Radio Story #2: John Phillip Sousa

Perched on the edge of Georgian Bay, the wind frequently blows very cold into the town of Midland. That was my first impression when I started my “radio career” at CKMP. I arrived in late September and I had no idea that I was facing the longest and loneliest winter of my young life. The wind had an edge to it the day I drove into town and, it seems to me now, winter arrived not too long after.
midland
Midland in the early 60’s was a much different place than it is today. As a young man coming in from the city I soon discovered it was a self-contained social circle that didn’t offer much opportunity for including “newbies”, and it was particularly difficult for a guy just leaving his teens. Thus it was that the people of the radio station and a handful of their associates became the centre of my life away from home.

The people at the radio station were a unique cast of characters. I’ve changed their names partly because it’s the right thing to do and partly because I can’t remember a couple of names.

There was Ray, the radio salesman. He was just what you’d expect, out glad handing and making contacts, and living a pretty fast life for a small community.

John was the owner’s son-in-law and he was program director and news director and a bit of a jerk (putting it kindly.) He was a Ryerson grad and knew everything, and nothing.

His wife, Arlene was the station secretary, commercial scheduler and “do anything” gal. She was a really nice person.

The station owner, who I didn’t see very often, had a big office at the back of the business area of the station and I was never quite sure what he did. He seemed like a relatively nice guy and it became apparent that he had more that one business interest in the community. His wife, I found out, was the power behind the scenes. She controlled the books, made sure people paid their bills and, generally, was the silent voice behind many of the decisions affecting the station.
mike-at-ckmp-midland_0001
The on-air staff was a strange brew. There was me, the new guy, who was relegated to the morning show because no one else wanted to get up at that hour. I was from the city, arrived in an MG-TD (drafty damn thing), and was hoping to make and save money for tuition to the National Theatre school in Montreal and to a career in the theatre. Ta da. Great Plan.
td
Following me was Marla, and she did a show for the kids and she was very good at it. I had a bit of a crush on Marla. She had a fresh scrubbed, apple pie countenance and was just a naturally sweet person. Marla had a regular job but was able to take the hour off to do her show.

Following Marla was Bill Brahma. Some folks may remember Bill from his lifestyle pieces on Global Television going back a number of years. In Midland Bill did a live “piano” show. Each day Bill would play an hour of music, prefaced by his deep throated, mellifluous invitation, “It’s time to listen to Music.” And with that opening he would launch into an hour of old favourites played on the grand piano. Bill was much loved by the ladies for his gentlemanly style and impeccable manners. Behind the scenes Bill hit the sauce just a bit too much on occasion and there were days when we wondered if he would surface for his show.

Gil did the afternoon shift. Gil was a young guy, couple of years older than me, who had already had and lost two jobs in radio. He was always on the make whether it was with girls or with a deal to be had. He was, in a word, flashy. He kinda came in and out of my social life for the year that I was in Midland. He left before I did. To this day I don’t know if it was his decision or if he was booted out for undisclosed misdemeanors.

The evening guy, my roommate in the basement apartment, Mac Rymal gave me lessons in life that shattered my conservative upbringing. Despite the fact that he made me welcome when I first arrived I came to the belief that it is a bit like the devil, full of smiles, welcoming you to his special brand of hell. You’ll understand, a little bit, if I tell you that it was thanks to Mac that I ended up being chased by a crazed ex-con husband, brandishing a claw hammer, down Bay Street in Midland because he mistook me for Mac. All of that may be a story for another day.

We were a tiny staff in a tiny station located above a shoe store, across the road from the Chinese Laundry (the owner was taken away by the Mounties for smuggling Chinese immigrants into Canada. Yet another story.) When the holiday season rolled around we were waist deep in snow and I contend that it was the house parties that kept everyone from going nuts. We were all trying to get a bit of time off over the holidays. I worked six days a week (for $35 a week) and wanted to have at least one day back home with the family. We helped each other out by putting in dual shifts over Christmas and New Years. Mac and I had New Years Eve off. Ray, the sales guy, was sitting in on New Year’s Eve and would be spinning music to take everyone up to midnight.
Vintage Photos from New Year’s Eves Past (11)
I was delighted. Mac said, “We’re going to the best bash of the year and get ready to hang on”. As it turned out, I did hang on. Barely. I didn’t know anyone except Mac and a couple of others. The “best bash of the year” was so wild and out of control that I felt that I’d landed on another planet. I still believe one or two marriages were put at risk after that evening of incredible debauchery.

