Radio Story #7 – Gotta Love the Listeners

Back in the day, being a radio DJ meant that you were going to have lots of fans. And some detractors too. Listeners had their favourite announcers and they were both loyal listeners as well as followers of all the dances and personal appearances you were going to make. On most occasions it was quite super to meet your loyal listeners. Because ratings were your life and blood to keeping your job, building relationships with listeners both on the air and off the air was important. As a young man it was a joyful part of the job. Listeners were, by and large, simply wonderful people.

But every so often you could count on a strange set of circumstances that kinda made the hair on your arms stand up.

One night, I think it was a Friday night, about 10 pm I had this sultry young lady on the phone and I was expecting her to give me a song request but instead it was a request for me to come over to her house, after I got off the air, and keep her company. Here parents were away, they had a pool and a big house and she just wanted some “company.” Fire alarm bells started to go off in my mind. As soon as she said she was in a filmy negligee I knew this could only spell trouble. The kind where someone with a gun arrives on the scene, I end up jumping in the pool and ending up at a police station because she was underage. I thanked her very much and, reluctantly, let my better judgement take control. Phew!

Not exactly as advertised!

One of my shifts was Sunday mornings, 7 am until 12 noon. It was part live and part recorded, so it was a pretty laid back shift. I quite liked it. Wander in about 6.15 am, get set up and have a pretty easy morning on air. My favourite half hour was called Gold and Great, written by Nevin Grant our music director at the time, it feature an artist or group and Nevin wrote the story and selected the music to go with the script. I looked forward to that show each week.

Little did I know that the gentleness of a Sunday morning would be broken.

We had a loyal, rather rabid listener, who kept sending the announcers passionate notes, containing very severe sexual overtones … accompanied by knives. Each time the message would arrive with a new and very different knife, but basically the same story line. While we had some

It all started one Sunday morning in the late summer of ’63.

Idling and ominous

In the half light at about 6.30 am, I noticed a car on the other side of the road, about 300 feet from the station. It was idling. I didn’t think much of it at the time. The next week it was there again. The third Sunday it drove down the street as I was walking into the station. It drove by very slow and as I glanced at it I could see that a woman was driving.

This went on for about two months. I was getting a little bit creeped out, but I didn’t mention to anyone in the station for fear they would think I was a imagining things.

I started parking at the back of the station. You drove down an alley and there was a parking area between the wings of the station. Problem solved.

Problem solved, until one Sunday the car started to follow me down the alley towards the lot. I made a hasty move from the car, into the station and then, from the second floor control room window, peered out at the car idling in the parking lot below, next to my car.

I really thought the car was going to wait me out, or that something would be done to my car. Blessedly, everything was quiet, just after the noon hour, when I came out of the station. I was pretty creeped out.

I’d had enough, I was nervous. I spoke to the program director, who in turn talked to all the announcers who had received letters. It escalated up from there. The station’s lawyer and police department got involved and after a few days a restraining order was issued against the early morning stalker, letter writer.

The truly odd part of the story is that it turned out that this was a well-educated woman, with a husband and son in higher education. I never knew more than that. Eventually, it dawned on me that this lady had emotional problems, and we were simply the avenue for her strange fascination. Over the years I often wondered if she had found a better place for her energies and her passions.

Oh, and then there was Gina. Gina was the ticket girl at a local Italian theatre. During the week it got pretty boring for her as the evening wore on and so she would call the radio station to find someone to talk to. I ended up as her favourite chat box, despite the fact that I was trying to run a show. She would always ask me to meet her for coffee after her shift, which coincided with the end of my show. Being a little gun shy, I said I didn’t think that was such a good idea.

The phone-a-thon went on for about a year. One day I was doing a remote broadcast from our fancy broadcast trailer at a car dealership. It was a Saturday morning and a lovely sunny day. About an hour into the remote this fabulous lady in a red dress came towards the trailer and, by her knowing smile, I just knew this was Gina. She was a gorgeous vision. An Italian beauty.

Coffee time??

We had a nervous conversation, and I finally got enough spit in my mouth to be able to ask her to have a coffee with me. That famous coffee break, the one that she had been asking me for, for the past year. She said she would have loved to but she was moving back to Italy in three days and she had so much to do, but she was so glad she finally got to meet me. Whaaaa?

