Gord Atkinson


00:00:01 Speaker 1 

The guest on this tape is Gord Atkinson. Gord came into radio in 1948 on a part time basis, working for CFRB Toronto as host of Club Crosby. In 1950 he joined CHUM Toronto in 1954, moved to Ottawa to be with CF RA in 1967. 

00:00:21 Speaker 1 

Went to RA’s sister station CFM OFM as station manager, a position he holds until this date going back to 1948. Gord, do you remember the early days? You remember what radio was like and see if I. 

00:00:35 Speaker 2 

Well, at the time that I got into the business, there were six radio stations in Toronto at that time. CHOM was the new station on the block, so to speak. W McKnight was the program director at CFRB, and he was the one who hired me to do the. 

00:00:55 Speaker 2 

Program and it’s interesting to recall that one of the veterans of the business, Wally Crowder, was the announcer on the program for a few weeks, and he had been doing the morning show there. 

00:01:12 Speaker 2 

I think for about a year at that time. 

00:01:14 Speaker 1 

You called it club Crosby. 

00:01:15 Speaker 1 

It had to do with. 

00:01:16 Speaker 2 

Bing Crosby. 

00:01:17 Speaker 2 

Oh, yeah, it’s it came right out of my youth from the time I was a very young teenager, I was a member of his international fan club. 

00:01:24 Speaker 2 

And as you remember, Phil, I was the President of the Canadian chapter, and after a very brief stint in the Army. 

00:01:34 Speaker 2 

I went back to school at the old rehab school on Gould St. 

00:01:39 Speaker 2 

which of course later was to become the famous learning institution Ryerson, and eventually I got a job in publicity with the COMPO company who distributed Decca Records. 

00:01:54 Speaker 2 

And that, of course, all came out of the fact that I had studied journalism at the rehabilitation. 

00:02:00 Speaker 2 

School also, in the meantime, I joined a radio school that was conducted out of studios in the I was going to say the shadow Laurie. 

00:02:14 Speaker 2 

Isn’t it amazing how? 

00:02:17 Speaker 2 

One’s mind becomes ingrained with the place that you’ve you’ve worked at all those here is at the Royal York Hotel. 

00:02:24 Speaker 2 

In fact, it was in the penthouse and there were full facilities there and a group of CBC producers as a sideline conducted a radio school and I went there for two years, four nights a week. 

00:02:40 Speaker 2 

It was quite a grind. 

00:02:42 Speaker 2 

But when you’re young, you can. 

00:02:44 Speaker 2 

Do almost anything, can’t you? You have so much boundless energy. And by the way, that school began a year before Lauren Greene’s famous Academy. 

00:02:54 Speaker 1 

You talked about working for. 

00:02:57 Speaker 1 

Decca of handling records and of course you handle records on your show. 

00:03:01 Speaker 1 

What were you talking about, 70? 

00:03:02 Speaker 1 

Eights in those days. 

00:03:03 Speaker 2 

Oh, yes, exclusively, that was before the 40 fives even came out. 

00:03:07 Speaker 2 

You had to be awfully careful in the record library, remember Phil Boy? 

00:03:12 Speaker 2 

I mean, if if you stumbled for a moment while you were reaching for the upper shell. 

00:03:17 Speaker 2 

You could lose several of your prized recordings. 

00:03:22 Speaker 2 

All 70 eights. 

00:03:25 Speaker 1 

You recalled the time that the 48 and that you’re taking these courses. What what? What kind of mics did you work with? 

00:03:32 Speaker 1 

What kind of equipment were? 

00:03:33 Speaker 2 

You working with well, I think that most of the equipment at that time, the microphones were the old. 

00:03:42 Speaker 2 

Mental block here, Phil. 

00:03:44 Speaker 2 

I can’t think of the name. 

00:03:45 Speaker 2 

It was the old RCA microphone. 

00:03:47 Speaker 2 

I’ve forgotten the exact model, but it was in use for a long, long time and probably still is in use in some places. 

