RIP: Legendary CKLW Music Director Rosalie Trombley
The following first appeared in Broadcast Dialogue, written by Connie Thiessen, and is reprinted with permission.
Rosalie Trombley, the legendary music director at Windsor-Detroit Top 40 powerhouse CKLW-AM “The Big 8,“ passed away Tuesday. She was 82.
Originally hailing from Leamington, ON, Trombley was initially hired as a switchboard operator and receptionist at CKLW in 1963. She eventually accepted a position in the station’s music library and by 1968 had moved into the role of music director.
Trombley quickly established herself as “the girl with the golden ear,” because of the influence her playlist additions had on a single’s success. Due to the station’s 50,000-watt reach, which saw CKLW attract an audience beyond Windsor-Detroit into southwestern Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Indiana, her name became synonymous with hit radio with a 1973 Globe and Mail article dubbing her “Queen of the Top 40 Charts.”
She is credited with helping break acts like Bob Seger, Kiss, Alice Cooper, The O’Jays, Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament–Funkadelic, Queen, and Aerosmith into the Top 40 CHR charts. She also helped Canadian artists gain recognition in the U.S., including Gordon Lightfoot, The Guess Who, Paul Anka, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and Burton Cummings.
As a testament to her influence, Trombley was immortalized in Bob Seger’s 1973 song “Rosalie” and is also credited with convincing Elton John to release “Bennie and The Jets” as a single.
One of the few women to hold a music director role at the time, Trombley’s run with CKLW extended from 1968 to 1984, through the station’s format transition away from Top 40. She went on to work with WLTI-FM Detroit and CKEY Toronto.
In 2005, the Radio Trailblazers – an advocacy and mentorship group for women in radio – established the Rosalie Award, annually presented to a Canadian woman who has blazed new trails in radio. Trombley was the Rosalie Award’s inaugural recipient.
Among other accolades, Trombley was inducted into Detroit’s Motor City Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame. She was honoured with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the Juno Awards in 2016, which recognizes individuals who have contributed to the growth and development of the Canadian music industry.