Over the years there have been countless encounters with listeners and the vast majority have been with normal, interesting people. People who like listening to their radio and like to have someone they can relate to on the other side of the microphone. Whatever that formula is I don’t know, but I do know that it makes the job of creating good radio all the more fun.

“All of this is absolutely true, and the parts that aren’t should be”

Radio Story #6 – The Traffic Reporter

There was a time, in the early 60’s, when traffic reporting became the “new” rage.

All the major Toronto radio stations were doing aircraft traffic reporting. Some were using helicopters. Wow! Imagine. Helicopters!

Down the peninsula we watched with envy as Eddie Luther on CFRB waxed lyrically from high in the sky. (Eddie got to see the BIG blackout of 1965 from high in the sky, and he knew that it wasn’t an isolated situation. He was right .. that night the entire Eastern Seaboard went dark on the evening of November 9th, 1965.)

Boy … how we wished we could fly with the big boys.

One fine summer day, Jack Hill, program director, and the news director, Bill Holland, told me that I would be doing traffic reports on Friday evenings to report on activity from Burlington to Niagara Falls. I would telling people, twice an hour, what horrors and catastrophic events were happening on the Queen Elizabeth Way, our major highway link for tourists. My heart raced. The very thought that I would be “voice from the sky” telling mere mortals what awaited them on the miles of madness, that ribbon of sweating pavement. Heady stuff for a young guy.


I would be doing it in a Piper Cub! Nooooo.

My heart fell. How unromantic. Here I thought that I would be up there in my bubble-shelled Bell helicopter just like the “big” guys.

That’s OK, I could spin magic on the air and no one would ever know that we were barely airborne in an aging Piper Cub. Maybe it wasn’t that old, but it look ancient to me because, after all, helicopters were what real traffic reporters used.

Turns out my pilot on “Frantic Fridays” would be none other than an old high school chum. He was in air cadets in high school and, based on his mad-cap antics, we never expected Bill to survive the “rules and regs” never mind get off the ground. But, here he was. A lead pilot for the Air Service out of Mount Hope airport.

The airport wasn’t ready to be an international or jet airport at that stage, rather a wonderful flying club and private aircraft centre. Some cargo too, I guess. I was never really interested enough to find out what the airport did. I just wanted to get over the QEW highway and report.

Well, Bill was a great guy. Welcoming, easy going and always open directions for our next report. At that time, I was using our Motorola Portable Radio with hand “mike” and earphones .. and if the weather was inclement getting the signal back to the station was often difficult … we’d have to fly over our report area and then fly back to a location where we could make contact. When I think of it now, I smile. It was a bit of a “McGiver” solution to the situation. But hey, it worked.

To be honest, for the most part traffic reporting was boring. Every Friday it was the same stuff … slow traffic between Burlington and Hamilton. (The Skyway Bridge was supposed to make it really easy, that according to officials who opened the bridge in 1958. And, to be fair, it did make a difference but the process of paying tolls backed-up Friday traffic no matter what. They finally took the tolls away in 1973. Slow learners.)

Traffic by Highway 20 was slow, traffic out near Grimsby was slow, traffic passing St. Catherines was slow .. etc. Same thing week after week. I guess it started to get a little boring for Bill as well.

One Friday as we were flying off the Niagara Escarpment and high above Hamilton, Bill asked me if I’d ever flown upside down. In a panic, I told him that was not something I ever wanted to doooooooooooooooo!

Before the words got out of my mouth, wham, we were upside down. For a moment I thought I might have an accident, but then realizing that my lower extremities were above my head I knew that better not happen. I believe I started screaming and yelling at him. I can still hear him laughing (maniacal to my ears.) After what felt like 20 minutes he flipped the aircraft back again. I requested he return me to terra firma, immediately.
I was pretty ticked with him for a number of days.

A few weeks later we were off doing our reports, and it was all the same as usual. I’ve often thought that, in all honesty, you really don’t learn anything terribly useful from traffic reports. Most often they just remind you of the pickle your in and likely to stay in for a while.

I digress.

