When radio stations provided soundtrack to our lives

On Air

Bob Boulton

“More mayhem in the Motor City!”

Dick Smyth’s urgent news delivery assaulted us, each new catastrophe punctuated with teletype clacking in the background.

Our Sarnia home in the early 1960s was two worlds, separated by radio. Mornings around the breakfast table were for Sarnia’s own CHOK. Its community news and playlist of hummable standards reached – so they said – more households in Lambton County than all other radio stations combined.

Amazing, since CHOK 1070 AM broadcast 5,000 watts by day and reduced to 1,000 watts at night. To this day, Perry Como’s “I Love You And Don’t You Forget It” plays in my head, welcome if uninvited.

We were quiet around the breakfast table. Along with the music came Happy Birthday greetings and birth announcements from St. Joseph’s and recently expanded Sarnia General Hospital, introduced by the “Down the Street and Across the Way” jingle. The news, as I recall, came with a lot about the weather. Very local. Very Canadian.

On the other hand, CKLW (CK-London-Windsor) was essentially a Detroit station parked on the Canadian side of the border. Radio Eight-Oh. The Big 8. 20/20 “News Like You Never Heard It Before,” counter programed at 20 minutes after and before the hour. Thumping rock & roll radio from down the road, 90 minutes away.

Bud Davies and Joe Van are the CKLW DJ’s I remember best. And at 7 p.m. I would listen alone on my transistor radio to the scandalous Tom Clay. If the comfortable folks at CHOK were close family, Tom Clay was an aching but compelling stranger from another planet.

On Friday Nov. 22, 1963 just past 12:30 p.m., I was walking down a hallway at Sarnia Central Collegiate, on my way to lunch, humming “Stuck on You” and looking forward to the weekend. Next to the cafeteria entrance the maintenance engineer stepped from his office. “They just shot Kennedy,” he whispered.

We mourned along with our American cousins, listening to the rattle of parade drums, thud thud thud prrrrrr tap.

Candy Greer, a 15-year-old Michigan high school student, wrote the poem “Six White Horses,” speaking for John-John at his father’s funeral parade. Tom Clay read it on air and CKLW received 6,400 telephone requests for a copy.

The following June, Tom Clay left CKLW. Bud Davies remarked, “Now that Tom’s not here CKLW really is Home of the Happy Fellas.” A little later, Dick Smyth moved on to Toronto’s CHUM.

Meanwhile, CHOK increased to 10,000 watts. The station changed formats frequently, but each of them featured a noticeable absence of mayhem.