(A Puget Sound Radio Exclusive)
More Mayhem, Mischief and Misadventures after Midnight
by Chuck McCoy
June 21, 2021
I’ve always believed that things that happen in the night often take on a more mysterious tone than the run of the mill activities that occur during the daylight hours. That’s certainly the way it was for me as a young, all-night radio DJ at CKY, Winnipeg in 1965. As eager as I was to just get on the radio, the time of day I’d be working became secondary.
When do you sleep when you work all night long? I certainly never really figured it out. Sleeping in the middle of the day is not really sleep. It’s just a series of “naps.” Dealing with the restless, reduced hours of sleep time was one thing but re-arranging my meals was another story. At 19, I still lived at home. I’d normally finish my shift about 7am and was home by 7:30 walking into a house where my Mom, Dad and brothers were rushing around getting dressed, grabbing breakfast while I was in the back yard tossing a steak on the grill. Put that meat with some French fries and I’d be at the table with my steak and fries the while the others were downing their oatmeal, toast and coffee. Hey, it was the end of my day and “My Supper Time.” I never did get used to it and my family hated it. My resting routine was to grab a nap in the morning for a couple of hours, nap a bit in the afternoon then one more short snooze around 10 before heading in for the start of my midnight shift.
The crazy hours and illogical meal plans led to some weird and wild experiences for me in my first year as a Rock Radio DJ. I was really enjoying the experience of “living large” as a DJ on a big station, playing some great music, driving a new 396 convertible and for a guy who had never been “Mr. Cool” at school I was actually getting kind of popular with my peers. I never completed even one year of University but there I was getting invites to “Frat “parties. Turnabout is fair play so I often returned the favor and invited these people back to the studio after midnight to continue to party while I played the hits. I found out later that this was not an accepted practice. In fact it was strictly prohibited. God, I had so much to learn!
As Eric Clapton once wrote:
After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out
After midnight, we’re gonna chug-a-lug and shout
We’re gonna cause talk and suspicion
Give an exhibition
I guess I felt it was my job to give an exhibition for my friends playing what I considered then to be the best music ever recorded. By the way that’s an opinion I still hold firmly today. It was right at the peak of the British Invasion and songs from the “Top Ten” at that time included such gems as “Help”, “I Got You Babe”, “California Girls”, “Satisfaction” and that all time classic “Hang on Sloopy.” I was on top of the world. Dreams do come true.
At the same time I was still a rookie. I truly was inexperienced, irresponsible and had not yet fully appreciated that all this fun and frivolity was actually a business. To relate an example of my complete ineptitude I now reveal for the first time to anyone, my “Lock-Out story.”
Lock yourself out of the house, you climb through the window. We’ve all locked our keys in the car and you find the closest coat hanger. But being locked out of your place of employment (a radio station), with no key; that was a top ten predicament and here’s how it happened.
It was a pretty normal Winnipeg winter night, cold with the remnants of a pretty good snow storm from earlier in the day still covering the ground. I arrived for my all night shift ready to go at midnight. I said good night to the news guy and the person who was on the air just before me and once again I was all alone in the radio station. I did not have a key to the front door; in fact no one did as far as I know. Master control was situated at the front door and anyone wanting in could easily be seen by the DJ on duty. Once the person at the door was recognized, the announcer simply hit the button, unlocking the door and they were buzzed in. The theory was that since someone was always in Master Control, why hand out keys? Good theory that worked well for all concerned, but for me there was one occasion when it became my first broadcast nightmare.
On this particular night, I had missed my usual evening snack, I hadn’t brought any food with me and at about 12:30 am, I was getting hungry and it would be a good seven hours before I got home to a hot meal. I wasn’t going to make it without some kind of grub so it was time to come up with a great plan. (Or so I thought)
Right below the radio station at 326 Main Street was the very popular Chan’s Café (Moon Room and all). It wasn’t really a take-out establishment but they made burgers, fries and had the thickest milkshakes on the block. What’s more, they were open until 2am. The restaurant was a popular spot for station staff to dine and celebrate so their phone number was posted on the wall at the back of the control room. I could call down, place an order, put on a long record, run down grab my food and be back before the song on the air was over. The stumbling block was that damn front door. I could easily exit the building but once through the door it would close locking me out with no one inside the station to let me back in. I went out to the front of the office to strategize a little. There were chairs, desks, cabinets and other assorted pieces of furniture that I might be able to maneuver to the front door to act as a wedge keeping the door open until I came back with my burger, fries and milkshake. Yeah, that should work.