As we were concluding our reports that day, Bill asked me if I had heard about the light aircraft crash south of Mount Hope. I had heard the story and I remarked that it sounded like a very nasty crack up. Bill said, “they haven’t taken the wreckage away yet, let’s go have a look at it.” I should have said NO! But my mind said, what the heck, seeing the crash site from 1500 to 2000 feet would be no biggie.

As we flew south Bill came down lower and lower. I asked him what he was doing. He said because the crash was at the end of a farmer’s field near a small forest it would be hard to see from higher altitude. OK. Made sense. Down he came.

Now we were about 500 feet off the ground and there in front of us was a stand of trees and then the tall hydro towers running at right angles to us. Bill said … “take it easy, we’re just going to nip under these hydro lines.” Zooooom. Under the lines we went and now we were flying at about 100 feet off the ground heading for the crash site at the far end of the field.

Aw geez.

“Bill,” I pleaded, “Please get us out of here! This is nuts!” Bill said, “yeh, will do, we’ll just go over the crash site … look down, now.”

Zeeeerooom! The aircraft passed over the site and then immediately nosed to the sky, to avoid the forest that the downed aircraft had crashed into. Zeeeerooom!
We left a few ruffled leaves as we tilted to the sky and headed back to the airport.
I was a little wobbly in the legs when we got back.

Bill was a good pilot, perhaps a great pilot but he forgot the one rule of flying (it’s very much a rule of car driving,) if your passenger is not comfortable, feeling safe and relaxed, you’re not flying/driving properly. That was one of my dad’s “driver training” lessons.

At the end of the summer we concluded our traffic reports and I was quite delighted to give up my wings. It had been a source of constant panic each time we went up. All through the week I’d be wondering what was Bill going to do this time? Anyway, Bill went on to be a successful flight trainer, I got a DJ shift, left the news department, and another chapter in my radio career came to a close.

Radio Story #5: The Prime Minister was not amused.

Early on during my stint at CKOC I was primarily in the news room.  I did some DJ work on weekends but there were no openings for a permanent on air shift.  One of my assignments in those early months was to interview the prime minister, who would be visiting Hamilton, regarding an announcement he would be making.  The Prime Minister was John Diefenbaker.  It was an exclusive opportunity. th4

The invitation to interview the PM was brought to the station manager, Bill Cranston, by a close acquaintance of his, the Right Honourable Ellen Fairclough.

Ellen was a well respected member of parliament, representing Hamilton West and she was the first woman to become a member of cabinet as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and later as Postmaster General.  She was a woman of power with a commanding presence that was nicely tempered by the kindness that she often exhibited.

I was very intimidated at the thought of meeting Ms. Fairclough, never mind the PM.th3

I was to meet the PM in a suite at the Royal Connaught Hotel in downtown Hamilton.  It was still THE place to stay in those days.

The Royal Connaught Hotel is a 13-storey building s built by Harry Frost of Buffalo, New York in 1914 .

When it was complete the building cost $1,000,000, a huge sum in those day.  It’s interesting how the hotel got its name … through a contest. Alfie Richards, a  school student, won the $10 gold piece prize by suggesting the name Connaught after Canada’s Governor General, Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, 1st Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. In 1914 the Duke of Connaught laid the cornerstone, and granted hotel36Layer1permission to add “Royal” to the name of the hotel.  What a swell guy.

The hotel opened in 1916 with tours for the general public, an opening reception, and a lavish banquet and dance. hotel5Layer1

Even CKOC called it home for a period of time.  In 1927, CKOC  was finding its  accommodations in the nearby Lister Building unsatisfactory and the radio station moved into the 11th floor of the Hotel. The transmitter power was raised from 50 to 100 watts. Big for its time, but almost humorous by today’s standards.

Back to the story.

I was told to get my butt up to the hotel and go with Ralphie Binns, an engineer, who would look after the tape recorder while I was talking to the PM.  The appointment was for 2 pm so that we could get it on the air for the 4 pm news.th7

Away we went, on this warm summer day, uptown to the hotel.  We parked the car and went up to the 11th floor of the hotel.  The old elevator shook and quaked as we ascended.  I was glad to have the time to gather my thoughts and try to calm my nerves.  This was a big deal for a 20 year old.

