everyone else, that CHUM had beaten them to the punch again and that our Satellite Station was whizzing about town, making money on commercial remotes and generally promoting our station. In reality, work on it hadn’t begun.”
Score one for the CHUM spies.
The brand spanking new CHUM Satellite Station made its debut at the Canadian National Exhibition in August of 1959.
The back of the CHUM chart for most of 1959 was taken up with various promotions for the Hi-Fi Club, which was sponsored on major Top 40 radio stations across North America by Coca-Cola. It was a brilliant advertising campaign on Coke’s part to reach the youth market. Only one Top 40 radio station per city had the Hi-Fi Club and you had to join and receive a membership card, but there were all kinds of perks – contests, weekly dances, free cases of Coke, along with albums and 45rpm giveaways, brand new cameras or typewriters. Selected Winning Hi-Fi Club members got to meet some of the biggest pop stars of the day, like Annette Funicello, Fabian and Connie Francis. The Hi-Fi Club was a half hour segment on Dave Johnson’s weeknight show from 8 to 8:30 PM as Dave was officially CHUM’s ‘teen DJ’.
Over and above the Hi-Fi Club contests, CHUM’s airwaves were never far from a zany contest. There were dozens of them in ’59. Quite a few of them would be quite comfortable in a corn field. There was ‘Bucks for Yuks’, where listeners submitted jokes and if read on the air, received a dollar; then there was the derivative ‘Bucks For Clucks’, where listeners phoned in, clucked like a chicken and received a buck.
One contest that didn’t go exactly as planned was CHUM’s Walking Man. As Allen Farrell wrote in “The CHUM Story”…
“I believe we copied CHUM’s Walking Man contest from an American radio station. At least I hope so, after living with its results. The concept was simple. CHUM hired a person who would travel around Toronto. We tagged him ‘the walking man’. We invited listeners to ask everyone they met if he was the CHUM walking man. When someone nabbed him, they’d win a thousand dollars. In truth, the idea was kinda feeble. Dumb even. And much too limp.
So, we narrowed the focus, saying “Ask everyone you meet in elevators today” or “Ask everyone on subways” or “at the front doors of stores”, etc. As we made it easier and easier to win, we dropped the prize money accordingly. No takers. We knew we had a lemon on our hands and decided to blow it off.”
As the contest lingered on with no winner, the station dropped the prize money from $1000 down to $500 and then finally, to $200. Slaight and Farrell had promos created that announced that the CHUM Walking Man would be at the corner of Yonge and Queen in downtown Toronto at precisely 12:30 on a specific day, wearing black Bermuda shorts and a black bowler hat. Allen Farrell recounts what happened next.
“We estimated fifty people would turn up – tops. Slaight, who always had a plan, decided to jazz up this rather weak ending to our promotion. He directed our announcers to get into their bowlers [hats] and Bermudas [shorts] and jump into four CHUM cruisers. Garry Ferrier was to drive into the intersection from the east at precisely 12:28. The small crowd would move towards him. After discovering he was NOT the Walking Man, they’d spot Pete Nordheimer coming up from the south at 12:28:30, then see Mike Darow’s cruiser entering the intersection from the west at 12:29 then Al Boliska three seconds later. Then the REAL Walking Man would come out of the Stock Exchange Building, move to the designated spot and be identified, and we’d award $200 to the lucky winner.
And a good time would be had by all.
Nope. Naw. Didn’t happen. At noon, 30 minutes before the promoted climax, no one could turn left off University Avenue onto Queen Street because it was jammed with cars going nowhere. And there was a good reason. The entire intersection, curb to curb and spilling up onto the sidewalks was chock-a-block with potential contest winners. This crowd filled the streets, up and down Yonge, and east and west on Queen.
Estimated number – 10,000.”
Finally, the Walking Man contest had been won. The $200 prize had been awarded, but there was still the piper to pay. While at the station, most of the CHUM management and staff were jumping for joy that the massive crowd had shown up for a contest they had thought was a dud, but publicly, they had to appear humble and contrite because of the traffic mess CHUM had caused to downtown Toronto at noontime.
The station even broadcast this apology...several times that day.
“From time to time, C-H-U-M in editorial form, has criticized various civic events or individuals. This time, CHUM’s editorial attack is directed at our own operation. This station sincerely regrets any inconvenience or hardship which was caused pedestrians
and motorists during the finale of our Walking Man promotion at the intersection of Queen and Yonge Streets. C-H-U-M at no time visualized the affects of this promotion. In particular, our apologies to the Toronto Police Department, and a sincere ‘thank you’ for the superb performance of the traffic officers in quickly clearing what has been reported as ‘one of the largest traffic jams in the history of Toronto’. Needless to say, if C-H-U-M had foreseen the consequences of our Walking Man finale, it would NOT have been staged at Yonge and Queen.”
But the biggest change involving CHUM in 1959 was NOT a contest or sales promotion and most listeners wouldn’t have even noticed had the DJ’s not mentioned it on the air, but CHUM was ‘movin’ on up’…from the cramped space at 250 Adelaide Street to brand new spacious digs at 1331 Yonge Street, just two and a half blocks south of St. Clair. Previously, the building has been a book storage warehouse, but now was the proud home to the lovable CHUM DJ’s, a growing news staff, sales executives, management, engineers and dozens of behind-the-scenes people such as writers, producers and office staff.
The station remained, expanded and flourished at 1331 Yonge Street for 50 years. That site is now home to million dollar condos.
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