CKLW: Wikis

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  • radio station CKLW played "Wildflower" for three months before it was released as a single, in order for the station to meet Canadian content requirements?

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CKLW
CKLW AM.png
City of license Windsor, Ontario
Broadcast area Windsor, Ontario
Greater Toronto Area
Mississauga, Ontario
Detroit, Michigan
Toledo, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio
Branding AM 800
Slogan CKLW — The Information Station
Frequency 800 (kHz)
First air date May 31, 1932 as CKOK
Format News/Talk
ERP 50,000 watts
Class AM class B
Former callsigns CKOK (1932–1933)
Affiliations CBS (secondary, 1932-1935)
Independent/Mutual (secondary, 1935-1942; primary, 1942-1963)
Dominion Network (secondary, 1935-1950)
Independent (1963–1991)
NBC Radio (1991–1993)
CHUM Radio Network (1993-present)/WOR Radio Network (1940s-present, secondary)
Michigan Wolverines Sports Network (co-flagship)
Owner CTVglobemedia
(CHUM Radio Network)
Webcast Listen Live! callsign_meaning = Canada Knows London and Windsor (local cities)
Website AM 800 CKLW

CKLW is a 50,000 watt AM radio station broadcasting on 800 kHz and located in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and serving Windsor and Detroit. Additionally, its signal can be heard clearly in Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio.

It is best known for having been one of the most influential Top 40 stations in the world in the 1960s and 1970s. During this era, CKLW used a very tight Top 40 format known as Boss Radio, devised by legendary radio programmer Bill Drake. However, CKLW never actually used the handle "boss" on the air, just the style. Rather than a "Boss 30", CKLW's weekly music survey was known as a "Big 30". And instead of calling itself "Boss Radio", CKLW called itself "The Big 8". During this period it was the top-rated radio station not only in Windsor, but across the river in Detroit, and even in cities as far away as Toledo and Cleveland in Ohio.

In its current incarnation, CKLW is a news/talk radio station primarily serving listeners in Windsor and Essex County in Ontario, Canada, with a mix of local and syndicated programs, including some programs from the United States.

It is the co-flagship station (along with WOMC) of the Michigan Wolverines Football Network. [1]

Contents

History

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Before the "Big 8": Gentile and Binge

CKLW first came on the air on May 31, 1932 as CKOK on 540 kHz with 5000 watts of power, and was owned by a group of Windsor-area businessmen led by Malcolm Campbell, operating as "Essex Broadcasters, Ltd." CKOK became CKLW in 1933, when Essex Broadcasters, Ltd. merged with the London Free Press and its station CJGC (now CFPL), and became "Western Ontario Broadcasting", which was co-owned by Essex Broadcasters, and the London Free Press. The "LW" in the callsign is said to have stood for "London, Windsor", considered to be the two chief cities in the station's listening area. When the station's power increased to 50,000 watts, its listening area increased accordingly. In 1934, when London Free Press's station CJGC pulled out of the agreement, the station's ownership became wholly-owned by Western Ontario Broadcasters. CJGC-AM later evolved into today's CFPL 980, while today's CBEF occupies the 540 kHz slot on the AM dial.

CKLW had been a popular station in the Detroit area for years before becoming "The Big 8". The station always sounded more American than Canadian, and for a number of years served as the Detroit affiliate of the Mutual Broadcasting System, an affiliation which would last from 1935 until its purchase by RKO General in 1963. Alongside its affiliation with Mutual, it also gained a dual affiliation with the Dominion Network in 1935, replacing its CBS Radio affiliation with that of Mutual/Dominion. Its affiliation with Dominion would last until 1950, when CBE 1550 launched.

The Mutual System's owner, General Tire and Rubber Company, purchased a controlling interest in CKLW and its owner at the time, Western Ontario Broadcasting in 1956, along with RKO General (which had purchased a minority interest in 1954, and had controlled Mutual since 1952). RKO would later increase their stake to 100% in 1963.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, CKLW was home to Happy Joe's Early Morning Frolic with Joe Gentile and Toby David, which was one of the very first popular comedy-oriented radio morning shows in Detroit. The show continued strong after David left CKLW for Washington, D.C., in 1940, and was replaced by Ralph Binge.