The evening wore on. It was about 11 p.m. when Mac got a phone call, I think it may have been Gil, telling us to listen to the station “you won’t believe what’s going on!” We turned on the radio. At first we thought we had the wrong radio station because what we heard was a big military band of some sort playing march music. Weird? We listened some more. The track came to a resounding finish and then, over that quiet spot between cuts on the John Phillip Sousa march album came a voice … “March You Bastards!” And so they did. Another band selection began. Da de la dah dah dah… and away they went. Sure enough at the end of the cut, Ray’s slurred, belligerent voice prefaced the next cut on the album … “March You Bastards!
index
Mac and I jumped in his car and sped down to the station. All the way there we were treated to more rousing march music. You actually got the feeling that if Ray hadn’t been there to yell at the band between cuts the Coldstream Guards might not have gone to the next selection.

We got to the station, unlocked the door and then climbed the staircase to our second level offices and studios. We went down the short hallway to the studio door, looked through the control room glass, and there he was. Ray, with a bottle of Scotch, a glass partly full, and a piss-on-the-world look in his eye. It told us everything we need to know. We went to the control room door and it wouldn’t open. It was locked. Actually, it was more than locked. It was nailed shut. It became obvious that, with malice and forethought, Ray had put a couple of spikes through the door into the frame.
johnnie-walker-red-label7
The look on our faces must have been priceless. We yelled at Ray, we went into the other studio facing him and tried to get his attention. He was having none of it. In for a penny, in for a pound. We noted that he had a stack of about nine or ten albums. it appeared that there was a lot more marching still to take place. I tried putting my shoulder into the door but it wouldn’t budge. There was no use in asking Mac to try because he had skinny shoulders. Think. Think. Mac ran down the hall, leaving me to gaze at the horror that was going out over the airwaves, in celebration of the approaching new year’s hour.
images
Mac came back brandishing a fire axe. I had forgotten all about that weapon. It was part of our safety equipment in case we had a fire in the stairwell to the street level and had to chop our way through the floor, and to safety I guess? Whatever. We knew it’s purpose in this situation. Mac started to chop at the door. We thought if we could chop through in and around the door handle and nails in the door jam we could separate the rest of it and silence Ray, by force if necessary.
fireax
The end of the cut came, we stopped chopping while Ray uttered his, now famous, invective. Ta da da da da, de dum dum dum. Mac and I started to laugh. We realized how ridiculous it was that we would stop chopping while Ray continued his rant. We chopped with vigor, through about two more cuts on the album, and we finally got through the door. Time 11.50 p.m. We had saved new years. Yaaah!! Mac helped the now sobbing Ray from the studio and gave him a ride home. I took to the airwaves, and without admitting anything bizaar had just taken place, I played music to midnight and helped a few astonished listeners welcome in 1963. Best of all, I didn’t have to go back to the party.

Ray left the employ of the radio station on New Year’s Day.

Every time I hear marching music it brings a smile to my face. March you Bastards!
rcmp-pipe-band-calgary-stampede-parade1

Advertisements

Lloyd Robertson interview tonight at 6 pm

Our recent chat with Lloyd Robertson will be broadcast tonight at 6 pm on 100.9 CanoeFM or online at http://www.canoefm.com. The second airing of the interview will be next Tuesday at 11 am.
It was a delightful chat and Lloyd was a most approachable person which made it very easy to have a more relaxed conversation.
Lloyd Robertson

Hope you can catch it tonight at 6 pm, or Tuesday morning at 11 am.

Unexpected kindness

Friday morning was a lovely start to the day. The trip into town was well planned out, in order to fit with Jane’s schedule for her “Morning Glories” exercise class that she instructs. We were plenty early and it turned out I had lots of time to play with considering that I had two stops to make in the hour and half available to me.

A stop to the lumber store would get me a few supplies that I needed to finish off a flower cart that I am working on. The plan is to finish the project within the next week, as part of my extensive “honey do” list.

The main feature of the flower cart is a pair of 4 foot steel wagon wheels that were once owned by my parents. The were used as the wheels for their dock at their cottage in Renfrew County. They have sentimental value to say the least. They remind me of some very happy times on Lorwell Lake and memories of happier times with Margaret and Allan.

