Today, Jim Jj Johnston Salutes Chuck McCoy
Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018 we paid tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones.” Today we are shining the light on Chuck McCoy.
When Chuck of McCoy/Bohn consulting came to Hamilton to do a monitor listen of CHAM with me, I had only been there in my first Program Director role for a year and a bit. He told me that the mighty Moffat CFOX might be looking for a Program Director and did I know anyone? I threw out a few names and was wondering why there was a puzzled look on his face.
Chuck said: “I meant you JJ, something you might like to do?” I was flabbergasted and muttered something like “I just got here and need to see this through with my team.” Chuck, “They have mountains out there JJ.” JJ “But there’s a mountain in Hamilton.” Chuck: “Not the same, at least take a flight to Vancouver." I did and as the plane was descending, I saw those glorious peaks glistening in the sun. I was in and off shortly for the CFOX Program Director chair thanks to the late and great Alden Diehl, and 365'ers Chuck, Pat Bohn, and Jim McLaughlin.
Chuck’s brother Jeff Vidler sets this next one up: “At the age of 5, when most boys want to be a fireman, Chuck McCoy (aka Merv Vidler) had a different future mapped out. He was going to be a disc jockey. Whenever Dad brought his dictation machine home from the office, those plans went into overdrive. Practise, practise, practise until he got all his moves down, just right.”
Chuck recalls his 4th Grade teacher at Woodhaven Elementary, Miss McCauley, asking him, “Now, Mervyn, what do you want to be when you grow up?” That was an easy question for someone like him, and he quickly replied, “Ma’am, when I grow up, I want to be a Radio DJ.”
For the most part, as a young child and teen, he kept this secret radio yearning mostly to himself and his siblings. He was smart enough to know, even at a very young age, that when parents gather as they do and discuss the well-planned future paths that their children are taking, even the most loving parents don’t puff out their chests and loudly declare, “Well, our boy is going to be a Radio Disc Jockey”.
No, back then being a DJ was pretty much regarded as an occupation only slightly better than a drug dealer, and certainly not as prestigious as being a shoe salesman. (He actually sold shoes before radio). Early on he says he was a goofy kid who would go to the library and take out books on broadcasting, bring them home, hide them under the mattress and read them only late at night with a flashlight, under the covers. He followed radio station remote broadcasts wherever and whenever he could. One day when he was not even a teen yet on the way home for lunch, he became aware that there really was a God.
Right on the corner of their street in Winnipeg, the Dussesoy’s IGA Supermarket was having a Grand Opening and sitting on the parking lot was a real radio station in a big trailer surrounded by glass. The sound of the station through their speakers was loud enough that he could hear it at home as he wolfed down his lunch after which he ran out the door and up to the Supermarket. He had about 40 minutes before school started and it was only a ten-minute walk. He just stood there and watched, simply in awe of these very cool, smooth talkers who were reading commercials, doing the weather and even introducing music. The radio guys asked him if he wanted to come into the trailer which turned out to be his first visit to a real radio station. Once inside, he peppered them with questions and told them that one day, he’d be just like them on the radio.
Right there and then is where his career started: “Don’t ask me why, but one of these announcers asked if I’d like to read a commercial live on the radio. OMG, would I? I had a decision to make. If I stayed to read the commercial, I’d be late for school. Easy decision; I read a 30 second live commercial for Swift’s Premium Franks. My head was in the clouds. Wow, I was actually on the air.”
His Mother Peggy was besieged with calls all that afternoon from her friends spilling the beans that they had heard him on the radio, and at a time when he should have been in school. There she was, waiting for him at the door when he got home. He was sent to his room to consider his error in judgement and yet all he could do was dream about that wonderful moment and how he knew then, that this was only the beginning. He continued to hang out at the radio stations.
