What sort of businessman takes his failing company that's losing thousands of dollars a month and tries something so radical that it had never been done in Canada and was relatively new in the U.S. as well?
As it turns out, a very smart businessman named Allan Waters.
Sixty years ago, on the morning of May 27th, 1957, Waters' company's radio station CHUM — then housed at 250 Adelaide Street West — shook up the staid old town of Toronto by playing Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" at 6 AM, launching Canada's first 24-hour rock and roll radio station.
And a Canadian radio revolution was underway.
Full disclosure: a teenaged Red Robinson was playing rock and roll records on CJOR in Vancouver two and a half years before CHUM switched in ‘57, but that was one program and only for a few hours a day.
Many of Waters' close friends told him that he was making a huge mistake and he should drop the raucous rock.
Waters stayed the course, but not without a few second thoughts. "I came close to dropping it a few times because you get a little fed up with people saying how rotten it is, but I hung in, and the ratings kept improving."
In a memo to CHUM staffers dated January 11, 1957 (4 months and 16 days before ‘The Big Switch'), Waters outlined some of his insightful radio philosophy:
"Radio must be exciting. People like excitement, and if we provide the excitement, the people will listen – and if we have a large audience, we can sell merchandise for our advertisers.
"We've got to promote CHUM so that people in all walks of life will discuss CHUM.
"CHUM must be the station that appears at all major public events. CHUM must give the impression of being the people's station."
And for several decades, CHUM was the people's station. It took on fierce rivals such as CKEY, CKFH and CFTR and beat them all (although CFTR would eventually best CHUM in the ratings).
Allan Waters was also smart enough to surround himself with people who helped take CHUM to the highest heights.
Men like Allan Slaight (hired in 1958) and J. Robert Wood (hired in 1968). Both were and are programming geniuses (and I do not use that term lightly).
For nearly two decades, the personal CHUM chart was the weekly way for listeners to follow the progress of their favourite song. The CHUM chart also became the most influential weekly radio chart in Canada.
CHUM DJs became household names and often became as famous as the recording stars they played.
Jay Nelson, CHUM's morning man for 17 years and 24 days, was one of only three Canadian DJs honoured by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (the other two are David Marsden aka Dave Mickie and Red Robinson).
But, what set CHUM apart and helped make it world famous was its radio documentaries.
J. Robert Wood had a vision, and sometimes it was to beat the competition, starting in 1969 with the 28 hour "CHUM's History of Rock", in 1970 with the 12-hour "The Story of The Beatles", through the many "Top 100s of the Year" as well as "The Elvis Presley Story," and culminating in the Billboard magazine award-winning 64-hour music documentary, "The Evolution of Rock," in 1976.
The Beatles documentary was given away to any radio station that wanted it simply for the cost of the audio tape to dub it—and both Presley and the Evolution of Rock went on to be syndicated to hundreds of radio stations around the world…this time for big bucks.
Although CHUM didn't form a syndication division until the 1990s with the CHUM Radio Network, those early documentaries were the true beginnings of radio syndication in Canada.
1050 CHUM went through quite a few format changes during the 1980's and eventually became a full-time Oldies station on August 28, 1989.
On May 7, 2001, CHUM switched to an All-Sports format known as "The Team."
That lasted a little more than a year. The station went back to oldies in August 2002 and retained that format until the early morning of March 26, 2009, when new owners CTV dumped Oldies for good to carry the live audio feed from TV news channel CP 24.
CHUM became a sports station again on April 13, 2011, with the launch of TSN Radio 1050 which continues today.
CHUM AM is now a part of the giant conglomerate Bell Media.
But it all started sixty years ago this week, when one man, Allan Waters, took a chance on this newfangled thing called rock and roll.
— Doug Thompson spent nearly 13 years at CHUM Toronto (4 separate times). He was Production Manager from 1968 to 1970 and was Creative Director for The Team Sports Radio Network. Today, he continues to work on the CHUM Archives, is Chairman of the Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation and a multi-award winning writer/producer/director of television documentaries.