00:03:58 Speaker 2 

And of course I would have to say that the the major revolutionary. 

00:04:06 Speaker 2 

Event that took place in radio during the years that I’ve been in. 

00:04:09 Speaker 2 

It was the development of tape and the tape recorder in those early days. 

00:04:15 Speaker 2 

I remember there was one particular Saturday and the club Crosby ran on CFRB on Saturdays at 5. 

00:04:24 Speaker 2 

I really had to be out of town. 

00:04:26 Speaker 2 

I can’t remember why, but it was essential family matter that I’d be out of town and I couldn’t get anybody else to do the program, so I had to go to the expense because I was freelancing. 

00:04:40 Speaker 2 

I didn’t work for the station, I had to go to the expense of having. 

00:04:45 Speaker 2 

One of the programs cut on a disc and that was the only way of of recording programs back in those days. 

00:04:54 Speaker 1 

When you got to Chubb in 1950, what was happening? 

00:04:56 Speaker 2 

Then, well, tape was starting to. 

00:05:01 Speaker 2 

Come into general use, although as we all know, it was very unreliable. 

00:05:07 Speaker 2 

You had two different kinds of tape. 

00:05:10 Speaker 2 

You had the the type that was very brittle. 

00:05:13 Speaker 2 

That would break very easily or you had the tape that would stretch and we wouldn’t dare put anything on tape. 

00:05:21 Speaker 2 

And you remember this, except your voice. 

00:05:24 Speaker 2 

You couldn’t put music on, because if you put music on, the tape would strip. 

00:05:28 Speaker 2 

Which and Bing Crosby might sound like Danny. 

00:05:31 Speaker 2 

When you played the tape back. 

00:05:34 Speaker 1 

Recall the people at that time. 

00:05:37 Speaker 2 

Do I ever remember? 

00:05:39 Speaker 2 

I even remember Phil Stone? 

00:05:42 Speaker 2 

Do you remember him? 

00:05:43 Speaker 2 

It’s anybody, remember Phil Stone? 

00:05:46 Speaker 2 

I’ll forever be grateful to you. 

00:05:49 Speaker 2 

And I can’t thank you enough for the warmth that you displayed for this young kid coming in, trying to make a career in radio. 

00:05:59 Speaker 2 

You you made me feel so much at home. 

00:06:02 Speaker 2 

Along with, of course, our mutual buddy, the telemarketing man himself, the old Chief Larry Man, Larry was doing the breakfast show, Larry’s coffee shop. 

00:06:12 Speaker 2 

He was the chief announcer, and as long as I have known Larry, I have always called him the chief. 

00:06:20 Speaker 2 

Monty Hall was program director for a very short time after my arrival. 

00:06:26 Speaker 2 

You’ve been there for some. 

00:06:28 Speaker 2 

I missed the late **** McDougal. 

00:06:31 Speaker 2 

I think he preceded Monty as a program director. 

00:06:35 Speaker 2 

Although I got to know **** quite well because as you remember, he did a chat show on the station and. 

00:06:44 Speaker 2 

The the lady who hired me, who was the probably one of the first lady program directors in the business, was our friend, Lee Stubbs, who has since passed on and. 

00:07:00 Speaker 2 

After Monte Lee became the program director, and actually it was Lee who who hired me. 

00:07:06 Speaker 2 

And the reason why I got the job at. 

00:07:10 Speaker 2 

C Hmm, I seem to have always worked through the back door somehow because of the fact that I was working for the compo company and going around and delivering the new records. 

00:07:22 Speaker 2 

The hot wax to the different radio stations. 

00:07:24 Speaker 2 

I got to know a lot of people and they knew of the program I was doing on CFRB. 

00:07:31 Speaker 2 

Since it was a freelance situation and after I had done it for two years, I got a better deal at CHMM and switched over to the the new station in town. 

00:07:43 Speaker 1 

You didn’t do Club Crosby at CHUM, though. 

