True-Life Radio Tales

CHAM Session

CHAM, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

My next radio station move was a big one – to another country! A program director I had worked for at WAMS in Wilmington, Delaware was now in Canada as general manager at CHAM 1280 AM. We’d kept in touch and he offered me a job at CHAM. But –  first you had to prove that no Canadian was displaced in taking the job, and there was an interview with immigration, x-rays, blood tests…it was no simple matter, but I did get in, though without my studded snow tires.

Hamilton is at the left end of Lake Ontario, sort of like a nipple on a baby bottle. A steel town of days gone largely by today, though the mills still operated back then in the early 1970s. Stelco and Dofasco, I remember, even 40 years later.

I was hired as program director. That means the one who is responsible for whatever you hear on air.

CHAM was located in the Terminal Towers mall.

I felt I “owned” what was broadcast, had high standards, and couldn’t settle. I also felt that if you told your staff the right thing to do, they’d do it. WRONG! In fact the on-air staff almost walked out on me once. Lesson learned. Management involves more finesse then just being an on-air jock.

I’ve come to believe there are three types of talent. Some are naturals. They are great communicators. Some are growing, and want to learn. Some are egos who simply want to be “themselves,” and will balk – or worse – if you try to interfere. I’ve also now seen my weaknesses from the perspective of time.

We were getting clobbered by the competition. Under my tenure our ratings did improve though, and I got to work with several folks who justifiably went on to fame in Toronto at our sister station CFTR. But from my narrow point of view, they kept stealing my best people.

One DJ would scream on an inhale to “lower his voice” before he turned on the microphone. Except one time he turned the mic on first and made an awful-sounding gasping noise.

I didn’t inhale! DJ Steve Davis behind the board.

I made the morning newsman do the weather from outside the station every morning, and the weather in the winter in Canada was raw as you can imagine. You could tell he hated it, which I thought made great radio.

The CRTC, then the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, wanted broadcasting to “preserve the social fabric” of the country. I heard this from the commissioners directly. This means they did not want a copycat of a US station. They also force a certain percentage of Canadian music onto the air, and have other rules. There are fewer stations per population in Canada than the US.

That’s not Apollo 13 Mission Control; it’s the CHAN newsroom.

After a year and a half, the general manager was fired. The new GM (former sales manager) was promoted and took me to Toronto to our national sales team to show me off and declare a great new day. Several days later, the corporate bosses came to town and fired me. There was some resentment about me being American. The man who replaced me put up billboards that said “CHAM – Where All the Good Music Has Gone.” Huh? (You can read this both ways. A bad billboard.)

I was out of work for nine months. There was a postal strike in Canada during that stretch so I could only apply for jobs in the US by driving to Niagara Falls and mailing my packages of taped samples of my on-air work, my resume and so on. One day I took my girlfriend along and as we were just about to go through customs she had taped her mouth shut with my mailing tape supply and was going “mmmmmm  mmmmuph” as if kidnapped. VERY funny. She did remove the tape, and I didn’t go to jail.

Canada is enough like the US that it all seemed familiar but different. Like living in a movie. I have great respect for and love of Canada.

One night of many in my nine months of unemployment I heard something hit the patio a floor below my window. Something heavy. I looked outside but the lights from the driveway obscured my view of the patio. My flashlight revealed a young woman, face down. My brain immediately went in two directions at once. One half was logical – call the police! – the other half was in denial. That couldn’t actually be a…

I ran to the body after calling the police, rousing the building manager as I passed that apartment. There was not a mark showing on the body that we could see. It was a swan dive off the 13th floor. Word was she had mental issues but was out from treatment on a pass. So sad.

I got into Transcendental Meditation in Hamilton, and when fired, spent many a day in meditation. It helped.