Following a successful stop at the lumber store, I headed over to the Shopper’s Drug Store in the Village Court. They open at 9 a.m. I was about 45 minutes early. With so much time on my hands, which by the way is a seldom experienced pleasure, I decided to pop into the Village Court Donuts & Cafe. You always get a friendly welcome and you can be sure to pick up some of the local happenings by listening in to the conversation at the counter.

I stepped in the door and, sure as shootin’, I met an acquaintance stopping in for a coffee and breakfast treat “to go” and we had a brief “how are yuh” type conversation. As I stood in line, I saw that their special of the day was an egg and cheese sandwich plus a coffee, all for just $3.99. I had an immediate attack of the hungries and decided that sounded just fine. I could sit by the window and just relax until the drug store opened.
CoffeeCup1
I got to the counter, placed my order, on brown and with de-caf coffee. I was having a happy anticipation about breakfast.
EggCheese_Toast
Damn. I didn’t have any paper money on me and when I went to the change … I didn’t have enough to make $3.99. I felt rather foolish and said that I would have to settle for a coffee. I was quickly erasing the thought of egg and cheese and how simply wonderful it was going to taste.

Suddenly, behind me, a voice said over my shoulder, “I’ve got it covered. That’s fine.”

I did a head snap. Standing behind me was Amelia Edmunds. Shiny faced and with that beatific smile that she is so famous for. I mumbled my thanks and appreciation and Amelia said, in response to my still semi-embarrassed state, “you can catch me next time.”
amelia and the mayor
Like so many other people in Haliburton County, I am a fan of Amelia’s. Amelia has a wonderfully sensual voice and, importantly, she portrays great feeling when she is entertaining. (ameliaandthemayor.com) When the crowds respond to Amelia she always rewards them with that beautiful smile. That’s the smile she gave me Friday morning. That 1000 lumen smile, that kindness, made my entire day.

Thank you, I’ll catch you next time.

Radio Story #1: Wacky Willy

The past week or so I got thinking about all the years I spent in radio, and then in talking with Lloyd Robertson, I realized there were a lot of funny, weird and scary stories that came out of all those years. I was interviewing Lloyd for Canoe Fm, and he agreed with me that the vintage tv show “WKRP in Cincinatti”, while very funny in itself, was really a perfect profile of what it was like to be in radio in the 50’s, 60’s and maybe the 70’s.

Today radio is mainly a collection of big businesses owning multiple radio stations across the country. In the 50’s and 60’s a good many of them were owned by individuals operating in their local communities. With the local ownership came a collection of very diverse personalities … the fast talking, flamboyant jocks, the hard driving sales guys, good lookin’ ladies in the offices, news guys who were very serious on the air and crazy men off the air, and management (they were the suits.) It was a pulsating environment that consumed all those who chose to enter.

Mike as a young pup, on the air at 'OC  the Busy Bee
Mike as a young pup, on the air at ‘OC the Busy Bee

I’ll start by sharing with you the story of Wacky Willy. He was the midnight to 6am guy. Willy is not his real name, but for my own safety I choose that name because it rhymes with Wacky. And he was wacko. Willy was of average height, a little on the gaunt side, with a shock of reddish hair and, what I’ll call, the all-night pallor. The boy could have used a little sun. Wacky did mostly the weekend nights and sitting in now and again for the regular guy who, by the way, came to us from Ford, working at the assembly plant before he stumbled into all-night radio.

Wacky didn’t see many people in the station due to the fact that he usually didn’t slither in until about 11.45 p.m. At the time I was doing 6 to midnight … yeh, I was the Jumpin’ Jay, flinging out the hits for rock n’ roll fans all evening long. I got to see Wacky a couple of nights a week and, believe me, his rather macabre presence made me glad it wasn’t more often.wacky

This particular summer evening I was in the newsroom checking the teletype machines. It must have been pretty warm because the fire escape door was open to let a little air into the second floor. Wacky sauntered in and muttered his greeting. “How’er you doin?”

He wandered over to the news director’s desk and began looking through one of the drawers. Hey, I knew that was a no no. The news director was a very serious guy and he was one who cracked a mean whip. He would take a dim view of Wacky nosing into his desk. Wacky was looking for a candy bar or some other sustenance to launch him into his night shift.

“Hey Wacky, I wouldn’t do that. Jim will have your neck.”

That’s all I said. Nothing else. Nothing threatening. Nothing to take offense at.

