Robert MacBain.  Teresa Miller Photography.
Robert MacBain. Teresa Miller Photography.

Former CHUM News Director Robert MacBain Writes In

In the interview with Warren Cosford in FYI Music News celebrating his induction into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, J. Robert Wood is quoted as saying: “CHUM [in 1968] was a cluttered, hokey-sounding radio station that lacked focus, on-air discipline and direction.  There were no quality control systems in copy, production and traffic, the music mix was badly flawed, and commercial loads were excessive. To make matters worse, most of the jocks were no longer young enough or hip enough to fit a youth-oriented, contemporary top 40 format.”

That was clearly not the case when Larry Solway hired me away from the Toronto Telegram in the spring of 1968 to become News Director of CHUM.  Advertisers – Bad Boy Appliances, Nugget, Public Optical, Marvin Starr Pontiac et al -- were lined up anxious to get their commercials on the air.

The CHUM slogan in 1968 was: “A CHUM listener is one in a million…1,111,900 people listen to CHUM each week.”  (BBM-November-1968).

The slogan in 1969 was: “More adult listeners 18 to 50 every week than any other radio station in Canada.  Join them on 1050 CHUM Toronto.”

In describing CHUM as he found it when I hired him in 1968, veteran broadcaster Bud Riley wrote in www.budrileyradio.com: “CHUM-AM was the leading rock format station in Canada with a Canadian audience well over one million listeners. (CKLW in Windsor had more by virtue of the large American audience across the river in Detroit).  CHUM was noted for its innovative promotional techniques that were copied by rock stations across the country.”

CHUM most certainly wasn’t the “hokey-sounding radio station” badly in need of a makeover as described by J. Robert Wood in FYI Music News.

One reason for CHUM’s remarkable business success – based on numbers/audience – was the unique personality CHUM had developed with its music and DJs.

On-air personalities like Jay Nelson, Bob McAdorey, Bob Laine, John Spragge et al were a celebrated part of peoples’ lives. 

People listened to them and their music in their homes, their cars, and at work.  They were family.

When you punched the 1050 button on your car radio, you knew you were listening to CHUM.  No other radio station had a sound quite like it.

In the news department, I drummed into my newscasters that the news followed The Supremes and The Beatles.  We had to keep it punchy, entertaining.  We had to grab and hold the listener’s attention.

Here’s what Bud Riley wrote in www.budrileyradio.com: “Unlike most former print journalists working in radio, MacBain did not try to put out an electronic newspaper.  Instead, he found innovative ways to maximize the impact of radio news – such as encouraging Larry Wilson to use sound effects to spice up the evening newscasts.

“Taken to task by CHUM’s broadcasting consultant [Ted Randal] for the fact that he heard Bud Riley laughing during a 3:00 a.m. broadcast, MacBain defended Bud saying, ‘He probably thought it was funny and the listeners were probably laughing along with him.’

“MacBain’s approach to news appeared to work as CHUM’s audience increased significantly during his time there.”

As good as our news team was, it was the DJs who made CHUM such a phenomenal success.

When CHUM switched from rock to talk and news in December, 2012, Toronto Star entertainment columnist Greg Quill wrote: “We loved having 1050 CHUM around.  In its heyday in the late 1950s through the early 1970s, it was a hit-after-hit powerhouse in Canadian broadcasting and an iconic model of Top 40 radio.

“In this part of the world, CHUM ruled back then.

“It was the city’s heartbeat-with-a-backbeat, both an omnipresent, electric force in the daily lives of post-World War 11 teenagers and a defining element in Canada’s cultural life.”

An article in the Toronto Telegram in 1966 – two years before J. Robert Wood joined CHUM as a programming assistant in February, 1968 -- said: “[CHUM DJ] Bob McAdorey, whose face is as well known in Toronto as Mayor Givens, has the most power to dictate what pop music Ontario teens listen to." 

