Radio story #4: The “Hawk”

Ronnie-Hawkins1Before we get to Ronnie Hawkins and the summer’s night concert at the Alexandra I should set the stage. The Alexandra was a roller rink on the edge of Hamilton’s downtown. It opened on Christmas Day 1906. It was a popular entertainment spot that featured skating, dancing, big band music and some great rock n’ roll concerts. The roller rink is no more. It closed down in April 1964 and was torn down soon thereafter and replaced with an office complex called the Undermount.

You can’t be too surprised that the Alex was torn down … it was a fire hazard waiting for a match. It was basically a wood structure and inside you were held captive by the high walls that enclosed it. At one end of the rink there was a stage and this where many an artist entertained weekend audiences.

I can remember, as a young teenager, taking the bus with friends down to the Alex. We were all roller skaters. old roller skates We’d been doing it since we were in public school. We skated to school, we skated the streets in the evenings and we had lots of skinned parts on our body to prove our dedication. The Alex was special .. you rented boot skates with hardwood wheels … wow, what an experience. skates copy We felt so grown up, in the downtown, with the music playing and holding hands with our current female friend. Sweet times. roller rink ticket

I’d been at the station about a year and, at just 20 years of age, I was at the centre of the rock n’ roll excitement … and at times, just a little overtaken by it all. Ronnie Hawkins was coming to town to do a concert at the Alex and the station said that the promoter had asked if I would be the Emcee. It was a paying gig and it was Ronnie Hawkins – of course I would do it. I loved those guys.ronnie hawkins 3

It was a hot summer’s eve and inside the Alex it was getting steamy as the throng of teenagers arrived. The wooden floor and wooden walls held the heat adding to the energy of this highly anticipated event. No breeze, no air conditioning just a thick humidity that was quickly losing it’s oxygen as the crowd grew. It was going to be a sold out night and when everyone started dancing the place would be just thrumming (is that a word?) with energy.

I could feel my nervous energy starting to build. I was all decked out in my bright blue station jacket, white shirt and formal bow tie … wow, I felt like a pretty slick dude. There were a few hello’s as I pushed through the crowd, a few nice glances from some of the young ladies, and squinted eyes from their dates. Yeh, typical Saturday night. ronnie hawkins 2I climbed the wooden stairs and went to what they called backstage. It was really a storage area of some sort, that doubled as a place where acts could relax before going on. I made my introduction to Ronnie and the members of the band. They were pleasant towards me but I could tell that my station outfit relegated me to “outsider” status with this band of jolly rogues. Despite their thin assessment of me it was all very polite and, we agreed, it was going to be a hot night. After a brief back and forth it was time to do some rock n roll.

The stage at the Alexandra was not the biggest in the city but it was big enough for bands and rock groups to put on some great shows. Tonight would be no different. I went out on stage, introduced myself, made some not-so-memorable comments and received a good round of cheers and applause mixed in with a few hoots. All in all it felt like a good start. As I introduced Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks the volume level went off the scale. The crowd went wild. Ronnie-Hawkins2 I started to worry that the nails might come out of the walls and the whole place would fall on our heads. Ronnie and the band took over the stage and for the next hour they just sent everyone into a dancing, cheering frenzy. Meanwhile, the temperature kept rising. It was probably more than 80F in the old Alex and getting hotter. Inside my station jacket hell had taken hold and my shirt was stuck to my body, adding to the rush of perspiration down my legs. Even my socks were soaked.

It came time for the blessed break and we all went back to the little room behind the stage. Ronnie and the band sat down on some wooden chairs, pulling them into a horseshoe. Quick as a bunny, out came a 26’er of scotch. Each of the guys took a shot. They talked about the first set, what was good, the cute girls, the heat, the next set .. and on, for about 15 minutes. I was the outsider in the group, keeping an eye on the time and, though I was offered a shot, I was drinking water. Once the break time finished I asked the Ronnie if I could introduce the second half.
“Hell no boy! We’re not done our break”. This was directed at me as a new round of shots was being poured out for the group. I could hear the murmur of the audience, anticipating the start of the second set. What was I going to do? Ronnie gave me the direction, “Just go out and entertain them for a bit.”

