Today, Jim Jj Johnston Salutes Dave Charles
Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018, we pay tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones”. Today we are shining the light on Dave Charles.
I remember first meeting Dave when he and 365'er John Parikhal were at Joint Communications consulting Moffat. Later when I became a Program Director at CHAM Country Hamilton, I caught up with him at a Record Company conference. In my new role I wanted to pick his considerable brain and was a little nervous and very polite and right off the top. I said something like "Nice to see you Mr. Charles" and he said, “Cut the shit! I know you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing! Let's talk radio!” We both laughed, that broke the ice, game on, and off we went talking radio and still doing so.
We have many things in common including an interest and involvement in Australian radio. I work with Guy Dobson's team (Chief Creative Officer of the gigantic SCA) coaching Brekkie teams and Content Directors in a number of Australian cities. Guy was a partner with Dave many years ago in Dave’s former down-under firm E.S.P.
Dave was born in 1944 in Moncton, New Brunswick. It was a cold and rainy night in May he says. He would listen with his Dad Jack to this old Victor Radio in Ancaster where he grew up. They used to track all the stations they could hear on AM and Short Wave. They loved all the Radio dramas like the Lone Ranger, The Shadow, Crimson Ghost and the Grand Ole Opry on WSM in Nashville. Dave especially loved Country music and the Hit Parade Shows.
He was a hockey nut and wanted to be a goalie in the NHL for the Boston Bruins. It was his Dad who bought him a Bruins sweater when they lived in Hamilton and being from there, they hated Toronto teams. ‘Ya, the Hammer rocks, don’t you know?’ he says.
When rock hit with Elvis in 1956 his whole world changed. He was obsessed with pop music and began listening for all of the new and emerging artists of the day. His passion was R & B, Soul and the Blues music he could hear on stations like WUFO in Buffalo and a DJ called ‘the Hound’. Little Walter, BB King, Muddy Waters and Jackie Wilson made a lasting impression on him.
By the time he reached Grade 8 he was an avid Top 40 fan. 1150 CKOC Hamilton and 1050 CHUM were his favourites. He listened lots to U.S. Hit stations like WABC New York, WOWO in Fort Wayne Indiana, and WCFL and WLS Chicago were monsters!
By the time he reached grade 10 going to Hill Park High in Hamilton he knew that all he wanted to do was be on the radio. He would rent a tape player from an appliance store in Hamilton and drive his parents nuts doing voice tracks and attempting to sound like he was a real radio DJ. It wasn’t until he met Bill Stirrup a Hamilton Radio legend at 900 CHML that he started to realize his dream. Bill had him do high school sports reporting every week and paid him in free 45’s. There he met the great Ed Preston who was doing the music. Ed would continue to add to Dave's music collection. Ed allowed him to hang out in the music library and get the announcers coffee. When he saw the red on-air light go on, he realized that’s where the magic begins. He so wanted to get into the studio and be on the radio!
Bill Sterrup eventually taught him how to use a mic and do gigs like PA announcing for the Hamilton Junior Red Wings, skating music and some of his record hops filling in for him.
That’s when Bill offered him studio time to work on his voice and do professional audition tapes that he would send out to small radio stations around Ontario.
After two years of rejections he finally got a call from CJBQ in Belleville Ontario as he was finishing grade 12: “I got my first radio job. Hot dam! That was Aug.3rd 1963. I made $50 a week. After paying for room and board I had a large sum of $13 left to exist for the week.”
He soon figured out that he needed to do extra work and started organizing local record hops and dances in the Belleville/Trenton area. A couple years later he started booking the Belleville arena for major Canadian band concerts with his partners Fred White and Don Little from Toronto. They had many great Canadian bands who’d travel for gigs in Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal and figured that they could establish another date on a Friday night in Belleville. Groups like Jon Lee and the Checkmates, Last Words, David Clayton-Thomas and the Shays, Stampeders, Staccato’s, Townsmen, J B and the Playboys, Dee and the Yeomen, the Mandala, all played ‘Dave’s Gig’ in Belleville.
To promote these bands, he declared Belleville as the new capital of Canadian Music. Stan Klees and the late and great Walter Grealis, who together started RPM Music Weekly in 1964, started to promote Dave as a person who championed Canadian music. They featured his chart and stories in RPM over many years.
