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Read Reid Radio

CKY chartscan0001

Reid Dickie

When I was twelve years old I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a disc jockey on the radio. That was my dream job, I told my parents.

As a kid growing up in a small prairie town three hours away from YORK 002any big city, my best escape was listening to the radio. Transistor radios came out in the late 1950s. I got my first one for my birthday in 1961. It was a six transistor York, made in Japan for the New York Transistor Company on Fifth Avenue, NYC. My York had a gold metal front with perforated metal speaker, black and cream coloured hard plastic case hiding its guts and a heavy 9-volt battery. (Factoid: 9-YORK 001volt batteries were invented to power transistor radios.) It was encased in a “genuine leather” case with YORK embossed in gold on the front.

As you can see (above, right) I still have the radio. It no longer turns on or off. It’s gone to radio limbo.

That little York became my constant companion filling my life with an ever-changing but comfortable soundtrack of pop music given extra depth and excitement by the on-air antics of the personable guys who spun the discs. That’s who I wanted to be.

Disc jockeys like Daryl B(urlingham), Jimmy Darin, Mark Parr, Peter Jackson PJ the DJ, Chuck Dann, Porky Charbonneau, Dennis Dino Corrie at CKY, Canada’s Friendly Giant originating in a little room on Winnipeg’s Main Street, came pounding across the prairie riding 50,000 clear watts. Here’s their chart from the week I turned 16. Click to enlarge. CKRCscan0003CKRCscan0004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CKRC, Winnipeg’s other less powerful pop station whose signal strength varied out in my little town, still managed to leave an indelible impression with DJs like Boyd Kozak, Jim Paulson, Don Slade, Bob Washington, Doc Steen, Ron Legge. Here is their chart from the week I turned 12 and got my York radio. Click to enlarge. CKRCscan0001               CKRCscan0002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Near dusk when radio stations changed their signal patterns, WLS, 50,000 clear watts from Chicago came booming in. DJs like John Records Landecker, Dick Biondi, Larry Lujack, Chuck Knapp had incomparable pipes (voices) and songs never sounded better than on WLS_1964-12-18_1WLS. The massive wattage carrying the signal buoyed even the most banal pop ditty to powerful new heights. And WLS made great songs sound even greater. I was never sure how that mystical condition was achieved but I knew I wanted to be part of it, to ride those invisible waves crashing onto transistor beaches and young hearts across the continent. It was a big dream for a little kid.

All the hits, all the time! John Records Landecker’s motto was, “Records is my middle name.” That’s how I felt about records and pop music in general starting in 1960. This feeling increased by quantum leaps in 1964 when The Beatles et al were released to North America. I encouraged the local radio/TV repair shop in the little town to carry CKY’s weekly hit parade charts and I amassed a fine collection that I referred to often for this post. I loved poring over the charts, tracing the arcs of my favourite songs, what song debuted the highest, all the permutations and changes I could wring out of fifty pop songs.

How does the announcement by a 12-year-old that he wants to devote his existence to playing records on the radio go over with his parents? Some amusement at first but I was adamant about this which led to bewilderment then concern. Mom definitely wanted a doctor son to cure all her ills and Dad wanted a hockey player. I had to disappoint them both. They eventually understood. By the time I was sixteen and steadfast in my future career choice, my parents started to come around and say things like, “If you are going to be a radio announcer, we’ll send you to school to be a damn good one.” The universe was unfolding as it should.

Disc jockey was generalized and upgraded into radio announcer by my parents and in the 1960s the best place to learn how to be a good one in Canada was at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in downtown Toronto. The course was called Radio and Television Arts (RTA): three years of hands-on technical training on top quality, modern equipment mixed with psychology, sociology, writing, speech training and even a class in foreign pronunciations. First year was mostly radio, second and third all TV. I’m not photogenic so radio was my only interest in taking RTA. The program sounded interesting to both my parents and I so we started working toward it.

