Fred A. Allen


00:00:01 Speaker 1 

Hello, my name is Jason Roberts and this is an interview with Fred Allen, technical director at CHV, 11 and Hamilton. 

00:00:08 Speaker 1 

Fred and her broadcasting with radio station CK TV in Saint Catherine. Shortly after the war in 1946. 

00:00:14 Speaker 1 

And then he moved to CHML Radio 900 in Hamilton in 1950. Later, he was hired as an audio operator. 

00:00:21 Speaker 1 

That’s the HTV, and in 1963 became a master control supervisor. 

00:00:26 Speaker 1 

Here and this interview. 

00:00:27 Speaker 1 

Is being recorded in Studio B at TCH, PHV here in Hamilton ON Canada, May 16th, 1988. 

00:00:34 Speaker 1 

Now Fred, I guess everyone at the young age, I know I did and everyone I’ve ever talked to gets interested in radio in different ways. 

00:00:41 Speaker 1 

How was it for you? 

00:00:42 Speaker 2 

Well, it started in 1942, Jason, I was a choir boy at Saint George’s Anglican Church. I had been a probationer in the choir for three years. 

00:00:52 Speaker 2 

When at the age of seven and in 1942, I graduated to the senior choir, the chancel choir. 

00:00:59 Speaker 2 

And at that point, CKBB carried a broadcast from the church every Sunday morning. 

00:01:04 Speaker 2 

And as a young and curious and inquisitive kid, I would bug the radio operator and ask him how the equipment worked. 

00:01:15 Speaker 2 

He was kind enough at that time to take the time to explain the equipment to me and show me how to. 

00:01:20 Speaker 2 

Set it up. 

00:01:21 Speaker 2 

And this eventually paid off for him because in 1942, as a matter of fact that year the winter we had a very severe storm, storm, ice and snow, and the streetcar was delayed. 

00:01:35 Speaker 2 

And he didn’t get to the church on time, and he walked through the door at 1/4 after 11. Of course, the church went on the air just before 11. 

00:01:43 Speaker 2 

And he mopped his brow when he saw me sitting at the controls and on the air for him. 

00:01:47 Speaker 2 

So it turned out to be a. 

00:01:51 Speaker 2 

In a way, it paid paid him back for taking the time to teach me, and I was able to save his bacon through. 

00:01:56 Speaker 1 

That’s marvelous. 

00:01:57 Speaker 1 

You know, it’s funny. 

00:01:58 Speaker 1 

I started the same way doing church broadcast the very first thing I did in radio. 

00:02:01 Speaker 1 

And I can remember the equipment being less than state-of-the-art. How was it? 

00:02:06 Speaker 1 

For you in those days. 

00:02:07 Speaker 2 

Well, most of the CKB early equipment was all gates, gates, remote amplifiers, and the board was gates board with wooden trim on it. 

00:02:18 Speaker 2 

It looked like right out of the arc and the turntables. 

00:02:23 Speaker 2 

We used two turntables. 

00:02:25 Speaker 2 

The tape wasn’t thought of in those days either, so we had two turntables with Presto Tone Arms which required I had a thumb screw to hold the needle in, and after a few weeks of working at the radio station you developed a very strong callus on your index finger and your thumb. 

00:02:43 Speaker 2 

I’m turning these things in because you had to change your steel Shank needle approximately every third record. 

00:02:49 Speaker 2 

And sometimes we would get some weird and wonderful effects when you your fingers would become a little sore and maybe you wouldn’t tighten that thumb screw up just tight enough. 

00:02:58 Speaker 2 

The needle would work itself loose and wobble out while it was in the air. 

00:03:02 Speaker 2 

So what you’re saying in the early? 

00:03:03 Speaker 1 

Days already they actually used thumbscrews. 

00:03:05 Speaker 2 

Thumbs. True. That’s right. 

00:03:05 Speaker 1 

You gotta get you to work a little harder. 

00:03:08 Speaker 1 

Of course. 

00:03:08 Speaker 1 

Those days transcriptions were used, not tapes. 

00:03:10 Speaker 1 

And they started from the inside out. 

00:03:12 Speaker 1 

And you made your. 

00:03:14 Speaker 2 

That’s right, I did that later at CHML, when we when I was recording engineer. 

00:03:19 Speaker 2 

In fact, we recorded City Council on the air. 