One of his favourite ploys was to show up at CKY every Saturday morning to be one of the 8-10 people that made up the studio audience for their 'live' country music show. They were told to clap very fast so it sounded like it was a full auditorium. Of course, he would always manage to attract some attention by dropping his mitts or hat on the floor. That would prompt the radio emcee to ask on the air, “Anybody in the audience lose their hat? “That was his cue to stride up to the mic and in his deepest pre-puberty voice say, “Uh that would be mine.” He says it was childish, but then again, he really was just a child. Like so many radio veterans he started by playing radio with a record player, a tape machine, a microphone and a speaker. Kid brother Jeff remembers: “Chuck would bring the kids’ portable record player out to the living room, sit it on top of the console stereo, and teach kid me how to slip cue 45's. With a weather forecast scotch-taped to the wall in front of him, he was all set to record the airchecks that would hopefully help 'Merv Clark' score an on-air slot at CKY.”
He had two friends across the street who also liked to 'Play radio,' and they’d set up the equipment in their garage with the speaker on the door sending their fake radio station out into the back lane. This very early and unsophisticated training later proved to be fruitful as the two kids who played this fantasy radio game with him also went on to strong broadcasting careers. John McQuaker went out West to the CBC, and Roger Currie had a long and successful career in Winnipeg morning radio at CJOB.
58 CKY Winnipeg, Canada’s Friendly Giant with 50,000 watts, was the station he grew up with. It was great Top 40 (CHR) music, 24 hours a day with such great personalities as PJ the DJ, Mark Parr, Daryl B, Jimmy Darrin, Gary Todd, Dennis Corey, George Dawes, Chuck Dann, Dean Scott, J. Robert Wood and many more. He didn’t think there could be a station better or more exciting than 58 CKY.
However, it was on a summer trip in his late teens to Toronto with his family, that he had the opportunity to hear Toronto’s big Top 40 station, “C-H-U-M, 1050-Toronto.” He says he can still sing the jingle as it was back then in 1963. He fell in love with this station, the music, the DJs, the crazy contests. It was like nothing he had ever heard before. He didn’t immediately grasp how powerful this station was, but thought to himself, “
Oh, this is where I have to work, I just have to!” He asked his parents to drop him in front of CHUM on Yonge just south of St. Clair and then pick him up later. He just stood there on the sidewalk staring in the window that went through to the announce booth where the DJ was doing his show. He had a transistor radio and listened to this very cool guy playing great CHUM music and jingles for about 30 minutes. To his shock, surprise and delight he waved him into the building, took him into his announce booth, introduced himself and gave him a quick rundown of how they did it at 1050 CHUM. He was able to stay for 15-20 minutes, watching him cue the operator for the music, open his mic and do some CHUM music intros, chat with listeners on the phone and simply do his DJ thing: “God, this was so glamorous. This was a life-changing moment for me. Now I KNEW I just had to be a CHUM DJ. My future was now in focus. I should thank that kind DJ who took this kid off the street into CHUM and put the stars in my eyes. I do Thank-You, 365’er Duff Roman.”
While waiting for his ‘Big Break,’ he sold aluminum windows, door to door, drove a half ton truck and sold shoes for Agnew Surpass in Winnipeg’s Polo Park. All the time he was trying to scam and connive his way into any radio station. He took a broadcasting course from the basement of a local radio announcer, and he continued to follow radio remote broadcasts. He vividly remembers driving out to St. Vital’s Red Top Drive-In restaurant solely to gaze in amazement at the newest DJ Phenom who had just arrived in Winnipeg; it was the late and Daryl Burlingham (Daryl B). It was while listening to Daryl B that he first figured out the DJ system; you talk while the musical intro is playing and then finish talking just before the singing starts. He must have practiced that a thousand times with his Beatle LPs on his home ‘Hi-Fi.’ He kept listening to Daryl and copied his style to the best of his ability. He was lucky to have Daryl B as a model as Chuck says and we would all back this up, he was one of the best there ever was.
One of his other DJ idols was Dennis 'Deano' Corey. He covered mid-days at CKY and Chuck would meet him at dances or sock hops and tell him about his dream to join him at CKY. As luck would have it one of his closest friends in Winnipeg was Deano’s brother Jerry. With Deano’s help, Jerry landed a job at CKY-FM (now CITI-FM) playing show tunes and classical music. All Chuck had to do was convince both of them put in a good for him, and it worked! He snagged a part-time job at CKY-FM.
