Special THANKS to Greg Innis for sharing this (’59) Detroit News CKLW newspaper ad with Motor City Radio Flashbacks!
Where Detroit Radio Plays On
NPR RADIO (PT. 2) * CKLW * ALL THINGS CONSIDERED (August 27, 1999)
“AND THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMIN’ “
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO | CKLW | NPR.ORG
NPR’s Don Gonyea remembers the heyday of powerhouse AM radio. Gonyea grew up in Detroit, where the big station in the 60’s and 70’s was CKLW. It broadcast from across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario. It was a loud, glitzy noise-making enterprise. Everything was shouted — even the news.
The 50,000-watt giant spewed rock and roll and hyped-news across 28 states and mid-Canada. Gonyea describes the formula that made CKLW and its imitators successful. Produced by Don Gonyea and Dale Willem. NPR.ORG
THANK YOU to the following people for opening up their personal archives, suggestions, participation and for their comments (1999) –
Jon Belmont, ABC News, New York. Charlie Brown, Perrysville, Ohio. Keith Radford, Buffalo, New York. Ron Hummany, Detroit, Michigan. Art Vuolo, The Michigan Radio Guide. Tom Connard, The Aircheck Factory, Wild Rose, Wisconsin. Dick Kernen, Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts. Jo Jo Shutty MacGregor. NPR, August 27, 1999
MEMORIES OF THE BIG 8 — Big Jim Edwards — PART 3
DEMISE OF A GIANT: “ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END”
By JIM DAVIS
(MCRFB Note: Before you start — did you miss PART 2? Please go here) –
I was anchoring AM drive. In the fall of 1969, Pulse was released. Morning Drive scored a 23.0 share of the 12+ audience beating the incumbent J.P. McCarthy on WJR. Despite the differences between Arbitron and Pulse, the audience share has never been duplicated. Of course, now there are far more competing stations and, music listenership is way more fragmented than in the Top 40 days when all Americans were beating on the same drum. None the less, those stripes have given me “bragging rights” for 40+ years.
All good things must come to an end —
Strike One: RKO General had purchased Western Ontario Broadcasters (CKLW AM/FM/TV) in 1956. After the Canadian Radio Television Committee (CRTC) tightened rules on foreign ownership of radio and TV stations allowing no more than 20% foreign ownership, RKO General was forced to sell off the Windsor group in 1970. CKLW-AM-FM and TV had their licenses renewed only until September 1, 1970.
They had until that time to conform to the new rules as their petition for exemption from the foreign ownership rules was denied. CKLW was sold to Baton Broadcasting in a “fire sale” that brought only $3M for the highly successful station. The end was near.
Paul Drew left for San Francisco as Ted Atkins moved on to KHJ in LA. Frank Brodie (Marshall) was named PD. Those of us who had spent considerable time with the company were given options to join other RKO stations. I was offered a transfer to 6-9M at WOR-FM in New York City. This had particular appeal since my parents lived in Manhattan. My last day at CKLW was June 21st, 1970.
The Big 8 was the 7th most listened to radio station in North America, according to the U.S. Arbitron ratings service. Almost two and a half million persons tuned to CKLW every week. This was the largest audience in the station’s history (to date).
Strike Two: But the CRTC was not through with it’s “chopping block” for the Big 8. The Board of Broadcast Governors was a Canadian arms-length government agency created in 1958 to regulate television and radio broadcasting. The BBG had “funny” rules (to us Americans) like no requirement for a “legal ID.” The top of the hour Johnny Mann acapella jingle sang “CKLW – The Motor City.” However, the BBG was replaced by the much stricter Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 1968.
The CRTC made it clear that they did not like that CKLW focused on an American audience. Following an extensive public hearing process organized by the CRTC, the Canadian Content rule (Can Con) was adopted in 1971, “to define and identify Canadian content in pieces of music for the purposes of increasing exposure of Canadian music on Canadian radio through content regulations governing a percentage (25%) of airplay to be devoted to Canadian music.”