Gentile and Binge kept listeners entertained with an endless stream of comedic sketches and situations. The show's sponsors got in on the fun as well, as Gentile and Binge's trademark was their ability to turn a standard 60-second commercial announcement into a comedy sketch which could run for three minutes or longer. A typical three-and-a-half-hour Gentile and Binge show might feature such comedic commercials for as many as fifty legitimate products, and some imaginary ones as well. Sometimes listeners didn't get the joke. For example, according to popular legend, after promoting a miracle weight-loss aid called "Dr. Quack's Slim Jim Reducing Pills" with the story of an obese woman who got stuck in a telephone booth, Gentile and Binge received over $3,000 from listeners requesting a $1 trial of the pills as advertised, and the station had to hire a clerk to return the money.[2]

Gentile and Binge were a fixture on CKLW until moving to WJBK radio (now WLQV) in 1948, attracting audience ratings as high as 80% at their peak. The duo disbanded their partnership in 1956, and Gentile returned to CKLW. Toby David also eventually returned to AM 800 to host the morning show in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Both Binge and David were also stars of early Detroit television kiddie shows: Binge was "Pirate Pete" on WJBK-TV in the mid-1950s, and David became CKLW-TV's (now CBET) "Captain Jolly" later in the decade (a role which, ironically, Binge had originally been tagged to play).

As television's popularity boomed, CKLW, like many other stations, coped with the changes by replacing the dying network radio fare with locally-based disc-jockey shows. Throughout most of the 1950s and into the mid-1960s, CKLW was basically a "variety" radio station which filled in the cracks between full-service features with pop music played by announcers like Bud Davies, Ron Knowles (who had a rock-and-roll show on AM 800 as early as 1957), and Joe Van. For a few years in the early 1960s, CKLW also featured a country music program in the evenings called Sounds Like Nashville. This ended in 1963 when WEXL 1340 became Detroit's first 24-hour country station.

The glory years

Coverage area of the Ontario-based CKLW, with Detroit at its heart. This representative QSL card is from 1976, after RKO General had been obliged to sell the station.

After RKO General took over the station and its FM sister (93.9) in 1963, CKLW began to shed the variety-format approach and, as "Radio Eight-Oh," began focusing more aggressively on playing contemporary hits and issuing a record survey. Davies, Knowles, Dave Shafer, Tom Clay, Tom Shannon, Larry Morrow (as "Duke Windsor"), Terry Knight, and Don Zee were among the "Radio Eight-Oh" personalities during this time, and helped raise the station's ratings to the point where it was beating longtime hit station WXYZ (1270) by the summer of 1966 (though WKNR "Keener 13" was still a solid number one).

However it took Bill Drake's "Boss Radio" format and a roster of legendary personalities such as Shannon, Shafer, Gary "Morning Mouth" Burbank, "Brother" Bill Gable, Pat Holiday, Steve Hunter, "Super" Max Kinkel, Walt "Baby" Love, Charlie O'Brien, Scott Regen, Ted "The Bear" Richards, Mike Rivers, Duke Roberts, Charlie Van Dyke, Johnny Williams, and newsmen Randall Carlisle, Grant Hudson, Byron MacGregor (who had a three and a half million-selling #1 hit single with his recording of Gordon Sinclair's commentary "The Americans" in 1973) and Dick Smythe to raise the station — newly dubbed "The Big 8" — to number one in the ratings starting in April 1967.

Before long, the station's top-of-the-hour ID, sung (as were all of its jingles) by the Johnny Mann Singers, was on everyone's lips: "C-K-L-W, The Motor Cit-eeeee". WKNR would never recover, but put up a good fight against the awakened CKLW for five more years before switching to an easy-listening format as WNIC in 1972.

Initially, CKLW called itself "Radio 8" after the "Drake"-style format was adopted (later lengthened to "Fun Radio 8") and used jingles from PAMS which sang "Radio 8, CKLW," but by the end of the summer of 1967 the Johnny Mann jingles were in place and the transformation into "The Big 8" was complete.

