Murray Brown

Audio file 

brown -001_01.mp3 


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The interview which follows is with Murray Thompson Brown, considered a giant in the Canadian broadcasting industry. 

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Murray was born in Kitchener in 1917. His family moved to Amherstburg, where he attended high school, later to Toronto, where he went to Parkdale Collegiate and then studied at the University of Western Ontario. 

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He worked originally with Confederation Life, then two more business forms, and was transferred to London. 

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Eventually, he caught the fancy of Walter J Blackburn. 

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The gentleman who founded CFPL Broadcasting. 

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And Murray Brown became an employee of CFPL in the 40s, working his way from announcer, eventually to manager general manager and ultimately president. 

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He was responsible for AM and FM and when it was new, acquisition became also president of C KNX Broadcasting. 

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In Wingham. 

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He has been president of the Central Canada Broadcast Association, president of the CAB in 1960, was past president of the Kiwanis Club of London, was chairman of the United Way Campaign in 1973. In fact, he chaired the campaign on 2 occasions past president of the Canadian Advertising Advisory Board. 

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He received the Centennial Medal, was declared broadcaster of the year in 1975 and was honored by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters for his outstanding service to the broadcasting industry. 

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Murray Thomson Brown is still active, a member of the board of the Blackburn Group and is busy in community activities in London ON. 

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What led you into broadcast? 

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Actually, it was a freak. 

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I was doing some. 

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Broadcasting for fun on the Sundays with a friend of mine, about 1944 five and. 

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Walter Blackburn, who was the owner of the Free Press and Cpl. 

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came up one day and introduced himself and said he liked this kind of work and I said they do for a hobby. 

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Long story short, a hobby led to being a full time profession. 

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How how has radio changed? 

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What are some of the major differences between then and now? 

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I think the major difference is that used to. 

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Program programs. 

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Today it’s one continuous program and people listen to stations rather than listening to programs like the Happy Gang and the soap operas and so on. 

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I think that’s the fundamental difference in radio today. 

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In those early days, some of the individuals who went through the station through CFPL specifically were young and promising, and some of them attained that promise to who comes to. 

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Mind when you? 

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Think of performers such as that, announcers. 

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Well, Max Ferguson was one. 

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Went on to be Rawhide. 

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Don Wright started his famous Don Wright chorus there, and it was originally the CFL chorus. 

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The person who was interviewing me, Bill Brady. 

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Doug Traw went on to CKY and. 

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But there was never an board, but there never was a shortage. 

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Ohh Ward, Cornell. Yeah. 

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Of of of. 

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Young people who wanted to get into the business and the wages were pretty abysmal. 

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In those days, I think, yeah, I started at $40 a week and that was pretty good. It was good money because we were hiring younger girls for 25. 

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Was there sort of an ad hoc query in those days when it was? 

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Was it pretty informal? 

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I would say the radio itself, the production room was more stilted than it is today. 

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Demeanor around the station might have been a bit informal that he used to play terrible pranks, which you wouldn’t do today. 

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Worst defenders for guys like Doug Trowell and Max Ferguson. 

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Did awful thing. 

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Well, Ferguson was a very irreverent young man. 

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Was he? 

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He sure was. 

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Did anybody see that spark of genius that was? 

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To be later. 

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I think Doug Trowell spotted it. 

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And yet Ferguson will tell you that Doug Trawl was one of. 

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The funniest men. 

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That he ever. 

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You talked about programs that involved numbers of people, didn’t it wasn’t like today where a disc jockey just goes on the air. 

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Oral they used to have produced and they point finger at the you know behind the screen and they always had an operator. 

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Nobody operated their own show. 

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So the change that has come in over has been very gradual. 

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You’d almost hardly notice it happening, I would guess. 

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I think after. 

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Chum introduced the 1st. 

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What do they call it Top 40 and? 

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When the station started. 

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Yeah, I guess it was gradual. 

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When I think about it. 

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FMS changed dramatically. 

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You were at the vanguard of FM in Canada. 

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You were one of the first innovators. 

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But we didn’t do any separate programs about 50. 

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I think then it was a couple of hours of classical music and it never got off the ground. 

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Well, you know better than I’d hoped few years ago. 

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But FM at the beginning was really an elitist kind of. 

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Very much and mostly classical music. 

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There weren’t much set penetration. 

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That’s one of the reasons it didn’t catch on and it was used in the wrong way. 

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Let’s talk for a little bit. 

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About the the regulatory stream, you’ve seen that change, I guess at the beginning it. 

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Was CBC responsible? 

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And it was all the criticism from the broadcasters at that time about it. 

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Life was pretty good. 

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Was life easier then? 

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Uh, I think so. 

