The 50th Anniversary of CHUM
When we speak of anniversaries, we generally refer either to happenings of historical significance or those of a more personally relevant nature. For many, the 50th anniversary of CHUM fulfils both criteria. For long time fans of radio and pop music, 1050 CHUM, launched by Allan Waters in December 1954, generates some serious sentimental currency in our memory banks.
I’ll begin by saying that I’m not an historian. Moreover, I can’t pretend to do justice to the many people who played a role in CHUM’s long and illustrious history. Instead, as someone who loves radio, Ill relate a few of the significant events I’ve witnessed along with a few of the telling tales that have been passed down to me.
Today, CHUM Ltd. owns 32 radio stations, 12 television stations, and 21 specialty channels including MuchMusic and Bravo. It reported a $21.4 million (or 78 cents per share) profit for the quarter ending Nov. 30. Still, the numbers that matter are 1050. The first of Canada’s rock dynasties was born in a humble and interesting fashion. Allan Waters was working for a man named Jack Q’Part who owned a number of enterprises, most notably a profitable patent-medicine business. When Jack ran into marital difficulties, he had to sell off some of his holdings. Waters had his sights set on the medicine business. No go. But Jack did agree to part with a money losing radio station called CHUM. In December 1954, Waters took ownership. Only 250 watts and only broadcasting dawn until dusk. CHUM floundered until Waters took a vacation in Miami in the winter of 1956/1957 and heard a top 40 radio station. While it wasn’t his taste, he saw an opportunity. Despite internal protests, CHUM1050 dropped Rosemary Clooney and her ilk and started rocking around the clock on May 27, 1957. The rest is history captured in weekly CHUM charts.
For many years ( weekly charts were produced from 1957 to 1986) those charts were the measure of success for musicians in Canada and the barometer of teen tastes. Record retailers such as Sam The Record Man prominently displayed the week’s chart and racked the 45 RPM singles according to its rankings. The job of every record promotion person was to secure a hallowed position on the chart.
Still, there was never the taint of payola which marred certain U.S. stations. It was a time of innocence and enthusiasm.
On July 2 of 1968, CHUM gave birth to a little sister (who has since become a big brother)…..CHUM-FM. On that day, the station made the huge leap from classical music. Gary Ferrier captured the underground spirit of rock sweeping across the continent and programmed a station with a renegade edge. It was a wild and woolly era in which D.J’s had virtually free reign. Listeners began to take notice of this free form radio. By 1974, Duff Roman was brought in as programme director to take the station to a new level. The station morphed from Progressive to Album Oriented Rock, a somewhat more structured sound with a professional playlist. By 1977 the new sound was so successful that it had become the #1 FM station in Canada in terms of weekly circulation. By 1984 the next step in the evolution began. As the baby boom aged, CHUM-FM made the move to Adult Rock, launching the new sound with a TV ad takeoff on “The Big Chill”. This moved them out of direct competition with rocker Q107 which itself later evolved into a Classic Rock format. It was during this mid-eighties transition that the CHUM-FM morning show team of Roger, Rick & Marilyn was born. It is remarkable that, in an era when most morning shows have a very limited lifespan, they are still waking up Torontonians. From Adult Rock, CHUM-FM has slowly moved to a Hot Adult Contemporary sound which, as of the Fall 2004 BBM, delivered the #1 Full Coverage Weekly Circulation (A12+) in the country.
Over at 1050 CHUM, the hits kept coming until the mid-eighties when the station, in keeping with its audience moved to an Oldies format. The station continues to highlight its heritage and play the hits that it first broke decades ago. Of course, the bulk of the audience has gravitated to FM, but the magic resonance of the CHUM name continues. A brief, ill-fated experiment with All-Sports radio resulted in a return to its roots where it remains today.
On Yonge Street, just south of St. Clair, the familiar neon proclaiming “Radio One 1050 CHUM”, still towers over the city. An icon that reminds of us of our roots and an era when music was magic. As long as we have those memories, “rock and roll will never die”. Happy Birthday CHUM.