It was only rock 'n' roll, but CHUM liked it
May 26, 2007
May 26, 2007
In 1957, media maverick Allan Waters invested a few thousand dollars in an obscure radio station called CHUM-AM, a move his broadcast rivals predicted would be a colossal flop.
But the tiny Toronto radio station - which originally aired only from sunrise to sunset - revamped its format and shot out of the gates as a 24-hour, Top-40 rock station that swept the city by storm.
Skeptics said rock 'n' roll (a.k.a. the devil's music) would fade. Instead, it flourished, and 1050 CHUM grew up with it.
Crowds thronged to its central Yonge Street location to catch a glimpse of the steady stream of music legends who walked through its doors, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, the Rolling Stones and Wolfman Jack.
CHUM and its famed DJs were a must-stop for talent when they came to town. And inclusion in the CHUM chart could make or break a band. "It ranked among the top five radio stations in North America," says 1960s DJ Bob Laine, who is assembling the station's archives.
"And if you didn't have a CHUM chart number, your records wouldn't get picked up in record stores."
Today, the radio station Mr. Waters bought for an estimated $5,000 is celebrating its 50th birthday with studio tours and a free concert at 4 p.m. with Gordon Lightfoot. Little Caesar & the Consuls are also on the playbill at Nathan Phillips Square.
Long-time employees like Mr. Laine and fellow DJ Duff Roman say the tribute is a bittersweet salute to a station whose glory days are past.
(It now plays golden oldies.)
However, CHUM still remains the venerable cornerstone on which the Waters family built a company that now includes 34 radio stations, 12 local TV stations including CITY-TV, and 21 specialty channels such as the wildly popular MuchMusic.
Pending regulatory approval, CHUM - whose 84-year-old founder passed away fewer than two years ago - will soon pass into the hands of CTVglobemedia, marking the end of a family-run era.
"This weekend is really a tribute to Allan Waters, who was like a surrogate father to us all," says Mr. Roman, who started working at CHUM in 1965.
"There are no members of the family in the building any more, which feels a bit odd," agrees Roger Ashby, who joined 1050 CHUM 38 years ago and now hosts the popular morning show "Roger, Rick and Marilyn," on CHUM FM 104.5.
"[Mr. Waters's sons] Ron and Jim were around my age, and we all grew up together here. CHUM always felt like one big family."
Mr. Laine, who started his career at CHUM in 1958 as the all-night jock, likens the energy of the 1960s-era 1050 CHUM to MuchMusic today. "Everybody came here, from the Monkees, Bay City Rollers and Ronnie Hawkins," he remembers proudly.
"Neil Young told Rolling Stone that going to bed with his radio tuned to 1050 CHUM was when he really became aware of what was going on in music."
For Mr. Laine, Mr. Roman and Mr. Ashby, the highlight of their CHUM career was unquestionably a top-secret club concert that the station was asked to organize for the Rolling Stones.
At a chance meeting at Toronto's Three Small Rooms restaurant in the late 1970s, Mr. Roman ran into Mick Jagger, who expressed an interest in doing an intimate concert performance.
The radio station ran a contest to choose the audience, who were led to believe they were going to see April Wine. They handpicked 600 people to go by bus to the El Mocambo, where the surprise showstoppers, the Stones, performed for two nights.
"[Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's wife] Maggie showed up and - for security reasons - snipers were posted on the roof," Mr. Roman remembers. "It was the same year that Keith Richards was busted by Toronto police for heroin possession. It was a scene none of us will ever forget."
Allan Waters died in December, 2006, on the same night of the CHUM Christmas party. Even in the month before his death, he was a presence in CHUM headquarters, riding the elevator to his office with his wife.
"Allan Waters, probably to this day, is the most honest person I know," Mr. Laine says. "The CHUM family persisted for 50 years because they operated under the premise that it was a privilege to have a licence to communicate.
"With the ownership change, we hope the culture of CHUM and CITY-TV will continue to prevail."
Reeling in the years
CHUM's "Walking Man" giveaway promotion in 1959 drew 10,000 people to the streets and caused such chaos that CHUM apologized on air over an eight-hour period.
When the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1964, Johnny Bower went on national radio and television to thank the CHUM witch, Mabel Leaf, who could hex hockey rivals.
Elvis Presley had heard CHUM's documentary on the Beatles and loved it so much he told his associates to co-operate with CHUM, in 1975, on The Elvis Presley Story.
When Scottish pop/rock band Bay City Rollers visited CHUM in 1976, Yonge Street had to be shut down because of the thousands of screaming fans.
CHUM was the only radio station Paul McCartney visited while in Toronto in 1991, because he fondly remembered CHUM's history and support from the 1960s.