The day came in late August 1968 when I stepped off the train at Union Station in downtown Toronto on my way to Ryerson. The culture shock of moving from a town of 700 people to a city of two million (then) excited and stimulated me. Any fears I had struggled beneath a heavy covering of optimism and hope. It was the Sixties when anything was still possible. Everyone felt that.

Ryerson (now a university) is located one block off Yonge Street’s section called The Strip, at least it was in the late 1960s. Strip clubs, bars, XXX movie theatres, organ grinders with monkeys, chestnut roasters, buskers, Hari Krishnas, hippies and hipsters, the denizens brought throngs downtown every night.

The first year I stayed in Ryerson’s residence across the street from the school. Sam the Record Man and A & A Records were right around the corner on Yonge Street. Ronnie Hawkins’ club The Hawk’s Nest where I saw the Kinks and Parliament/Funkadelic (not on the same bill) was two blocks down. The Rock Pile, a Masonic Temple converted into a Rock & Roll Shrine where I saw Led Zeppelin two days after their first album came out, was a ten minute walk away. On the way you could stop at the Riverboat Coffeehouse in Yorkville and see John Lee Hooker or James Taylor. At the Ryerson folk club The Onion you could watch Bruce Cockburn begin his glorious arc or Leon Redbone perform to a tomato. At Massey Hall I saw The Fugs and Laura Nyro (not on the same bill). I had moved from lonesome howling prairie wind song to the 24-hour thrum and throb of Canada’s pop cultural heart.

My first year was intense and exactly what I needed and wanted to learn about radio, not just as an announcer but as a producer with awareness of potential future career growth. I wasn’t as ambitious as many of the others though I succeeded the first year. That summer I worked at Clear Lake and went back to Ryerson in the fall of 1969 much less enthused.

Culturally Toronto still overwhelmed with the new and the shiny but TV was the main focus that year and, at the time, I hated TV. As a result I developed a kind of accidee, a good old word meaning torpor or sloth, which combined with a yearning to be away from the cold city and back on the prairie. It made for a rough year.

My saving grace came in the form of a radio station. As much as the DJs on CKY, CKRC and WLS had inspired me and the teachers at Ryerson had taught me, CHUM-FM, Toronto’s underground radio station, completed my radio education. CHUM-FM was my post-grad work.

Underground radio was free-form radio, usually on FM, no format, few ads, the announcers played what they wanted usually in long music sequences, lots of brand new music mixed with familiar tunes, unpredictable crazy fun to the highest degree. CHUM-FM was Canada’s premier underground station.

I remember listening to Dave Marsden doing a laidback but amusing persona completely opposite that of his previous role, Dave Mickie on CBC-TV’s noisy Razzle Dazzle. The graveyard shift on CHUM-FM was pritchardfilled by David Pritchard (left) whose delivery, style and choice of music had an enormous effect on me and the radio would later create. Pritchard had a dark and dry delivery that was full of surprises and always made you wonder if he was putting you on. Frank Zappa described his show as “an utter freak out.”

That year I lived alone in an apartment paid for by a classmate as a cover so he could live with his girlfriend elsewhere. The apartment, across the street from Allen Gardens, had at least two inorganic occupants as well. David Pritchard and I became adept at scaring away the night spooks. I saw many sunrises and few classrooms that year.

The summer of 1970 I worked in the little town until I got my first radio job. Dad had a drinking buddy who had a drinking buddy who had a buddy who ran CFAR, the radio station in the mining town of Flin Flon, Manitoba. Connections!

I started at CFAR in October 1970. On my first day station manager Jay Leddy had me run the controls for him early Sunday morning for an hour then stood up and said, “You’re on your own, kid.” No net! It was delightfully terrifying. The first song I played on cfarthe radio, real radio with people listening, was Sunday Morning Coming Down by Johnny Cash. By the end of shift I had settled in, almost comfortable, getting chatty. Ryerson was right! I’d been taught well.

