North East RadioWatch: May 7, 2001

Farewell, Old CHUM

by Scott Fybush

TORONTO -- It's been nineteen years since WABC dropped music for talk, more than a dozen since WNBC gave way to WFAN, and about as long since WLS spun its last tune. But old habits die hard north of the border, and that's why the 21st century was already well underway by the time 1050 CHUM finally turned its back on the music that built its reputation as one of North America's most important top-40 radio stations.

Yes, as the Toronto Star crankily pointed out on Saturday, the CHUM that was being eulogized all over the airwaves and newspapers hasn't existed for years, since the last "CHUM Chart" hit the streets in 1986 and the station switched to AC, then to oldies as it faded from the consciousness of the younger audience.

But NERW loves a good party, and the celebrations surrounding the end of the music days on CHUM and the launch of the new Team sports network were more than enough to propel us up the QEW Sunday afternoon to be at 1331 Yonge Street when it all ended (and began).

Here's what we saw and heard:

Sunday, 3:45 PM: Out at the CHUM transmitter site on the Mississauga/Oakville line, you wouldn't know anything was changing. A cold wind blows in off Lake Ontario, a hundred yards or so to the south, as we snap a picture of the six towers and get chased off the grounds of the neighboring industrial plant. (Sorry!)

On the air, the station is playing the number-one hits from its 29 years as an all-hit station, interspersed with wonderfully-produced recollections from listeners, musicians and former staffers. At 4, the Jays game comes on and we flip away.

Monday, 1:15 AM: A trip to Toronto is always a good chance to meet up with other radio people, and so it is that we find ourselves out on the Scarborough bluffs with FM DXer Saul Chernos. Just as we're getting ready to give up on a fairly poor night for DX, we notice that most of the FM signals from the CN Tower have gone off for maintenenance. This was already a special day; now it's turned into a lucky one as well -- not to mention a late one. By the time we turn in almost four hours later, Saul has added six new stations to his log and we've subtracted about as many hours from our sleep. (It was worth it, though!)

Monday, 8:30 AM: It's the last day, and CHUM has opened its doors to former jocks for a going-away party. More than a hundred people head out to the roof of the studios for a group picture. They're forced to wait for a few minutes as Roger Ashby finishes his morning shift on CHUM-FM and as station founder Allan Waters makes his way outside to take his rightful place at the center of the group.

The pictures are snapped, and then it's time for a farewell toast from Waters' son Jim, who reads a brief statement from his father. Allan Waters himself is finally coaxed to the front so Jim can present him with a new "Team 1050" jacket, a reminder that this day is about the new as well as the old.

Inside, though, as staffers warm up over breakfast, the decorations in the conference room are all about the memories: pictures of the CHUM trailer at the Canadian National Exposition, the Beatles in Toronto, and of course old CHUM Charts.

10:35 AM: Downstairs, there's just the width of a hallway separating CHUM past from Team future. On one side, CHUM veterans Duff Roman and Bob Laine have come downstairs from their executive suites for one final day behind the mike, serving as ringmasters for a five-hour "Final Show,"

This is the culmination of weeks of on-air promotion, including daily hour-long replays of classic CHUM airchecks and weekly roundtable discussions featuring CHUM air talent from days gone by. All the publicity has brought fans to the door of 1331 Yonge to grab their "CHUM Forever" buttons and offer their farewells; one day last week, we're told, singer Jose Feliciano showed up unannounced to let the CHUM staff know he listens whenever he's in town.

Feliciano got a spot on the "Final Show" lineup, but he was one of the lucky ones. The show is planned down to the second to make sure as many voices get heard as possible. At one point we overhear a producer in the hallway comment, "I couldn't squeeze the Prime Minister in if he showed up right now!"

Roman and Laine are squeezed into a tiny booth facing the 1050 CHUM control room, pinned in by camera crews (CHUM sister station CITY-TV keeps cutting to a live shot of the show in progress; later, all the Canadian networks will be there) as they work their way down a list of interviews and the last few songs. Across the glass, CHUM general manager Brad Phillips directs the action, running back and forth to the studio to consult with the hosts.

If the "Final Show" crew thinks there's not enough time to do everything they have to get done, they're not alone. The next door over leads to another sort of controlled chaos: the impending debut of "The Team." A new studio complex has been carved out of the space next to the CHUM air studio, and with just a few hours left until the Team makes its nationwide debut, it's not yet finished. Engineers are busy bringing the computer system on line, while the production staff races to get all their material ready for 3 o'clock.

When the new studio takes air, it'll be an impressive facility: there's a large room that will function as a sports newsroom and show-prep facility, a two-person booth for ticker updates and a big talk studio with a kidney-shaped table for at least half a dozen participants facing a control board.

11:30 AM: Heading out to Yonge Street for some fresh air, we pass workers scraping the "1050 CHUM" logos from the doors and sticking the new "Team" logos in their place.

1:15 PM: Back at CHUM, the final countdown is underway. While Laine and Roman continue their show inside, the back parking lot has been transformed into an outdoor barbecue. The mood, for the moment, is jovial; there's lots of beer, chicken and sausages, burgers and hot dogs. In a corner, speakers bring the last show to the audience, which includes a few CHUM fans looking on from the end of the driveway.

