Good Old Days of CKCB 1400

Pictured above at a special reunion lunch – from left to right – Ken Charles (Swirsky) Paul Richards, John Nichols, BJ Trombley

It was a time when AM radio ruled the airwaves. FM radio had yet to burst onto the scene and the internet wouldn’t arrive for decades. AM radio was the source of breaking news, weather, sports scores and of course, the latest hit songs from artists including The Eagles, America, Ace, The Guess Who, Gordon Lightfoot, Elton John, The Captain & Tennille, Jimmy Buffet, The Carpenters, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Chicago, Bob Dylan and so many others.

CKCB 1400 began broadcasting on October 14th, 1965. The station was owned by Ralph Snelgrove, who also owned and operated CKBB 950 and CKVR-TV in Barrie. CKCB grew quickly and in the 1970’s, expanded programming to better serve a growing audience in Collingwood and surrounding area.

The broadcast day at CKCB 1400 began early in the morning with John Nichols, followed by Ken Charles on mid-days and Paul Richards in the afternoons.

Rosemary Henderson Was CKCB’s First Female Announcer

Rosemary Henderson was working in Toronto for Bell Canada. She remembers being given a job to work on that had to do with a radio station in Collingwood. She later saw an advertisement for a job opening at the station and applied for the position.

Henderson said that her duties at CKCB every day included “a little bit of everything.” “There were only three of us at the time so we did absolutely everything. We answered the telephones, we called the police stations to get news, we did sports, I wrote and scheduled the commercials that played and sometimes I recorded commercials as well” Henderson said.

Rosemary said that her broadcasting career took her to the control room to operate Friday night hockey games. “Bill Bennett used to broadcast from the Collingwood arena and they had to have somebody at the control panel in the Collingwood station and then the feed was sent to CKBB in Barrie” Henderson said. “That’s how I spent every Friday night … operating hockey games at CKCB” she added. Rosemary also operated the Sunday morning Church service and sometimes helped out during the day in the control room when the on-air announcer had to meet with a client or sales person. Eventually, Rosemary landed her own on-air show in the morning where she became a popular CKCB announcer. “You were busy all the time when you were on the air. You had to organize all of your music from LP’s and 45’s that you’d choose from, you had to cue up the records so that when you hit the button they’d play, you had to get your own weather, and sometimes you’d do an interview” Henderson said

Rosemary broke new ground by being one of the first female on-air broadcasters on what at the time was an AM radio dial dominated by male voices. “I didn’t really think about that. We were a close, little family and everyone did their bit to make the radio station work” Henderson said.

John Nichols Arrived At CKCB In 1971

John Nichols came to CKCB from CKBB radio and CKVR-TV in Barrie in 1971. In fact, you can still start your day with John Nichols in the morning on CKCB-FM (95.1 The Peak) almost 40 years later.

Nichols has fond memories of radio in the 1970’s. “It was a lot of fun. It was all based on the relationship we had with the public. In those days, listners could walk right in the front door of the downtown studio with coffee in hand and come right into the studio to shoot the breeze while you were on the air doing your show. I really enjoyed that sort of thing” Nichols said. He believes the one-on-one personal contact that employees of CKCB 1400 had with its listeners was the big reason for the station’s success.

Nichols said that he used to arrive at the station about an hour before his 6am morning show hit the air to prepare for his air shift. “I’m one of those people that has to get up early, have a shower and a full breakfast before going to work” Nichols said. “When I’d get to the station, I’d start to go over the news and sports stories from the night before, get the weather information and choose the 45’s that I was going to play over the next 3 hours” Nichols said. “I hate to say it but in those days you sort of ‘winged it’ to keep everything going” he added. Nichols said that often the announcers would choose the records that they liked best. The station had a format to follow, but announcers had a great deal of flexibility. “There was a wall of 45’s to choose from, and the albums were on the wall in the control room, and we had a box of 45’s right beside the turntables that contained the new music that we played” Nichols said.