The Manager was a choir conductor of some note and was very fussy about how they handled these classical LP's. To keep everything pristine they were all required to wear white gloves when handling the records. Unlike AM, there was no talking over the music intros. The entire DJ yak was limited to a twice an hour inserts ‘CKY-92.1 FM time,’ and for variety, they also added ’CKY-92.1 FM temperature’. He couldn’t do his best Daryl B style intros, but because both the AM and FM stations were in the same building, on the same floor, he could watch Daryl through the glass, playing the ‘Fab 50’ on AM while he did his boring FM shift. He was getting closer though. He had a real radio job (part-time, was paid $1 an hour and on July 1st, 1965 got a first broadcasting pay cheque, $5 for 5 hours work. He never cashed that check, and for more than 50 years he always kept it close by in his desk.
Working at a classical music FM station in 1965 when ‘Satisfaction’ by the Stones was rockin’ the 50,000-Watt AM airwaves meant he still had a long way to go.
Of course, he sent out tapes and typed up resumes for CKY and seemingly every station in existence. Most stations never replied, and those who did weren’t interested in hiring an inexperienced kid. He says in a weird way he was encouraged by the rejections. After all, he was getting actual correspondence from a real radio executive at a real radio station. He remembers: “I saved all the envelopes with the station logos on them as some kind of proof to myself that I was actually ‘In the Business’. Imagine people who worked at a legitimate radio station in places like Kitimat or North Battleford were putting a stamp on a response and mailing it to me. I was on my way for sure!”
In 1965 a man named Bill Grogan was appointed of CKY-AM PD. Bill had been working at the AM station as an on-air host and had seen Chuck around and knew he worked at the FM station. Chuck just HAD to work at CKY-AM, so he thought, he’s new to the PD position, why not hit him up for a job? The PD didn’t know about all the rejections he had received or how little experience he had.
All he knew was that he was in the building, and that he was blessed with a decent radio voice. Chuck took advantage of one of his off days from the shoe store and scheduled a time to meet with him. He's always said that training, experience, hard work and talent are the cornerstones to success. But you also have to be a bit lucky too something that came his way the day he met with the new CKY PD. He wrote down some of the names of the stations that had sent him those rejections and told Mr. Grogan he was looking at some job offers from these stations. He was fibbing, but in truth these stations had been in contact with him, right? Who knows he says? “A job offer ‘could’ be coming.”
Chuck talks about this being where luck kicked in: “There had been a fire at the AM transmitter, and the engineers were heading out there every weeknight from 1:00am-6: 30 am to do repairs, and the station had to be off the air while they worked. Someone had to sit with an off-air station for five hours in the middle of the night. The only all-night live shift was an hour at 1:00 am and 30 minutes at 6:30 am. CKY Winnipeg was a big 50,000 giant station with some very hot on-air talent. There was no chance any of these guys would be up for that kind of work, so the PD thinking he might have a solution to manning this ‘dark’ radio station all night long, asked me straight out, ‘Do you know how to operate the AM equipment?’ I answered almost before he finished asking, ‘Of course, absolutely’ even though I had never been inside the AM control room. I figured that somehow, I’d find a way to get in and learn the control board and equipment. So once again, time to shade the truth a bit.
This was pretty much an out and out ‘lie’. To my surprise he said, ‘OK, come in tonight at 1:00am, do a live shift for an hour, baby-sit the equipment for five hours, then do another 30-minute live shift at 6:30’. He then added, ‘I’ll be listening; I have an opening for an all-night DJ in September. You can consider this your ‘live” audition for that job.’ Seriously, my whole life flashed before me right there in his office. What had I just done? I had just lied to the Program Director of a big city radio station saying I could operate his giant 50,000-watt radio station. I might as well have just told Air Canada I could pilot one of their DC-9s. I was doomed. I considered telling him the truth, but that thought was fleeting. Listen this was too good an opportunity to ‘pass up’, even though the whole episode was making me ‘throw up’. To ‘step up’ is what I now had to do.”