The Big 8 utilized every trick in the book to get around the rules; they, edited down the Canadian pieces to 1 minute or less in length, they looked for “relatives” of popular groups or mixing engineers who may have had Canadian roots. But, ultimately, there was only so much of Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot and The Guess Who that American audiences were willing to tolerate. The ratings plummeted.
Strike Three: RKO was recognized as the owner of some of the most influential radio stations in the world. RKO General also became known for the longest licensing dispute in broadcasting history. The troubles started in the mid 60’s in Los Angeles when a competing applicant for KHJ Television accused General Tire of conditioning its dealings with certain vendors on the basis that they would in turn buy advertising time on RKO General Stations. Arrangements of this type, known as “reciprocal trade practices,” are considered to be anticompetitive.
The Commission gave RKO a conditional renewal of its TV licenses in LA and Boston. Then, in 1977, General Tire admitted to an eye-popping litany of corporate misconduct, including bribery of foreign officials and having a political slush fund. Since convicted felons cannot be licensees, in February 1983, the FCC began a concerted effort to force RKO out of broadcasting once and for all. Ultimately, by 1991, RKO General was out of the entertainment business. It was game over for the largest independent broadcast chain in America.
However, I think a saying I’ve quoted for years is appropriate: “God gives us memory so that we can smell the roses in December.” – Jim Davis
P.S. Jim, thanks for your website and your personal contributions in helping to keep the Detroit radio memories alive! (J.D.)
A MCRFB Note: Jim Edwards, CKLW
Motor City Radio Flashbacks recently heard from Jim Davis (July 9, 2015), the former Big 8 jock formerly known as ‘Big Jim’ Edwards on CKLW. A special ‘THANK YOU’ goes out to Jim Davis for sharing his Big 8 recollections with us — today — exclusively here on MCRFB.COM. This is the THIRD and is the LAST installment of a three part CKLW series, as authored, by Jim Davis.
Missed Part 2? It’s over HERE.
Jim Davis, thanks again for sharing your CKLW memories, exclusively here, only on Motor City Radio Flashbacks.
MEMORIES OF THE BIG 8 — Big Jim Edwards — PART 2
“WITH A NASAL VOICE LIKE THAT, YOU’LL NEVER MAKE IT”
By JIM DAVIS
(MCRFB Note: Before starting — missed PART 1? Please go here) –
Paul Drew was a disciplinarian. He worked hard, walked fast, listened to his station intently, listened to the competition, expected the best from his staff, would not accept mediocrity, and was constantly chewing on the end of a magic marker. Because of the union at the station, the DJ’s didn’t run their own consoles. That position was occupied by “T.T. ops” (Turn-table operators). His tolerance for a bad “op” was measured in seconds. The best of the ops were for the most part frustrated disc jockeys. Some of them were fantastic….others, not so.
During my 3 years at the station I watched 43 men (no female ops) come and go from their positions. Most of them were T.T. ops that either were fired or quit under the extreme pressure.
Paul expected his jocks to be at the station one hour prior to the air-shift to prepare. That meant reading over the memorandum of instructions (there were many), reviewing alterations to the playlist, practicing live copy, and generally getting “psyched up” to kick the Big 8 in gear.
One winter morning, I had a dead battery which delayed my usual 45 minute drive from Farmington to Windsor by 15 minutes which meant that I would be arriving at the station only 45 minutes prior to my show. Paul checked with the guard gate and found that I was late in arriving. And in a quick phone call, he alerted me that he mandated one hour of preparation time, and that I was not to go on the air until 6:15AM. I wonder today if any program director cares enough to demand their air talents “best effort”?
Paul also had high expectations of himself. He never punched a clock; many times arriving at the station in the wee small hours of the morning. He had a transistor radio with him at all times and rarely missed a set. After doing the all night show for a couple of months when Billy Mack (Kris Eric Stevens) resigned, I was convinced Paul never slept.
The porch lamp in the studio known as the “Batphone” was connected to the PD’s private phone line. If the lamp lit, you could count on the fact that an error had been made. However, Paul always handled the calls with diplomacy and as a professional.
