Tom Rivers (1970-2004)

Tom Rivers, 1970 (CHUM Archives/Doug Thompson)

One of the most remarkable radio performers Canadians and Americans have ever heard was Tom Rivers a.k.a. Tom Loughridge (his birth name) a.k.a. Big Tom Rivers a.k.a. Shotgun Tom Rivers a.k.a. Swami Rivers a.k.a. The Stoned Ranger a.k.a. dozens of other characters that Tom created or co-created and brought hilariously to life.

At heart he was a mischievous twelve-year-old boy in the body of a six-foot-ten, four hundred-pound man-child – a heavyweight talent in every sense of the word.

As a Top 40 DJ, dancing and weaving – not so much over the music as in the music – Tom Rivers had few equals. For instance, he had a hundred different ways to hit the “Hey!” at the beginning of Roy Head’s Treat Her Right. And when 1050 CHUM and CFRB were the two powerhouse stations in Toronto, Tom once introduced Take a Letter Maria this way: “CHUM plays the hits while RB Greaves!”

Tom – a Michigan boy – was discovered by 1050 CHUM Program Director J. Robert Wood when Tom was working at Dearborn's WKNR in 1969. Tom was young, and his talent was raw, but Bob knew the first time he heard him that Tom had something special. Then Bob did what he did for so many other young talents: He taught Tom the skills and secrets that would elevate Tom’s raw talent to greatness.

Tom Rivers cover used for CHUM chart of March 30, 1974 (CHUM Archives/Doug Thompson)

Soon it was that greatness that took Tom to “The Big Eight” CKLW, then back to do afternoon-drive on 1050 CHUM in the mid-seventies, then to number-one radio stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco, before Tom ended up as Program Director and morning host at a radio station in Alaska during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. It was there that Tom dreamed up the idea of Bomb Iran, a parody of the Beach Boys hit, Barbara Ann. That parody, and the notoriety that arose from it, made Tom and his little Alaska radio station famous around the world.

1980's "Big" Tim Rivers (CHUM Archives/Doug Thompson)

On Christmas Eve 1980, Jay Nelson retired as the host of The 1050 CHUM Morning Show and Tom became his successor. Tom modelled his new morning show on that of KFRC San Francisco’s legendary morning man, Dr. Don Rose. That meant endless one-liners, a cast of zany characters (most of whom were actually Tom), and regular theme shows such as Tom’s famous “live” broadcast from the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The advertising posters in subway cars read Not Just Any Tom, Dick and Henny (referring to Tom’s co-stars Dick Smyth and Brian Henderson) and for about a year all was well in Tom’s world.

But then a series of personnel and programming changes, and Tom’s rebellion against them, resulted in Tom being fired by CHUM – on his 35th birthday – in September 1982. The third Tom Rivers Era at CHUM had lasted twenty-one months.

But Tom’s brilliance could not be kept off the air and soon he was at CHUM’s arch-rival, CFTR, hosting their Morning Show and enjoying huge success. After CFTR changed to 680 News Tom worked at CHUM two more times – all misdemeanors and misunderstandings forgiven and forgotten.

He passed from our lives much too soon – as too many of CHUM’s youngest and brightest have before and since – but to the end he was admired as a rascal, as a rebel, and as one of the greatest disc jockeys who ever lived.

And he was loved – deeply loved – by those who knew him as a kind and thoughtful friend. Tom Rivers will never be forgotten.

Larry MacInnis
Former CHUM Creative Director and a close friend of Tom Rivers

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