I’d never done improv or stand up. I was pretty fair at adlibbing but I never expected to go out in front of a crowd and, on the spur of the moment, be entertaining or, at the very least, interesting.

I strolled onto the stage, enjoying the enthusiastic welcome of this mass of teenagers. I knew it wasn’t for me. It was for the start of the show. I felt a little awkward knowing what I knew. I did the expected things a young jock does. You know. “Is everyone having a great time” That’s such a lovely slowball pitch. Everyone can hit that. The crowd responds. “You all look so fabulous tonight and you dance like you’re on American Bandstand” Another nice pitch. It get the expected yeas and cheers. From here on in it is very uphill. I don’t know what I said or did but I managed to do some bits that had them laughing and applauding for almost 15 minutes. It was really a case of “do it” or “you die”. By the last quip or two the crowd was no longer amused. Not even slightly. They were there for Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, not this perspired d.j. with fear in his eyes. As I quickly exited the stage, I promised them Ronnie was coming. The crowd was in its own frenzy, chanting “we want Ronnie”, over and over and over.
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Backstage the party was going just fine. It was obvious that another shot or two had been shared. I said to Ronnie “OK guys, it’s time to hit the stage”. One of the band members said, “but the bottle isn’t empty yet and we ain’t goin’ on until it’s done.” In a very squeeky voice I shrieked “if you don’t get out on that stage right now, they are going to kill me!” I remember those words so precisely all these years later. They were uttered not so much out of fear as they were out of frustration.

In that moment Ronnie Hawkins stood up and, with a good humoured smile and laughing voice, said to the Hawks “Come on guys, let’s go save this boy’s life.”

I went out on stage, with the crowd watching closely, and they could sense that they were going to be granted what they had been chanting for for the last five minutes. I introduced Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks and the band and I were rewarded with a deafening cheer. The band jumped in and blew the house down ’till pretty well all the oxygen in the old Alex was pretty well spent, and I was left with another memorable moment to look back on all these years later with my own good humoured smile.
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Radio Story #3: The Bomb!

1960 saw CKOC, like many radio stations, move to the popular music/news format. Television had killed old time radio by taking away the dramas, quiz shows and soap operas. CKOC became a Hit Parade Station and “OC The Busy Bee” was born. I joined the station in 1962 to become a small part of the station’s Rock ‘n Roll era.
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I loved summer. Sunny days with ice cream clouds and steamy, humid nights were just made for rock ‘n roll. There was a special magic to the music of summer. (in the picture to the left I’m seated on the ground enjoying a Dairy Queen Block Party with the other OC guys) The tempo and the tone changed when summer rolled around. We DJ’s, suffered through the winter and early spring just waiting for the first arrivals of promo discs and the summer music that would once again propel us through the greatest season of the year. Heat Wave, Under the Boardwalk, California Girls, Wipeout, Let’s Twist Again, Green Onions and on and on and on … each year a new collection of memorable hits.

CKOC was located at 73 Garfield Ave South in the east end of Hamilton. It was a 2-storey building originally built by Bell Telephone to house the Garfield Exchange. Over the years the building had also served as offices for the steel company and as a school for the blind.

I was on the 6 to midnight shift in 1963 and ’64. It runs in my mind that this particular event happened in 1964. It was one of those fine evenings, you know the type, the pavement was still hot from the day, the shadows were getting longer and there was a sense of ease as the quiet of the evening started to permeate the neighbourhoods of Hamilton. Meanwhile, in the studio, we were pumping out great songs from our “sensational sixty”, the play list of the best songs of the moment.
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I was in my first hour, six to seven pm. There were still a few people around the station, finishing up for the day. This was not unusual, considering that we lived and breathed radio. Acolytes of the medium. The studio was a large room on the second floor of the building, probably about twenty by twenty and from my perch in main control I had two announce booths in front of me, another “news” booth behind me, a door that led to the hall, with a small window, to my right, and racks of equipment to my left. My window on the world was limited, but through that tiny door window I could see people as they walked by the door.

This particular evening I became aware of quite a bit of activity in the hall. Even when I was on the air I could tell, from my peripheral vision, that there was more traffic than normal for seven forty-five in the evening. While one of the songs was playing I poked my head out into the hall to see what was going on. A policeman was in the hall! What?!
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I asked, “what’s going on officer?”