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You know, they used to say the better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. 

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And the CBC was was easy to live with in principle. 

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It was wrong. 

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It was called judge and jury. 

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But it worked. 

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Not whether it would work today with so many stations, but in the late 40s it worked well. 

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Was your relationship reasonably good with the with the corporation? 

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At that time. 

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Yeah, because you were. 

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Both you were. 

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Both a station affiliate station right as well as subservient to their regulatory agenda. 

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But it worked. 

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They had a lot. 

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Of power, but they never used. 

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Really, in. 

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To our detriment. 

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OK, well, then they disappeared from view as a regulatory body. 

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And and what was next? 

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We have the Board of Broadcast governors. 

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And it was a fairly informal board. 

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Three paid members in the 12. 

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Non paid. 

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And they operated with a staff of order 100 people all told in Ottawa. And what’s the CRCC now? 1000 at least. 

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And and it was it, but it too. 

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It formalized some of the regulatory agenda didn’t. 

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It ohh yes. Yeah and. 

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As I say the. 

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Procedures were. 

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Less formal, but I that’s understand. 

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I don’t criticize the CRC for that because they had to take over the telephone systems and so on, so that they’ve taken a lot more under their wing. 

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This was pre television too, wasn’t it? 

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When the BG opened up? 

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Came into being in 57, when Diefenbaker was swept into power and. 

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The Conservatives had always supported a separate regulatory body, so they introduced it in 57. Were they pretty reasonable? Yeah, I thought so. Did the hearings. There were hearings be done. 

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At that time. 

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But much less. 

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Less formal than today. 

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Less use of lawyers, although that seems to me. 

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They have counsel. 

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During that period, stations like CFPL and many others across the country, Dr. Rice’s station, the big CJR in Vancouver, CJD, CFCF, CFRB. There were giants and then medium sized stations like. 

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This one the competition was different, wasn’t it? 

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You you tended to not be as concerned about revenues in those? 

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Days. Is that correct? 

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Didn’t they just heard here? 

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I I don’t. 

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I don’t ever remember not being concerned about revenues. 

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There’s less pressure, though, perhaps. 

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I’m not really clear on your question as well. 

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I’m not clear on either, but I guess what I’m saying is because of the the less competition in the in even the major markets, the big stations managed to. 

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Survived very nicely with a handsome brother. 

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Oh yes. 

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Was less pressure on the owners, and the and subsequent, at least on the management, from the owners to to produce big revenue numbers because there was. 

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Then and profits, because the expenses were not anything. 

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Like they are today. 

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So so radio. 

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Has changed in many ways with regulatory and competition has increased. 

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You look at it now in hindsight and was it, was it better than? 

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I don’t think so. 

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A lot of people my age say yes. 

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It was. 

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They talked about the Golden Age of radio. 

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I think radio is better today in total than it was far better than it was in. 

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Those days, was it difficult for some of your colleagues to accept some of the inevitable changes? 

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Things like programming. 

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But in, by the very nature of being innovative, though, the the the big names in Canadian broadcasting have made those adjustments. 

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Yeah, that’s right. 

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Let’s talk about the regulatory system as it exists today, because you’ve already told us it’s changed a lot from the original sort of informal to a much more formal structure, partly due to, I suppose, to the sheer number of stations you’ve been dealing with the CRC for a long time now since it’s inception. 

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What’s happening? 

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Are they improving or are they staying the same things better or worse than they were when? 

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They first came in. 

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Well, having been semi retired for about four years, I’m not as close to Commission activities as I was. 

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I think. 

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That counts. 

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Legal counsel plays a much bigger part than it did. 

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Relationships are less. 

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Personal they’re much more impersonal today and that, I guess, was. 

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Bound to be. 

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I think the Commission is, is fair, I think they just caught get caught on on red tape. 

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That’s one of the big problems. 

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One of the difficult milestones, I guess for the industry for many stations, including this one was the cross media ownership debate. 

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Was that a difficult time for the? 

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Yeah, it’s very difficult. 

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It was a very sensitive issue, particularly with the with the Blackburn family. 

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Who felt very strongly about it because they felt they were operating in the public good for the public good and it was unjust. 

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That’s behind us now, but it was a. 

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Very difficult time. 

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Do you? 

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Do you see that the CRC may have been intimidated by by government? 

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Cabinet makes a direction that certainly a regulatory body has to follow. 

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Well, that’s alright. 

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They didn’t really have any choice. 

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There was the. 

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Either came down from cabinet and they had to to act upon it and it was very fuzzy with the wording and it it did leave a note. 

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But as you know, since then there was the. 

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Collection of the current. 

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PC government that whole thing has been eliminated. 