00:03:22 Speaker 2 

And we would tape that entire Council meeting and record it rather on disk and well, depending on the meeting I tape, I recorded one meeting that ran till 2:00 in the morning. 

00:03:26 Speaker 1 

How many discs would that make? 

00:03:34 Speaker 2 

And we were just eating up 16 inch disc after 16 inch disc and if many of them don’t even make it to the air, we would just crayon the marks. 

00:03:41 Speaker 2 

You’d go from one Crayon point to another. 

00:03:44 Speaker 1 


00:03:44 Speaker 2 

Maybe a 10 minute segment of an interesting discussion and then go to another disk. 

00:03:49 Speaker 1 

Because those were days when radio seldom was thought of as a 24 hour operation. 

00:03:54 Speaker 1 

Did you have? 

00:03:54 Speaker 1 

To work all the odd shifts when. 

00:03:55 Speaker 2 

You started night. 

00:03:57 Speaker 2 

I worked a night shift at. 

00:03:59 Speaker 2 

I worked various shifts at CKB, but primarily. 

00:04:04 Speaker 2 

6 to midnight at CHTML, when I first came here and that was working with Gordy. 

00:04:10 Speaker 2 

Tap on what’s on tap. 

00:04:12 Speaker 2 

We had a lot of fun with that, right? 

00:04:13 Speaker 1 

Another legend. 

00:04:14 Speaker 2 

And he called me, Clarence said. 

00:04:17 Speaker 2 

He had a nickname for his operator, and that was Clarence. 

00:04:20 Speaker 2 

And I used to swing to the Tarzan cry. 

00:04:23 Speaker 2 

From the control room. 

00:04:24 Speaker 2 

That’s how he he would label me when I would get excited or upset about something. 

00:04:29 Speaker 2 

They would roll the tires and cry, and he’d say all clearance is all upset about something, if anything didn’t. 

00:04:34 Speaker 2 

Meet my approval. 

00:04:35 Speaker 2 

That’s how that was. 

00:04:36 Speaker 2 

One way I could rebel on air and he and show my my feelings to the audience through that Tarzan. 

00:04:43 Speaker 2 

Cry and of. 

00:04:44 Speaker 1 

Course in the early 50s, the the Golden Age of Radio was dying out. 

00:04:48 Speaker 1 

And this great theater of the mind that people enjoyed and grew up with was was fast. 

00:04:53 Speaker 1 

Changing that probably represents some of the last of it that we ever experienced in Hamilton. 

00:04:57 Speaker 1 

Right likes a Gordie Tapp. 

00:04:59 Speaker 1 

I know that on air. 

00:05:01 Speaker 1 

If broadcasting mirrors society to a certain extent, both television and radio as society has changed, so has the industry. 

00:05:07 Speaker 1 

What kind of changes have you seen? 

00:05:09 Speaker 1 

Are they all positive? 

00:05:10 Speaker 1 

Are they good? 

00:05:11 Speaker 2 

Well, I think so. 

00:05:12 Speaker 2 

Back in the 50s, we, with the advent of television coming in, we saw the radio station, especially in the evening hours go from what would normally be disc jockey type regular middle of the road music that they were playing. 

00:05:26 Speaker 2 

They they went to foreign programming at that point, and each night was devoted to one or two different. 

00:05:32 Speaker 2 

Ethnic nationalities. 

00:05:34 Speaker 2 

And they were, I think, I think much of the evening audience was in those days was lost to television because television was new and. 

00:05:43 Speaker 2 

And and really did lock the people up to some degree. 

00:05:46 Speaker 1 

What about competition on the airwaves in the early days? 

00:05:49 Speaker 1 

From the Americans, they had so many strong, Clear Channel signals pounding in, especially to this area. 

00:05:55 Speaker 2 

Right, but radio still seemed to hold its own now, right with the even with that kind of. 

00:06:01 Speaker 1 

OK, now you worked in Saint Catharines at CTB for four summers. 

00:06:04 Speaker 1 

You tell me. 

00:06:04 Speaker 2 

4 summers as while I was going to school. 

00:06:06 Speaker 1 

And then you came to see Jamel and was that a big move in those days? 

00:06:10 Speaker 1 

Was that really reaching for the top as it would be to a young broadcaster today? 

