Rock Radio Scrapbook
AIRCHECK OF THE WEEK
For week of October 24, 2010
Weekly issue #602
Station: CHUM Toronto
Date: August 12, 1998
(The CHUM Archives/Bob Laine and Doug Thompson)
No one tells it like it is quite like Brian Henderson.
A veteran of some four decades in Canadian radio including 27 years at CHUM, Henny is known as a straight-shooter who isn't afraid to speak his mind on or off the air. A gifted storyteller, he had quite a few tales to relate when asked about his life and career by Rock Radio Scrapbook...
"My first recollection of radio being a career ambition
occurred in 1957, when I discovered Dave Johnson playing rock and roll on CHUM.
I was 12 years old, and used to practice being a disc jockey while listening to
his show every night. There were no broadcast schools back then (except for
Ryerson which required a grade 12 diploma), and since I was kicked out of Thornhill Secondary at age 16, my broadcasting dreams had pretty much been
dashed. How ironic. Years later I was invited back to "Thornhill" to speak to a
careers day assembly, where they introduced me as a graduate. I didn't bother to
Anyway, after a number of years of working menial jobs I was reacquainted with an old friend from school (Glen Cooper) who had somehow drifted into an announcing job at a one-thousand-watt radio station (CKMP) in Midland, Ont. On a visit there Glen introduced me to his program director, an old guy by the name of Bill Brama, who had seen better days, but still had a voice that rumbled up from somewhere around the balls of his feet, and so was still working part-time in radio while teaching full-time at the local high school. Other seniors like myself may remember him resurfacing years later doing regularly featured reports on Global TV newscasts called "Bill Brama's Ontario." While discussing my interest in becoming an announcer, he handed me a sheet of "Broadcast News" copy and demanded, "Here kid, read this." I did, and he hired me on the spot at $180 a month.
Cooper's career took him through Barrie,,,,and Brampton (CHIC Radio),,,,,Canada's first all-female announce staff, except for Cooper who read the news.
He eventually moved on to CJOB in Winnipeg, after which he pretty much disappeared off the map.
In the meantime I also moved to CKBB Barrie/CKCB Collingwood, where I served several tours of duty over the years including stints as the first nighttime rock announcer (nicknamed THE WHITE NIGHT.) I even had my own published hot hits chart. It's also where I began to dabble in television at CKVR where I hosted a daily kids cartoon show called "The Marvelous SuperHeroes." It was 1967-68.
(Logo courtesy Bill Dulmage)
From there it was on to CHLO in St Thomas where they were playing Otis Redding in the morning, while CHUM's contribution to the "soul train" was the token "white bread" Supremes. Paul Ski was the afternoon drive host/program director. One of the other announcers was a British hippy immigrant from a "pirate radio" ship in England, who lived in a big white house with a peace sign painted high on the front peek facing the street. What a surprise when the police raided the place one weekend and arrested virtually the entire announce staff, leaving Ski and I as the only ones still free to work on air that Monday.
One of the other names of some renown to come out of CHLO was a news reader by the name of Bill Hirtz who resurfaced a number of years later as the on-site front man and media relations coordinator for the Terry Fox "Marathon of Hope."
When CHLO sold its 680 frequency to the fledgling CFTR in 1969, and moved down the dial to 1570, we all knew the station was doomed, and a lot of us fled. I eventually returned to CKBB/CKVR where I tried television sports for the first time, working for an old retiree by the name of Steve Douglas. Contrary to popular opinion Foster Hewitt was not Canada's first international hockey broadcaster. It was Steve Douglas, and he was the one who drove it into my head that being a sportscaster didn't mean just "ripping and reading" wire copy. "Write the stories in your own words" he demanded,,,,,and I did, and it would eventually change my whole career, and my life.
My program director during this turn at CKBB was Doug Lennox who had his own dramatic life-changing experience. At age thirty, and seemingly in a rut, he just quit it all. Walked out on the job,,,,,,amicably divorced his wife,,,,,,,,bought a robin's egg blue convertible and took off for Toronto. Over the next 30 or so years, he's worked numerous radio jobs,,,,,,,,,,had a moderately successful acting career ... and a lot of commercial work. You might even recognize his voice. He's the Labatt Blue man who resonates the catch phrase,,,,,"THE GOOD STUFF".
On another turn at CKBB/CKCB I was the program director, and it was in that capacity that I discovered a couple of names you might recognize. Jim Van Horne was from the nearby hamlet of Waverly. I hired him, but it didn't turn out that well. Apparently I forgot to tell him that it wasn't for a job in Barrie, but at CKCB in Collingwood. Not exactly a great career move,,,,and I know he was pissed for a while . But he got the last laugh, enjoying some of the best years at CHUM,,,,way ahead of me .... and then a long career at TSN.
