JJ-365 Salutes Marty Forbes
October 21, 2018
I have the privilege of knowing all three of the Forbes boys. Marty, who is loving life, was the only one I did not work directly with and the last one of the three I got to know. I came to Standard in Toronto and was delighted to work alongside him and all the rest on that amazing team. I was new to the organization and Marty took me under his wing to help step me through the culture and be an ear on those days that we all have. I was well aware of the legacy of the Forbes family from my time with 365’er Brother Ger Forbsie at CFTR. The boys have amazing pride for their dad and rightly so. Marty ended up owning Edmonton, just like his dad, and made (is still making) a huge difference in that community, carrying on his dad’s traditions.
Most radio people say they got their inspiration in their early teens to get into radio, Marty got his ‘at birth.’ Folklore has it his first words were not “dada’ or ‘mama’, they were “CHED BABY!” His late father, Jerry Forbes, managed 630 CHED in the heyday of Top 40 radio. At one point having a 55 share (that’s about 9 stations combined in Edmonton today) and his Dad was a giant in the industry. He’s in the CAB Hall of Fame; and the boys just recently opened up the Jerry Forbes Centre for Community Spirit, a full 37 years after he passed away. Jerry started Santa’s Anonymous in the mid 50’s and today it continues giving out around 25,000 toys to children at Christmas.
Marty says he was a tough act to follow, but it drove him his entire career.
The three radio brothers, Gerry, Gord, Marty and their sister were surrounded by stars often, not just on the radio, but in their own backyard. One of Marty’s favourite memories was with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks (with a few members of The Band) throwing his younger brother and sister around like they were a sack of potatoes. Ronnie called Jerry “the Silver Haired Gentleman.”
Marty was a hero in high school coming in to class with all the new Beatles singles a week before they were released. His dad, somehow, got pre-releases from England, 45’s with the centers still in them.
His start in radio was in June of 1970 at CHNL Kamloops at $300 per month and $25 extra for the four Saturday shifts he’d do on the station. He was primarily a writer but also did weekend swing and fill in. Working with the legendary Dan McAllister got him off on the right foot. His roommate, sharing a $90 per month apartment was long time Global and CKNW guy Wayne Cox.
HIs first ‘big’ radio party is when he got invited to a private event at Oil Can Harry’s in Vancouver – with the Rolling Stones, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Stevie Wonder. He was 21 years old and a ‘riot’ broke out in the parking lot.
From Kamloops he was off to CKXL Calgary in 1972 where he spent the next seven years. Three weeks in he was made Creative Director and did on-air swing for a few years as well. He remembers the day Moffat bought the ‘automated’ new FM station from the former owner, which was/is CHFM Radio.
After a few PD openings, Marty walked in to 365’er Keith James’s General Manager office. Keith liked to promote from within and Marty said, “hey why not me?” Keith’s response was the biggest lesson he ever learned in his career when he said “hmmm…because you didn’t apply.”
At CKXL Marty hired 365’er Tom Tompkins and when Tommy left to work at CJAY Marty applied and Keith hired him as Operations Manager with a few months of fill in morning duties and creative/promo, etc.
He really wanted to be a Program Director and Selkirk Radio called to see if he would go to a smaller market ala CILA FM in Lethbridge to be precise. It was a door opened by K97 PD Neil Edwards and super consultant Doug Pringle and he called it a huge break. He was there for two years when the Edmonton FM applications were announced by the CRTC. There were approximately seven applicants, and five offered him gigs making a guy feel pretty good! CISN and CJAX (Maclean Hunter) were awarded licences and he was courted by them later.
Unfortunately, Marty’s dad passed away in September of that year, so his move back home was a tough one as they launched the ‘ill fated’ country rock format, CJAX. It was a disaster. he says. Bob McCord, ex CHED, hired the cream of the crop before they launched, and he was ‘famous’ in the market, so it was a tough haul let alone the combo rock/country format.
After a year Marty started to work on a new A/C application and was prompted along by Management to get it done when, for some reason, (sale of the company) they decided not to do it.
His second big break came from 365’er Ted Farr, as noted in his 365 salute, when he called and introduced Marty to CKWX/CJAZ GM Tom Peacock whom he adored. They spent an entire weekend floating around centre bay on Tom’s boat discussing the CJAZ to CKKS evolution.
