When this happened, the subway only ran along Yonge St. downtown, the 78 was still selling alongside 45 rpm records, and Ford was on the verge of introducing its biggest blunder ever, the Edsel. It was May 27, 1957 and Allan Waters was in a bind. His radio station with the terrific call letters CHUM wasn’t doing so well. Times were tight, advertisers were few and bill collectors were calling with the kind of requests you couldn’t put on the air.
It was on that date that Waters, the founder and owner of what would become broadcasting giant CHUM Ltd., decided to make his station the first to play nothing but rock and roll in Canada. It was a milestone act, and it came complete with people he knew calling him crazy and phoning him at all hours of the day and night pleading with him to ‘take that noise off the air’. He refused and the rest, as they say is history.
And now that history is officially 50 years old. This weekend marked half a century since Waters took that bold step. Since then, many have followed in those footsteps. But few have met the success he pioneered with 1050 CHUM. The station has been celebrating itself all week, something it’s taken far too long to do.
And it culminates in one of the most remarkable parties the city has seen in, say, the last 50 years. It all began on Saturday when CHUM opened its fabled 1331 Yonge St. headquarters to the public for the very first time as part of Doors Open Toronto. Original CHUM jocks Bob Laine and Duff Roman, both still with the company, hosted a live show from noon to three on air.
Then the party shifted to Nathan Phillips Square for a free concert that included Gordon Lightfoot, who has a long history with the station. “Gordon Lightfoot and Allan Waters go back a ways,” recalls Roman. ”They were business neighbours right down …Yonge Street, Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain Productions, his song writing company. And many times we’d be out on the street corner, just hanging out with Gord, chatting about music and talking about CHUM. Those were really the days.”
He’s seen many highlights in his career since he was lured to CHUM from now defunct competitor CKEY in the mid-60s. But one moment stands out above them all. “It has to be the Beatles,” he remembers. “I was in the audience with the Beatles and for the first time hearing reaction for the Beatles, that insane, intense screaming.”
Only a few jocks are left from that original line-up, including 93-year-old Phil Stone, who went back on the air earlier this week as part of the station’s disc jockey reunion special. He recalls Waters coming in and announcing the format switch, and then going on the air like an early Dr. Johnny Fever, essentially saying, ‘we’re playing this now, whether you like it or not.’ The parents didn’t. The kids did. The first record he ever spun as a Top 40 jock? The appropriate “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley and his Comets.
The celebration continues on Sunday when former AM jock-turned-veteran FM host Roger Ashby counts down the very first CHUM Chart Top 50 in order on his Sunday Morning Oldies Show. ( See the chart here.)
Bob Laine has been with CHUM for an incredible 49 of those 50 years. Find out how he got himself locked out of the station one night while he was on the air. And stick around. The 60s may be over, but for 1050 CHUM, they’re only ten years away.