I never heard him raise his voice, although he could be very direct, and sometimes cutting. Example: There was a Mike Rivers “groupie” named Susan who desperately wanted to be the first female Big 8 jock. One day, she was in the lunch room at the station when Paul cruised through. I stopped him and introduced him to Susan. In a burst of energy she said “I’d really like to work here at the Big 8.” Paul’s response: “With a nasal voice like that, you’re wasting your time. You’ll never make it” and without missing a step, he continued walking into the music library. She was crushed. But, in less than 5 seconds he had told her the truth (the rest of us couldn’t). She didn’t have what it took to make it, and was not Big 8 material. Sometime, the truth hurts.
Paul made sure that his jocks got exposure and were always in the limelight. I met many of the Motown artists; MC’d at the (still) popular Roostertail (Paul was friends with the owners, the Tom and Jerry Schoeniths). I even got to host the Robin Seymour “Swingin Time” TV dance show on Channel 9. And, in a highlight I’ll never forget, I got to DJ an elite socialite dance for (a then young) Edsel Ford.
1968 was a busy year. Detroit was still reeling from the riots a year earlier. The Vietnam War took a swing with the Tet Offensive. Martin Luther King was murdered in April. Two months later, Robert F. Kennedy lost his life. And the Detroit Tigers took home the 1968 Pennant as Denny McLain in 1968 became the last pitcher in Major League Baseball to win 30 or more games during a season (31–6) — a feat accomplished by only thirteen players in the 20th century.
Each of these stories were brought to life by CKLW 20/20 news headed up by Dick Smythe who took his news as seriously as Paul Drew took his programming. At one point, CKLW news employed 27 people. Dick taught his people to write with flair utilizing colorful adjectives and descriptive adverbs. The news was full of alliteration and sometimes extremely graphic. I’m convinced that CKLW news was a “tune-in” rather than a “tune-out.”
Paul Drew and his team had brought unmatched success to the Big 8. Within a few months, the competition had been leveled. It was game over for WXYZ and WKNR. Meanwhile, CKLW gained number one status not only in Detroit, but in distant markets like Erie, PA; Fort Wayne, IN; Cleveland, OH; and even my beloved Toledo where I had cut my teeth for the Big 8.
One afternoon in ‘68, Paul called an “all staff” meeting which was his one and only during my time with him. He announced “it was time to go play pool on a bigger pool table.” He was exiting to join the Storer operation in Philly and would be running WIBG.
There was a huge let-down as the news filtered throughout the building. Could we sustain the amazing growth and level of professionalism the station had achieved? Only time would tell.
Gary Mack (MacDowell) who was highly respected in the Drake-Chenault organization would fill the gap temporarily until Jim O’Brien (Oldham) arrived. Jim had stints with Drake at KHJ, Los Angeles and WOR-FM in New York. Jim was an intense, and serious person, dedicated to his own personal success, as well as the company he was working for. He had a voice as big as the State of Texas, where he was born in. He had a young daughter Peri Gilpin (Oldham) that went on to have a famous career of her own as the character Roz on the Frasier television show.
Tragically, Jim was killed in 1983 during a parachute dive while saving the life of another skydiver. Jim’s stay at the Big 8 was brief. He was followed by Captain Showbiz Ted Adkins who brought a sense of camaraderie back to the station. However, Ted was needed in San Francisco at KFRC. All of these changes happened within a year. The Big 8 needed a leader…. And at just the right time, like magic…. Paul Drew returned. CKLW was in capable hands again.
(Second of 3 parts, to be continued; – Part 3 — Tuesday, July 28, 2015)
A MCRFB Note: Jim Edwards, CKLW
Motor City Radio Flashbacks recently heard from Jim Davis (July 9, 2015), the former Big 8 jock known as ‘Big Jim’ Edwards on CKLW. A special ‘THANK YOU’ goes out to Jim Davis for sharing his Big 8 recollections with us — today — exclusively here on MCRFB.COM. The SECOND of a three part series, we will publish the THIRD and final part of Jim Davis’ CKLW memories he authored, entitled, “1970,” next Tuesday, July 28, 2015.
