Rock ‘n’ Ra­dio by Ian Howarth

Montreal Times - - Front Page - By: Stu­art Nul­man / mtl­times.ca

In the sum­mer of 1970, my dad used to go to a lot of Mon­treal Ex­pos games at Jarry Park. And ev­ery morn­ing fol­low­ing the game in ques­tion, he would leave for me on his dresser a copy of the game pro­gramme mag­a­zine for my grow­ing col­lec­tion of sports pro­grammes.

One par­tic­u­lar morn­ing fol­low­ing an Ex­pos game that sea­son, the mag­a­zine wasn’t there. In­stead, it was a record al­bum that my dad told me later was given out to ev­ery­one who at­tended the game that night. It had a bur­gundy cover with photos of six in­di­vid­u­als who I never heard of be­fore, that were sur­rounded by gold pic­ture frames, such as Ralph Lockwood, Roger Scott (whose hag­gard-look­ing ap­pear­ance prompted my brother to call him “the vam­pire with a sore throat”) and Charles P. Rod­ney Chan­dler. It was called “Good Guys Gold”, and was a com­pi­la­tion al­bum of se­lected top 40 hit songs from the late 60s (such as “Light My Fire”) which were played on CFOX, a pop­u­lar Mon­treal top 40 ra­dio sta­tion of that pe­riod, in which its stu­dios were lo­cated in the West Is­land.

In a way, this was my for­mal in­tro­duc­tion to the world of Mon­treal top 40 ra­dio and its sta­ble of wildly pop­u­lar dee­jays.

For the next decade, I al­ter­nated my ra­dio listening habits be­tween

CKGM and CHOM. I was a de­voted lis­tener to

Ralph Lockwood’s morn­ing show, where I laughed out loud to many of his on air com­edy shtick (and his

“How’s Your Bird?” but­tons were prized pos­ses­sions amongst his fans), and Marc “Mais Oui” De­nis’ bilin­gual pat­ter as onethird of the sta­tion’s “Con­nec­tion Fran­cais”; and on CHOM, got ex­posed to soon-to-be clas­sic rock al­bums on “Les Deux Faces”, and heard Bri­tish-born an­nouncer Doug Pringle in­ter­view some of the big­gest names in rock mu­sic of the mid and late 70s on “The Pringle Pro­gram”. I even won one of the first rock al­bums I ever owned thanks to a CKGM lis­tener phone-in con­test (it was “Band on the Run” by Paul Mc­Cart­ney and Wings).

How­ever, by the mid-1980s, the glory days of top 40 ra­dio in Mon­treal be­gan to fade, with many of its dee­jays go­ing to greener pas­tures at ra­dio sta­tions west and south of Mon­treal, and its sta­tions suc­cumb­ing to nu­mer­ous for­mat changes and cor­po­rate own­er­ship. If you are a baby boomer, and are feel­ing quite nos­tal­gic about the days when listening to com­mer­cial AM and FM ra­dio was fun and had a great deal of per­son­al­ity, then you will cer­tainly en­joy Ian Howarth’s thor­oughly re­searched nos­tal­gia trip of a book Rock ‘n’ Ra­dio.

The book fo­cuses on the three decades that made up the glory years of rock ra­dio sta­tions in Mon­treal (the 60s, 70s and 80s), and in par­tic­u­lar, the four sta­tions that cap­tured the at­ten­tion of teenage lis­ten­ers dur­ing that golden era: CKGM, CFCF, CFOX and CHOM (as well as its pre-1971 in­car­na­tion CKGMFM). The story is told through pro­files of the per­son­al­i­ties that made it all hap­pen in the broad­cast booth and the front of­fice, from Dave Boxer and Buddy Gee (whose ri­valry for lis­ten­ers be­tween 1964 and 1968 helped to build the pop­u­lar­ity of top 40 ra­dio in Mon­treal), to Bob Gil­lies (who with “Lord Ti­mothy” em­ceed the Rolling Stones’ first Mon­treal con­cert at the Mau­rice Richard Arena in 1965), to Mary Anne Car­pen­tier (the CKGM traf­fic re­porter who be­came a main­stay of Ralph Lockwood’s morn­ing show), to the late De­nis Grondin (who was one of CHOM’s pi­o­neer­ing bilin­gual dee­jays), to Ge­off Stir­ling, the Nova Sco­tia na­tive, whose as­tute busi­ness acu­men, laid back style – not to men­tion his pas­sion for Eastern re­li­gions – helped to make CKGM and CHOM ma­jor forces on the Mon­treal ra­dio scene. As well, Howarth pays fit­ting trib­ute to those fig­ures who were not nec­es­sar­ily be­hind the mike, but whose con­tri­bu­tions to the Mon­treal mu­sic scene helped boost the pop­u­lar­ity of Mon­treal ra­dio, in­clud­ing rock con­cert pro­moter ex­traor­di­naire Don­ald “Don­ald K. Don­ald” Tarl­ton and lo­cal rock bands like J.B. and the Play­boys and The Haunted.