Long-time music director Rosalie Trombley was also legendary for her ability to spot a potential hit record, and became the subject of a song by Bob Seger titled "Rosalie". According to the documentary Radio Revolution: The Rise and Fall of the Big 8, Trombley refused to allow the station to air the song, threatening to quit if the station added it to its playlist; thus, CKLW never played it, although the song did receive airplay on other Detroit stations. Her career with the station began as a part-time switchboard operator on Labour Day weekend of 1963, before she was offered a full-time position in the station's music library a few years later. As CKLW's popularity boomed and Rosalie became more and more influential, her job title was changed to the more prestigious-sounding title of "Music Director". Trombley was unique in that she garnered much respect in a time where there were not many influential women in the radio business.

Recording stars both established and aspiring regularly visited Rosalie to personally promote their latest single releases, and the walls of her office were lined with gold records. Trombley also made an effort to fashion a station that would appeal to black as well as white listeners by featuring soul and R&B product, especially the Motown sound for which Detroit was famous. The "Rosalie Trombley Award" honours women who have made their mark in broadcasting.

This was perhaps one of the earliest examples of what would today be called "Rhythmic CHR", and it united both white and African-American listeners behind the banner of a single station. As a result, CKLW has been called "the blackest white station in America", and many believe the integrated music mix helped bring Detroiters closer together in racial harmony, especially after the riots of July 1967.

Another female employee of CKLW who helped break down gender barriers was reporter Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor (the wife of Byron MacGregor), the first female helicopter traffic/news reporter in North America. She remains one of the most respected Detroit Traffic Reporters to this day. She now works for Westwood One's Metro Traffic in Detroit and continues to provide news & traffic reports for radio/television stations on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.

The Windsor-based station maintained a sales office in the Detroit suburb of Southfield where it picked up numerous sponsors for U.S. consumer products, some of which had to use the disclaimer and live announcer end-tag "Not available in Ontario". Possibly the best known of sponsors was Merollis Chevrolet known for its comedic 30 second spots and the campy Al Jolson-styled jingle "that Merollis what a great great guy!"

Along with the current hits on the station's weekly "Big 30" lists, CKLW also featured lots of rock oldies dating back to the mid-1950s, which helped cement the station's appeal to adults as well as teenagers. The "Big 8" featured oldies especially heavily on its "Million Dollar Weekends", during which every other song played was a golden classic. The station used special jingles to introduce oldies: "CKLW — Golden".

The station's high-frequency compressed audio processing help set the standard for contemporary hit music formatted stations throughout the 1970s giving it near FM clarity. Some hit songs surpassing three and a half minutes in length were edited down to accommodate more songs in rotation. This was evident in such early 70s hit songs as "Signs" by The Five Man Electrical Band, "American Pie" by Don McLean and "Are You Ready?" by Pacific Gas & Electric.

Another legendary feature of the "Big 8" was its "20/20 News", so called because it was delivered at 20 minutes after the hour and 20 minutes before the hour. The thinking behind the scheduling of the news was that while other stations featured news at the top of the hour or on the quarter-hour, CKLW would be playing music. To hold the audience's attention, the news would have to be presented in a style that was as exciting as the music the station played.

Hence, the "Big 8"'s newscasters — including Byron MacGregor, Jon Belmont (later ABC), Bob Losure (CNN), Grant Hudson, Joe Donovan (sports), Randall Carlisle, Keith Radford, and Lee Marshall — delivered imagery-laden news stories in a rapid-fire, excited manner, not sparing any of the gory details when it came to describing murders or rapes.

"20/20 News" had actually been a fixture of CKLW for a few years before the station adopted the Drake format, but when Byron MacGregor became the station's youngest news director in 1969 (replacing Dick Smythe who had left for Toronto), the sound of the station's newscasts took on the familiar sensationalized "blood-and-guts" style that most listeners remember. Another memorable feature of the 20/20 newscasts was the incessant clacking of the teletype in the background, which gave the newscasts a unique sound.

CKLW's newscasts were acknowledged for more than just their "flash," however - the station won an Edward R. Murrow Award for its coverage of the 1967 riots, helmed by Smythe. This was the first time that this particular award had ever been given to a Canadian broadcaster.

