True-Life Radio Tales

Border Crossings and Power Plays

WKBW Buffalo

Out of radio station CHAM and still living in Canada, I snagged a part-time on-air job for my former program director from Pittsburgh who had moved to Buffalo, at 50,000-watt WKBW-AM 1520. My trip from Canada to Buffalo was 65 miles one way. “KB,” as they called it, had a nighttime signal that went from the Canadian Maritimes to halfway down the East coast (or maybe all the way to Florida – I’m not sure). I know you could get it in Virginia. Answering the phone was amazing…we got calls from Halifax, Philly, etc.

After some time passed I figured I’d just move to Buffalo in case a full time job opened up at KB. The day the movers were in to give me an estimate, I got a call from Montreal and, anticipating a change of plans, asked the movers to quote moving me to both Buffalo and Montreal. I was flown to Montreal for an interview and they offered me evenings (7:00 pm – midnight) which I accepted.

At KB I’d sleep in the ladies’ room since it had a couch. I’d be on sometimes till midnight on Saturday, then on again Sunday at 6:00 am. I wasn’t about to do 130 miles for the quick turn.

KB wasn’t in a good place in town. How bad? I’d run down to the nearby McDonald’s when there was a very very early Sunday morning prerecorded public affairs show on. The manager there wore a gun on his hip. That should tell you something.

WKBW was an institution in Buffalo radio. Later, at ROCK 102, I would help drive a nail in its coffin.

CJFM Montreal

I loved Montreal, fell deeply for it my first day, lived mid-downtown, and in the mid 1970s the media was invited to everything!

I did evenings, then afternoons, and was eventually promoted to off the air after doubling, then tripling the ratings. This made zero sense to me, but I was soon made creative director.

So I created stuff. Contests, promotions, etc. For example, on the hottest day of the summer I staged a snowstorm with tons of shaved ice. The resulting publicity included four newspaper front pages (two French and two English), with a full color front page on one of them. And we got onto national TV twice.

The “snowstorm” on the hottest day of the year.

Montreal was viewed as a special major market by many, and we were mandated by management to have some talk shows, which were hosted by Matthew Cope and Mary Lou Basaraba (now an opera star!). Matthew was diligent and went after anyone and everyone famous. I remember a young Donald Sutherland stopping by and hanging out after his interview. Bing Crosby on the phone singing just a few lines of “White Christmas.” From strippers to celebs, every day had someone on the station who was well known or should have been.

Marty Feldman, Mary Lou Basaraba and Matthew Cope at CJFM.

Donald Sutherland and Matthew Cope at CJFM.

CJFM was the little FM station upstairs from the big English AM station, CJAD. I was eventually promoted to program director and not long after the French-mother-tongue majority finally assumed power in the Canadian province where the station was located. it seemed like they were going to force all sorts of French on English companies, so I started looking for work elsewhere. I could read French signs and so on but could never speak French well enough to criticize what was on the air.

Snapshots:  Heard a funny line: “A social note; don’t use the urinal while wearing open-toed sandals.”

The guy who said that replaced me in the afternoon slot when I was taken off the air. One day he came in so drugged out of his head he couldn’t speak coherently. I called the PD (program director) who was at the bar across the street, and said, “listen to your station.” The PD was a young alcoholic, a great guy, but not a good PD. He asked me to remove the stoned and babbling disc jockey.

I convinced The GM (general manager) to buy a piece of expensive equipment that immediately made us much louder.

His gleeful call the night they turned it on was a high point.

Once, another station broadcasting from the same antenna as we did, from the highest point on Mount Royal, (Montreal – Mount Royal – get it?  A long extinct volcano) was way over their legal power limit, and it knocked our station, which was just down the hill, off of all our radios. I actually went on the air and announced, “If you can hear us, would you please give us a call?” The meters said we were cooking, but we couldn’t hear ourselves.

On my first day at CJFM I saw an old friend in the hallway. “DAVE!” I called out, “this’ll be great, working together!” “Bob, don’t you know? You are replacing me.” Man, mixed emotions there. And we stayed friends! That’s a view of the kind of people who work in radio that continues to this day.

Although…we were invited to the big Montreal company Christmas bash. And our little FM station upstairs completely upstaged the big AM station downstairs, and they didn’t like it. At the time, the mayor was a colorful sort. We hired an impersonator, videotaped him comically mocking many of our staff and theirs, and brought in a big video projector (remember, video tape and projection screens were pro-grade only in 1976 or so) to play the tape at the party.

Plus we had an after-party party in the big suite in the penthouse of the fancy hotel. Much alcohol was consumed. The AM staff attended. One of their newsmen had a fight with their program director. Hair was pulled out. Furniture thrown. Blood on the wall! Maybe not everyone in radio had the sense of camaraderie that others did.

More snowy hijinks at CJFM.