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And that it’s. 

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Quite possible to to handle each case on its own marriage. 

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I don’t think you need it. 

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I’m sure in the states they have certain regulations about newspapers can only own a certain number of things, but. 

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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

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Isn’t that what they say? 

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Let’s talk for a minute about the. 

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The people in the industry who you admire and respect, and I’m I’m thinking of of some of your colleagues with whom you work. 

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Some are retired, some are active. 

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They’ve made genuine contributions that go above and beyond or beyond what you’d expect an owner to do. 

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And you think who comes to mind. 

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Well, of course, one of the great broadcasters was the late Don James and I think he was an outstanding broadcaster and. 

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Everybody knows what happened from then in politics he was very successful, but he was a great broadcaster. 

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The gallon waters is a great broadcaster in terms of the businessman, broadcaster, what he accomplished by buying this little station in Toronto and making a go of it, and then building an empire. 

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And he started from nothing and borrowed some money from the Royal Bank. 

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And I guess only like that full marks. 

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You know, Waters is known in the industry as having great integrity and you’ve seen that over the years. 

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Yes, I’ve known Alan very well personally and have great admiration for him. 

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And then there are other great broadcasters of different types of Conrad. 

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Levine was a great broadcaster from Timmins. 

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And that was a tougher Rd. 

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to hoe. 

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Up there and. 

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He he was a broadcaster in the sense of being a great personality. 

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And there were the people in the past, like the tiny elf fix and so on were great guys in their. 

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Time and you are a member of an infamous. 

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Group for a while that we heard. 

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A lot of. 

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The rat pack. 

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How’d that all get started? 

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Well, it really got started when Jameson became. 

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President of the CAB and John Pouliotte and Alan Waters were the two vice presidents. I was immediate past President Roy Chapman, now deceased, was on the board and Ralph Snelgrove. 

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And somehow we grew together because Don was president for four years, so that group stayed together. 

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And we used to as well as we were involved in so many meetings, and our wives got to know each other and we’ve become known as the rat pack. 

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But it was pretty effective that it did some pretty good work. 

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The difference between AM and FM is more than programming and and technical, but you’ve seen the fortunes of FM. 

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Rise and what are do you have? 

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Did you have you had any concern over the years about what might happen to AM stations in Canada? 

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No, to be honest about it, I know that’s a concern. 

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Now, I must say, when I was more involved, I was concerned whether FM was going to make it. 

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I have to admit that. 

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And now the pendulum has changed. 

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I think AM. 

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It always happens spot. 

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But you know the if the stereo and stereo ever gets off the ground, if they get receivers out there, it’s the same damn thing all over again. 

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That FM went through. 

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Big business is really playing a major role in broadcasting. 

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Now you see stations changing ownership, the influence of people like Slate and Bassett, and so. 

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Errors and Doctor Rice is station sold and so forth and and stations some Giants as well as some small ones. 

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Yeah. So. 

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In fact, indeed, many small ones ends up in the end up in the hands of fairly big companies. 

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Is that good or bad for the industry? 

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Well, I’d like to think it it’s it’s bad looking at the past when it was a happy relationship with everybody, there were so many individual owners. 

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But I think it had to happen building the problems of the states. 

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You know, when people die. 

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It that was the natural evolution that the big we’re going to get bigger. 

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And I think in actual practice now we know that probably the operations are better run than they were under the individual owners. 

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I think the people like the standards that chums Western basset baton and so on when they buy stations, they do a good job in running it. 

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So I guess it’s not all bad. 

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In fact, I would say on. 

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It’s probably the best answer. 

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What other answer is there? 

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You know we’re one of. 

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The few have stayed. 

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Under the same ownership. 

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Very few left. 

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But we too have grown and we’re part of a much bigger than we were, that’s. 

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Organization, yes. 

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What about television? 

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Visa via radio. 

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You you are. 

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You’re one of the people in the industry who’s had both because you opened CFPL television here in the 50s, but you’d had a long career in radio before that. 

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You must have some strong feelings about one medium over the other. 

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They’re not strong feelings, Bill. 

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I think they’re fairly normal. 

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Best is to give you my own pattern of listening and viewing in the morning. 

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I’m always have the radio on. 

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I want to know what’s going on. 

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And it’s alive. It’s alert. 

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In the evening I want to watch entertainment or I want to watch news. 

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And that’s it to me. 

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Radio is something I like in my car. 

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Like it in the. 

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Morning comes evening. 

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I’ll watch television. 

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But I watch it for entertainment and for news. 

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Of course you didn’t answer my question because. 

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Hi Downing Part is a radio man who became involved in TV as part of a natural evolution, but there’s a deep affection for radio within people of your vintage who have been who have come up through radio because that was. 

