Big time radio in a small market
a Puget Sound Radio Exclusive…
by Chuck McCoy
April 19, 2021
If variety really is the “spice of life”, then truly I have had “One Spicy Life” in the radio business. I began my broadcast journey playing classical music and show tunes at CKY-FM in Winnipeg. I was a Top 40 DJ at 1050 CHUM Toronto, CHLO St. Thomas, CKFH Toronto, CJME Regina and I continued to work in the Top 40 format as PD at CFUN Vancouver. As a Manager and Consultant, I also had the good fortune to work in many other formats including Country, AC, All Sports and even All News Radio.
Like many of my colleagues I had always dreamed of working in a major market. I was lucky as I was able to spend more than 25 great years between the Toronto and Vancouver markets. At the same time I also spent a considerable number of rewarding years in some “Non-Metro” markets, commonly referred to as “Medium” or “Small” markets.
For people who study acting seriously, there’s a famous quote that’s designed to keep their egos in check; “there are no small parts, only small actors.” Putting a radio spin on that; “there are no small markets, only small market bias or small market thinking.” First as a Manager with Rogers and then as an independent Programming Consultant I was blessed to be given the chance to work with many of Canada’s finest small market operators.
But here I want to focus on my days at a very “Big Time” station in a market of about 25,000 people in Southern Ontario. Anyone who lived and grew up in that part of the country will easily remember the great “Swingin’ 68”, CHLO. Not only did I learn a lot about what makes “winning radio”, but I also had the time of my life. St. Thomas was a great stop in my on-air radio career. The town was about 15 miles south of London and it was only 10 miles from the beach at Port Stanley. With an evening air shift, I spent many sunny, summer afternoons at the Port on the shores of Lake Erie.
The CHLO station PD was none other than J. Robert Wood whom I had worked with briefly at CKY Winnipeg. Bob had great programing training in Winnipeg working for the acclaimed Jimmy Hilliard (Darin). J.Robert was a natural and great choice as PD at for CHLO. In early 1967 I got my big break when he called me in Niagara Falls where I was working and offered, “How would you like to become a CHLO Good Guy?” I couldn’t get there fast enough. Actually, I did get there fast enough and as it turned out much faster than the law allowed. My road trip on the Kings Highway #3 from Niagara Falls to St. Thomas was interrupted by an OPP officer who told me in no uncertain terms “I just clocked you at 84 in a 60 zone. What’s your hurry?” I reacted honestly, “Officer I have a new on-air job at CHLO, in St. Thomas and I guess I’m just over anxious to get there.” He looked at me, smirking suspiciously and said, “I’m stationed in Lukan (a town close to St. Thomas) and let me tell you, you are going to work at one great radio station. I listen all the time. Now get outta here and don’t forget to play me some Rolling Stones.” I think this was the first and last time I ever beat a speeding ticket. Man this station must be hot!
In any case, I did make it to St. Thomas, got together with J.Robert Wood and some of the other “Good Guys” for a “meet and greet”. What a line-up; mornings with J.Robert Wood; following Bob we had a real character in mid-days, the one and only Hal Weaver.
Holding down afternoon drive was Paul Ski, a kid that was even younger than me and he had been doing PM drive for several years already including the years he was attending high school.
What a great gig; at the end of the school day Paul would simply jump on the bus then arrange a drop off at the radio station just in time to slide into his chair in Master Control as CHLO’s PM Drive guy.
Was I going to be good enough to keep up with these guys? I was still pretty new to the business and I knew very little about ratings. But I had enough information and understanding to know CHLO was a “monster” in neighboring London and that would be enough to keep the Sales people happy. And what a big time sound. J.Robert Wood had the station tuned “hot” with Top 40 reverb on the mikes and for imaging, CHLO was running the very same PAMS jingles as WABC in New York.