00:07:45 Speaker 2 

Did you? Yes, I did. Yes. Oh, yes, I did it for all the length of time I was there, which was 4 1/2 years. 

00:07:53 Speaker 1 

And Hollywood. 

00:07:55 Speaker 1 

Yeah, we did. 

00:07:56 Speaker 1 

What was it was called Hollywood highlights, I think is what it was called. 

00:08:00 Speaker 2 

Yeah, you got a great memory, I. 

00:08:03 Speaker 2 

Would have had trouble remembering that. Yeah, I did that every morning. I think it was 11:30. It was kind of a. It was sort of the. 

00:08:11 Speaker 2 

Entertainment Tonight only entertainment in the morning. 

00:08:15 Speaker 2 

In radio of those dear old days, yeah. 

00:08:19 Speaker 1 

Those dear old days, could those shows work today? 

00:08:21 Speaker 1 

Those two shows club Crosby and Hollywood highlights. 

00:08:23 Speaker 1 

Would they be accepted today on radio? 

00:08:27 Speaker 1 

I’m still doing them well. 

00:08:31 Speaker 1 

I tell you, Phil, I think that a good format, a good idea. 

00:08:38 Speaker 2 

Is adaptable at anytime throughout the. 

00:08:42 Speaker 2 

And you know, some of the people that I’d listened to back when I was trying to get into the business and what they were doing, we all take a little bit from one another and were inspired by people. 

00:08:53 Speaker 2 

And many of those ideas and many of the things they were doing back then, we’re still doing them today. 

00:08:59 Speaker 2 

Maybe they’re in a different dress, different. 

00:09:01 Speaker 1 

Format, but the basics are the same. When you were with John from 50 to 54, it was not a major station, but when you went to CFR, you were going to really a much bigger station. Yeah. CFR and CHM actually went on the air the same year in 1940. 

00:09:20 Speaker 2 

So there has been a lot of parallels, particularly since years later. 

00:09:27 Speaker 2 

CHMM Limited purchased CFR and CFM OFM, so it was almost like I was going back home again, particularly with the Allen Watters, whom I knew very well. 

00:09:39 Speaker 2 

As you most certainly did back in those early days of Yum. 

00:09:45 Speaker 1 

What was CFRA like? 

00:09:46 Speaker 1 

What was it like coming from a chum to that station at that? 

00:09:50 Speaker 2 

Different also well, for one thing, the studios were located on the 2nd floor of the hockey arena. 

00:10:01 Speaker 2 

The arena was called the auditorium, and it no longer exists. 

00:10:06 Speaker 2 

It was demolished many years ago when the Civic Center was built in Ottawa. 

00:10:11 Speaker 2 

And we had our studios there and Ottawa was in the Quebec Hockey League at the time. 

00:10:18 Speaker 2 

It would. 

00:10:19 Speaker 2 

It would have been a great place for Larry Man to work because all you had to do is walk out the studio, walk across the hall, and you’re in the arena. 

00:10:25 Speaker 2 

And Larry, of course, is the great hockey fan. 

00:10:28 Speaker 2 

Of all time but. 

00:10:31 Speaker 2 

It was rather primitive, I must say, when I consider the facilities that we have today, the ambiance of of our Ottawa operation. 

00:10:42 Speaker 2 

Today it it was the. 

00:10:44 Speaker 2 

It was the early stages. 

00:10:46 Speaker 2 

It was the infancy of what developed into a really outstanding company, CFRN CFO. 

00:10:54 Speaker 1 

Do you remember some of the commercials over your early days? 

00:10:57 Speaker 2 

I remember the first commercial that I did in Ottawa was for Campbell’s soup, and boy, I wanted to make really make an impression. Here was this. 

00:11:05 Speaker 2 

Kid coming up from Toronto this wise acre, you know and. 

00:11:08 Speaker 2 

I felt the. 

00:11:10 Speaker 2 

It’s going to be a lot of attention foisted on me after working in the big gap. 