Marty brought a brand new never used A/C application with him. They tried to get CJAZ a tad more contemporary to see if they could break even in advertising – but no go. Sadly, he was deemed ‘the guy who killed Jazz in Vancouver’ which still shows up in articles today, but it certainly wasn’t his decision alone and he can’t imagine the billings for 96.9 today compared to back then.
His work attracted attention from CHUM Toronto. It didn’t hurt that his brother Gerry was the current morning man. He knew AM wasn’t certainly on a growth pattern, but his mom was there, and he wanted her to spend some quality time with his two new born children so that decision outweighed the radio decision and off he went.
Marty recalls this chapter: “CHUM sure pays well – including half a house – so in I went. Nine months later out I went. There was a well-defined CHUM culture and you’re either really in or really out and I just didn’t fit. Sitting in Toronto owing half a house and being unemployed with a young family certainly wasn’t my dream.”
Marty’s next big break, number three, came from Gary Slaight. His dad Jerry had worked with Gary’s dad Allan when they launched CHED in 1954. In fact, they were very close friends he says. He got a call from Gary, and they sat down for coffee, Gary solved his house problem; and voila Marty was the new Program Director at Standard’s CKFM. A legendary station featuring huge on-air talent.
Gary liked what Marty had done with KISS in Vancouver and they made some adjustments to 99.9 which included bringing brother Gerry over to his team – which prompted the famous line from Sun Page 6 Gary Dunford, courtesy Jack Dennis, after Ger left CHUM saying “well, blood is thicker than Waters.” (reference to GM Jim Waters).
It took Marty a long time to get over the personal grief that this all caused him, and he truly did respect Jimmy Waters: “Tough gig he had. Several years after the split I shook his hand and thanked him for giving me the biggest break in my career as I spent over 20 years (Toronto and Edmonton) with Standard Radio.”
Marty says he didn’t take to Toronto. He was doing three hours a day on the road with lots of night and weekend stuff and his wife Kim was stuck with raising the young kids out in Pickering, so they decided to return to Vancouver and he joined CISL AM.
Again, he hit a ‘station sale’ as the owners were selling off to “Thank god – Standard Radio. I got a call with one line that I’ll never forget. (1991). Gary Slaight said, “Marty we bought CJKE and CFRN…do you want to go home?”
After some not so fun union decertification and CRTC approval they launched ‘The BEAR’. Eric Samuels was brought in from St. Catharines, they put an amazing team together, lined up the music, formatics and promotion for the stations and it became huge. BEAR Wear alone sold almost a quarter of a million dollars in shirts, hats, pants, etc. the first year helping them launch the Bear’s Kids Fund, which by the time he had left, donated over $2.5 million of ‘cash’ back to the community.
During his time there they tried several adjustments on CFRN; including oldies; but settled on All Sports. The CHUM split caused some major grief, but Gary Slaight, Ross Davies, and Paul Williams put it back together and it thrives today as TSN 1260.
EZ Rock was added several years later and Marty programmed it for awhile eventually handing the reins off to Steve Moore.
Then came the Standard Radio sale and it was perfect timing for him: “Dad passed away at age 58 and I stated that I was going to leave at the same age and our family prepared for that during my entire career. It was ironic that the timing worked out with the sale, and Astral treated me wonderfully, hiring me to work with Pierre Boisseau to run their coast to coast Radiothon for childrens health care. In three years we ran an 81 station pledge and raised $21M.”
Marty bought a place in Phoenix and worked out of his ‘southern office’ for ten years. They just sold it and built a new lake house on a beautiful spot just outside Edmonton just last month.
When he left the company, he opened up Radiowise Inc. that keeps him ‘involved’ in the industry and with digital just starting to shape up he spent several years studying the various social media platforms. He was one of only two Canadians fortunate enough to be chosen by Mark Ramsey to attend HIVIO for a few years which he says was outstanding.
Today Marty works with companies to ‘complement’ their traditional advertising with digital, placing ads and engaging with costumers on Facebook business sites; Twitter; Instagram, etc.
