Canada's First Top 40 Radio Station Now Part of Major Media Empire
Anniversaries commemorate happenings of major historical significance or a more personally relevant nature. The 50th anniversary of 1050 CHUM rock radio is both.
For fans of radio and pop music, 1050 CHUM generates some serious sentimental currency in our memory banks. And it generated some serious currency for the corporation ever since.
Today, 1050 CHUM is now part of CTVglobemedia, following approval and finalization of its CHUM Ltd. acquisition, concluded barely one month after the AM station’s 50th birthday. CHUM Limited assets at the time of acquisition included 34 radio stations, the A-Channel Network of 6 local stations, CKX Brandon, and 19 specialty stations including MuchMusic, Bravo!, Space, CP24 and CLT.
But the number that really matters is 1050.
As most folks recall it, the first of Canada’s rock radio dynasties was born in humble and happenstance fashion.
Founder Allan Waters was working for a man known as Jack Sharp, who owned of a number of enterprises, most notably a profitable patent-medicine business. Eventually, he had to sell off some of his holdings. Waters set his sights set on the medicine business, but he ended up with a money-losing radio station called CHUM.
In December 1954, Waters took ownership. Only 250 watts and only broadcasting dawn until dusk.
CHUM floundered until Waters heard a top 40 radio station while on vacation in Miami in the winter of 1956/57. The music wasn’t to his taste, but he saw and heard a major opportunity. Despite internal protests, CHUM 1050 dropped Rosemary Clooney and her ilk, and started rocking around the clock on May 27, 1957.
People who knew Waters (and people who had never heard of him) began to call him crazy, phoning him at all hours of the day and night pleading – demanding – that he ‘take that noise off the air’. But Waters stuck with it, and he told the story many times how he would only allow 40 records into the station! The key to success, he felt, was repetition of those same records over and over. If anyone brought in another record, he would throw it – and/or the offender – out. The rest is history, as they say, and its captured in weekly CHUM charts.
For many years, (weekly charts were produced from 1957 to 1986), those charts were the measure of success for musicians in Canada and the barometer of teen tastes and activities.
Record retailers such as Sam the Record Man prominently displayed the week’s chart and racked the 45 RPM singles according to its rankings. Every week, teens would flock to Sam’s to check the charts. The job of every record promotion person was to secure a hallowed position therein. The job of every teen was to be cool, of course, so they had to have the latest 45s at home, and they had to have the car radio tuned to CHUM.
“My memories of CHUM are of the ‘back-seat’ variety,” teases a fan named Karen. “If you wanted to get a date, having a car was one thing, but it had to have radio. In those days, the dating scene and the music scene were directly connected. That’s what I remember.”
In the early 60s, 1050 CHUM was credited with airing the Beatles a full year in advance of U.S. stations, thereby vaulting to the top of the Toronto radio pile. 1050 CHUM was a big part of the frenzy and fan-aticism that greeted the Toronto concert appearances by the Fab Four; DJ Duff Roman still calls the thrill of seeing the Beatles, and hearing the fans scream, as one of his most memorable.
“The screaming was absolutely overwhelming, even disorienting,” recalls Roman. “Backstage, the Beatles were frightened. When Elvis performed at the Gardens in 1957, it was a polite, well-behaved country music concert. Something had happened to Toronto in the years between, and I think CHUM was part of it.”
This correspondent cannot argue with that – as a youngster growing up in nearby Buffalo, I was escorted to the 1964 Beatles concert by my parents. But, within a year, the family had packed up and moved to Toronto, and I like to say we moved only because another Beatles show at the Gardens was planned!
On July 2, 1968, CHUM gave birth to a little sister (who has since become a big brother). On that day, CHUM-FM made the huge leap from classical to rock, with Gary Ferrier capturing the underground spirit of radio with a renegade edge. It was a wild and woolly era in which DJ’s had virtually free reign. Listeners began to take notice of this free form radio.
As another fan recalls, listeners took notice and made contact, too. “I remember wanting to know the name of a certain song they had played, and I called in,” describes long-time listener, Barb. “Well, we dialed the number, and it was the DJ himself who answered! I couldn’t believe it. They were on air, but they were so accessible, so friendly, you thought they were playing records just for you.”
By 1974, Roman was made program director to take the station to a new level. The station morphed from Progressive to Album Oriented Rock, a somewhat more structured sound with a professional playlist. By 1977 the new sound was so successful that it had become the #1 FM station in Canada in terms of weekly circulation. By 1984 the next step in the evolution began. As the baby boom aged, CHUM-FM made the move to Adult Rock, launching the new sound with a TV ad takeoff on “The Big Chill.”
This moved them out of direct competition with rocker Q107 which itself later evolved into a Classic Rock format (and is celebrating nits own birthday, see page 21). It was during this mid-eighties transition that the CHUM-FM morning show team of Roger, Rick & Marilyn was born. It is remarkable that, in an era when most morning shows have a very limited lifespan, they are still waking up Torontonians.
Over at 1050 CHUM, the hits kept coming until the mid-eighties when the station, in keeping with its audience, moved to an Oldies format. A brief, ill-fated experiment with All-Sports radio was quickly abandoned, with 1050 CHUM soon returning to its musical heritage and the hits that it first broke decades ago. Rock radio pioneers such as Dick Clark and Wolfman Jack are counted in that heritage.
Only a few DJs are still with us from that original line-up. Names like Al Boliska, Bob MacAdorey and Jungle Jay Nelson bring back fond memories, but so too 93-year old Phil Stone – who was back on the air as part of the station’s DJ reunion special! As well, above-mentioned former AM jock-turned-veteran FM host Roger Ashby, who counted down the very first CHUM Chart Top 50 in order on his Sunday Morning Oldies Show. Bob Laine, with CHUM for an incredible 49 of its 50 years, is still active and involved, too.
The week-long on-air 50th Anniversary at CHUM celebrations culminated in one of the most remarkable parties the city has seen in, well, the last 50 years!
It started Saturday the 26th, when CHUM opened its fabled 1331 Yonge St. headquarters to the public for the very first time as part of Doors Open Toronto. Original CHUM jocks Laine and Roman hosted a live show and mingled with the fans, who lined up around the block to have a peak inside the hallowed halls.
Then the party shifted downtown, to Nathan Phillips Square, for a free concert that included Gordon Lightfoot, whose connection to the station and the Waters’ is a long and rewarding one for both. “Gord and Allan Waters go back a long way,” explained Roman. “They were business neighbours, with Gord’s Early Morning Rain Productions, his song writing company, just down the street. There were many times we’d be hanging out on the corner, chatting about music with Gord and talking about CHUM. Those were really the days.”
Those days, and 1050 CHUM’s important role in them, have been acknowledged at temple of rock music, the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, where CHUM is one of the few radio stations to be honoured.
Fifty years on, the familiar neon sign still lights the street, and it still proclaims “Radio One 1050 CHUM”. It towers over the city, it towers over all the memories from those days. It reminds us of
era when radio ruled, and music was magic.
Happy Birthday CHUM! We’re anticipating 50 more, ‘cuz ya know, “Rock and roll will never die!”
With historical input and personal recollections from Duff Roman and Brad Jones at CHUM; David Bray of Hennessy & Bray Communications; other 1050 CHUM staff and just a few of its many fans. Allen Farrell, 1050 CHUM’s Promotion Manager from 1957 to 1968, passed away barely two weeks before the station’s anniversary; he was 70. His book about the CHUM era, “The CHUM Story”, is a great resource, and a great read for anyone interested in the “Nifty 1050.”