Missed Part 1? It’s over HERE.
MEMORIES OF THE BIG 8 — Big Jim Edwards — PART 1
“SURE, AND I’M THE EASTER BUNNY”
By JIM DAVIS
October of 1966, I was Assistant PD and Afternoon Drive on WTTO – Toledo, OH. “Wheeto in Toledo” succumbed to the desires of the owners’ wife for “softer music” and it was announced to the staff that WTTO would go “middle of the road.” Lesson learned: Never go to work for a radio station owned by a meat packing company.
So, the scramble began for those of us who loved Top 40 radio to keep the turntables spinning. My friend Ed Busch who had done mid-days on WTTO after Paul Drew canned him at CKLW suggested I might send a tape to Paul who was building a team at the Big 8. So, I took him up on the idea. Since I was playing the mellow sounds of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, I could do nothing except “fake” at tape in the production room. I sent it up along with a resume to Paul Drew and kept my fingers crossed.
It was a Saturday morning. My pilots’ logbook says it was October 21st, 1967. I was practicing touch and go takeoffs and landings at Ellington Aircraft Salvage in Toledo. Suddenly, the Piper Colt radio crackled with the voice of the owner Dick Ellington calling me. He said “I just got a call from your wife. She said it’s important and to land immediately.” So, I hurried from the sky to the little Field Base Operator where I borrowed the phone to call my wife Sylvia. She said “Jimmy, you’ll never believe what just happened.” I said “What.” She said, “This guy called who said he was Paul Drew…. And I knew it wasn’t him so I said ‘and I’m the Easter Bunny’ and hung up.”
Then, his secretary Pat called back and said it was “Mr. Drew” and would I please hold. Paul (not the Easter Bunny) told Sylvia to have me call as soon as I got in. The call was hurriedly made. Paul said: “I heard your tape…. You sounded fake.” (Paul never minced words). I told him it was a fake tape that I had fabricated in the production room. He said, “make another one today, and send it up to me via Greyhound and let me know when it will arrive.” My feet were light as I ran towards the Commodore Perry Motor Lodge to record what I hoped was my big break. The tape was hand carried to the bus terminal, and the call was made. Sunday afternoon the call came from Paul who asked if I could be in his office at 9:00 AM the next morning.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I was afraid of getting stuck in Customs. I was up by 5AM and on the road by 6. By 7:30 AM I was sitting in the lobby of CKLW on Riverside Drive in Windsor, Ontario. About 8:30, I met the receptionist, Rosalie Trombley who was to become the legendary “Rosalie” of Bob Seeger fame. Paul’s secretary Pat Brink came out every ½ hour to explain that Mr. Drew was busy but “he should be with you shortly.” Then, in what appeared to be a streak of a fast moving locomotive, Paul appeared in the lobby and said, “come with me, we have to go to Motown.” Paul had a Pontiac convertible that had a mobile phone in it. I remember thinking how expensive those toys were in those days. The conversation was fast paced. Paul explained how CKLW had a bad reputation because it was Canadian. He said “I don’t care what problem your station has; if it’s FM (not popular in those days), a day-timer, low powered, Canadian etc, if it sounds great people will listen to it.”
We pulled into the back lot of the old 12th street Motown studios. I stayed in the car. Paul went to the back door and knocked. In a brief moment a brown envelope appeared in Paul’s hands and we were back on the road headed back towards Windsor. Paul explained that he had a new Supremes “exclusive” which he would have for a minimum of 12 hours before the competition had the record. It was exciting. The whirlwind that surrounded Paul was evident. On the way back in the car Paul told me: “I’m sharing these things because I assume you are coming to work for us.” That was all I needed to hear. My heart skipped a beat. I was being hired by the Big 8.
Paul said he wanted me for mid-days 12-3PM. He would change my name to “Big Jim Edwards” because there was already a “Jim Davis” in the market on WXYZ. He said “I want you to hit the air prepared, so give your two weeks notice, and then on Saturday and Sunday nights for the next two weekends I want you to do overnights on the Big 8 to get up to speed. He gave me some reading material, and I was out the door.