He came back to the studio door and then stepped into main control. His body language suggested he wanted a private conversation. I thought we’d been raided, or someone was arrested, which, in those days, wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. The policeman was a big man, about six three. He was in full uniform and had his cap at a serious angle. I was impressed, and a touch anxious, at the size of the revolver strapped to his hip.

His first few words would stun me.

“Sir, I don’t want you to be afraid or unduly concerned, but there has been a bomb threat.”

I was immediately and duly concerned. “Whaaat? What on earth”, I exclaimed.

“Well sir, the caller said they had placed a bomb in the building and it is due to go off at seven p.m.”
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My eyes snapped to the large clock on the front wall. It was 6.50 p.m.

“Don’t worry about it, we’re pretty sure it’s a hoax, so, please, just continue on with what you are doing.”

With that confidence building comment having been shared, he left the studio. I could barely believe it. Carry on with what you are doing. Right. Easy for him to say. He left the room and went someplace safe I’m sure.

I went on the air and with my mind in a bit of a blur, and keeping one eye on the clock, I announced the next tune. The clock approached 6.55 p.m. I knew I would have time for one more song before we went up to detonation time. End of song, some words were uttered, I thought of saying goodbye to everyone “If I die, know I love you all!” As the next song came on, I became aware of the fact that in the last seven minutes I hadn’t seen anyone in the hall and the policeman hadn’t come back to see if I was hyperventallating. I was.
While my final song was on, not knowing if would be my final, final song, I went out into the hall. Empty. No one there. I called out. No answer. I went to the window to look down to Garfield Avenue to see if anyone was there. They were ALL there. people with colour copy The firemen, the ambulance, CKOC staffers, neighbours and even my nice policeman and his friends in blue were there too. And they were all looking up at ME. No one waved or said “good luck.” They just stared, as if they were waiting for me to become nanoparticles when the magical hour rolled around.
I went back into the studio, sat down at the console and watched as the clock ticked the seconds off. That last half minute of time seemed to take a lifetime. When the clock hit seven p.m. and nothing happend, I finally exhaled. I’m not sure why I was holding my breath. Perhaps I was just enjoying my last breath to the fullest.

At 7.02 p.m. the policeman came back into the studio and proudly announced, it was a hoax. “I told you.” I wanted to tell him he was a chickenshit for not keeping me company in those final moments. I didn’t. He had the big gun.

… and at 7.15 p.m. the hits just kept on rollin!IMG_0055


I’m liking this guy. There’s attitude in those eyes. Kinda reminds me of the wolf howl that took place each week during the summer up at Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Preserve. This guy looks like he might be replying to some distant invitation. As the wolf dries there’ll be more detail and cleaning up. I plan to handpaint him prior to bisque, and then give him the black unglaze wash. Should pop out the detail beautifully. Into the kiln on Tuesday (after some of the family has had a nice long weekend in Haliburton.)DSC03036


It may be wet outside but things are drying up in the studio

It’s taken a few days for things to dry up. Cecil, in particular, because of his size and clay content has taken about 6 days to fully dry out. Time to do some underglaze work before he goes into the kiln.


A new bear, I call him the “fishing bear”, has formed very nicely, and he is just about dried. The base will receive an underglaze wash but other than that he’s ready for stage 1 firing.


There’s a joy watching things come together and taking the time to enjoy the journey. Hearing the national and international news in a morning it’s always a delight to sequester myself away, with a lump of clay, and allow better thoughts to occupy my mind.

Back into the studio this morning to do some prep work for the next project. Frogs are involved. It’s a bit tricky, the idea that I have, but I think that with a bit of ingenuity it can work (from an engineering standpoint.) Stay tuned. Also, making a drop mold for when our grand daughters arrive on the weekend (sans parents.) We have a page of options for the girls so I’m sure they’ll find something they’d like to work on with “grumpa”.

Cecil is progressing nicely

Cecil, is an upper crust bunny, well known amongst the more refined of the animal kingdom. He, Billy Badger and Ginger Toad gather each week to discuss issues of common interest. In this `snapshot` in time, we find Cecil, in his smoking jacket enjoying a favourite cigar. He is in the process of making a point to his friends.