The decline and death of the Big 8

Some say that CKLW started to decline in popularity after Canadian content regulations went into effect. Certainly "CanCon" was a factor, particularly because many of the soul records on CKLW's playlist had to be sacrificed to make room for the Canadian content and because competing stations reacted by eliminating the "CanCon" songs from their own playlists and filling the holes with oldies or often stronger, American-originating new hits.

Still, CKLW dealt with the new regulations as best it could, breaking records by Canadian acts such as Gordon Lightfoot, the Poppy Family, Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, the Stampeders, The Bells, Neil Young, Five Man Electrical Band, April Wine, and the Guess Who and helping them to all become well-known hit artists across the United States as well.

And even with CanCon, CKLW remained a solid #1 in the Motor City through 1973, so probably the biggest reason for the decline was because listeners in North America as a whole were abandoning AM radio in favor of the clearer audio available on FM radio stations. WDRQ (93.1 FM) grabbed away much of CKLW's teenage audience in the mid- and late 1970s, while older listeners migrated to FM album rockers like WWWW (106.7, now WDTW-FM) or WRIF (101.1) or to FM adult contemporary stations like WNIC (100.3) or WMJC (94.7, now WCSX).

The listening audience was becoming fragmented as music formats continued to splinter to appeal to narrower and narrower demographics, and a mass-appeal station like CKLW could no longer afford to be "all things to all people." For many younger listeners by 1978, CKLW was the station they listened to only if they had an AM-only radio in their cars.

As a result, CKLW attempted to hold on to its adult audience by calling themselves "Rock N' Talk" using an adult-stylized logo "CKLW R8dio" and softening its playlist to a more adult-oriented sound (an early version of what would today be known as Hot Adult Contemporary) and hiring Dick Purtan from WXYZ (which transitioned from its own AC format to all-talk around the same time, and is now WXYT) to host the morning show in 1978.

By 1979, CKLW had dropped all jingles (having already phased out most of the famous Johnny Mann Singers jingles, except for the fast "shotgun" jingle, starting around 1973) and changed its on-air name from "The Big 8" to "Radio 8", and had also begun to make use of "dead segues" (two songs played back-to-back with no station ID, announcement or jingle in between), which would have been a definite no-no on the station even five years earlier.

Soon afterward, the station adopted the name "The Great Entertainer", with new jingles to go along with the change. Purtan's strong numbers in morning drive helped keep CKLW's ratings respectable if not spectacular into the 1980s, but Purtan was basically the station's last line of defense, and after he left for WCZY-FM 95.5 (now WKQI) in early 1983, the station's already-diminished ratings (CKLW's last appearance in Detroit's Arbitron top 10 was in 1981) fell further.

Meanwhile, the already-fragmented listener pie got even more fragmented thanks to several new FM competitors in the early 1980s, including album-rocker WLLZ (now WVMV), top 40 WHYT (now WDVD), the resurgent WDRQ (now an Urban Contemporary station after a disastrous try at all-disco from 1978 to 1980), urban WJLB (which moved from AM 1400 to FM 97.9 in 1980), and Dick Purtan's new home, "Cozy-FM" WCZY-FM (which was reinventing itself as an adult-leaning Top 40). In an attempt to go after longtime "full service" powerhouse WJR, CKLW converted to AM stereo in 1982 and even got the rights to broadcast University of Michigan football and NASL soccer, but in this it was also unsuccessful.

In 1984, the station's owners (Baton Broadcasting) had sold CKLW-AM/FM to Russwood Broadcasting Ltd. Russwood Broadcasting would later strike a deal with CUC Broadcasting (owners of Trillium Cable) the following year, changing its name to Amicus Broadcasting Ltd., and would sell the station to CUC Broadcasting in 1988.

CKLW decided to jump on the FM bandwagon and made an attempt to put the contemporary hit format on its FM station (93.9, now CIDR-FM) as CFXX, "94 Fox FM," in 1984, but it failed when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) refused to approve the format change from big band music. The CRTC allowed the FM station to broadcast the "Fox" format for only four hours a day - two in morning drive and two in afternoon drive. The CRTC's rationale in this was that rock music belonged on AM and that FM was for classical, jazz and easy listening music.