This is the staff's chance to celebrate all the hard work that has gone into the transition, and that includes the effort of developing Canada's first national sports radio network. Stacks of "Team" polo shirts are snapped up from the table under the speakers as fast as they can be brought outside.

1:38 PM: Life goes on away from CHUM; a few blocks away, a dedicated, hard-working Toronto parking officer bestows a $20 ticket on the NERW-mobile. Oops!

2:35 PM: The chatter at the party dies down quickly as staffers realize the "Final Show" has entered its final moments. Jim Waters joins Roman and Laine in the studio to say goodbye on behalf of CHUM's founding family, and his employees gather in a large circle around the speakers to listen as Waters reads a letter from his sister, talking about their father's dedication to making CHUM a success in its early years.

Allan Waters and his wife Marge are outside with the staff now, and both begin to cry as the letter is read. By the time he's almost done reading, Jim Waters is breaking down as well. From our perch in one of the building's back doors, we can see the crowd at the end of the driveway growing. On the balconies of the high-rise apartments around CHUM, a few curious faces begin to peer down on the activity as well.

2:44 PM: The last song on CHUM has been the topic of debate on e-mail lists and among CHUM fans for weeks. "American Pie"? Edward Bear's "Last Song"? Duff Roman has hinted to the papers that "the last song will be the first song," and that narrows the choices pretty well. Now it's time...and sure enough, it's the song that launched CHUM's top-40 format back in the spring of 1957. As Elvis belts out "All Shook Up" (the number one song on the very first CHUM Chart, May 27, 1957), a few CHUM employees begin dancing in the middle of the circle.

2:47 PM: The song ends, and the group goes silent as CHUM launches into a montage of audio from its history, beginning with Allan Waters' own recollections of purchasing the station. Nobody says a word as the sounds of their own careers and their predecessors' wash over them. Allan Waters dabs his eyes with his handkerchief, and he's not alone.

The montage closes out with a "thank you" to Waters, who's surrounded by hugs from his family as 1050 CHUM ends its on-air life with the piano chord from the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." The applause from the CHUM family drowns out the sound of John Lennon joking, "On behalf of the band and myself, we'd like to say thank you and I hope we passed the audition." Then, silence again as a series of beeps announce the birth of the Team, not only on 1050 but on a chain of CHUM stations and affiliates from Halifax to Vancouver.

The Team begins with its own montage of sound, a collection of great moments in Canadian sports over the years. The crowd pays polite attention, bursting into applause when the montage ends, but the moment has passed. By the time the Team's first program is underway, the gathering is breaking up. The TV crews that had been inside for CHUM's last moments pour out the back door to interview Waters. Staff members go back to work. We start heading out to get some sleep.

3:10 PM: Above 1331 Yonge Street, the buzz of a small plane draws the remaining staffers' heads to the sky -- just in time to see the banner being towed: "OLDIES FOREVER! OLDIES 1150 CKOC." Some in the crowd compare it to dancing on a grave, but others admit it's just the sort of shrewd promotion CHUM itself might have done in its heyday. Across from the CHUM building, the Hamilton station has parked a van and a classic Chevy with "CKOC" plates. Employees hand out "Oldies 1150" magnets and flyers to passersby.

8:30 PM: The end of CHUM is felt especially strongly by the aircheck collecting community, which is why the monthly "Monday Nighter" gathering of Southern Ontario radio types has been moved up a few weeks to coincide with the CHUM finale. Of course, no one could have known that it would also coincide with game six of the Stanley Cup semi-finals, so talk of CHUM shares space with the Devils and the Leafs on big-screen TV. Old acquaintances are renewed, new ones are made, and the CD burner gets no rest as the day's programming is shared in digital form.

Tuesday, 1:15 AM: We've (reluctantly) torn ourselves away from the Monday night gathering to make the drive back to Rochester, in the process passing up the chance for another night of FM DX, even though we know the CN Tower will be signing off again overnight for repairs.

On schedule, CFNY (102.1) drops off the air as we steer the NERW-mobile around the east end of Lake Ontario, and we spend the next two hours tracking the low-power auxiliary signals of stations like CBL-FM (94.1), CJEZ (97.3), CHFI (98.1), CKFM (99.9), CILQ (107.1) and CHUM-FM (104.5). Most fade completely long before we pull into the driveway for the night. They'll be back in the morning. 1050 CHUM won't.

Well, will. Sort of. All the attention being paid to CHUM's history, not to mention the heavy traffic to the station's Web feed, led to an eleventh-hour decision to keep the oldies spinning as a Web-only product. launches with most of the same automated programming that had occupied much of the day on 1050 AM; the only differences are the lack of local news (since the CHUM news staff stayed on with the Team) and of Brian Henderson's morning show (the only live jock on CHUM at the end, he moves over to do mornings on the Team as well).

Of course, there's more than just music at the new CHUM site; it's a living history of the station's heyday, complete with a complete collection of CHUM Charts and historic airchecks. It's a fitting tribute to the station that defined Canadian radio for a generation, and a sign that the "1050 CHUM Forever" slogan might just mean something.

There was, of course, other news this week, and we'll offer this quick summary, with more in the next regular NERW May 14:

And that's it for this week; we'll try to get to that Western trip summary next Monday, assuming no more legendary AM music stations decide to change format in the meantime! See you then...

As of market close, May 11, 2001
NERW's Northeast Television Index 97.89

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