I arrived in St. Thomas that day with two suitcases in my 1965 Malibu Super Sport that I had purchased two years earlier in Winnipeg. I don’t remember what the car had cost but I can still remember that the GMAC loan payment was $68 a month. On my new St. Thomas salary, after car payment and other living expenses, how was I going to be able to afford an apartment? Bob Wood was an amazing leader as well as a genius programmer. He looked at me and said with assurance, “Don’t worry about it, it’s all taken care of, come with me.” Ten minutes later we arrived at a big white house at 24 Centre Street. Still uncertain of the plan, I asked, “Who lives here?” Bob answered, “We do.” We had landed at Mrs. Murphy’s Boarding house. Bob already had a room there as did Hal Weaver. It was $20 a week for our own room and Mrs. Murphy supplied all the meals. What a deal!
CHLO had a great signal at 680 on the dial and the coverage included most of Southern Ontario and even went as far as Cleveland Ohio. I still remember the name of one of our most faithful Cleveland listeners, Mollie Olach who regularly wrote letters to all of the DJs with comments on their performance and choice of music.
CHLO not only played the hits but the station also brought the hit makers to Southern Ontario. With top ratings in London, CHLO could draw large crowds to its concerts. Our “home venue” was the London Roller rink. I remember some of the acts that appeared on the CHLO stage that included; The Guess Who, The Turtles, Peter and Gordon, Question Mark and the Mysterians, Bryan Hyland, Freddie Cannon, The Happenings and early in his long and successful career, Neil Diamond. I still marvel that we were able to book Neil. He already had a couple of big hits; our talent budget was only $1,000, but we still took a shot at snagging him. We were successful and we even came in under budget. The price for Neil Diamond in London for CHLO in 1967 was $600.
When CHLO couldn’t present the artists in London, we took our listeners to the artists. One of our craziest concert trips was in 1967 when Paul Ski and I took a busload of young fans to the Detroit Olympia to see the Monkees, probably the biggest act in the world at that time. Our timing wasn’t the best. The concert was scheduled for July 29th. That date happened to coincide with the Detroit riots of 1967. The show was postponed but rescheduled for two weeks later so we came back then and amid a very tense environment brought our busload of Monkee fans to the Detroit Olympia. This was an historic Monkees concert not just for its unfortunate timing but also for the odd selection of the opening act. Preceding the Monkees on stage for this one concert only, was a very electric Jimi Hendrix.
It’s also worth noting that CHLO was the first station where the true “Spirit of Radio”, David Marsden emerged to become a true Canadian broadcasting legend.
Over my 55 year tour in Canadian radio I am extremely privileged to have had so many great broadcasting experiences and along with it, the good fortune to work with so many of the very best in our business. But make no mistake; my days in St. Thomas and my time at CHLO will always be among my very fondest memories.
CHLO Alumni in the Hall of Fame include:
Dave Marsden CMW Hall of Fame
Gary Russell CAB Hall of Fame
Paul Ski CMW Hall of Fame
J.Robert Wood CMW Hall of Fame
Chuck McCoy CMW Hall of Fame
Chuck McCoy’s long and legendary career in Broadcasting has spanned more than 55 years.
From 1965 to 1974 Chuck was a highly rated Canadian on-air personality. Chuck got his initial start in 1965 as a “DJ” on 50,000 Watt CKY, Winnipeg. Then working as a DJ across Canada, his love affair with radio culminated with seven remarkable years as a prime time on-air personality at the one and only 1050CHUM, Toronto.
Chuck went on to become Program Director of CFUN Vancouver in the early 70s. As PD at CFUN he helped propel this station from the bottom of the pile to the # 1 position in the market. Chuck continued his radio career in 1980 spending 6 years as National PD for Moffat Communications. Then with partner Pat Bohn, the Broadcast Consulting team of McCoy /Bohn was formed and became a very successful venture as the two of them worked with programmers at radio stations all across North America. In 1989 Chuck signed on with Rogers, first as station Manager in Vancouver then as National PD for the entire radio chain. His last position with Rogers was his appointment to EVP/GM of Canada’s biggest radio cluster, providing Rogers with managerial oversight for radio stations CHFI, 680News, THE FAN and KISS 92.5. This was a role he held for 13 years before stepping down from Rogers in 2012.
Chuck was inducted into the Canadian Music Week Hall of Fame in 2008 and in 2015 he was further honored with an induction into the Ontario Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Chuck is now located in the beautiful state of Oregon and is having no difficulty enjoying his well-earned retirement in Portland with his lovely wife Kim and Sydney.
Chuck can be contacted at: