VOCM-AM, Local News Now, St. John’s

Stingray Group Inc.

VOCM-AM201859050,000Stingray Group Inc.
VOCM-AM200059020,000Newcap Inc.
VOCM-AM198559020,000Newfoundland Broadcasting Co. Ltd.
VOCM-AM198259010,000Newfoundland Broadcasting Co. Ltd.
VOCM-AM195859010,000Colonial Broadcasting System Ltd.
VOCM-AM19495901,000Colonial Broadcasting System Ltd.
VOCM-AM19371005250Colonial Broadcasting System Ltd.
VOCM-AM1936100525Walter Williams Sr & Jr. – Atlantic Broadcasting Co.


Walter B. Williams, Jr. was very interested in radio, so he went to the U.S. where he received training at the Radio Corporation of America and the Radio Training Schools. Following his training, he obtained an American  license to operate commercial radio. When he returned to Newfoundland, he was issued a license on December 22, 1933, by the Newfoundland Post & Telegraph Department in the name of Atlantic Broadcasting Co. to operate a station from his father’s home (second floor) at 80 Circular Road, using the call sign VOCM. The station’s antenna was built in the back yard of the family home and the technical equipment was placed in a back room on the ground floor. With transmitter and other equipment built by Walter Jr., VOCM began operations as an experimental station, operating a few hours a day. Walter’s father (Walter B. Sr.) and brother Gordon were also involved in VOCM.


St. John’s Mayor, Andrew Carnell officially opened VOCM for commercial broadcasting on October 19th at 8 p.m.

The station was still owned by Walter Banks Williams. Studios were in the old Manual Training School on Parade Street. The station operated on a frequency of 1005 kHz with a power of 250 watts. The call letters didn’t really stand for anything, but on opening night, Mayor Carnell jokingly said VOCM represented “Voice of Carnell Mayor”. It would be later on that “Voice Of The Common Man” would be adopted as the slogan represented by the call sign.

Joseph L. Butler joined Walter B. Williams Jr. and Sr. as a partner in VOCM. Butler and Williams Jr. had met at RCA. When they decided to partner, Butler had been working at VONF Radio. Williams Jr. was great with the technical stuff but not the business side. Butler had some technical knowledge but was better with the business side of things. 


On April 30, Walter B. Williams Sr. and Jr., and Joseph Butler, officially formed The Colonial Broadcasting System Ltd. It was incorporated on this date as a limited liability company.  


Under the Havana Treaty VOCM was to operate on 1010 kHz (Class II) with power of 100 watts as of March 29. This assignment was accepted by Canada provided the power was not increased (Canada had priority use of the channel).


J.L. Butler was manager. 


VOCM’s main competitor was the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland’s VONF. VOCM was non-network and operated largely on local business from St. John’s merchants and industries. BCN was more active in the national advertising field.


Newfoundland joined Canada where call letters began with the letter “C”. As part of joining Confederation, existing Newfoundland radio stations having “V” call signs would be allowed to keep them. Any new stations that signed on the air in the new province after this, would have to have the standard Canadian “C” call sign. Stations owned by the Dominion Broadcasting Co. came under the ownership of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., and adopted the standard CBC call sign, starting with the letters “CB”. 

To mark the province’s joining Confederation, a number of stations from across the country supplied VOCM with special programming. “Town Meeting of the Air” came from CJOR Vancouver and would continue to air on VOCM on a regular basis. There was an address from the mayor of Nelson, B.C., provided by station CKLN. CHAB Moose Jaw offered a program of western music. There was a five minute talk from CJGX in Yorkton. CKVL Verdun provided 15 minutes of Hal Stubbs and Corey Thompson. There were also greetings from CKCW Moncton, CKSF Cornwall, CKCK Regina, CJBR Rimouski and CKLW Windsor.

VOCM obtained new studios in the heart of the business district. The station occupied the entire top floor of the Pope Building on Water Street.

VOCM found that a 1,000 watt non-directional transmitter would deliver better coverage than the 500 watt directional system applied for. The station would go ahead with a 1,000 watt proposal. VOCM’s application for a power increase was deferred by the CBC Board.

“The Barrelman” moved from CBN (VONF) to VOCM as of June 24. The program was originated by the Hon. J.R. Smallwood twelve years earlier. Michael Harrington would now be featured in the premier’s place on the show.

VOCM was carrying Newfoundland baseball games this season.

VOCM became a member of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.

The CBC Board again turned down VOCM’s request for a power increase.


VOCM applied to increase power from 250 to 1,000 watts and change frequency from 1000 to 590 kHz. The CBC Board approved the changes. 

VOCM made the move to 590 kHz and increased power to 1,000 watts. A single 278 foot radiator, producing a non-directional signal, was located at Rossland. An ad promoting the changes: Now! More than ever… Newfoundland’s Very Outstanding Commercial Medium. 1,000 watts. Realize Rapid Results by Using VOCM’s powerful facilities. 590 on the dial.

VOCM introduced fixed frequency receivers in Capital Bus Line vehicles, allowing passengers to listen to the station while on the buses.


Mengie Shulman was national sales manager.

Slogan: VOCM “Newfoundland’s Own”. First with the Finest at 590 on the dial.