When we arrived at the room, it turned out to be a suite.  A very impressive, stately looking  sitting room with two rooms off that main room.  We were met by an assistant to the PM who introduced us to Ellen Fairclough.  Ellen reminded us that this was an exclusive opportunity for the station and that we should be very direct with the PM so as not to take too much of his time.th2.jpg

Out of one of the bedrooms came John George Diefenbaker, the 13th prime minister of Canada.  Jowls a swinging, he entered the room talking to others in attendance, totally ignoring us.  That, in itself, was very unnerving.  We didn’t exist until he indicated we did.  After he got some business of the day out of the way, he turned his steely gaze to Ralphie and yours truly.  With a smile, obviously taking notice of our state of awe, he asked us who we were and inquired if “this” would take long.  No I said, it would only take a few minutes.

Ralphie had already set up the tape recorder.  Now, when I say tape recorder, you’re probably thinking of some really cool portable device that a radio station might have in those days.  Uh Uh.  Believe it or not, the tape recorder was a wind-up model, that had a big crank handle on one side.  It was a pretty ugly, unimpressive piece of technology, if I can call it that. th6 Be that as it may, Ralphie was all set, I had the approved questions to ask the PM and the PM was anxious to get it over with.

The interview went fine, and I was very pleased with my own performance.  I’m sure the PM and Ellen Fairclough had met many who were far more experienced and professional but they were kind enough to be warm and generous in their comments.  We thanked the PM for his time and started for the door.  JohnDiefenbaker interviewEllen said that she and the PM would be listening for the 4 PM news.


Wow.  I left the hotel feeling quite elated that I had actually interviewed the prime minister of Canada and met Ellen Fairclough.  I was in a new league of radio reporters.  I was on my way.  Wow.

We got back to the station and in the production studio our GM, Bill Cranston, our program director, Jack Hill and the production engineer John Paro were waiting for us.  Ralphie handed over the portable recorder and John Paro removed the reel-to-reel tape, moving it over the his big studio recorder for editing.

I waited with great anticipation.  In moments I would hear the results of my handiwork.  John set the machine and play and the brown 1/4″ tape started to move through the playback heads.  Here it comes.  Here it comes.  Seconds went by, then more seconds.  oh no

Nothing.  No.  Nothing.  The entire tape was blank.  Ralphie had forgotten to push the record button.  For about a minute there was a terrible frost in the air.

Bill Cranston broke the suspense by exploding with “and what the hell am I supposed to say the Ellen and the PM when they don’t hear the report at 4 PM.  That we have incompetents on staff?”  Hey, that’s not fair, I said inside my head, I did my part … shoot Ralphie.  After some considerable time constructing a story that might sound plausible, Bill went back to his office to call Ellen and tell them that they needn’t listen at 4 pm.

I was not in a new league of radio reporters, and I definitely was not on my way.  I felt lucky to retain my job, escaping the wrath of Bill Cranston.  I was still employed.  Ralphie was not so lucky.  He was sent on his way to find his career at some other radio station.  It was not Ralphie’s first transgression but it was certainly his best.  I can only hope that Ralphie had a great career and that, now in his retirement, he has a very funny story to tell his grandchildren about the time the PM of Canada was not amused!bio8_d.jpg

Portugal. 50 things I learned on my travels.

My wife, Jane, and I got back from Portugal 3 days ago, and we’re just about back to normal after struggling with the time difference and travel. While we were away I kept a little journal so that I wouldn’t forget the wonderful sites we saw and the places we visited. I made the decision not to share any photos on Facebook because I didn’t want to turn it into a “Bragbook” and bore everyone to tears. In the coming days I’ll be putting a good selection of photos up on Pinterest for those who might find images of Portugal interesting, along with appropriate comments. I’ve included a few of my favourites in this post.

