I spent the first few years of my working life as a morning announcer at a north Toronto radio station. My dream, at the time, was to make it big in broadcasting. At the same time, a few thousand kilometres away, another radio personality had similar dreams. The person: Port Perry resident, Robert Wood.
Like many people wanting to get into the business, Robert spent many hours in his home town of Teulon, an hour north of Winnipeg, practicing with a tape recorder. “After attending a three month course on broadcasting, I used to practice as a deejay playing records over the intercom, during intermission, at the Lockport Drive-In Theatre,” Robert explained.
Robert’s biggest break came when he met Jim Paulson, whom many of you remember from Zoomer Radio’s AM 740. Jim, a jock at CKRC in Winnipeg, let Robert use a spare studio to practice. Shortly after that, Robert received a phone call from a station in Lloydminster, Alberta, and was offered a job to do the all night show, for $145 a month. “When I arrived at the station, I was told the salary was actually $135, but I didn’t care, because I really wanted the opportunity to get into radio!” Robert said, grinning as he spoke.
After advancing from the station in Lloydminster to stations in Regina, Saskatoon and Manitoba’s Friendly Giant, CKY, Robert found boredom in being an on-air announcer. I can certainly attest to that; as you sit in a small booth, staring at a wall, speaking continuously. The technology was complicated, but once you mastered it, there was little left to keep your interest.
Robert learned of a program director’s position in St. Thomas, Ontario, and drove down to meet with the station owner. He was offered, and accepted, the job of program director and morning host, and gave it all he had. After revamping the programming, the station’s ratings began to soar and, within ninety days, it had become the number one radio station in London-St. Thomas.
After nearly two years, it was time for another change, and Robert sought an interview with Allan Waters, owner of CHUM in Toronto. He, was offered the position of assistant programmer in Canada’s largest market, and jumped at the chance. “CHUM was a cluttered, hokey-sounding radio station that lacked focus, on-air discipline and direction.” Robert explained. To him this represented nothing more than an opportunity.
Before long, he was appointed program director. In this capacity, he started to tighten up the music, introduce new contests and promotions, and implement a search for new talent. That led to the hiring of news director Dick Smyth, talk show host John Gilbert and community events reporter, Jeanne Beker. He hired many iconic deejays, including; Roger Ashby, Mike Cooper, Tom Rivers, Scott Carpenter, Terry Steele, and Wolfman Jack to name a few. Before long, the ratings began to go up, and CHUM ultimately became recognized as one of broadcasting’s great radio stations.
CHUM’s influence was legendary. When CHUM added a new record to the weekly playlist, 50,000 copies of the record were sold in the first week alone. CHUM was also widely copied, for the contests and promotions it ran, including Don’t Say Hello, Say I Listen to CHUM, the CHUM Starsign, and the CHUM Christmas Wish. One contest, The CHUM Five Car Giveaway, attracted so many phone calls that it tied up telephone lines all the way to New York City. Bell Telephone told Robert, that not since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, had North American telephone service been so disrupted. They warned that unless all future contests were cleared with them, until they could install a higher-capacity system, CHUM’s telephone service would be discontinued. “Needless to say, we agreed” he said.
CHUM was also noted for the concerts it presented, including; the famous Rolling Stones’ concert at the El Mocambo, live concerts at Nathan Phillips Square, the 35-minute video history of rock, which played in every high school in Toronto, and its many music documentary specials, including; the Evolution of Rock, The History of The Beatles, The Elvis Presley Story and others that aired on stations all over the world.
Before long, Robert was appointed National Program Director for CHUM Group stations across Canada, and later General Manager of CHUM and CHUM-FM.
When Q107 and CFNY started coming on strong with rock, he recommended to Mr. Waters that CHUM-FM switch from rock to an adult contemporary format. This change, along with the hiring of Roger Ashby, Marilyn Dennis and Rick Hodge, enabled the station to become the number one FM station in Canada.
Robert’s contribution to radio, especially CHUM Ltd., was immeasurable. In 2016, he was inducted into the Canadian Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame at a Radio Music Awards luncheon, at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto. He was named the 2016 recipient of the Allan Waters Broadcast Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of his outstanding success in broadcasting.
He told me how he had interviewed a Detroit Jock for a possible position at CHUM, but, after a lengthy lunch, decided he would be too radical for Toronto. That was none other than Howard Stern. Robert has met the likes of John Lennon and Mick Jagger, shaped the careers of dozens of well-known radio and television personalities, and has been praised by everyone in broadcasting.
When you meet Robert Wood, Woody to his friends, you see a shy, quiet, respectful individual who gives off a humbling persona, not what you would expect from one of the masterminds behind the success of Canada’s most well-known radio network.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
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Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.