Meanwhile, CKLW-AM continued to plod along with a low-key mix of soft rock hits and oldies and with many of the live announcers replaced by automation, as ratings and revenue continued to drop. By this time, the station had once again begun to call itself "The Big 8" and had brought back some of the Johnny Mann jingles, but was merely a shell of its former self.

The final death knell for the "Big 8" came in October 1984, when the station fired 79 staffers (including most of the remaining announcers and Rosalie Trombley), closed its American sales office in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Michigan, and announced that it would soon change format to Al Ham's "Music of Your Life" format of pop standards and big-band music and go completely automated. The "Big 8" was finally laid to rest on January 1, 1985, and the station soon dropped stereo since most of the big-band and standards music in its new format was in mono anyway. CKLW's FM sister adopted a beautiful music format with the calls CKEZ. At this time, both stations were also sold to CUC Broadcasting, which would sell CKLW and CKEZ to CHUM Limited in 1993.

CKLW was known as "K-800" during its "Music of Your Life" days and also became the radio home for the Detroit Pistons. Ratings with the standards format were also a dramatic improvement over the station's final years as a contemporary outlet, although the station now attracted a significantly older audience than the "baby boomers" who had grown up listening to the Big 8. Longtime CKLW jock and Detroit radio veteran Dave Shafer was the K-800 program director during this time.

For a brief time under CUC Broadcasting ownership, it was a member of the NBC Radio network, beginning in 1991, and ending with the station's sale to CHUM Limited in 1993.

The Big 8 lives on today in a slightly different form, as many of the original disc jockeys now work at Detroit's oldies station WOMC-FM, where much of the same music is played. To further boost this link to the past, WOMC-FM has even began (as of August 2007) airing historic jingles from CKLW's "Big 8" era, similar to TV Land's "Retromercials". Competing oldies station CKWW (now CKLW-AM's sister station) also plays up its connections to the "Big 8" on the air, having appropriated CKLW's legendary top-of-the-hour "Boss Radio" instrumental signature and mentioning that they broadcast "from the legendary studios of the Big 8." (CKLW-AM and FM were housed at 825 Riverside Drive in Windsor until 1970, when they moved to 1640 Ouellette Avenue, where all four of CTVglobemedia's Windsor stations, including CKLW and CKWW, are now housed.)

CKLW today

CHUM, which already owned CKWW (580) and CIMX-FM (88.7, formerly CJOM) in the Windsor/Detroit market, purchased CKLW-AM/FM in 1993 and subsequently swapped the formats of CKWW and CKLW, moving the nostalgic music down to 580 on the AM dial and planting CKWW's news-talk format on 800, and thus ending the music on AM 800 for good.

Today CKLW combines local talk radio with U.S.-based syndication programs and those produced by CHUM. The station now goes by the name AM 800, The Information Station (or as AM 800 CKLW). The station boasts a fully-staffed local newsroom and also airs hourly newscasts from the Canadian Broadcast News network, primarily at night. CKLW is a member of the WOR Radio Network (an affiliation that hearkens back to when WOR and CKLW were partners in the Mutual Broadcasting System) and carries Dr. Joy Browne live, one of the few stations in Canada that broadcasts an American program during daylight hours. The station also carries, like countless other AM stations in North America, Coast to Coast AM with George Noory and some brokered programming.

Some people consider this format a waste of a high-powered station with a signal that reaches far beyond its immediate local area. CKLW is picked up clearly as far off as Toledo and Cleveland (where it was consistently a highly-rated station during its Top 40 days), Lansing, Michigan, and even the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio, with reports of night-time reception as far off as Toronto/Oshawa, Ontario, Pennsylvania, New York City, Little Rock, Des Moines, Iowa, and San Antonio, Texas. At one point, it was stated that CKLW-AM could be heard in at least 23 states and 4 Canadian provinces.

For the station to be heard as far west as Arkansas, Iowa and Texas is impressive, given the station is not a "clear channel" Class A station, and has extreme northward/eastward nighttime directional signal in order to protect stations on 800 kHz in Ciudad Juárez (clear channel XEROK-AM across the river from El Paso, Texas), Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles (Trans World Radio), and Montreal (CJAD (AM)).