With basic assembly done, the fine work begins followed by the bisque firing, hand painting and then the clear glaze firing. Another week and Cecil should be quite fine indeed. As one would expect with an upper crust bunny, Cecil is a commissioned piece, thus his stay at our humble abode will be short, but sweet.

New clay sculpture .. Elephant

Ready to go for first firing … my elephant. I’ve been wanting to have a go creating an elephant for almost a year now. My cousin Ros has a lovely collection of elephants as does Pat (my mother’s cousin’s dear wife.) I admired their displays while Jane and I were in England last year. So many sad stories have been reported in the past while about mistreatment of these massive yet sensitive animals. I wanted to reflect their spirit in the piece.
I like what I see thus far.
A personal project is this handsome cigar ash tray. It should be the envey of knowledgeable puffers.
Also in the works, a rather complex commissioned piece … hope to be on top of that by next week. More to come.

The “Restin’ Rabbit” is sitting pretty.

A dark wash to enhance and a light glaze to his clothes and he is all done. I’m pleased with the result. The little guy makes me want to slow down a notch and contemplate what’s going on in the furry reaches of his mind. He’s thinking, that’s for sure. Perhaps he’s concluded that “sitting down on the job” is OK once in a while.

Now he can look for a nice home.

Opera in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands

The Highlands Opera Studio is quite an amazing undertaking, and it all happens between July 31st and August 28th.

For anyone not from the Haliburton Highlands the notion of world class opera in the midst of lakes and forests may seem a little odd. We find it quite appropriate for our very creative region.

It all began seven years ago when Valerie Kuinka and Richard Margison decided to start a program for very advanced emerging operatic artists. They wanted to concentrate not only on the goals of performance excellence, but also on networking and potential employment opportunities for young singers. All the young Canadian artists attending the month-long intensive program are on full scholarship. Participants are chosen through a rigorous cross-Canada (and NYC) audition tour. They end up listening to close to 200 applicants. On average, 15 highly qualified participants are chosen. These lucky participants bunk in with local families and get to enjoy some of the delights of our region.

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The community of the Haliburton Highlands and surrounding areas have enthusiastically welcomed the program. The calendar provides lots of community interaction and audience education through opera pre-performance chats, concerts in local churches, and short concerts in local venues(Random Acts of Opera.) Three years ago the Highlands Opera Community School was established offering voice lessons, masterclasses, the opportunity to observe the Opera Studio participants, and potential involvement in the staged productions.

Tickets for the concerts are $30.00 and for the operas $35.00. Unheard of prices for this level of excellence. If you’re thinking that a little culture with your summer getaway might be a delicious combination … come and stay a while. Tickets will be going fast so don’t delay.

GuyTown a hit once again!!

For 22 years the boys have been getting together to celebrate our friendships and our family. It all started with my brother Peter and his good friend Rob, at my parent’s cottage near Killaloe. Somehow others of us got invited and it grew to become an annual celebration with my sons, Peter and friends … and then as others became of age, they too joined us.
The group has changed shape over the years and new attendees have joined us in that time. About a dozen or so good folks, around a campfire, a beer or two, great food, and stories galore.



We started in Killaloe, moved to yurt at one of the provincial parks, and then when we became permanent citizens in Haliburton, the boys made our home Guytown Central. Needless to say, Jane leaves for the weekend, with one rule remaining … make it the same as when I left it.
The Guytown Olympics take place each year, and this year my brother Peter and his team mate, Brad, my son, took the trophy honours.
Such a laugh, such good fun. Another highlight this year was my son Mark’s portable bar (R2 Bar2) that he created, complete with led lights for nightime enjoyment.
Mark brought his quadra-copter too. His shot from the ground level and above the trees at Eagle Lake at sunset is just beautiful. Check it out at
Ken’s Saturday night supper was a TexMex homerun … individual meatloafs wrapped in bacon (3 kinds of meat in the loaf .. whoa!) plus beans with Chirizo sausage plus Cowboy Cookies, with bacon of course. Good thing we cut down to 2 meals a day!
Great cooperation and generosity by every member of the group make this a weekend to look forward to every year. Thanks guys for another great town meeting! Oh, and thanks Brent and Rob for taking the pictures this year.