Beach front at Olhos de Agua on the eastern outskirts of Albufeira
Beach front at Olhos de Agua on the eastern outskirts of Albufeira
Oh yes .. and of course I have to pop on to Trip Advisor to give comments about some of the restaurants and cafes.
As we prepared to come home, and on the flight too, I made notes about the things that I learned on this journey. I’ll try to be as succinct as possible so as not to overstay my welcome.
1. On departing, I learned that Toronto Terminal 3 is akin to a cattle farm. The departures area in particular was loud, and littered with bad eating spots. I took 2 bites of a sandwich (beef on marble rye, with lettuce, mayo and pickle) and threw it away. It was soggy, past it’s edible date, and to make matters worse it cost me $14.00. My advice, take your own sandwich.
2. In Portugal, I didn’t have a wine I didn’t like … and we sampled many.
3. A good bottle of wine can cost as little as $4 to $7.
4. Breads and buns are to die for. Fresh bakeries abound they far surpass the “big brands”.
5. Even the smallest bistro will sell you outstanding baked goods and sweet treats.
Small cafe near Oura.  Excellent food
Small cafe near Oura. Excellent food

6. Coffee with steamed milk was a new experience for me … I will miss it, for sure. The Delta Cafes served a great selection of coffee servings.
7. Virtually all the people we met were friendly and helpful. Nice people. We did meet one or two who didn’t fit the profile, but that’s to be expected.
8. The geography is wonderful and varied .. it is an artist’s paradise.
St. Jerome.  Western most spot in Europe.  I
St. Jerome. Western most spot in Europe. I

9. Beaches (and there are hundreds of great beaches) have sand that can be like baker’s sugar or are rugged and granular. Every one is picturesque.
10. Portugal’s history is well documented wherever you travel, and it is fascinating to see and read about.
11. People are proud of their heritage and they display that in their festivals, markets, homes and their street art.
The Saturday market in Loule is great sport and full of great produce.
The Saturday market in Loule is great sport and full of great produce.

12. Streets and highways are very clean. I didn’t see a lot of litter. I finally realized it’s because they don’t have a lot of fast food joints pumping out food and drink containers that, in North America, some dolts toss out their window. In Portugal you go to a neighbourhood cafe, sit down for your coffee and talk to your neighbours. It’s a social thing.
Jane and Lynne enjoying a sidewalk cafe
Jane and Lynne enjoying a sidewalk cafe

13. We travelled on the Metro subway system in Lisbon and I was amazed at how very clean and in good repair the subway cars and stations were.
Many of the Metro stops had wonderful art on the walls
Many of the Metro stops had wonderful art on the walls

14. Graffiti artists create a blight in some areas of Lisbon. The defaced walls are in contrast to some of the wonderful art that abounds in the city.
15. Highway food (Super Highway A2) is just as bad as it is in Canada.
16. On the super highway, aside from trucks, the vast majority of cars were Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, BMW’s … estate vehicles are very popular.
17. At $2.00 a litre for gas, you better have a good reason for driving.
Lovely streets in Silves, north of Albufeira
Lovely streets in Silves, north of Albufeira

18. The A2 highway from Lisbon to the Algarve is a training ground for people who would like to set the land speed record.
19. Sheep love to share roads.
20. Shepherds tend their flocks by day as well as night.
21. Dogs are hugely popular in Portugal and it appeared to me that most of them were barking.
22. Throughout our stay we enjoyed very good to excellent meals at fair and affordable prices. We had one unfortunate incident with a place that said it served the best pizza. They lied.
The Moor Castle sits on the high ground in Silves
The Moor Castle sits on the high ground in Silves

23. Some of the rocks washed up on shore are ballast from fishing boats. My good friend, Bob Morrow, a geographer, noted that the rocks types in many instances are not from shore types.
24. In the towns and cities of Portugal they make some great sidewalks on the main streets. Some were 15 to 25 feet wide. That encourages a pedestrian lifestyle. Many were made of 3″ by 3″ squared stones, arranged in attractive patterns. It was a joy to be on foot.
One of the main street sidewalks in Loule
One of the main street sidewalks in Loule

25. If you take the Metro (green line) to Cais do Sodre, go across the street to what looks like an old market building. There is a food court there that will blow you mind. It’s all good food, available with wine of course.
26. The Portuguese love to talk to each other and often it is lively and passionate … easily heard a block away. I loved it.
The rear porch of the home that we were staying in.  Perfect for that morning coffee.
The rear porch of the home that we were staying in. Perfect for that morning coffee.