John Nichols broke new ground in the broadcasting business in the early 1970’s by broadcasting the away games of the Collingwood Junior “B” Blues. “We’d ride on the team bus and I remember more than one night when we had to sit on top of hockey bags filled with stinky equipment” Nichols said. Live radio broadcasting of junior hockey was not common in those days, and the technology involved in getting the broadcast on the air was not always reliable. “You’d show up at the arena and often Bell hadn’t hooked up the telephone line to allow us to broadcast” Nichols said. When this happend, John said that he would go into full scramble mode to find a telephone line that he could have exclusive use for over the course of the hockey game. If the arena staff cooperated, this meant that anyone calling the arena would get a busy signal throughout the entire hockey game. It also meant that John would be broadcasting from a less than desireable location in the arena. “There were no cell phones. We’d plug into an existing telephone line and as far as the cord would go determined where I would broadcast the game from. I remember one night in Oro when we had to broadcast from the top of the canteen at the end of the arena. I said to my co-host Scotty Carmicael that he had better keep his eye on the puck at all times because if he didn’t, he’d be in danger of taking a shot on the bean” Nichols said.

Fast forward a few decades and you can still start your day with John Nichols on CKCB-FM (The Peak 95.1). “I still love getting up early in the morning. I’m enjoying it. It’s not really work to me. I was born on a dairy farm so I’m well conditioned to getting up early in the morning. I got up at 4 o’clock in the morning on the dairy farm so it has always been easy for me to get up early to do a morning show” Nichols said. “As long as I have a good hot shower and a big breakfast, I’m good to go.”

Ken Charles Was The Mid-Day Host In The 1970’s At CKCB

Ken Charles (Swirsky) was a popular on-air personality at CKCB from 1967 to 1969. He left to work at CFTR and CKFH in Toronto, but came back to CKCB in 1972. Ken said that he wouldn’t change a thing if he had it all to do over again. “It was really an incredible life experience” he said upon reflection of his days at CKCB in the early 1970’s. He told us that in those days, announcers had to write commercials, write and report news, repair equipment and perform on-air duties. “The payback was knowing that you had done a great service for the community.”

Ken remembers covering the visit of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau to the Collingwood Shipyards. “I had to write commercials and do my regular on-air shift, but also needed to be a news reporter because the Prime Minister’s visit to Collingwood was very important.”

Ken says the 70’s was a special time for music. “We created what I called ‘the wall of sound.’ There was never any dead air. Outside of “live” commercials and newscasts, there was always something playing under the voice of the on-air announcer” he added.

“I remember an incident that took place as the result of a contest that we ran on the air. We didn’t have a lot of money for promotions in those days. I was giving away an LP called ‘Country’s Greatest Hits’ and asked for a listener to call in and perform three barnyard animal sounds. In those days, we didn’t clear the calls for on-air, so when the phone started ringing I answered it and put the caller right on the air. Well … the caller struggled to get through his barnyard animal impersonations and I awarded him the prize. The next morning while I was working in the control room, the door opened and Collingwood Police Officer Ross McLean came in, looking very tired and quite concerned. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was NEVER to let this person win a prize on the radio station again. He told me that the listener was so happy with winning this album that he celebrated a little … well … a lot too much … and was taken into the police station to spend the night. Apparently he woke up at one point and became somewhat agitated, destroying everything that he could in the police cell.” Ken said the LP survived the night however.

“Another event that I think is very funny now but didn’t think was so funny at the time happened one day when I was filling in on the open-line Call For Help program for John Nichols. Call For Help was a one hour buy-trade-and-sell show. When you did this show, you had to write everything down by hand so you had a record items and telephone numbers, actually pick up the telephone when it rang and hang it up when you were finished, play the commercials and somehow keep everything moving along.” Ken said that during the program, a call came in from the office at the Collingwood Shipyards. “Ken, we have a big problem here at the Shipyards and we need your help. We’ve lost the key to the drydock. If anyone knows where the key to the drydock is, can they call us here at the Shipyards right away?” the caller stated. Of course, Ken, who was so busy writing all of this down while trying to do a million other things at the same time in the control room, thanked the caller for calling and repeated the information. “If you have seen or have any idea where the key for the drydock is, call the Collingwood Shipyards right away” Ken said over and over on the air, until it all of a sudden hit him that he had just fallen victim to a great prank.