Soon the CBC Toronto offered him a weekly slot on their weekend show ‘The Action Set’ with the great Al Maitland. And from there his radio career started to grow. Friend Larry LeBlanc a music writer in Toronto was there in those crazy 60’s. He and Dave grew up on the fledgling CanCon music industry around the same time. Legends like Bill Gilliland who signed Anne Murray, Paul White of Capitol Records and Bernie Finkelstein of True North Records (now a Prince Edward Country resident) all were a huge part of his career growing up in the radio industry.
He started to make some real money while doing radio, arena gig and local events and couldn’t believe his luck.
His mom and dad bought him his first car, so he could visit them in Hamilton. That 1960 VW was his escape ride. Later he bought an iconic 65 Mustang with cash and started to feel like this radio life was pretty dam good.
In 1967 he went on his first overseas trip to London U.K. Being a BEATLES nut he had to see this British music scene for himself. He ended up in a record store in SOHO the day they released Sgt. Pepper’s album. He also bought Jimi Hendrix and Procol Harum 45’s to take home to Belleville. He ended up being the first Canadian DJ to Play the entire Sgt. Pepper’s album on air. The phones went nuts. To this day he says he was never moved so much by music that good. Later Capitol Records Toronto called as Dave recalls: “They got Frank Murray my station manager on the phone and told me to stop playing Sgt. Pepper music from the British LP since it was not available in Canada yet. Dave was a bad boy, but I loved every minute of it. It was fellow music fans who taught the value of playing the music for them. Screw the management!”
In 1967, he got a call from Jack Hill, Manager of CKOC Hamilton, offering him a job doing afternoon drive at his home town station CKOC replacing the iconic Hal Weaver who went to 1050 CHUM. That blew his mind! “That is where I met my radio and music mentor Nevin Grant. I still give Nev credit in my formative years of radio as he taught me so much about radio programming, music research and getting our share of the audience in Hamilton and area.”
In 1969, Dave and Nevin were looking for a night jock and hired this skinny kid by the name of Roger Ashby. Yes, that same 365’er Roger Ashby who just retired yesterday after 50 glorious years at CHUM. Of course, a year later Rick Hunter Murray who was a board operator at 1050 CHUM recommended Roger and the rest is history.
Then it was Dave’s turn as the legendary and still going strong J Robert Wood offered him the music director job and weekend shifts at 1050 CHUM in 1970. What was that like? “I was nervous and full of beans in those heady days. At first, I felt out of place. There was Jay Nelson, John Rode (now a Prince Edward County resident and winemaker at Harvest Estates Winery), Tom Rivers, Bob Magee, Terry Steele, Scott Carpenter and Roger Ashby. J Robert was a master Top 40 genius of a programmer. He was driven to create some of the best top 40 radio that I had ever heard. It was us against 680 CFTR, CKFH and CKOC. We both admired the BIG 8 CKLW in Windsor Detroit and tried like hell to exceed the best of the best every hour of every day.”
Dave learned so much about competitive radio from Bob Wood. His programming architecture was second to none. Production geniuses such as Warren Cosford, Zeke Zdebiak, Bob McMillan and 365’er Doug Thompson, created a very distinctive energetic sound. It was addictive and challenging to maintain. Says Dave: “Remember that in the beginning of 1050 CHUM it was programmed by Allan Slaight. He was the original format master who created and established the 1050 CHUM-top forty brand.”
Realizing that he enjoyed putting music and programming together was where he wanted to be, he found his way to CHQT in Edmonton thanks to consultant George Davies (famous father of the famous himself Ross Davies). At that time of his career there were no programming positions in the CHUM group, so he took a chance.
He started to apply his programming ideas at CHQT, which was a sleepy AC radio station with poor ratings. Within a year he had them go from number 8 in the market to number 2. He got noticed by another one of our radio mentors 365’er Keith James who was killing it a 630 CHED. Dave used to sneak into their jock meetings thanks to the late and great Chuck Chandler and was befriended by the entire jock team.
He found out that Keith later called Allan Slaight in Toronto and told him to talk to Dave about a programming opening at country station CFGM Toronto. By 1974 Allan offered Dave a shot as group PD with CFOX Montreal, CHOK in Sarnia and CFGM being part of that group. Allan also had a significant shareholding in Global TV at the time.