00:06:16 Speaker 2 

Well, I thought so at the time, yes. 

00:06:19 Speaker 1 

What kind of money was involved in it? If you made $50.00 a week in Saint Catherines, did you make 75 and having? 

00:06:24 Speaker 1 

That sort of thing. 

00:06:25 Speaker 1 

You’re a little high, though. 

00:06:27 Speaker 2 

The we used to kid about the the frequency of the station was 1550, and that’s usually the wage the starting wage is well. 

00:06:27 Speaker 1 

That’s fine. 

00:06:33 Speaker 2 

I was making 1950. 

00:06:35 Speaker 2 

50 a week when I left the HTML or left CTB to go to the HTML for 25. 

00:06:42 Speaker 1 

Well, that’s how well, listen, you could probably survive in Hamilton on those wages in. 

00:06:45 Speaker 2 

Those days, yes, you managed to. 

00:06:49 Speaker 1 

But you wouldn’t save a lot. 

00:06:51 Speaker 1 

How about the live broadcast? 

00:06:53 Speaker 1 

Now everybody talks about live television that it doesn’t exist anymore and it loses a certain element in radio. 

00:06:58 Speaker 1 

Of course, for, by and large is Live Today, but in those days programs were live and anything went sometimes. 

00:07:04 Speaker 2 

And that’s right. 

00:07:05 Speaker 2 

We had, I was involved with drama. 

00:07:08 Speaker 2 

CTB in Saint Catharines before coming here and I worked with people such as John Draney. 

00:07:12 Speaker 2 

John Fisher Cylinder was a staff announcer and he he’s well known in Canadian acting now. 

00:07:20 Speaker 2 

And then at the bring it in, of course we work with. 

00:07:23 Speaker 2 

CHTML and the networks carrying. 

00:07:26 Speaker 1 

Will there be a live Saturday night dance? 

00:07:29 Speaker 2 

That’s right. 

00:07:29 Speaker 2 

But more than Saturday nights. 

00:07:31 Speaker 2 

If if Guy Lombardo came into town, we would start maybe even on the Thursday. 

00:07:35 Speaker 2 

And we would do a Thursday night. 

00:07:36 Speaker 2 

We would do a feed for mutual network in the states, plus to the armed forces overseas. 

00:07:43 Speaker 2 

And we would do mutual Thursday and then we may do regular branding Friday night and Saturday night and the Saturday night one was fed to the Dominion network of the CBC. 

00:07:55 Speaker 2 

So there was all kinds of work for the live band pickups in those days. 

00:08:00 Speaker 1 

So in many ways the. 

00:08:02 Speaker 1 

The eyes of the world were focused on Hamilton as you saw that thing. 

00:08:04 Speaker 2 

That’s right. 

00:08:05 Speaker 2 

The brand end became a very well known spot for the big bands. 

00:08:09 Speaker 2 

Freddie Barton, Guy Lombardo, as I said, and Russ Morgan, we look forward to them coming every year and they would be on a circuit and and we would expect them back, almost like clockwork each summer. 

00:08:19 Speaker 2 

And in the outdoor. 

00:08:21 Speaker 2 

Dance and the. 

00:08:22 Speaker 1 

Lido deck well, you’re talking history now. 

00:08:24 Speaker 1 

Those are days long gone. 

00:08:26 Speaker 1 

Umm, the the commercials of the time. 

00:08:29 Speaker 1 

While a lot of them would be live and we talked about transcriptions earlier, but what about them? 

00:08:33 Speaker 1 

That would have been a a major part of your. 

00:08:35 Speaker 2 

Task I suppose putting them together, that’s right, originally we. 

00:08:38 Speaker 2 

The We cut them right to acetate discs at CHML. 

00:08:43 Speaker 2 

And then when Advent of tape, of course we would produce the commercial on tape and then transfer it to to the 16 or 12 inch discs, whichever happened. 

00:08:54 Speaker 1 

What you’re saying is the announcer. 

00:08:57 Speaker 1 

I better get the first read, right. 

00:08:58 Speaker 1 

If you’re going right to this. 

00:09:00 Speaker 2 


00:09:00 Speaker 2 

That can be very expensive. 

00:09:02 Speaker 1 

I would imagine I could see Tommy darling. 

00:09:04 Speaker 1 

Get rid of him. 

