Issue #5 - February 2018
Throughout its 50+ year history, the CHUM news department was an important part of the on-air sound and success. There were many legendary CHUM newsmen, including Mike Cleaver, who, during several different eras, spent nearly 20 years in the 1331 Yonge Street newsroom. These are Mike’s memories.
MY YEARS AS A CHUM NEWSMAN by Mike Cleaver
It was September 1st of 1972 that I started work with Canada’s legendary Rocker. Dick Smyth and Richard Scott did morning news, Smyth on the hours, Scott on the half hours. Scott had the original ‘Voice of God’ and called me ‘neophyte’.
Others on staff at the time included Brian Thomas who was the City Hall Reporter and Brian Williams who did sports along with Larry Wilson. Brent Sleightholm and I shared the afternoon drive shift for the first year or so. He did the hours, I did half hours but we switched about halfway through the year.
After the first year, Smyth moved me to half hours in the morning. Fred Ennis was one of the reporters. Other newscasters from this period were Marc Daily, Ed Mason and Dave DeLoy, who owned a gold mine in Northern Ontario and never cashed his paychecks.
News sources were BN, UPI, ABC, CP (Canadian Press), and of course, the CHUM Contemporary News Service, with Paul Akehurst, Mike Duffy (yes, THAT Mike Duffy) and Jack Derouin in Ottawa and all the CHUM and Moffat stations across the country.
There were about 6 teletypes clacking away in the place. The din in the newsroom with these, monitors and scanners running all the time was amazing, not to mention the blue haze of cigarette and pipe smoke.
J Robert Wood was CHUM’s Program Director. Jay Nelson did mornings. John Gilbert did a morning talk show from 9 to 11.
Others on staff: Scott Carpenter, Roger Ashby, Chuck McCoy, Duke Roberts, Tom Rivers, Terry Steele and too many others to remember.
We called the newsroom the ‘bowling alley’. It stretched along the front of the building on the ground floor with big windows on Yonge Street. When you entered the room you started with the traffic desk, facing the anchor desk. Then it was the 2nd news anchor facing sports. In the corner by the recording booths was the CHUM-FM news desk. Then came the two news booths with sliding patio doors and Smyth’s office.
The 2 news recording booths had Ampex 351’s, cart machines, small mixers, phone
patches and the Broadband and network inputs. All clips were put on carts with a
file card which went into a Smyth designed roll-around rack with slots for the
carts and the cards.
The cards had the cart number, the lead, the tag and the outcue on them along with timing, where the cut came from, who’d produced it etc.
When we used a cart, we had to mark when it ran on the card.
Out in the newsroom, we had desks and racks in a long line. We used Ampex 601s and Cart machines originally, later replaced by Revox 77s with the broadcast mod, some switching and car radios for station monitors.
Traffic was broadcast from the newsroom by Wendy Howard and Mary Ann Carpentier, using a Sennheiser 421, the microphone of choice for 1050 CHUM on air positions and a studio turret connected to master control.
The main board in the early seventies was a tube type McCurdy with rotary pots. We were still running records on McCurdy turntables for music with everything else on cart. Similar boards were used in production but later replaced, about every three years, with state of the art stuff, usually from McCurdy.
The news booth contained two positions with turrets and 421’s and a triple decker cart machine. That was it for the booth where those legendary casts were delivered.
We looked directly into the control room where Bob Humenik was Nelson’s op and the jock booth was off to our left where we could see Nelson at work.
Warren Cosford and Zeke Zbediak were the production geniuses.
They produced award winning commercials, documentaries and specials for CHUM and CHUM group stations across Canada.
One guy did all the carting so everything had a consistent on air sound. Later, carts were used for music as turntables were phased out.