They started ‘Opry North’, an idea that came from Stan Campbell who was the afternoon driver at CFGM at the time. It was a live country music showcase to promote Canadian Country artists like Dallas Harms, Family Brown, Carroll Baker and East Wind. They even had Buck Owens on one show (dead drunk) but he somehow made it through a song or two. This live country music show ended up on 75 Canadian Country music stations produced by Ian Scotty McCallum and Joe Lefresne. Dave was later elected as the second President of ACME which later became the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA). His role was to develop a national country music strategy through broadcast partnerships and the CMA in Nashville. It was the start of creating opportunities for great Country artists like Terri Clark, Michelle Wright and Shania Twain helping her then manager Mary Bailey find her way. He first met Shania when she was performing in a review showcase at the Deerhurst Inn Muskoka.
One day he got a call from Allan Slaight telling him that he wanted to apply for one of two FM frequencies in Toronto and that he would like Dave to put an application together. He told him he wasn't sure that they would get the license, but Dave thought differently and they went after it.
That’s when he started to work with his friend John Parikhal having met him through his sister Irene whom Dave worked with at 1050 CHUM on Music projects. John was at U of Toronto at the time about to enter a doctorate program studying with the great Marshall McLuhan. Dave told John that he needed to consider getting a job in the real media world and asked him if he’d like to work with him on the now famous Q107 application. John’s work was brilliant as usual.
They built a case in their application against ROCK 102 in Buffalo who was sucking listeners from Toronto to Buffalo and taking ad revenue out of the market. They also promised to give more air play to Canadian bands and offered to play at least 35% CanCon. They got the license along with CKO and CHEZ FM in Ottawa which was started and owned by his dear friend and 365’er Harvey Glatt.
It was May 22nd, 1977 when they launched Q107. Allan Slaight thought that the station should program easy adult contemporary music and wanted to call it CILK FM ‘Silk’ which probably would’ve worked as well. However, in 1977 rock was red hot. The station blasted into orbit and knocked a hole in 104.5 CHUM FM.
The first song played on Q107 was 'Hard Rock Town' by Murray McLauchlan. Q107 first and foremost developed a ‘taking it to the street’ attitude with street characters, the 6 O’Clock Rock Report, High Witness News. The late and great Mark Daily’s news. Tony Viner was the GM at the mighty Q in the beginning.
As we all know, after 40 years Q107 remains as Canada’s premiere rock radio brand.
Ted Rogers later gave Tony an incredible deal and off he went to take ROGERS radio to new heights with legends like Sandy Sanderson, Chuck McCoy and the late and great Gary Miles leading the way.
Dave and John then teamed up with radio legend Lee Abrams who then brought in the whole bag of tricks from the Super Stars Album Rock format. At that time Lee had over 100 top U.S. stations, many major and medium markets. The Superstars format killed everywhere. IE Disco Destruction at a White Sox’s game in Chicago. The very beginning of Howard Stern’s rise at DC 101 in Washington. The Satellite Music Network. MTV and the new wave music movement in the early 80’s.
After their first year of success at Q107 John and Dave started to get offers to program from other major radio groups like Moffat Radio. They realized that Allan Slaight wanted to sell Q107 and they couldn’t understand why. He was a very smart businessman and had other ambitions.
So John Parikhal and Dave started Joint Communications Corp. Gary Slaight took over at Q107 and took it to amazing levels. Says Dave: "Gary had a great music mind and excellent sense of promotion like his dad Allan. I still have the letter Allan sent us saying how much he appreciated what John Parikhal and I did to get Q107 up and running."
After his stint for 4 years with the CCMA he was approached by Daisy Falle and Neill Dixon to join CARAS as a board member. Little did he know that Peter Steinmetz would retire as President of CARAS. The board asked Dave to become President which he considered a real honour. He was the first broadcaster to sit in the CARAS chair as President. He had three objectives for CARAS. 1. Move the JUNOS out of Toronto and offer it to other cities in Canada to host. 2. Support strong provincial music associations across Canada who could bid to host the Junos. 3. Create a mentor program for new and emerging Canadian artists.
From that came FACTOR and a real business strategy to help fund deserving Canadian artists. Dave says: “Look at our Canadian music industry today. Our successful artists are heard around the world and getting stronger.”
Joint Communications quickly became Canada largest radio, media and research consultancy firm. They had clients in the U.S, U.K and Australia. After 17 years at Joint in Canada and the U.S., John Parikhal wanted to move to the U.S. Because of his brilliance with research and strategic thinking he branched out into other business ventures.
After nine years of consulting Greg Smith and Paul Thompson in Australia, they asked Dave to join their group to consult their national radio stations and set up Austereo Entertainment.
They then were asked by the owners Village Roadshow to develop radio and media joint ventures off shore. His first country was Malaysia and then Singapore. They then developed a long-term relationship with UKRD Radio group and SBS (Scandinavian Broadcasting) out of London working with his friend Brad McNally in Ireland and Holland.