00:09:05 Speaker 1 

He takes too many takes right course training. 

00:09:10 Speaker 1 

Today is so much different in your era, it was largely seedy. 

00:09:14 Speaker 1 

Your pants learning, and today it’s a vocational college program for just about anyone coming into broadcasting. 

00:09:20 Speaker 1 

Is it better or is it worse and you know the other people coming in today, more skilled, less skilled? 

00:09:25 Speaker 1 

How do you? 

00:09:25 Speaker 2 

See them? 

00:09:26 Speaker 2 

Well, I think they do. 

00:09:26 Speaker 2 

They’re coming in with more of a background than than we did, of course. 

00:09:31 Speaker 2 

Was hired at the radio station in Saint Catherines just to to be a program operator, but as you’re pointing out, how these things happen in the small station. 

00:09:40 Speaker 2 

On a Sunday afternoon, for example, we had the famous Homer Bridge, and an announcer could take his girlfriend for a drive on a Sunday afternoon, and I’d get the phone call about 3:30. 

00:09:49 Speaker 2 

I’m stuck at the Homer Bridge. 

00:09:51 Speaker 2 

Can you do my 4:00 o’clock show for me? 

00:09:53 Speaker 2 

So there. 

00:09:53 Speaker 2 

You’re hired as an audio operator and. 

00:09:56 Speaker 2 

Just doing the sound, but you’ve reached situations where announcers don’t show up or there’s a problem and you’re the announcer. 

00:10:02 Speaker 2 

The writer doesn’t show up. 

00:10:03 Speaker 2 

You’re the writer. 

00:10:04 Speaker 2 

So in a small station in those days, you actually got to do everything through the period of. 

00:10:08 Speaker 1 

I suppose a bit of engineering as well. 

00:10:10 Speaker 2 

That’s right. 

00:10:11 Speaker 1 

What about your technical side of it? 

00:10:13 Speaker 1 

You operate in a quasi technical capacity at CHP here now and have for many years. 

00:10:19 Speaker 1 

But in the early days of radio, if you didn’t know how to fix. 

00:10:22 Speaker 1 

It it may not get on the air. 

00:10:25 Speaker 2 

I had one experience of that when I was fairly new at CTB and the I knew the chief engineer. 

00:10:31 Speaker 2 

This goes back to the days when they. 

00:10:33 Speaker 2 

General Motors had a train going through town this in. 

00:10:37 Speaker 2 

The late 40s. 

00:10:38 Speaker 2 

And they had the first demonstration of stereo tape, and it was called the GM train of tomorrow, and that was at the local station. 

00:10:46 Speaker 2 

Well, as fate would have it, my announcer and my chief engineer were both at this training tomorrow and out of REACH, and the station, the control room went off the air. 

00:10:54 Speaker 2 

A power supply went on me. 

00:10:57 Speaker 2 

And I had never dabbled with that to any degree before, but and it was a rule at the station that the chief engineer had to make any of those changes. 

00:11:06 Speaker 2 

But again, being a young buck and. 

00:11:09 Speaker 2 

And not knowing all the rules, I took it upon myself to change the rectifier tube, went back on the air, and even though I saved the station, I got a blast in the chief engineer. 

00:11:18 Speaker 2 

When he came back. 

00:11:19 Speaker 1 

Well, you know Chief engineers that think they’re all from the same mold. 

00:11:21 Speaker 2 

They’re very touchy. 

00:11:23 Speaker 1 

Yeah, indeed the. 

00:11:25 Speaker 1 

The fun of working in radio in the early days is something that no new broadcaster will ever know, and the wild things that can happen the the crazy screw ups that aren’t supposed to happen, the mistakes on air, the the late night visitors that might show up in the studio, all those things, and and even the the alcohol. 

00:11:45 Speaker 1 

Might have been involved in the business. 

00:11:47 Speaker 1 

It’s not something that there has ever been hidden in. 

00:11:49 Speaker 1 

Radio I I. 

00:11:50 Speaker 1 

Know legions of stories of early radio days. 

00:11:53 Speaker 1 

Do you remember many of those? 

00:11:55 Speaker 2 

Well, yes I can. 

00:11:55 Speaker 1 

That you’d like to talk about. 

00:11:58 Speaker 2 

My first three Saturday nights at CHTML. 