At a little 1,000-watt station like CFAR, whose staff was maybe six people, I got to do everything: play records, prepare and read news and sportscasts, interview people on-air, read the daily stock market closings, answer the phone, write and read ad copy, type logs, sell ads, sweep the floor and even train announcers newer than me. Gary Roberts from Winnipeg was one such guy.

We both cut our teeth at CFAR, became good friends and shared lots of small town fun. Admirably ambitious, Gary, real name Reg Johns, went on to program radio stations in the U.S. and now runs Mass2One Media in Carlsbad, CA. We chatted about a year ago.

I spent ten months at CFAR. In July 1971 I got my second radio gig at CKX-AM in Brandon, an hour from my hometown. Mom was thrilled! She could finally listen to me. Frank Bird, whom I had listened to since childhood, hired me to do the CKX all night show 1:00 to 7:00 a.m. six nights a week. The only music restriction was I had to play country music from 5:00 to 7:00, otherwise I could play whatever I wanted. The music library at CKX was adequate to my needs and the record companies were generous with new releases. I had my own underground radio show for four hours a night. The freedom was delicious! It was heaven!

I was required to rip and read a three-minute newscast at the top of every hour. My time at CKX coincided with Watergate and Richard Nixon’s destiny. As a consequence I honed a passable Nixon impression often using it for the whole newscast. This is a shot of me (below) at 6:00 a.m. in the CKX studio about 1972. REID CKX 1972 Although not a major market, Brandon was a step up in my career. CKX had an FM station that was on auto-program during the day and simulcast AM all night. CKX-FM leaked into Winnipeg somehow, maybe cable TV. I recall several Winnipeg people calling me to say they’d listened to me on CKX.

I did the CKX all-night show for twenty-three months having no ambition to do a day shift. I was happy with my freedom and whatever audience was generated all night. I was getting tired of Brandon though, overly familiar Brandon, the city of my birth was getting real stale at 23.

In July of 1973 I scored my major market job. Duff Roman hired me to do an evening underground radio show from 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. on CFRW-FM. During the day, FM simulcast CFRW-AM until I took over for the evening. Again free form, no format, run wild. So I did.

When I started at CFRW-FM the office and studios were in the Confederation Building on the curve on Main Street. They were cramped and chaotic. A few months later CKY moved their studios to Polo Park. CFRW bought the former CKY studios, which were located in the London Block, a three-storey building at 432 Main Street N. next to the McIntyre Building. All are gone now. CKY master control 1965

Turns out after the move, the studio where I did my show was the same one the CKY DJs I admired so much on my York radio had used (left about 1965). It was a shivery and wonderful completion of a life circle for me.

CFRW-FM was also theREID CFRW 1974 best radio I ever created. I was on-air six nights a week (right) and Ziggy filled in on my night off. I don’t know what became of Ziggy.

The precedent for underground radio in Winnipeg had been set a few years before my arrival by Now Flower on CKY-FM. On-air from 1968 into 1971, Now Flower was created and manned by Jan Thorsteinson and Harold Gershuny who called himself Gersh. It broke the ground for me by creating an audience and a taste for free-form radio that lingered then disappeared briefly to be reincarnated on CFRW-FM. CKY ad

FM radio was relatively unknown in the 1960s, having been used mainly for classical music. Underground radio helped change that. This Advance ad (left) indicates how popular and cool Now Flower was. The late 1960s ad for a Lloyd’s FM/AM radio mentions Now Flower on 92.1 CKY-FM along the bottom of the ad. I spoke with Jan Thorsteinson recently to do some fact-checking of dates for this post. He’s happily retired in rural Manitoba. I’m not sure of Gersh’s whereabouts.