27. I was sad to hear that, for an industrious people, they have about 20% unemployment.
28. Their president just got 11 years in jail for dealings that were not in keeping with the office. Did anyone go to jail for the gas plant fiasco in Ontario? No, I don’t think so. In fact, if I remember rightly, our premiere got out while the going was good and got a plum job at Harvard. Hmmmm.
The old city of Albufeira.  Not an inch of wasted space.
The old city of Albufeira. Not an inch of wasted space.

29. Girls on highways are not hitch hiking. They are working for pimps. Many of them have been kidnapped or coerced from other countries, or are runaways. Police are diligent about routing out the criminals and send the girls back home. Shocking to know these criminal acts exist.
30. In the Algarve the toll highway is the A24. If you don’t have a transponder you pay at a post office. This can be time consuming if the workers are engaged in convivial conversation with their customers.
31. The toll highway from Lisbon to the Algarve costs about $28.00 … and it goes 10 times as far (I think) as the ETR. Much better value for money.
Every corner reveals an new and fascinating street.
Every corner reveals an new and fascinating street.

32. I don’t know if was the change of diet, the increase in wine consumption, or different water, but regularity was never a problem.
33. I was shocked to learn that you can make just about anything out of cork. Men’s ties, aprons, bags, hats, watch bands, purses, dresses … and yes, wine corks. Cork products abound but they are not cheap. Cork comes from the lower portions of the cork tree and it takes about 9 years for the tree to resurface its bark. Cork tree farms are interesting to see.
34. Ceramic tiles are an art and they are found everywhere, facings for homes and businesses as well as interiors. They are beautiful.
If it weren't for the fear of excess baggage you could go wild in all the shops.
If it weren’t for the fear of excess baggage you could go wild in all the shops.

36. Supper time doesn’t get rolling for most people until after 8pm. It wasn’t unusual to see families coming into a restaurant (kids included) as we were leaving.
37. Orange trees, lemon trees, fig trees, tangerine trees, cumquat trees are everywhere. Mmmm, great oranges. It wasn’t unusual to see hedges of bougainvillea. Lovely colour where ever you go.
I don't know what this multi-coloured bush is but I want one!
I don’t know what this multi-coloured bush is but I want one!
A close up of the mystery bush
A close up of the mystery bush

38. Our mouths dropped open at the sight of storks nests on top of huge hydro towers. Sometimes there were 4 and 5 nests on a tower .. like apartment buildings.
Stork on nest on top of tower.
Stork on nest on top of tower.

39. Fish and more fish, and lots of pork on menus. It was all good and at times great.
40. Piri Piri chicken can make your eyebrows sweat. But it’s worth it.
41. You can spend Euros at the same rate as dollars … just remember, there’s a 30% hit on your wallet with each Euro.
42. It broke my heart when we had to leave a fresh bag of almonds on the airplane … I’m afraid of the Canadian Border Service.
Ornate gates and security walls all commonplace.
Ornate gates and security walls all commonplace.

43. It strikes me that to learn Portuguese would be challenging … particularly for a guy who struggled through high school French.
44. You drive on the right hand side of the road, so there’s no adjusting for North American drivers.
45. A GPS device (Garmin) really helps if you’re driving … or walking.
The Gypsy Market in Loule was quite a unique and fun experience.
The Gypsy Market in Loule was quite a unique and fun experience.

46. Lisbon Airport (Terminal 1) makes you go through duty free to get to the departure gates .. pretty sneaky, but smart.
47. Departure gates are away from the shops and the food and, as a result, they tend to be quieter and with less confusion. Nice airport.
48. We flew on SATA. Very nice people. No video or audio services so take a book. Bonus, they offered wine with every meal at no cost. Stopping in the Azores was brief but interesting.
49. There are lots of Brits and many Canadians who have found Portugal great for extended stays. I can understand that.
50. One visit to Portugal is not enough. Would we go back? In a heartbeat.
A windmill home sits on one of the many rolling hills.
A windmill home sits on one of the many rolling hills.

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.
ronnie hawkins 1
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.
Ronnie hawkins 4

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.
ckoc images from album_0004
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.
ckoc images from album_0001
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?!
cndn cop
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.”
7pm copy
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.

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