The Drake format, especially on CKLW, was described as “a cross between an Omega watch and a well oiled machine gun.” It was a monster in the Motor City (and in other cities as well).
A coverage map only hinted at its reach. I was told that on certain nights, the giant 50,000 watt blow torch could reach 23 states and 3 provinces.
Ted Atkins was the Program Director who hired me for morning drive.
Even then, Ted was known as “Captain Show Biz,” a title he carried for the rest of his career. To call Ted “anal compulsive” was to put it mildly. He was also a mountain of fun. While I found the Drake format intimidating and a long way from the more relaxed McLendon approach, Ted’s enthusiasm was magnetic. I wanted to be part of a station with him at the helm. Ted had programmed a number of great stations, including KIMN in Denver. So, his direction was to maintain the perfection of the format and leave room for personality as well.
I had to get used to having an engineer…called “board ops” at CK. You could key your own mic and cue for the next element. But the seamless sound of CKLW was really in the hands of these amazing guys who blended it all together.
Colin Kennedy was with me most mornings.
We probably had more laughs on the intercom than we put on the air.
And what a staff! These guys brought it! One of the Drake mottos for jocks was, “Cook but don’t burn.” These guys packed the heat!
I spent two weeks on the over night shift, as Frank Brody (later 9-Noon) gently educated me on the rules of the road, Drake style.
Now, this guy was smooth! After he got off the air at Noon, we would often run up a pretty good tab in the bar at the Holiday Inn across the street, where I lived.
I had a two-story suite on the side facing the Detroit skyline. Daily maid service, room service…a life of indulgence for a young guy living away from Dallas for the first time.
Tom Shannon owned nights! “The sun never sets on the Shannon empire.”
Tom was a good looking guy who also hosted a daily afternoon dance show (Motown’s version of American Bandstand) on CKLW-TV, which was in our same building.
Mid-days, Big Jim Edwards (Jim Davis) ran that format to perfection. He had been at CKLW when Paul Drew was PD. So, Big Jim could stretch out a little more on the air when Ted Atkins opened the windows to more creativity.
Jim and I later worked more stations together and we became great friends. Simply, a wonderful human being and exceptional broadcaster.
A few years ago, Jim and I spent an afternoon together, boating around Miami and catching up.
Afternoon drive was in the hands of Ed Mitchell.
Well, that’s what we called him then. Later, the broadcast world would know him as Mark Elliott. Mark and I worked together in later years at both KFRC and KHJ. Mark, for years, was the image voice for CBS television and for Disney. A giant talent. We have stayed friends as time passed. Had the chance to catch up in person during a vacation in California not long ago.
You will also note that a very young Pat. St. John joined the gang. Even as a wet-behind-the-ears baby DJ, the guy was scary good!
CKLW was a launching pad to Pat’s career and he’s still rocking today on SiriusXM!
You can’t talk about CKLW without a round of applause for the dynamic CKLW 20/20 news team.
Dick Smyth was News Director. My morning news team was Smyth and Byron McGregor, who lived across the hall from me at the Holiday Inn. Can you spot Lee Marshall? You would later hear him as Tony The Tiger. This news team was “Grrrreat!” The writing style was riveting. News was certainly not a tune out on CKLW. Any homocide would raise the number on “the Motor City Murder Meter”!
By this time, I had not yet met Bill Drake. I was, however, introduced to his right hand man, Bill Watson.
He was just called “Watson” and functioned kind of like a National Program Director for Drake. Watson dubbed me “Charles of the North.” The last part of my title changed as I was moved to various other Drake stations.
One of the other people who kept CKLW in the stratosphere was Music Director, Rosalie Trombly.
Rosalie was said to have a “golden ear” and is credited with launching the careers of many artists.
And then, Ted was moved to San Francisco to repair a troubled KFRC, which had slipped dramatically in the ratings. (He was certainly the man for that job!) I was rocked (not in a good way) when the new PD was announced…Jim O’Brien…yep, the same guy from Dallas who really didn’t like me.
To his credit, Jim approached me and directly addressed the strain we had at KLIF and asked for a “fresh start.” We got along just fine after that. In fact, one night a CKLW-TV viewer was angry because Channel 9 didn’t air a hockey game he wanted to watch. So, the viewer cut a guy wire on the giant TV tower behind the studios.
The wind was blowing pretty strong that night and the Chief Engineer felt that the tower could come down, landing directly on the studios. So, the building was evacuated. O’Brien and I grabbed a mic and a stack of records and started driving 23 miles to the CKLW transmitter building because “the hits just (had to) keep on coming’!”
There is a recording of that night somewhere. Not surprisingly, News Director Dick Smyth also drove out to the transmitter to insure that CKLW would, indeed, have a scheduled newscast at 11:40PM.
I loved living in Canada and I was really in love with the Big 8! But the call came in and I was to change my moniker to “Charles of the West.”
My new assignment, should I choose to accept it, (who are we kidding) was to wake up San Francisco on the Big 610, KFRC!
I didn’t know it then, but the party was just getting starting.