Chuck left his office, walked slowly back to the FM Control room and as he entered the studio, he remembered that the FM announcer on shift at that moment also operated a Sunday night talk show on the AM station. That meant this guy really did know the AM equipment and how it all worked. He then had one of his better career ideas. He asked this man if he’d like to make $50. Today that would have been like a $500 offer. He was making one dollar an hour at the FM station on a part-time basis and $35 a week at the shoe store. He was really putting everything he had on the line to get this man to operate for his two live shifts and then teach him everything that was technical in a 5-hour AM Radio crash course. The guy bit, both showed up just before 1:00 am, he went into the news room, used the news microphone and unbeknownst to anyone listening (including the PD) this fellow operated the equipment, the music, the commercials, the jingles and the promos and Chuck just had to talk and be a DJ for that one hour. With some good luck and a good trainer, he made it through the night; did his two live shifts and got well trained on all the equipment.
He was very nervous, worrying about how bad he might have sounded, how green and inexperienced he really was and hoped the PD would let him down easy when they met in the afternoon.
He went to the station after lunch waited for the PD to give him a lengthy critique of his performance. But without even sitting down he surprised him with, “I liked what I heard this morning; the all-night show is yours in September if you’ll work for $350 a month.” How good was that? "My first time on the radio and he said he ‘liked’ what he heard. I was on the air very early in the morning and I sometimes wonder how much he really heard. Most importantly I now was officially hired to be a full-time DJ on CKY-Winnipeg beginning in September. I also got some weekend summer shifts which allowed me to become a bit of a hero to my teenage pals up at the lake. They would all call from the pay phone up there and I’d play their songs and give them shout-outs (called dedications back then). How cool was that at 18?”
Chuck says without question he owes a great deal to his FM colleague who stepped up and literally held his hand on that first shift: “My friend, where would I be if you had not helped me out on that night so long ago? The sad thing is I don’t even remember your name, your face or anything about you, except that you helped start me on this 50+ year journey of love for this magical medium of Radio.”
Surrounded by legends who would end up playing their own roles in changing the shape of radio across North America, Jimmy Hilliard, George Johns, J. Robert Wood, Chuck Dann, and Daryl B, Chuck had some incredible role models to follow. After CKY, he moved up through a quick succession of daytime gigs at CJME - Regina, CJRN – Niagara Falls, landing in St. Thomas/London, working for J. Robert J Robert Wood, who had recently left CKY to become Program Director at CHLO. It was at CHLO that Chuck paved the way for middle brother, Gary Russell (Norm Vidler), to move from CKY-FM to join him in London. It was also where Chuck laid the groundwork for his move to the big time in Toronto at CKFH and, soon after, evenings at 1050 CHUM, once again working for Program Director legend J. Robert Wood.
Chuck has spent his entire adult life in the Radio Broadcasting business. From the beginnings as an on-air personality (1965-1974) to his last on-air position at the world famous 1050 CHUM.
He was Program Director for CFUN, Vancouver from 1973-1978, National PD for Moffat from 1979-1986, Independent Broadcast Consultant from 1986 -1989 and VP/GM with Rogers from 1989 to the end of 2012 where he was VP/GM of Canada's biggest Radio Cluster in Toronto, managing radio stations CHFI-FM, 680News, THE FAN and KiSS 92.5 along with three stations in Kitchener and one in London. He held this position from 1999 to 2013. Before that he began his 24-year career with Rogers Broadcasting as the VP/GM of the Company's Vancouver Radio Cluster and served in that position from 1989 to 1999.
After 24 very rewarding years with Rogers Communications, in December of 2012, Chuck stepped down from his position at Rogers to become an Independent Media/Broadcast Consultant who specializes in the training and coaching of morning show personalities and has clients in both Canada and the United States.