Looking back, Ken remembers his daily morning visits to Malley’s (now Cafe Chartreuse) where the local media would gather for coffee and many good laughs. He remembers getting to know local business people including John and Mary Price, the Russ family from the Gayety theatre, Roger Lockhart who had his car dealership at the corner of First and Hurontario Streets in those days and Russ Stockdale, Bob Underdown and Ross McLean from the Collingwood Police Force.

After his days at CKCB, Ken moved on to work with radio stations in Ottawa, Oshawa and Sarnia, BBM (Bureau of Broadcast Measurement) and as a demonstration pilot with Field Aviation. He has also spent time in the print business including a stop in Sarnia as the publisher of a daily newspaper. Ken now operates his own freelance consulting business where he offers many media services including video production.
Paul Richards joined CKCB in 1972

Paul Richards joined the on-air staff at CKCB 1400 as a 15 year old high school student in 1972.

“I couldn’t believe my good luck. I had just landed the best part-time job in the world” said Richards. “I’d go to school all day and at 3pm when the last bell rang, I’d rush down to CKCB to prepare to host the 4pm to 6pm weekday time slot.” Richards said that he remembers his first day on the radio like it was yesterday. “The station was holding the annual Spring Trout Derby and I was hired to work inside to play the records, play the commercials and turn on the microphones and cue the announcers who were broadcasting outside on the sidewalk in front of the radio station” Richards said. I realized that the programming called for a 5 minute newscast to take place at 12:05pm and I hadn’t been told how this was going to happen or who was going to read it. All of a sudden, about three minutes past 12 noon, Scotty Carmichael burst into the control room where I was sitting, said “here you go paralyzing Paul” as he handed me some yellow pieces of typed copy and he left while slamming the door so hard the window rattled. As the time counted down to newstime, it became obvious that nobody was coming to read the newscast, so I fired the news intro and read the newscast, unrehearsed, myself. Reading copy cold is never a good idea but in this case, I had no choice. “With people walking around the street and front lobby carrying dead fish, I was initiated into the on-air side of radio by having to read the Collingwood Community News. Apparently I read the 5 minute newscast in about 2 minutes but I didn’t care about that. I only cared about getting through the newscast without passing out” Richards said.

Paul continued to work at CKCB 1400 for over three years until graduating from grade 13 at Collingwood Collegiate, with weekend shifts at sister station CKBB 950 in Barrie. “I remember working weekend shifts at CKBB in Barrie. The station had recently moved from sharing the building with CKVR-TV, so the studio was brand new with the latest equipment of the day” Richards said. “I often worked seven days a week but that was fine with me. I knew I wanted to continue to develop a career in broadcasting and actual hands-on air shifts gave me a tremendous opportunity to learn on the job” he added.

While the broadcast equipment at the new CKBB in Barrie was state-of-the-art, the equipment at CKCB in Collingwood sometimes needed some tender loving care to keep functioning. “We had two turntables in the control room, the for some reason the one at the front kept skipping. To this day I don’t ever remember having a spare needle available, so when records started to skip, we’d tape spare change to the top of the arm of the record player. Often we’d have enough change taped to the turntable arm to buy a good lunch” Richards joked. “I also remember Jean Fender’s amazing butter tarts that she sold across from the radio station at Paton’s. I’d start a record and then race across the street to buy a coke and a butter tart. Jean knew I had to rush right back so no matter how many people were in the store, she’d wait on me right away. I always got back before the record ended, but there was some close calls” Richards said.

Richards was a member of the inaugural staff that launched CHAY-FM in the Spring of 1977. He enjoyed a 24 year association with CHAY-FM, serving as the station’s Creative Director and Program Manager.




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