00:12:02 Speaker 2 

I lost an announcer each Saturday night. 

00:12:05 Speaker 1 

And you’re the new man. 

00:12:06 Speaker 2 

Yes, I was the operator, but I lost the announcer each time and. 

00:12:10 Speaker 1 

The 1st 30 Fred. 

00:12:12 Speaker 2 

They well, there were other announcers on, unfortunately, because that was a little different setup. 

00:12:17 Speaker 2 

I operated a thing that unfortunately called it a cocktail bar, but it was three turntables in a row, and that’s that’s where we operated from. 

00:12:26 Speaker 2 

In the 848 Main St. studios for CHML and. 

00:12:30 Speaker 1 

Well, these announcers that went missing or couldn’t perform, what’s the what was their problem? 

00:12:36 Speaker 1 

What was this? 

00:12:36 Speaker 2 

It was alcohol. 

00:12:37 Speaker 2 

It was a drinking problem. 

00:12:38 Speaker 2 

Yeah, they, they. 

00:12:41 Speaker 2 

Several runs at the opening of a show, and fortunately I was fortunate that there were other announcers on at the time that were even over their shoulder pointing at them, showing them what to do. 

00:12:50 Speaker 2 

But they still didn’t have the ability to lift it off the paper, so they were. 

00:12:54 Speaker 2 

Some of them were suspended and some were actually fired right on the spot. 

00:12:58 Speaker 1 

Well, radio then had a had an oil that was almost a task to compete with the other sources for the the value and worth of its news. 

00:13:08 Speaker 1 

And I know CHM has always been known as very strong news oriented station. 

00:13:12 Speaker 1 

Did you find that feeling lasting long there into the in during your tenure anyway? 

00:13:19 Speaker 2 

Well, I and I love CKBB. 

00:13:20 Speaker 2 

They said you won’t be there long. 

00:13:23 Speaker 2 

They have swinging doors on that station. 

00:13:25 Speaker 2 

And we are going through, as I say, many announcers, one after the other like that and it was through drinking there. 

00:13:26 Speaker 1 

Well, as of late anyway they do. 

00:13:34 Speaker 2 

I guess there were. 

00:13:36 Speaker 2 

Fellas were pressured at the time whether they could not accept the pressure and it led them to the drink. 

00:13:41 Speaker 2 

I don’t know what. 

00:13:42 Speaker 2 

They seem to go through an awful lot of announcers and announcers were moving from make the announcers the culprits, but they’re they were more predominant and more visible to the public than the the people behind the scenes. 

00:13:53 Speaker 2 

I’m not seeing the people behind the scenes. 

00:13:54 Speaker 2 

Were all angels either, but because they were in front of the public they would get it would get written up in the paper and one thing. 

00:14:02 Speaker 2 

But also in in that along that same line we had to a little difficulty if you were arranging a bank loan, for example, because the transients announcers moving from place to place gave the entire industry sort of reputation of not being very stable people. 

00:14:21 Speaker 1 

It’s a stigma that’s remained to some extent. 

00:14:22 Speaker 2 

They won’t. 

00:14:24 Speaker 2 

Right. Yeah. And I found that very quickly when I came here because I’m it’s only 35 miles away, but I’m in a new city and I had reasons to. 

00:14:33 Speaker 2 

Get a home and when I was getting married by a home and and get into financial dealings and when they find out you’re working your radio you really had to convince me you’re gonna be here for a while. 

00:14:42 Speaker 2 

And I was here at CHML for 11 years, so I sort of ruled that. 

00:14:47 Speaker 2 

Stigma out of there? 

00:14:48 Speaker 1 

Of course, your your time at CML in the 50S, radio was really in an area of transition moving from block programming to music and news. 

00:14:55 Speaker 1 

How did that shift work down? 

00:14:56 Speaker 2 

There did it go smoothly? 

00:14:57 Speaker 2 

Yes, I think so. 

00:14:59 Speaker 1 


00:14:59 Speaker 2 

And of course, in in the late 50s, I was thinking more toward getting into television, which is. 

00:14:59 Speaker 1 

They were pleased for that one. 

00:15:04 Speaker 1 

My next question you. 

00:15:05 Speaker 1 

Have had certain duties well, beginning with the audio end here at CHCH. 

00:15:10 Speaker 1 

What’s involved in that? 