In nothing more than a nanosecond, Wacky whipped around to face me. And there, in Wacky’s hand, was the shiniest, most fearsome looking silver handgun and it was pointed in my direction. It was the first time I’d ever seen a Smith and Wesson snub nose 35. Snub nose 35 I know it was a 35 because I looked it up later. I figured that if I was going to have nightmares I should know what caused them.

I held my hands in front of me, palms up, in some sort of supplication. “Hey man, put that thing away, it’s no big deal.”

Wacky put the gun back under his Hawaiian print summer shirt and then, like a ferret on the run, he disappeared into the main studio. I stood there, in some sort of shock, replaying what had just gone on. Once the blood returned to my feet and my bladder relaxed I got the hell outta there.

The next day I got a couple of my station buddies together. John was a hyper active news reporter and Dave was one of the young announcers. We all started at the station about the same time and we kinda buddy-ed up in a loose type of friendship. John always wore a white shirt and a suit that looked like his dad handed it down. It was about one size too big. But it gave him that Jimmy Olsen look mixed in with a beach boys shock of hair. Dave was a cool guy. He was easy going and gave the appearance that someone operating his marionette strings had cut one string. What an odd collection we made. In case you’re wondering, I usually wore a T-shirt with pale blue jeans and white buck shoes. The Pat Boone look.

After I recounted my tale of horror to the guys, we talked about what I should do. Should I tell management, call the cops, or get a gun of my own. If I told management Wacky might come looking for me. If I called the cops they’d probably not find the gun and Wacky would definitely come looking for me. I couldn’t get my own gun ’cause it didn’t fit my image and, more importantly, I had no idea about how to go about securing a “piece”.

It was was easy-going Dave who came up with the big idea. It was wonderfully audacious.

The plan was pretty simple. I did an air check of Wacky on one of his shifts. I did it at home with a tape recorder. There was no way was I going anywhere near that nut job if I could help it. I spent some time duplicating the air check. I think we ended up with about a dozen tapes. We had spent time making a list of radio stations that were the same profile as ours but, most importantly, that were thousands of kilometers away from Hamilton. We put together a mailing for each station containing an air check tape and Wacky’s contact information. Perfect. It was worth the cost of postage to think that we might be able to get rid of the whacko gun-totin’ D.J.

A few weeks went by and nothing. Wacky was still there. We began to suspect that perhaps other people knew that Wacky was whacko.

One day, Wacky walked in to the newsroom area and proclaimed to all the he was leaving. He got a job at a radio station in Bermuda. Bermuda He admitted that he had no idea how they came to peg him for the job, but perhaps one of their execs had picked him late at night, ’cause after all we know how radio signals can “bounce” on warm summer night. He was off, he was leaving, he and his gun would be no more.

Our biggest delight came from the fact that in Bermuda, at that time, you had to sign a two year contract and put up the money for your airfare back home. It was known that a lot of guys went stir crazy in less than a year and the station didn’t want people going through like a turnstile, so you had to commit to two years. Not a bad incarceration when you think about it. We didn’t care. We were just glad to be rid of Wacky and his snub nose 35.

Once Wacky left I felt much more secure late at night knowing that his evil presence and his precious 35 weren’t lurking behind a door or office partition.

Hope he got a nice tan.

Meanwhile, the music played on. dancing 60's

A chat with Lloyd Robertson

I kinda excited. This morning …’bout 45 minutes from now, I get to talk to the longest-serving news anchor in the world, Lloyd Robertson.
Lloyd will be doing a book signing at Harmony Farm on the May long weekend (24th) and we get to chat with him about the book, and about his amazing career.
lloyd 3
Well into his 70’s (he’s a zoomer) he’s going strong on W5 for CTV.
Our interview will be broadcast on CanoeFM later in the month. Stayed tuned.
Excuse me, I’ve got to get ready for his call.
What fun!

More thanks

It was quite a finish yesterday morning. The CanoeFM Radio Hall was full to overflowing with lovely people. It turned out to be quite a lovely “roast”. What fun it was, and how nice to see so many good friends from so many parts of the community. Emails continued to come in today and I am very overwhelmed by the kindness people have shown.
I feel like a little lost boy today, wondering what it will feel like next week. After the tumult, today I’m feeling much more emotional about it all. I will miss talking with so many friends in the community.
Thank you all.