Time to set the plan in motion. One of the most popular tunes of that time was the classic Dylan hit, “Like a Rolling Stone.” As great as this record was, it also held the distinction of being the longest song on the playlist at 5:59. That was perfect. It would give me plenty of time to run downstairs and head out into the street, about 3 feet from the front door of Chan’s Café. I could run in pick up and pay for my order then run upstairs and be in my chair with 2 or 3 minutes to spare. I had a heavy chair picked out to hold open the door and facilitate my exit. Locked and Loaded!
I called down, “Cheeseburger, Fries and a chocolate shake please.” I gave them the “Hot Line” number and added, “Ring me when it’s ready.” Preparation was the key. Cue up the Dylan record, rip some news off the teletype and get the big chair to the front door where I could slide it out on to the landing to hold open the “No return” door. Within about ten minutes a bright flashing red light indicated someone was on the Hot Line. I grabbed it quickly and from the other end came, “Order is ready.” So was I. I started the 6 minute record, went to the front door to move the chair. But wait! I opened the door and right on cue it wedged tightly to the landing floor where some new linoleum had recently been laid and the door was stuck tight in the open position. This was getting better all the time. I forgot about the chair, ran down the stairs into Chan’s, grabbed my food and turned around and headed back up to the station. I hurried up the stairs, got to the landing at the top and to my shock, surprise and stunned amazement, the God Damn door was closed and tightly locked, with not a soul inside to open it for me. I hadn’t been in the business very long but I can tell you that every minute of my abbreviated career flashed before my eyes. I was done. I couldn’t get in and that one record, long as it was, wasn’t going to play forever. I had nobody to call. All the staff numbers were inside the locked station. Without smashing the glass on the door and setting off every alarm on Main Street there really was no way in. Rejecting the door destruction idea, I seriously considered going across the street to the underground garage, getting in my car and just driving away from it all. I was sure that I could find another career.
I had a one last gasp thought and as far-fetched as it was, what did I really have to lose. I often hung around the station listening to the veteran announcers and news people telling stories and while I was just trying to learn some of the inside “tricks” of the “Biz” I recalled several of the news guys admitting that in the 50 minutes between newscasts they would often sneak out the back door, down a fire escape then make their way a block up the lane and pop into the historic Criterion Hotel for a brew or two. OK, I had never been out that door but I had seen it and remembered that it was the kind of big heavy steel door with the big bar on the inside with no handle, lock or door knob on the outside. What were the chances I could get in there? With driving away still my best option, I got on my horse, ran a block North on Main, then another block West on McDiarmid to the lane between the hotel and the radio station. I was able to spot the Fire Escape and clambered quickly up two flights of icy metal fire escape stairs. When I got to the top I couldn’t believe my eyes. Apparently the heavy snow of the day before had been enough to prevent the door from closing firmly behind the last newsman who took his “Beer Break.” If I had thought I had the time I would have dropped to my knees with thanks to the Almighty for having that door open.
Wildly relieved I charged back into the station and unbelievably, I could hear Bob Dylan singing. The record was still playing. I was at the back door and I had to make way to Master Control at the front before the record ended. Thankfully, I had a prepared newscast ready. I ran up the hall to the studio, plopped into my chair in Master Control and there were still 12 seconds left on the song. The city of Winnipeg was then treated to a very breathless, unintelligible newscast. Lesson learned. You can’t read when you have no air in your lungs.
The miracle of it all was that I didn’t get caught and until now, some 55 years later I’ve never actually revealed what happened that night. I was an idiot, I could have put a 50,000 Watt radio station off the air and I probably should have been fired. But being slightly perverse, I have always actually been somewhat proud that I had what it takes to meet this formidable challenge and my career didn’t end in the first 6 months of my first job.
Next week, more “Mischief after Midnight” and shades of collaborating with the enemy.
In case you’ve missed any of Chuck McCoy’s previous ‘Memories to Remember’ check out the links below
Mayhem After Midnight, Part Two HERE
Mayhem After Midnight, Part One HERE
The Real McCoy! by Chuck McCoy HERE
Love it when a plan comes together HERE
My Toy Story by Chuck McCoy HERE
It’s sooo cold by Chuck McCoy HERE
Some Early History by Chuck McCoy HERE
Big Time Radio in a small market by Chuck McCoy HERE
‘Duff Roman/Charlie Tuna Part One HERE
Duff Roman/Charlie Tuna Part Two HERE
Chuck’s Introduction, The Legendary Chuck McCoy’s first broadcast from CKY-AM’s Master Control HERE