00:11:15 Speaker 2 

Well, even then of Canadian broadcasting and arriving in Ottawa and my first commercial was for Campbell Soup and I called it Campbell Soap and the career has been shaky ever since. 

00:11:29 Speaker 1 

During that time, television came to Canada. 

00:11:31 Speaker 2 

Well, in fact, TV began while I was still in Toronto. 

00:11:36 Speaker 2 

I remember one day walking outside of the mutual St. 

00:11:39 Speaker 2 

studios of CHMM with Larry. 

00:11:42 Speaker 2 

And we stood there awestruck, looking up the street towards Jarvis, where they were just starting to put the antenna up the big tower for the first. 

00:11:55 Speaker 2 

Canadian television station at that time and. 

00:12:01 Speaker 2 

It’s interesting for many reasons, but. 

00:12:05 Speaker 2 

One of the reasons being that a lot of people in radio in those days, they really weren’t too sure that they wanted to get into television. 

00:12:13 Speaker 2 

Isn’t that something? 

00:12:14 Speaker 1 

But it changed the way you handled radio though, didn’t it? 

00:12:17 Speaker 2 

Well, yeah, sure. 

00:12:19 Speaker 2 

I mean, the whole industry across North America television, as we all know, filled the role the radio once had the IT was really by and large the demise of the radio networks as we once knew. 

00:12:35 Speaker 2 

That was the early development of radio. 

00:12:37 Speaker 2 

You know, having a distinctive format, appealing to a particular group of people, whereas television then moved into the role that was once network radios of being all things to all people. 

00:12:54 Speaker 2 

You you didn’t like today, you, you watch your program if. 

00:12:58 Speaker 2 

Cosby is on a television station. 

00:13:01 Speaker 2 

That’s station you look at. 

00:13:04 Speaker 2 

But in radio, of course it it became quite different. People would soon TuneIn to their favorite radio station because of the personalities, the style of programming and the kind of music that you featured. 

00:13:18 Speaker 1 

You began doing these syndicated pictures. 

00:13:21 Speaker 1 

These long features about prominent show business people was Crosby the 1st. 

00:13:28 Speaker 2 

I had done a lot of interviews over the years with a lot of people as you most certainly did, Phil and built up a lot of warm friendships here in Ottawa. 

00:13:40 Speaker 2 

I met a lot of artists whom I had first interviewed at CHM in Toronto. 

00:13:45 Speaker 2 

And thinking in particular of Harry Belafonte, who’s remained a really good friend down through the years. 

00:13:51 Speaker 2 

Al Alberts and the four Aces. 

00:13:53 Speaker 2 

People like that. 

00:13:55 Speaker 2 

So that I was doing a lot of interviewing and a lot of it was on tape. 

00:14:00 Speaker 2 

Tony Bennett, Ford lads. 

00:14:03 Speaker 2 

So many of the people that were popular at that time, even going back to when Perry Como came to the Ottawa Exhibition. 

00:14:10 Speaker 2 

Cars of that magnitude, but the the concept of the. 

00:14:18 Speaker 2 

Documentary, entertainment documentary. Really. 

00:14:22 Speaker 2 

Came about when I took on the task of doing this authorized series on the life of my boyhood idol, Bing Crosby, and I must tell you that I had many, many nights that I had fits trying to sleep, thinking what have I. 

00:14:43 Speaker 2 

Taken on here and. 

00:14:45 Speaker 2 

Feeling quite inadequate to do it, but it was of course the the great. 

00:14:52 Speaker 2 

Assignment of my radio career, and it certainly did turn my career around. 

00:14:58 Speaker 1 

Let’s just briefly enumerate some of the other people you’ve done. 

00:15:01 Speaker 2 

Well, James Stewart, Bob Hope. 

00:15:06 Speaker 2 

Two of the people that first appeared on radio with me, Paul Anka, Rich little. 

00:15:14 Speaker 2 

Oh, there’s so many of them. 