Howarth, through count­less in­ter­views and im­pec­ca­ble re­search, re­counts many of the stunts and anec­dotes that these dee­jays pulled off or were in­volved with that helped to make listening to their broad­casts quite unique ex­pe­ri­ences. There was Dave Boxer’s pe­ti­tion to con­vince the Bea­tles to in­clude Mon­treal on their 1965 tour sched­ule, fol­low­ing their not-so-pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing their twoshow ap­pear­ance at the Fo­rum the year be­fore (Boxer pre­sented the signed pe­ti­tion to the group in Lon­don and although the Fab Four didn’t agree to re­turn to Mon­treal, they agreed to give Boxer an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view, which he later aired on his CFCF show); then there was Ralph Lockwood’s stunt dur­ing the 1973 Grey Cup fes­tiv­i­ties, in which early on his Satur­day morn­ing broad­cast, placed a sur­prise phone call to his friend (and for­mer Mon­treal Alou­ettes player) “Crescent Street” Mike Widger at his ho­tel room in Toronto and play it live on the air, only to have a strange woman an­swer the phone be­fore Widger got the chance to an­swer it; and per­haps one of the strangest, yet rarely re­ported in­ci­dents to hit the Mon­treal ra­dio scene, which hap­pened dur­ing the midst of the Oc­to­ber Cri­sis of 1970, in which a small group of youth­ful FLQ sup­port­ers “broke into” CHOM’s Greene Av­enue stu­dios and “took over” the air­waves by con­tin­u­ously rant­ing about the FLQ’s agenda for Que­bec live on the air, while paus­ing ev­ery so often to play some Led Zep­pelin tunes un­til then-sta­tion gen­eral manager Jim Sward con­vinced them to qui­etly sur­ren­der to the po­lice four hours later.

When one reads Rock ‘n’ Ra­dio, the gen­eral im­pres­sion that you get is that these dee­jays and front of­fice peo­ple shared a deep pas­sion for rock mu­sic and a ca­reer in ra­dio play­ing hit rock songs and rock al­bums, and would do any­thing to reach that Mon­treal ra­dio mecca, whether it be sac­ri­fic­ing promis­ing ca­reers in other fields or go­ing on the path of work­ing at ra­dio sta­tions in ev­ery medium-sized city or small town across Canada. And once they reached Mon­treal, would tire­lessly do count­less per­sonal ap­pear­ances at high school dances, com­mu­nity teen dances, rock con­certs and store open­ings to main­tain their high pro­file within their com­mu­nity of de­voted lis­ten­ers.

Rock ‘n’ Ra­dio is a fas­ci­nat­ing book that will cer­tainly evoke plenty of Mon­treal ra­dio mem­o­ries for those who yearn for the days of “the Boss with the Hot Sauce”, the “Dean of Mon­treal”, Ralph “the Bird­man” Lockwood’s cast of mostly po­lit­i­cally-in­cor­rect char­ac­ters, or Charles P. Rod­ney Chan­dler’s ex­clu­sive live bed­side broad­casts dur­ing John Len­non and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for Peace at the Queen El­iz­a­beth Ho­tel. And un­for­tu­nately, thanks to large me­dia com­pa­nies swal­low­ing up a lot of these sta­tions – and chang­ing their pro­gram­ming for­mats – those days when listening to ra­dio was a fun, prizewin­ning ex­pe­ri­ence are no longer with us. All we have are the mem­o­ries, and this book hap­pily brings them back to us.

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