With the benefit of The Long View, I see Now Flower as the opening bracket and my show on CFRW-FM as the closing bracket since it was the last underground radio on a commercial station in Winnipeg. Between us lies the full extent and duration of alternative radio in Winnipeg. Thereafter, university radio stations began filling the gap. CFRW list0001   Click to enlarge             CFRW list0002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As these two diverse lists of albums I played in 1974 and 1975 indicate (above, right), music on underground radio needed to be unabashedly varied because the element of surprise (never knowing what you’re going to hear next) had to be maintained – the less predictable the better.

The first two Bruce Springsteen albums came out in 1973 and I played tracks from both of them every night in Brandon and Winnipeg. CFRW-FM had a very active and demanding audience so I played lots of requests.

Manitoba had a rash of UFO sightings in the 1970s. During self-proclaimed Alien Week, I did a bit where every night at a certain time I would announce the co-ordinates of our transmitting tower and invite any amenable aliens to contact us using our transmitter. Two minutes of silence, dead air, followed. The aliens never took me up on my offer but apparently there were more than a few earthlings glued to the silence.

In the 1970s it was illegal to advertise alcohol before ten o’clock at night (imagine that!). CFRW-FM had a heavy contract with Club Beer which meant I had to play three or four beer commercials an hour. Though humorous and nutty, the ads wore thin fast.

In 1975 CHUM from Toronto purchased CFRW AM & FM and the death knell for underground radio began to sound. CHUM changed the call letters to CHIQ which became Q94-FM and adopted a nauseating ice-water format of banality and conformity.

The irony is that CHUM, whose FM flagship station taught me so much about free-form radio, were the ones to put the kibosh on alternative radio in Winnipeg.

Since I could think and talk at the same time, CHUM kept me on to do a 90-minute afternoon talk show on Q94 called Forum. I interviewed people on the phone and live in the studio, like the 12-year-old evangelist preacher and Mr. Manitoba, adding in interviews from my Toronto counterpart. There was still something unpredictable and free-form about a talk show plus I got to ask weird questions. I enjoyed that greatly. Extra bonus: I loved pissing off the “music director” by playing Tom Waits instead of Elton John during my musical interlude.

Looking back it seems as if the main reason I worked at CFRW was to meet, fall in love with and spend my life with Linda. She was the boss’s Girl Friday, traffic reporter, occasional copywriter and all-around beauty. Though mostly an evening creature at the station, I did appear occasionally during the day after making sure she’d be there. I quit CFRW in early 1977, Linda and I moved in together and we lived a bohemian lifestyle, making art, meeting new people, having fun. Much of that era is documented on the DTC ART page.

My next and final radio gig was at CJUM-FM where I was hired by Brent Mooney as music director for the struggling University of Manitoba station which had come on the air in September 1975 and closed in June 1980. New wave was just underway when I started there in 1978 and we ran with it. With niche tastes serviced while enlightening others, CJUM-FM had even more diversity than underground radio. We played plenty of Winnipeg bands as you can see by the music lists from 1979 (below). CJUM list0001   Click to enlarge           CJUM list0002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though the 1980s and 90s were dry radio-wise, CJUM-FM returned in 1998. The following year CKUW, at the University of Winnipeg, debuted on air. Both continue to provide high quality accessible radio.

My childhood dream came true. I was a disc jockey for ten years. Then I had the epiphanal moment: when one dream is realized, another begins…

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Filed under 1960s, BEAUTY, Music, Radio, Winnipeg

Lucky, Very Lucky

Reid Dickie

“We never know how we will affect people by just being who we are.” – Chris Scholl

Looking back over my six decades as Reid Dickie, I see patterns that define who I am. The older I get and the more honest I am with myself, the more evident my patterns become. Recurring events and themes that were confusing and unhappy at the time now make sense in the long view. By seeking out our patterns, we make ourselves wise, wise about ourselves and others, wise about the world. The trade-off in this life is wisdom for youth. As our bodies age and start to limit us, we are given the opportunity to become wise, to blossom mentally, possibly spiritually. Wisdom is not guaranteed though. It takes work. 