Most of his work is in ‘giving back’ as his radio reputation allowed him to be on several boards that do just that – including Santa’s Anonymous, the Jerry Forbes Centre for Community Service, the Alberta Motorcycle Safety Society, Make-A-Wish, and the John Cameron Changing Lives Foundation.
He was honoured a few years back with being awarded the Queen Elizabeth 2 Diamond Jubilee award for Community Service. Bro Ger got one as well. Plus, Marty was given the 2008 Broadcaster of the Year by the WAB which was the coolest way to exit the biz.
As he looks back he doesn’t measure his success with the stations R + R – Ratings and Revenue, he measures it by how he helped others. The list is long and he apologize’s that he can’t include everybody, but a few highlights include:
– Kent Newsom who did a practicum with him at CILA Lethbridge. “Kent – I’ll be honest…you’ll never make it on the air…but do ANYTHING else in radio because you’ve got the bug.” He’s been a long time GM now running the Rawlinson station in Calgary.
– Eric Samuels. “He can probably say it better than I can. SO proud of what we built.”
– Ryan Zimmerman. “Gary I’d like to hire this kid in Lloydminster – but just a heads up – he looks 15 years old.”
– Greg Diamond – all three PD’s won CMW awards during their time at the station.
– Brian Depot. “His first gig was all nights for me; went on to have huge industry influence and success. Great friend.”
– 365’er Boyd Leader, Laurie Langcastor, the late and great Jeff Hamilton, and several others benefited from references to help advance their careers.
– Brother Gerry Forbes. “Gerry and I talk radio all the time – in fact ‘daily’ – including right up to today. We worked together 3 times – each time it was tougher for him than it was for me.”
– Brother Gord Forbes. “He never got the Programming accolades but his success in sales is unprecedented and he could buy both Gerry and I together.”
– 365’er Ted Farr. “He has had to overcome huge personal challenges, including being downsized out of what he does absolutely the best, news. A great, great teacher of talent.”
Marty sums up: “Salutes to Tom Peacock, John Ioabucci and Taanta Gupta at Selkirk Vancouver. This was an amazing Family in all aspects. My wedding gift from them was an all expensive paid honeymoon to Maui. Kim and I got married on the beach – we’re still together 37 years later.
Standard Radio. It truly was the dream team – with the absolute best Programming minds, and support, in the business. Yeah it was tough, yeah it was challenging, but the likes of Pat Holiday; the late and incredibly great Gary Russell Vidler, the gentle giant 365’er Eric Stafford, the king of schmoozing Rob Braide and several great folks that came on through acquisitions was tremendous. Gary Slaight knew how to pick them; knew how to get the best out of us and we often had the best fights you could possibly have yet remained respectful of each other throughout the process. I simply wouldn’t have enjoyed the success I had in radio, and in life, with out amazing people like Gary, his dad Allan, Dave Coriat, Ian Lurie, Jean Marie Heimrath, etc. We walked with a big swagger – and we earned it.
Moffat Broadcasting was a long time ago but great PD’s like Bob Robertson, Greg Haroldson, Wayne Bryant (all passed away) and Jim Jackson set the table for me.
Finally – not one single company I worked with is still alive today – so I proudly say I worked for the FORBES reputation for these 48 years. Collectively we have over 157 years of experience in radio. We never had Christmas…we had conventions…and I could not be prouder than when somebody says (pick a family member….) ‘Hey, are you related to….’. After Dad died I changed my entire focus so that my two daughters Lauren and Rayanne were proud of their Dad, and Grandfather. I think I did ok.”
All of the lads (and the rest of the family) have done great and carry the Forbes radio tradition with pride, dignity and excellent humour. Their dad is up there with a lot of the greats and I am sure bursts with pride seeing his boys and family from above.
Of all the people I know in radio, Marty quite possibly is the guy who made/makes the biggest difference to his community. His mission is to ‘do good’ and I don’t think that will ever change. As he said, it’s in his DNA. He never helped because he had to, he did it because he wanted to. Genuine, talented, creative, smart, caring, great leader and teammate, fun, and a devoted family man. Atta be Marty!
Thank you, Marty Forbes, for being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share Marty’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.
Jim JJ Johnston is the CEO, President and Chief Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries.
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