00:15:15 Speaker 2 

If you look around the office here, some of the so many of them that are no longer with us and some of the interviews I look back on with such great pleasure. 

00:15:23 Speaker 2 

For example, Edgar Bergen, who I think was the great comedic genius of the Golden Age of radio comedy George Burns. 

00:15:33 Speaker 2 

I interviewed him for the first time. 

00:15:34 Speaker 2 

The day after his 80th birthday and I thought I better get him right now. 

00:15:38 Speaker 2 

Shows you how little I knew. 

00:15:40 Speaker 1 

You you were telling me over lunch about the songwriters that you had interviewed. 

00:15:45 Speaker 1 

And how some of your tapes are going into archives. 

00:15:48 Speaker 1 

Well, that’s again one of the one of the great. 

00:15:53 Speaker 2 

Developments how one thing leads to another. I became quite friendly with Sammy Khan, the Academy award-winning lyricist who is the President of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Popular Music in New York, and through circumstances through doing the Crosby series, the Paul Anka series. 

00:16:13 Speaker 2 

And and Sammy and Paul have written. 

00:16:15 Speaker 2 

A lot together. 

00:16:16 Speaker 2 

I got to know Sammy quite well and at the time that he took over the position as President of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, I had at that time up till that time had been doing a number of interviews with songwriters. 

00:16:30 Speaker 2 

I always found the songwriters very, very fascinating. 

00:16:34 Speaker 2 

Quite often more interesting, quite frankly, than. 

00:16:36 Speaker 2 

Some of the stars these people have worked with, everybody they have anecdotes that just go on and on and on. 

00:16:44 Speaker 2 

And I presented a couple of these tapes to Sammy, and I said perhaps you’d like to have them because I did a four hour series with Sammy and he became very enthused about it and said, you know, it’s ironic, but there are many of these veteran songwriters that have never been interviewed. 

00:17:03 Speaker 2 

So with his great cooperation, the cooperation. 

00:17:05 Speaker 2 

Saw writers Hall of Fame, I embarked on interviewing as many of the songwriters as possible. 

00:17:10 Speaker 2 

Most of the interviews were done in New York. 

00:17:12 Speaker 2 

Some were done in California, and I think at last count, I’ve done. 

00:17:17 Speaker 2 

24 of them, and they’re all with the songwriters Hall of Fame and their archives. 

00:17:23 Speaker 1 

You know, when I think about what you’ve done with radio, the history of radio, you’ve used a microphone more or less as an interview medium as a way of telling a story. 

00:17:32 Speaker 2 

Yeah, that that’s very true, Phil. 

00:17:34 Speaker 2 

And I always felt that that a lot more could be done with radio than. 

00:17:42 Speaker 2 

Than was the common denominator, so to speak, and that the radio being the theater of the mind, as we all say. 

00:17:54 Speaker 2 

Could could could get into documentaries in a way the television couldn’t get into it. 

00:18:00 Speaker 2 

TV has the great advantage that you see the individual, their presence is there. 

00:18:08 Speaker 2 

Here in radio you’re able to go back and play all the original hit recordings, if if I’m doing an interview with the as I did with the wonderful old gentleman Irving Caesar, who’s 93 now, who wrote the words to Swanee with George Gershwin’s music, I can play Al Jolson doing the original version of Swanee. 

00:18:29 Speaker 2 

You can bring the past right into the presence and a great deal of that happens through the mind of the individual who is listening to the program. 

00:18:40 Speaker 1 

Who is listening to radio? 

00:18:41 Speaker 2 

Listening to Radio radio is. 

00:18:45 Speaker 2 

Well, it’s my medium, of course. 

00:18:47 Speaker 2 

I’ve done quite a bit of television. 

00:18:48 Speaker 2 

I enjoy television and and there is much to be said about television, but I think that radio still hasn’t fulfilled all its potential and there’s there’s a great future ahead for radio. 

00:19:02 Speaker 1 

This has been an interview with Gord Atkinson. 

00:19:04 Speaker 1 

Conducted in December 1987.