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Where you began that fair statement. 

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Yes, but not in a nostalgic way, though. 

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I like radio for what it is today, and at my age. 

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People are amazed that I like the music that we’re playing, particularly on. 

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I like the new music. 

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Not all of it. 

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You know I. 

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Can’t go with these people who’ve got to be listening back to the big band sound of 40 years ago. 

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The musicians today it’s different, but the quality of music is quite superb. 

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He wouldn’t want to be back in those. 

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Old days of radio and it was a struggle. 

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No, no, no, it’s. 

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It was great. 

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Then, I suppose the greatest thrill I got, Bill was. 

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I used to announce Speaking of the big bands. They used to come to the London Arena. We used to broadcast 1/2 an hour and I was the one that did the used to stand up with the great band leaders and M see 1/2 hour show that was a big, big thrill in my life, you know, with Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. 

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All those people it was. 

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So notwithstanding your disclaimer, a little nostalgia is fine as. 

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Long as it’s in perspective right here. 

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You you’ve demonstrated great leadership over the years and and there’s a lot of young, many younger men coming along. 

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In the business. 

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Some with little or no radio background as a matter. 

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Of fact is that is that. 

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Good to bring new people into the industry, younger new people. 

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I mean, bring them into television with. 

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Both radio and TV. 

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Well, I don’t think many that get brought in Bill unless they’ve been at least two our community colleges now, I don’t think you ever hire anybody. 

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Now that hasn’t been through a Community College. 

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But the new young people are bright, aren’t. 

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They don’t. You. 

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Think, oh, you bet. 

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And you see them in higher councils in broadcasting too and they’re really movers. 

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I see them in your own operation here. 

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Very bright young people. 

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Would you change anything if you could go back and do it again? 

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A stupid question, by the way, because we can’t do that. 

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But everybody has moments when they say I wish I had done this. 

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I wish I had. 

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Well, I suppose the one thing I wish I would have done was to apply for my own television station instead of applying for it on behalf of another owner. 

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But that was a decision I made and I went with them and. 

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I’ve been happy with it, but. 

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I’ve probably been a very wealthy man. 

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Notwithstanding your lack of wealth. 

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You are a happy man and to what do you attribute the fact that you’ve stayed well and productive and certainly make a major contribution still due to your index? 

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What’s what makes that happen in some and not in others? 

00:20:02 Speaker 2 

Well, I think part of it, I think you start well if you’re physically healthy, that helps, then very important you be mentally healthy and. 

00:20:10 Speaker 2 

I’ve worked with a lot of good people like yourself, and particularly since I retired or semi retired being an adjacent office to Someone Like You keeps me in touch with the real world. 

00:20:21 Speaker 2 

That’s what’s going on and I have certain challenges. 

00:20:26 Speaker 2 

Keeps me young. 

00:20:31 Speaker 2 

It’s it’s. 

00:20:32 Speaker 2 

It’s your mental outlook. 

00:20:34 Speaker 1 

What about the future for radio? 

00:20:35 Speaker 1 

Not just AM, but both of the future of radio. 

00:20:40 Speaker 1 

Good help. 

00:20:40 Speaker 2 

Ohh yes I think so. 

00:20:44 Speaker 2 

Sure, there’s more fragmentation, but. 

00:20:47 Speaker 2 

So what? 

00:20:47 Speaker 2 

It’s radios, radio, and you’re going to have more. 

00:20:51 Speaker 2 

Forms of it. 

00:20:53 Speaker 2 

I don’t think a great deal more than what we have now we’ve got. 

00:20:58 Speaker 2 

AM and FM. 

00:20:59 Speaker 2 

You’ve got all talk. 

00:21:00 Speaker 2 

You’ve got various types of music. 

00:21:02 Speaker 2 

I don’t know whether what other dimensions can be added to it. 

00:21:06 Speaker 1 

But it’s going to go on. 

00:21:07 Speaker 1 

No, I don’t. 

00:21:08 Speaker 1 

And but it’s going to go on and. 

00:21:09 Speaker 1 

Continue to be viable. 

00:21:11 Speaker 1 

Now ask me what’s all of it? 

00:21:12 Speaker 2 

And that’s a different story. 

00:21:13 Speaker 2 

I don’t know where that’s going. 

00:21:15 Speaker 2 

Because they’re all from many different types of channels. 

00:21:19 Speaker 1 

And technically, there’s the sky zone under pressure. 

00:21:21 Speaker 2 

Literally and figuratively. 

00:21:23 Speaker 1 

It’s been a. 

00:21:24 Speaker 2 

Good life. 

00:21:25 Speaker 2 

I wouldn’t have changed it.