When Bob McAdorey died in February, 2005, Toronto Star TV columnist Jim Bawden wrote: "Bob McAdorey helped usher in radio's rock `n' roll era and set the musical agenda for a generation of Toronto teens."

Few today realize the power that DJs like McAdorey exerted over Toronto popular culture 40 years ago, when radio ruled. It was a cozy time for music — and then CHUM entered the fray, blew the cobwebs away and ushered in the crazy days of rock broadcasting….

Starting in 1960, McAdorey began a stint that many people consider rock programming at its finest: brash, spontaneous and pretty wild. And the DJs were the stars. 

CHUM became the rock station to listen to and McAdorey was the man who told you if a song was going places. The guy who hung out with The Beatles and The Stones when they were in town (and introduced them from the stage) was known simply as “Mac.''

For years, he hosted the all-important 4 to 7 p.m. slot. CHUM's chart of the week's top records was posted everywhere: in record stores and high school lockers. Eaton's and Simpson's would only stock those 45s that were on the CHUM list. When a new record called "The Unicorn" came in [1967], McAdorey liked it so much he immediately put it on the air and it sold 140,000 copies in Canada in two weeks and made The Irish Rovers.

Thinking back on those heady days, McAdorey said, "We kept it all clean up here. There was no payola as in the U.S. and we deliberately helped a lot of Canadians. It was personality radio. We were promoted like crazy back then. And the pressures were unbelievable. We dictated what records were going to go. And what kids would eat, drink.”

…. In 1968, the CHUM deal fizzled. When owner Al Waters brought in American consultants, McAdorey felt the business was becoming too heavily formatted and left."

Bob McAdorey and other star DJs left – or were pushed out -- because programming consultant Ted Randal, aided and abetted by J. Robert Wood, was turning CHUM into a glorified jukebox devoid of all personality and spontaneity.

Larry Solway was told to limit each caller on his two-hour Speak Your Mind show to two to three minutes.  He was to play them “like hit records”.

The DJs were limited to 20 or 30 seconds of talk – while each record was starting – and everything they said on air had to be on a card that was approved in advance by J. Robert Wood.

Bob McAdorey once opened his popular afternoon show by saying: “Welcome to what used to be the Bob McAdorey Show.”

CHUM was fast becoming a mere shadow of what Toronto Star entertainment columnist Greg Quill had described as “rock programming at its finest: brash, spontaneous and pretty wild.”

As for J. Robert Wood’s claim that our jocks “were no longer young enough or hip enough to fit a youth-oriented contemporary top 40 format”, it should be kept in mind that we were running a 24-7 operation. We needed to hold our audience share when the teens – who did not buy appliances, cars and/or many of the other items advertised on CHUM – were asleep.  The teens were important – but – CHUM was a highly successful adult contemporary rock station. 

In his interview with Warren Cosford, J. Robert Wood says: “Our number one priority was to find and hire good people. One of our most important hires was Dick Smyth from CKLW.  The moment I heard Dick on a talent scouting trip to the U.S., I knew he would be a perfect choice for us to run the news department and serve as morning news anchor.  Dick had a lively, fast-paced delivery with a top 40 flair that was rare in those days.  His arrival immediately made us more competitive in news.”

That’s not the way it happened.

When I flew to Windsor and offered Dick Smyth a job in May, 1969, it was to be part of my news team – not to take over my news department.

Because Ted Randal had insisted that we move Peter Dickens to the evening news, I had a hole to fill in the morning slot. Larry said Ted Randal wanted us to hire Dick Smyth.  There was no mention of J. Robert Wood who, in my estimation, was playing a very junior role at that time. I certainly didn’t see him at any of the meetings of our senior management team.

The union scale for a senior newspaper reporter in Toronto at that time was around $9,000. CHUM was paying me $15,000 plus a 1969 gold Camaro convertible for my personal use and a generous expense account.

Larry said I should offer Smyth $20,000. When I questioned why Smyth should get $5,000 more than me, Larry said Smyth was “talent” just like the DJs and, as long as he increased our numbers, I should be happy.