A major pattern of my life has been luck. Starting when I was a little boy I can recall my father often saying to me that I had a lucky horseshoe up my bum. When your father tells you something like that, you tend to take it literally which I did until Mom explained what he meant.  Dad was trying to tell me what a lucky boy I was. In the long view, he was right, as ever! Dad’s wisdom flowed smoothly and naturally through him. He inspired me more and more intensely the older and wiser he got. Every day I aspire to become like him. I have my work cut out for me.

Whether I was born lucky or grew into it, the horseshoe became a lifelong symbol and reminder of my good fortune. It certainly contributed to the notion that we create our own luck. Here’s an example of creating my own luck.

I am one of those incredibly lucky people who knew from a young age what I wanted to do with my life, what I wanted to “be.” When I was eleven I decided I would become a radio announcer, more specifically a disc jockey. I remember earnestly discussing this with my parents when I was about 12. Although, as parents do, they both had higher aspirations for their only child: Mom wanted a doctor and Dad wanted…huh? Dad wanted me to be myself. Whoever that was or would be, that’s what Dad wanted me to “be.” Thanks Dad. Though Mom persisted good-naturedly with the doctor thing, we all decided that if I wanted to be a disc jockey, I’d be a damn good one and go to school to learn how it was done well. And I did.

After two years studying Radio and television Arts at Ryerson in Toronto, I got my first radio job in Flin Flon at CFAR where I was DJ, news reader, commercial writer and general joeboy. I loved it! I had made the right choice. Nine months later, in 1971, I got on at CKX in Brandon where I did the all-night show for 23 months. Five nights a week, starting at 1 a.m., I played whatever music I wanted for four hours then two hours of country music from 5 to 7 a.m. and I was done. I loved it! In the summer of 1973 I got a job in a major market – Winnipeg on CFRW-FM. At the time CFRW-FM simulcast the AM station for 18 hours a day and let me free range in their FM band for the other six. Again I could play or do whatever I wanted…and did. I loved it!

Hairy and happy, this is a picture of me in the CFRW-FM studio about 1974. There are more pics of me from my radio days in the Gallery.

For a short time after I got there, CFRW-FM studios were in the Confederation Building on the bend on Winnipeg’s Main Street. The station moved across the street to the old CKY radio studios near Main and McDermot. (The building is gone now.) The FM studio happened to be the very same studio where the CKY DJs who inspired me to work in radio did their shows in the early 1960s. I had come full circle. I had been devoured by the medium and spit out nightly on air, free to do and be whoever I wanted in a major market! It was the fruition of my dream from when I was eleven, a little bit of heaven, a luxury that few DJs thereafter ever got to experience. I created my radio fantasy for nearly two years before CHUM from Toronto bought both stations, turning FM into heavily-formatted CHIQ-FM.

CHUM buying CFRW-FM was another irony of my radio career. When I attended Ryerson in Toronto, I listened to CHUM-FM which was a terrific free-form radio station, a creative leader. CHUM-FM inspired the style of radio I would do in my early career but, in Winnipeg, CHUM was eliminating free-form radio in favour of tight formats.

Since its inception in the 1930s, FM radio had largely been a commercial mystery to broadcasters. Its stereo capacity attracted classical music but it wasn’t until the 1960s that FM’s commercial potential began to be exploited. First it was free-form radio, alternative, hippie stations that played lots of new music, had no format and played no hits. This was the first hint that FM held enormous possibilities to make money. By the mid-1970s FM had come under the thumb of the “format geniuses” and the end of free-form loomed. I was among the last DJs on a commercial station to create radio without formats or any kind of restrictions, other than playing the Club Beer commercials after 10 p.m. College and university radio stations would provide the next opportunity for people to create free-form radio. I was very lucky.

CFRW-FM added to my luck because it was there I met Linda. She worked in various capacities at the station, one of which was to give me a wake-up call about 1:00 every the afternoon. Linda lived in my neighbourhood so we started to hang out together, fell madly in love and spent the next thirty-three years together. Again, lucky, lucky!