That Saturday night, I drove to Detroit from Toledo. I had bought a new purple shirt and a tie for my “audition.” I was following the legendary Tom Shannon who I knew from Buffalo as a listener to WKBW while I was growing up. Paul met me at the station bundled up in a large fur coat and carrying a battery operated Zenith Trans-Oceanic radio.
The air studio was known as AB-3 (Announce Booth). It was a large horse-shoe shaped desk with a TV station mike boom which held an Electro-Voice 666 microphone. Brush Clevite earphones screamed the rock and roll (and are the reason I have trouble hearing out of my right ear now). When it was time for me to take to the airwaves, Paul sat across from me with a set of earphones listening to the off air product. There was a definite tension in the air. As I punched on the mike button for my first words on CKLW, I noticed that my hands were shaking like a leaf.
It didn’t take me long to make my first mistake. In fact, it was only 7 minutes. I back-sold the song and gave the time-check and my name and then went into the spot block. Paul took off his headphone and said “You forgot the call letters. You may have lost us valuable listeners. I want you to instruct your engineer to play the same record again, play the same spot again, and see if you can remember to say the call letters this time. Try to never do that again.” I was on edge for the rest of the night. There was no more conversation. Paul simply said “tell your engineer to play a more music fast to fast jingle and record number 1234.” That was it. I was absolutely sure that this would be my last night on the Big 8.
6AM arrived very slowly. I was tired. Paul and I packed it up and left AB-3. As I went for the door he said, “That was the best first effort I’ve heard so far.” I had a reprieve until the next night. I had three more overnight “trials” before I hit the airwaves full-time on November 6th, 1967. I started on the same day as another Big 8 employee started in the newsroom. His name was Gary Mack. However, that name was deemed not authoritative enough, and so, he took his Uncles’ name – Byron McGreggor.
A month later, the station aired the Christmas Wish promotion. My Christmas Wish had come true. I was a Big 8 jock!
(First of 3 parts, to be continued; Part 2 — Tuesday, July 21, 2015)
A MCRFB Note: Jim Edwards, CKLW
Motor City Radio Flashbacks recently heard from Jim Davis (July 9, 2015), the former Big 8 jock known as ‘Big Jim’ Edwards on CKLW. A special ‘THANK YOU’ goes out to Jim Davis for sharing his Big 8 recollections with us — today — exclusively here on MCRFB.COM. The first of a three part series, we will publish the second part of Jim Davis’ CKLW memoirs he authored, entitled, “1968-1969,” next Tuesday, July 21, 2015.
ALSO: Another CKLW aircheck feature going up tomorrow on MCRFB.COM — ‘CKLW-AM Back On The Radio With: Jim Edwards!’ (November, 1967)
CKLW HEARD HERE 24/7 ON MOTOR CITY RADIO FLASHBACKS
MCRFB AIRCHECKS archive featuring: CKLW-AM (Last Show; June,’64) w/ TOM CLAY
TOM CLAY’S LAST SHOW ON CKLW
While this 1964 CKLW Tom Clay aircheck is less than stellar in its audio presentation, MCRFB feels this aircheck is significantly historic in content as it was recorded June 18 and June 19, 1964, the 19th having been Tom Clay’s last show heard on CKLW radio in Detroit. In this aircheck, Tom Clay talks about the Beatles, reads letters from CKLW listeners, mentions Terry Knight (formerly WJBK; his eventual replacement at CKLW) and also Clay talks about his tribute to JFK, commenting on his recording of “Six White Horses.”
Also in this feature today Tom Clay is heard firing off a few words towards a Detroit newspaper daily as well, for bringing up whatever role (as the daily implied in print) he was accused having played during the payola scandal earlier in his Detroit radio career, while a disk jockey at WJBK in the late-1950s. Tom Clay’s last day on CKLW was on a Friday, June 19, 1964. 51-years ago.
For more on Tom Clay archived on Motor City Radio Flashbacks to date, GO HERE.