At our second meeting in Windsor, Smyth told me he wanted $23,000 – plus my car, my office and my job – and he was quite confident that he could get it.

When I got back to Toronto and told Larry what Smyth was asking for, he said to strike Smyth’s name off the list and keep looking for a good morning man.

On a Saturday morning a couple of weeks later, one of my newsmen phoned me at home to tell me Fred Sherratt was giving Dick Smyth a royal tour of the station.

When I confronted Sherratt at the Royal York Hotel later that day, he assured me that Smyth was being offered the morning news only and that Mr. Waters was adamant that I would still be running the news department.

Sherratt told me he had a great deal of respect for me and admired the way I had turned the news department around.

I told him the feeling wasn’t mutual because everything I ever heard from him was a repeat of something I’d already heard from Ted Randal.

It was at that point that Sherratt dropped the pretence and told me he had offered Dick Smyth my job.

He said Mr. Waters wanted to be sure that I didn’t suffer financially and, even if my “physical presence was no longer required”, I’d still be getting my cheque.

At that time, Larry Solway was spending more and more time during the day out on his yacht in order to get away from the unrelenting pressure that was being put on him by Ted Randal.

I had no use for Randal and the feeling was mutual. He knew he could never win me over to his approach to radio. I resented the way he sucked up to the wives at the CHUM Christmas party and told them it was too bad I didn’t appreciate and utilize their husbands’ remarkable talents.

Larry had come to me, time after time, to complain about how miserable Ted Randal was making life for him. By the time I asked Dick Smyth to join my team as the morning newsman, Larry had pretty well given up the ghost.  He was being pushed out and he no longer had the will to fight back.

As for me, being a somewhat mercurial 32-year-old, I decided that, as I was being forced out, I’d go out with a bang.

I called a meeting of my news team for Sunday morning and told them Dick Smyth would be taking over. I said Smyth’s voice and delivery was altogether wrong for the Toronto market.  I didn’t see any way he could take market share away from CFRB’s Jack Dennett.

Then I phoned columnist Pat Annesley at the Toronto Telegram and told her they were going to “plasticize” CHUM and turn it into an American station.

I cooled down later that afternoon and persuaded City Editor John Downing to kill Pat’s column.

First thing Monday morning, I got a call from Sherrrat in Halifax telling me he had heard about the meeting I’d had with my news staff and that I was to take “vacation leave” immediately.

When I went upstairs and handed Mr. Waters the CHUM stopwatch and the keys to my car, he was quite emotional. He said he was very fond of me and couldn’t understand why I was being so uncooperative.

I told him I’d put my heart and soul into turning the CHUM news team into the best in the business and didn’t agree with the major changes that were being made at CHUM.

I then went down to my office, picked up the other set of keys for my Camaro convertible, and drove down to the lake to think things over.

Two hours after I left the building, there was a notice on the bulletin board announcing that Dick Smyth was replacing me as News Director.

The key point, in relation to J. Robert Wood’s exaggerated opinion of himself in his interview with Warren Cosford, is that he played a very minor role in all of this.  He was Ted Randal’s man on the spot. Period. Randal called the shots.

As you know, radio is a business. Success is all about numbers. Audience share.

CHUM boasted having more than a million listeners in 1968. In 1969, it had more adult listeners in the 18 to 50 category than any other radio station in Canada.

It would be worth knowing to what extent, if any, those numbers improved between 1970 and 1975.

 

Best regards,

Robert MacBain

 

And J. Robert Wood , responding, writes in:

I found Dick Smyth in Windsor and recommended him to Fred Sherratt and Mr. Waters.

I was too junior at the time to hire Smyth and did not suggest otherwise in the interview.

I regret that Robert McBain is upset but given the way his situation was handled, I don’t blame him.

Robert is a good guy, and I have no feeling of ill-will towards him.

 

 

 

 

 

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