Since getting online ten years ago, I have been contacted out of the blue by three former radio listeners who remember my work at CFRW-FM. All three claimed that my words and music left an indelible impression on their lives, whether it was their taste in music, their outlook on life or as an example of personal freedom. Recently one former listener contacted me and I hope he won’t mind if I quote his first email: I just wanted to let you know that you had a most profound affect on my life. I listened to your radio show on CFRW FM nearly every night. I`m talking about the show you did from 8pm -2am. Your words and music have stayed with me in my life. Right now I can barely type these words as memories keep flooding back. I am glad I was able to finally tell these things to you. Thank you so much. And remember “the harder you pull, the tighter it gets”.

I was surprised, humbled and overwhelmed by this email. I am enormously grateful to this man for sharing with me. Talk about a day-maker! As my friend Chris pointed out in this post’s opening quote, we never know the positive change we make in the world by simply being ourselves, by following our bliss. But every once in a while…

Lucky, very lucky!!

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Filed under 1960s, Blog Life, Family, Life and Life Only, Linda, Love, Winnipeg

The Flood, The Rapture and My Blogging Life

Reid Dickie

The last two weeks have been a blast for me due to unexpectedly high numbers of people checking out ReadReidRead. Starting May 9, when I blogged about Manitoba’s flood, especially around Brandon and Spruce Woods Park, my hits went from about 100 a day to averaging 800 a day today. My keywords and tags got me noticed, I showed up often on Page 1 of Google, a few times as the first entry and my blogging dream started to evolve. I learned an enormous amount about blogging this month, especially about getting people to come back. Daily updates and great pictures kept you returning. Floods are incredibly photogenic with plenty of ironic possibilities and quality pictures are easy to find. My best day since I started blogging last December was at the high point of the flood, Thursday, May 12 when I got 935 hits! Amazing!

During this, several people asked why I was so interested in Brandon? It is the city of my birth though I grew up in a small town about a hour away. I’ve always had relatives in Brandon whom I’ve visited all my life and still do. My second radio job was in Brandon when I did the all-night show on CKX from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. for 23 months in the early 1970s. The radio station no longer exists. I like Brandon though it is growing much too quickly and is under development duress. Plus it has about 100 too many stoplights!

Additionally, for my blogging needs, Brandon has two excellent media outlets. CKLQ Radio 880 carried the daily briefings of Brandon flood officials live at 10:30 and 4. Hearing the voices of the emergency coordinator and the mayor regularily in these briefings, I started to recognize the level of stress the city was under in their voices. Tension and uncertainty held them in sway for over a week but the past few days there is a more relaxed tone though they are still working hard to make the flood easier for everyone, especially the 1400 people evacuated from their homes in The Flats. I have developed great respect for Brian Kayes, the city’s emergency measures coordinator, and Brandon’s new mayor, Shari Decter Hirst. Brandon is lucky to have competent and caring people in charge of their “high water event.” The other outlet that kept me up to speed is the Brandon Sun who always have great pictures and reports from around the region.

In the past few days the irresistable opportunity of blogging about The Rapture was tossed in my lap. Ah, the stuff bloggers love to write about! Friday and yesterday plenty of people went searching for info on the end of the world, which was my most searched tag on those days resulting in my second best day ever yesterday on Saturday May 21 when I got 883 hits.

This blogger is well aware of the irony and absurdity of getting massive hits from people going in search of the end of the world, as if anyone would notice it ended unless it was reported on TV. The flood is harder to have fun with but easier to express my true feelings of concern for people and the land. I enjoyed shining a light on the mainly incompetent efforts of the province’s “flood managers” who seemed afraid to get their feet wet from the premier on down.

I am humbled and exhilerated by your response to my blog. Thank you, readers.

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Filed under Blog Life, Flood, Local History