Chuck was always involved and giving back. He was a founding Director for FACTOR in 1981, Chairman of the Radio StarMaker Board from 2005 -2010, Member of the Board of BBM and BBM Radio Executive Committee. He was also a member of several CAB/CRTC radio Consultative Committees, one of which I worked alongside him at a public hearing. I was very nervous and intimidated being on this team. I’ll never forget Chuck, recognizing my anxiety before the public CRTC panel, went out of his way to make me feel comfortable and build my confidence.
Chuck was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2008, where he sits along with his brother Gary Russell. The Ontario Association of Broadcasters brought him into their Hall of Fame in 2016.
Chuck salutes the following who he worked with at these various stations and businesses:
CKY 1965 – J. Robert Wood, Daryl B, Chuck Dann, George Johns.
CHLO – Hal Weaver, Paul Ski, JR Wood, and his late and great radio legend brother Gary Russell CKFH – Don Daynard, Keith Hampshire, Tom Williams, David Haydu and 365’er John M Donabie, CHUM – Ted Randall, J Robert, Jay Nelson, Bob Laine, Tom Rivers, Jackson Armstrong, Dick Smyth, Bob Magee, and 365’er Roger Ashby.
CFUN –Fred Sherratt, J.R. Wood, Fred Latremouille, Cathy Baldazzi, Bill Edwards, John Rode, John Tucker, Clint Nickerson, Daryl B, Wolfman Jack, Ross Davies, George Davies and 365’ers Nelson Millman, and Tom Jeffries.
Moffat – Gary Russell, Brad Phillips, Rob Christie, Rob Farina, Vince Cownden, Jim Jj Johnston, Danny Kingsbury, Kevin McKanna, the late and great Steve Young, and 365’ers Jim McLaughlin, Roy Hennessy, Keith James, Don Shafer, Ross Winters, Jeff Lumby, Larry Hennessey and Willy, Andy Frost, Gary a, John Parikhal, Dave Charles, Jeff Vidler and of course Pat Bohn.
Consulting with 365’er Pat Bohn- Tony Viner, Sandy Sanderson, Gord/Doug Rawlinson, Kurt Hanson, Jack McCoy, and 365’er Reg Johns.
Rogers – Paul Fisher, Wendy Duff, Mike Michael Cooper, Erin Dawn Davis, Victor Dann, Derek Berghuis, Scott Parsons, Phil Lind, Ted Rogers, Bob McCown, Don Kollins, Geoff Poulton, Greg Stevens, Al Ford, and 365’ers John Hinnen, Jeff Brown, Tarzan Dan Freeman, Karen Steele and Julie Adam, and a few who departed way too early: Pat Cardinal and Gary Miles.
Chuck now lives in the States with wife Kim, the love of his life, and their beloved Yorkshire Terrier, Sydney. They spent years in Phoenix but now are in their new home in Portland, Oregon where Kim just got a great job with Kroger running their national advertising. Chuck continues to hold as much passion for radio as he did when he set his career plans at the age of 5. Today works on various radio and podcast projects, often with brother Jeff, and mentors and coach’s talent across North America, including Ellen K at KOST in LA.
Chuck has always kept himself in good physical shape (fellow marathon runner), and that has been a deciding factor in his recovery from a heart attack a short while ago that he posted publicly. Quick action and great health have him still here with us and recuperating nicely. Keep that coming Chuck!
Who would have thought back then that this lad who was infatuated with radio from as long as he can remember, would become such an industry heavyweight and make such a difference to our business?
Chuck has made a lot of careers in his time, mine being one of the ones he helped along. He had the faith in me for the leap from on-air to Programming and then from the smallest station in the Moffat group to the helm of the biggest one.
One of the most dynamic, creative, smartest, fun and funny, innovative and talented leaders we have seen in this radio world of ours. Well done Chuck!
Thank you, Chuck McCoy, for being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share Chuck’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.
–– Jim JJ Johnston is the CEO, President and Chief Programmer/Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries worldwide.