00:15:11 Speaker 1 

Anything different? 

00:15:12 Speaker 2 

Well, when I first came to CHCH, I was involved with the studio crew and that studio crew would be involved for taping some shows at the Telecenter or Studio A here at Jackson Street at that time and we would also be the crew. 

00:15:26 Speaker 2 

To be available to do hockey games and sports events, or if it was a church service. 

00:15:31 Speaker 2 

We’re doing primarily some studio work, but some work outside the studios on their remotes as. 

00:15:36 Speaker 1 

Well, of course. 

00:15:37 Speaker 1 

Over the years CHCH TV has. 

00:15:38 Speaker 1 

Had a number of what you would call images. 

00:15:41 Speaker 1 

I suppose the station is represented by certain things and hockey had to be one of the main ones with the old Barton St. 

00:15:48 Speaker 1 

Red Wings, right, you must have been involved in some. 

00:15:50 Speaker 2 

Of those broadcasts, yes. 

00:15:52 Speaker 2 

We did, yes, we did some of those as well. 

00:15:55 Speaker 1 

OK and technically? 

00:15:56 Speaker 1 

You must have had a field day learning and looking through the new equipment that that came and went in television right in the time that you’ve been here, you’ve. 

00:16:05 Speaker 1 

Been here for a while. 

00:16:05 Speaker 2 

Well, that from an equipment standpoint, the switches that were using when I came here, they were using RCA Victor. 

00:16:13 Speaker 2 

Two bank switchers to flip flop arrangement. 

00:16:16 Speaker 2 

And then we went to a Mark Marconi board. 

00:16:20 Speaker 2 

And followed that by Grass Valley and now we’re into central dynamics. 

00:16:24 Speaker 2 

So the life expectancy of those things through the years have been about 9 to 10 years. 

00:16:29 Speaker 2 

You’ll see a different. 

00:16:31 Speaker 2 

Design came out with a new Switcher and new equipment. 

00:16:35 Speaker 1 

Of course, anything new today is almost out of date by the Moro. 

00:16:37 Speaker 2 

That’s right. 

00:16:38 Speaker 2 

So it’s always a catch up game. 

00:16:39 Speaker 2 

The last few years the the changes have been far more frequent and we went through in the early say from the 60s to 70s, there were changes, but they weren’t as nearly as rapid as they are now. 

00:16:51 Speaker 2 

Like every day you you order a piece of equipment now, almost by the time of delivery. 

00:16:56 Speaker 2 

There are obsolete portions. 

00:16:59 Speaker 1 

And I want to ask you one last question, Fred, if I’m either probably have been hundreds of big news stories I think of oh ships sinking or presidents being shot or assassinated, that probably have come across the news wire when you were on duty. 

00:17:14 Speaker 1 

Any particular ones stick in your mind that to bring back some other fond or unhappy memories? 

00:17:19 Speaker 2 

There were three that I that come quickly to mind and that was I was on duty the day President Kennedy was shot. 

00:17:28 Speaker 2 

I was also on duty for the bulletin when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot when they were transferring him within the jail. 

00:17:35 Speaker 2 

And also another exciting day was the day they came in the from The Newsroom with the control to the control room with the Bulletin on the Moon Landing well and I, I just felt so happy about that one. 

00:17:46 Speaker 2 

I’ve I’ve still got that one in my briefcase. 

00:17:50 Speaker 1 

Well, of course, being so close to the business for so many years, a lot of times broadcasters tend to take the world at large for granted because we’re we’re so close to the news sources and don’t have the same appreciation for it. 

00:18:01 Speaker 1 

But you haven’t lost the zest for. 

00:18:03 Speaker 1 

This business I trust. 

00:18:04 Speaker 2 

No, I haven’t. 

00:18:05 Speaker 2 

Would you do it? 

00:18:05 Speaker 2 

All over again, I think so. 

00:18:08 Speaker 1 

Thank you, Fred. 

00:18:09 Speaker 1 

You’re a great interview. 

00:18:11 Speaker 2 

Thank you, Jason very much. 

00:18:11 Speaker 1 

And a legendary broadcaster in this area, my name is Jason Roberts, and the interview has been with Fred Allen, the technical director at CHCH Television, spanning his career from Saint Catharines through Hamilton Radio and television.