During CKLW's Top 40 heyday, because of its nighttime directional pattern, the station was frequently heard in Scandinavia, but was often rendered unlistenable just a few hundred miles to the west and south of Detroit because of interference from the Mexico City and/or Bonaire stations. Nevertheless, the current news/talk format enjoys good ratings in Windsor, though it now hovers near the bottom of the Detroit Arbitron reports.

In May 2006, it was announced that CKLW would be a co-flagship station for University of Michigan football with Detroit radio station WOMC.

CKLW-FM and CKLW-TV

In 1948, CKLW started CKLW-FM on 93.9 MHz (now CIDR-FM). Despite a powerful 100,000-watt signal, CKLW's FM sister has never been able to attract a sizeable audience, at least not on the American side of the border. In the 1970s, CKLW-FM programmed a country format, and then big band and jazz as CKJY in the early 1980s.

After the failed "Fox" format, the station became beautiful-music CKEZ in 1985, and then in 1986, the CKLW-FM calls were restored and the station made an attempt to mimick the sound of the classic "Big 8" formula with a playlist spanning the 1950s through 1980s and with many of the original jingles, features and personalities, but it lasted only a few years.

In the early 1990s, CKLW-FM again tried the "Big 8"-style oldies format, as "93.9 The Legend". Though the sound was again very faithful to the original CKLW-AM, it once again did not last long, as there was a lot of competition for the oldies market in Detroit at the time, with WOMC (104.3) eventually emerging as the most popular oldies station. 93.9 is now CIDR-FM, with an AAA (Adult Album Alternative) format as "93.9 The River", using the positioner "it's about the music".

The operation also included CKLW-TV, Channel 9 (now CBET). For years, one of the TV station's most popular shows was an American Bandstand-style show called Swingin' Time (and later, The Lively Spot), hosted by Robin Seymour (and also Tom Shannon for a time) and featuring performances by national and local recording artists and teenagers demonstrating the latest dances. In fact, as early as 1956, Bud Davies hosted a "bandstand"-style show on CKLW-TV called Top Ten Dance Party. For the most part, though, CKLW-TV was overshadowed by its powerhouse sister radio station and mainly aired low-budget local shows along with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) (and also CTV) network fare.

When the Canadian government requested RKO General divest itself of its Canadian holdings in 1968, the stations were sold to a consortium of the CBC and Baton Broadcasting, which was finalized in 1970. Baton ran the radio station (and CKLW-TV) for several years (under its subsidiary, St. Clair Broadcasting), before selling to CHUM in 1975. When the CBC took full ownership of the television station (CKLW-TV), it changed its call letters to CBET.

CKLW-AM/FM then moved from the TV station's 825 Riverside Drive West location to its own studios and offices at 1640 Ouelette Avenue. CBET continues as Windsor's CBC English affiliate to this day, although recent budget cuts at the CBC have meant less local programming and more simulcasting of programming from Toronto.

CHUM continues to own CKLW and CIDR today, along with alternative rock station CIMX (88.7 FM, "89X") and oldies/nostalgia station CKWW ("AM 580 Motor City Favorites"). All four stations are located at the Ouelette Avenue address.

The 2004 film Radio Revolution: The Rise and Fall of the Big 8, produced by Michael McNamara and aired on the History Television in Canada and PBS member stations WTVS in Detroit (2005) and WVIZ in Cleveland (2006), chronicles the history of CKLW's top 40 years. The film has been honored in Canada with the Gemini Award (equivalent of an Emmy Award) for "Best History Documentary".

CHUM sale to CTVglobemedia

On July 12, 2006, it was announced that CHUM would be absorbed by Canadian media conglomerate CTVglobemedia, the owner of Canadian television network CTV and the successor of CKLW's former owner, Baton Broadcasting. On June 22, 2007 the sale became final.

See also

References

  1. ^ Michigan Athletics Official Site - 2009 Michigan Football Broadcast Information
  2. ^ Ralph Binge and Joe Gentile

External links


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