I wandered for a few years after that,,,,,,,,,,,,working as a beer sales rep among other things,,,,,and for a couple of small radio stations in the interior of British Columbia before ill health forced me to return to Ontario. Once I was well again, I got the itch, and so flat broke I found myself hitchhiking to visit a young woman I knew in "the business" in Ottawa. But the first two guys to pick me up said they were going to Halifax ... and I thought ... what the heck ... and through a roundabout series of coincidences ... found myself sitting in the office of the station manager at CJCH in April 1976. It was my old St. Thomas PD Paul Ski. CHUM had just purchased both the radio and television station, and Ski had been sent in to revamp the whole radio operation, which included a complete overhaul of the announce staff.
Over the next few months I worked every position on the dial, before finally taking advantage of that long ago Steve Douglas tutoring to gain the radio and TV sportscasting assignment, which is where I was discovered by Hockey Night in Canada's Dick Irvin, who hired me to come to Montreal to work at CFCF. But CHUM got wind of it and before I was signed at CFCF, J. Robert Wood scooped me,,,,and moved me to Toronto in 1977.
Jay Nelson was there then,,,,,,,Terry Steele,,,,,,John Majhor,,,,,,,John Gilbert,,,,,Roger Ashby,,,,,, J.D. Roberts ,,,,,Pete and Geets on CHUM-FM, and working in the chair next to me,,,,,,Dick Smyth,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,The best radio,,,,news writer,,,,,,reader,,,,commentator ever. I was briefly in awe. Smyth and I got along well for the most part. Except for the day when his commentary was about a high school play he'd attended the night before. His own daughter's high school play. He trashed the play AND her. I blew my top. Walked out on him mid-broadcast.
My excessive drinking also became a problem. It probably should have cost me my career the number of drunken Thursday night flights I took to Fort Lauderdale and Treasure Island. Usually tracking me down at some beach bar, boss Jim Waters would just laugh and urge,,,,,,, "Just get back here when you've got this out of your system." And he always forgave me as did my wife Susan,,,,,,,,,,even on the Valentine's Day when we were supposed to be going out to dinner. Instead,,,,,,,,a dozen roses were delivered to her office with a note which read,,,, "Gone to Nassau,,,,,,,,,,,,LUV you hun,,,,,,,,,,,,,,brian"
In 1984, Susan and I welcomed our first and only child,,,,,,son Kyle (AKA,,,,,The Wonderkid.) A short time later,,,,I entered rehab,,,and quit drinking. The Toronto Star did a major story on it. It was both embarrassing,,,and motivating.
Dick Smyth left CHUM in 1987, and I accepted an offer to take over the news and commentary, which became not only an opportunity to vent my opinions but to relate interesting stories,,,,and offer some insight into the most personal elements of my life,,,,including the painful months before and after Susan's death from stomach cancer in 1993 at age 42. A few days after Susan's funeral,,,,,,,Terry Steele,,,,,,my best friend,,, also died. I was emotionally gutted.
But before she passed Susan left me with instructions to "take care" of her best friend Gayle,,,,,,the single mother of two young girls. In 1995 we married, but before we could even move our blended family into our new home I was felled with kidney cancer. Shortly after my recovery I was asked to also take over the morning show in addition to the news and commentary. It was beyond overwhelming. By the end of 1998,,,,,,,,,,,my health,,,,,and my enthusiasm for the job were seriously deteriorating. I was promised that in the new year, management would find a way to reduce my work load, but on the Friday of Super Bowl weekend 1999, I suffered a series of heart attacks ... and near death, underwent emergency bypass surgery at St Michael's Hospital.
Then came "The Team",,,,,sports fiasco,,,,,and 15 months of demoralizing ineptitude followed by the sudden switch back to "all oldies" again. But the damage had been done,,,,and I was done.......... I had a mental breakdown. Somewhat I'm sure caused by the chaos at CHUM, but we were soon to learn of an even more threatening health issue. Within weeks of returning to work with my mental state still teetering on the edge,,,,I was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma. Another death sentence.
Incredibly,,,,,,,,,,,while I was enduring intense chemo therapy, and repeated blood transfusions, CHUM continued to run re-airings of "The Best of Henny" commentaries. Even while discussing (unbeknownst to me),,,,,,my forthcoming termination they still aired those commentaries,,,,,,,milking the very last drop out of 10 years of work. In November 2004,,,,,,,,,,,,I informed my bosses,,,,,that my oncologist was ready to write a note authorizing my return to work Instead of having me deliver the note to them,,,,they offered to meet me downtown. And so after 27 years at CHUM LTD,,,,,,,(28 including the year in Halifax),,,,,I was terminated,,,,,,with a limp-wristed handshake and a brown paper envelope in a TIM HORTONS DONUT SHOP next to the hospital.
59 years old,,,,,,with only very specific skills in an industry which doesn't require much personality or creativity anymore, I was done.
I did a commentary once on the ruination of Canadian radio, in which I described this very circumstance, never realizing then that I was predicting the eventual demise of a broadcasting institution.
Even I'm not that smart.
You say bitter.
I say sad."
Enjoy Brian Henderson on CHUM here.
(The CHUM Archives/Bob Laine and Doug Thompson)
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