He has worked radio in 42 countries from 1993 to 2009. Says Dave: “I became an Australian citizen in 2000 (The Sydney Olympics). I’ve worked many radio projects in China, India, Japan and South Africa learning how important great local radio can be if you really do it right. Radio in some under developed countries is a vital connection and information resource. From my global travels and work I saw how important radio could be and was determined to contribute to that in any way possible.”
In 2006 coming through Singapore Dave got the word that his father Jack had passed. It was when his mom Jean at 87 had her major stroke that he finally realized he needed to come back home to Canada.
His sister Jackie was unwell and needed her big brother too. Dave took the whole year off to look after his family.
Thanks to his dear friend Gary Muth who threw a surprise party in his back yard for Dave in 2009 did he realize that he needed to start up a new media business in Canada. Chris Byrnes called him up. Dave had known of Chris’s exceptional radio work in New Zealand. They started to work together. He credits Chris for his entry back into Canadian radio and labels Chris one of radio’s really good guys.
Dave started to work alternative media projects and later began programming for JAZZ FM. He brought his Australian media company to Canada and re-started it in 2011. A year later he was back in action with a new vision and strategy. They started to put radio deals together (a broker of sorts) and invest in more media research.
Then he met the love of his life. Rita Cugini who many will know as one of the best CRTC commissioners ever. Dave attended an OAB meeting and saw her speak. Later they met for dinner and he found his soul mate. Through his Aussie mate Lee Cornell, they started to put shape to Media Result inc. Rita joined the company as did Gary Muth.
Now comes the most fun project ever. Our good friend Alan Cross got word that the MLSE were looking to improve their music at Leaf home games. So, Alan and Dave went to meet Dave Hopkinson and his MLSE team. They got the gig and began to transform Leaf hockey music working with 365’er and radio legend Andy Frost who was doing the PA for the Leafs. He was a huge supporter of what Alan and Dave created for Leafs games. If you go back to Dave’s beginnings it was his work with Bill Stirrup at the Hamilton Forum hockey games that made him realize that the fans wanted music to add to the action of the game: “It worked, and the Leafs loved it. Imagine sitting in the Foster Hewitt gondola playing music for Leaf fans. That was nuts!! Like a kid in a candy store.”
Now, on to his present work as lead radio consultant for FPR ‘First Peoples Radio Inc’ whose other media company APTN he says has put together one of the most admired indigenous media businesses in the world.
A team of 12 started working on what is now FPR, First Peoples Radio Inc. led by CEO Jean La Rose who helped to create APTN.
They just launched two new FM radio stations, 106.5 ELMNT FM Toronto and 95.7 ELMNT FM Ottawa with a whole new beat and so much more. They play 25% Indigenous music and offer the most music variety from Classic Rock to Hip Hop to Cross over Country. Dave calls their Indigenous music ‘the secret sauce’. Many great Indigenous artists over many years have not received airplay on Canadian radio stations but now they finally have major platforms.
After only two months on air, the response has been amazing.
Dave’s passion is to work on developing the next generation of Indigenous radio talent through programs like the Seneca College scholarships for Indigenous students.
Currently they have 50% Indigenous staff at both stations. They have an intern and volunteer program at both stations for indigenous students who have an interest in radio as a possible career.
Dave sums up: “After 55 years in radio, I love my work more than ever. Although the music and radio businesses have changed dramatically, what remains constant is the demand for great content. Now with so many platforms and the emergence of Smart Speakers, the level of listener engagement is higher than ever."
Advice for radio stations. "To be successful in today's media world be very local, hire talent that is thoughtful and real. Do your research. Hire people who can develop a solid strategy. It’s the price to must pay to be successful. Objective skilled advice is worth every cent you invest. Brilliant people like James Cridland and 365’er Jeff Vidler are leading the way into media’s future as podcasts are becoming more and more popular. Quality content will always win. And by the way–have some fun!"
Thanks to all who have influenced my radio journey. It continues to be the joy of my life!”
There are many leaders in this industry who have been positively touched by Dave one way or another. Fearless, fun, funny, gregarious, smart, passionate, hardworking, devoted to talent and on and on and on. The industry looks up to you Dave, and appreciates the difference you have made and continue to make. Atta be!
Thank you, Dave Charles for being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share Dave’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.
– Jim JJ Johnston is the multi-award-winning CEO, President and Chief Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries worldwide.