No story about CHUM in the ’70’s would be complete without a few Dick Smyth stories. In those days, Dick smoked a pipe, constantly. The newsroom was covered with pipe tobacco, pipe ashes and the air was always thick with pipe and cigarette smoke as Richard Scott also chain-smoked for the entire time he was there. Smyth would often knock out his pipe into one of the giant waste paper baskets that held all that used teletype paper and carbons before going into the booth to deliver his casts. Often this would result in a roaring blaze, with flames leaping to the ceiling. The fire extinguishers in the newsroom were constantly being refilled because of this.
Smyth also had a rather violent temper. He’d roar and throw things at the slighted provocation. Carts, ashtrays, staplers, reels of tape, if it wasn’t nailed down, he’d throw it.
The original news studio door bears the dent where a Royal manual typewriter bought it in a particularly violent fit of pique. When we got the electric typewriters, Fred Ennis, one of the best shit disturbers of all time, marked out a circle on the floor around each desk with yellow tape. That’s how far Smyth could throw the machine with the cord plugged in, sort of a no man’s land.
Smyth even once threw a loaded fire extinguisher at Ed Mason, just before Mason quit and walked out.
Other Smyth bits: The Great Odeon Wurlitzer.
When Smyth learned the last of Toronto’s great movie houses with an in house organ was about to bite the dust, he rushed down to have the organist play a piece he could use as background for his commentary lamenting the fact. After recording this and dubbing it to cart, Smyth ran around for a couple of days playing the sound of the Great Odeon Wurlitzer for anyone who would listen.
He must have played that cart a hundred times.
Comes the day for the piece to run on air: Dick flips on the mic; “And here’s how things look to Dick Smyth today. Another piece of Toronto dies today. At the Odeon Theatre on Carlton, the last great theatre organ in Toronto is silent. Remember sitting in the theatre in the dark and the organ master would rise on his throne and you’d hear”… (pushes cart start: Organ roars into life, sputters and dies as the cart self destructs on air.) Loud hum then Smyth comes on, completely lost for words and says “I’m Dick Smyth!”
Everyone in the newsroom is on the floor, laughing their guts out.
Bam! goes the news booth door. A cart flies out to bounce off the window and land on the newsroom floor.
Smyth flies out, yelling at the top of his voice, three feet off the ground and proceeds to mash the cart into oblivion.
He marches to his desk, grabs his clipboard and coffee mug and stomps down the newsroom to his office where the door is closed.
He kicks the door open, loses his footing and lands flat on his butt.
As you can imagine, the newsroom now is in total uproar with Nelson out of his booth with tears streaming down his face he’s laughing so hard.
Fred Ennis carefully gathers up the remains of the cart, has it pasted on a board, framed, with the legend: “The remains of the Great Odeon Wurlitzer” and presents it to Smyth at that year’s Christmas Party.
Smyth was one of the best known newscaster in Toronto during those heady days of the million plus cume. Every month he’d get a petty cash check from accounting for the little everyday newsroom expenses.
I think it was about 300 bucks.
It was raining that morning when we went for breakfast and banks still didn’t open until 10am. After breakfast, Smyth decided he didn’t want to walk to the Royal up on St Clair where the company banked so he decided to just cross the street to the Commerce where I did my banking.
He gets to the counter finally with me waiting off to the side.
The poor girl behind the counter asks him for ID before she’ll cash the check. “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM BY THE SOUND OF MY VOICE?” Smyth thunders at the poor teller. I quickly rush over saying I’ll vouch for him and eventually the check gets cashed.
I did a fair amount of voice work at CHUM then, including the year end features and the returning of CFUN to the people of Vancouver after Allan Waters repatriated the call letters from a little station in the Maritimes. CFUN had become CKVN when it made its ill-fated switch to news before the Waters family acquired it.
When CHUM purchased CFUN, I asked to be transferred to Vancouver.
That request was refused.
This caused me to resign from CHUM to head out to Alberta for the second time in my career.
Issue #4: September-October 2017
Issue #3: August 2017
Issue #2: July 2017
Issue #1: June 2017
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