Slogan: VOCM listeners know we’re the friendly 590 station.

Denys Ferry was named program director. He had been with CFOS in Owen Sound.


Joseph L. Butler, managing director of VOCM was killed in a July plane crash. After announcing the news of his death, the station left the air for the rest of the evening. Butler began his radio career as a wireless operator in 1919. After teaching radio in Boston, he returned to Newfoundland in 1932 and became associated with The Dominion Broadcasting Co. (VONF – now CBN). He later acquired control of VOCM. 


VOCM 590 had a power of 1,000 watts and was an independent station with nonetwork affiliation. Ownership of Colonial Broadcasting System Limited: Mrs. E. M. Butler 59.5%, W. B. Williams, Jr. 26.5%, W. B. Williams, Sr. 13.0%, J. V. Butler 0.5% and H. N. Butler 0.5%. 

Walter B. Williams was president of the company and chief engineer for the VOCM stations. Harold N. Butler was VOCM’s manager and Joseph V. Butler was assistant manager and program director.


On March 1 a freezing rain storm hit St. John’s and toppled some of the antenna towers for both CBN and VOCM, knocking them off the air. CJON was the only commercial station left but it transmitted an intermitant signal and could only be heard on battery operated radios because hydro was knocked out across the city. CJON-TV and its repeater, CJOX-TV Argentia, were also off the air. VOCM returned to the air the following day. CJON staff had to walk five miles to the transmitter site to broadcast because the power was out at the studios. After VOCM lost its tower the station held a contest which had listeners guess the height of the new (replacement) tower. Mrs. Harry Tobin was the winner and guessed exactly right – 1,037 feet. 

590 VOCM received federal permission to increase daytime power output from 1,000 to 10,000 watts. Night-time power would remain 1,000 watts.

Joseph V. Butler, son of Joseph L., acquired control of Colonial Broadcasting System Ltd. He had been station manager. W.B. Williams was president and Harold N. Butler was managing director.

On September 1, VOCM increased power to 10,000 watts during the mid-day news, sponsored by Harvey & Co. Ltd., the company that presented the first sponsored program on the station in 1936. Harold N. Butler introduced Edward Craniford, a director of Harvey & Co., who said, “VOCM, now ten thousand watts”, officially marking the switch of transmitters and the increase in power. Two 282 foot towers were used. The station continued to produce a non-directional signal during daytime hours and now used a directional pattern for night-time operation. 


Some of the staff and management: Jim Butler, Charlie Noseworthy, Bob Cole, Roy Pike, Noel Vinicombe, Harold Butler, Bill Evans, Dave Bastow, Peter Williams and Edgar Squires. Edgar Squires and Jim Browne were VOCM sportscasters.  


Colonial opened two new satellite stations: CHCM Marystown and CKCM Grand Falls.


Studios were now at McBride’s Hill. Transmitter: Rossland, St. John’s.


Colonial Broadcasting’s application for a new AM station at Corner Brook was turned down.

Walter B. Williams was president of Colonial Broadcasting System Ltd. and chief engineer for the VOCM stations. Joseph V. Butler was vice president and managing director. Bill Willamson was operations manager.


CKGA Gander opened. 

Slogans: Canada’s most unique station. / Canada’s unique radio station.

VOCM subscribed to the Standard Broadcast News service. SBN received direct feeds from NBC New York by broadband.


Ad: It’s now that counts and now the reach medium in St. John’s is V.O.C.M. Canada’s unique radio station. Don’t wait. Sell now on V.O.C.M. 590.


CKIM Baie Verte went on the air. 


Peter Tuff was at VOCM. Ron Pumphrey left VOCM for CJCH Halifax.


VOCM founder Walter Banks Williams passed away at age 62 on September 28. From the beginning in 1936, until he retired two years ago, he was chief engineer. He then became a consulting engineer for VOCM. In addition to his engineering work, he served as President of the company from 1960 to 1962 and Chairman from 1965 to 1967.


CKVO Clarenville began broadcasting


Colonial’s application for a new AM station (850 kHz with 10,000 watts) at Corner Brook was denied. . The CRTC felt a new station would adversely affect the Humber Valley group (CFCB).


CHVO Carbonear opened in October.


Colonial Broadcasting System Ltd. was now also operating under the name Radio Newfoundland Ltd.


On April 14, VOCM lost its twin 278 foot towers due to a build-up of ice. The west tower collapsed at 10:31 a.m. and the east tower went down at 5:17 p.m. At 11:58 the next morning, VOCM was back on the air, using a nearby 250 foot FM tower and a standby 1,000 watt transmitter, moved to the FM site. The entire staff had helped to lay 17,000 feet of ground wire in just half an hour. Later in the day, non-commercial VOWR offered its facilities to VOCM, and a few days later, VOCM took up the offer as problems had now developed at the temporary (FM) tower. VOWR’s standby transmitter and tower had to be retuned to VOCM’s 590 kHz and an STL had to be installed. During all of this, VOCM was authorized by the Department of Communications to operate with a non-directional pattern. VOCM’s replacement towers were up and operational in the summer. 


On January 15, a fire destroyed one of VOCM’s tuning huts at the transmitter site. The station remained on the air using one tower.

VOCM received CRTC approval on July 31 to increase full-time power from 10,000 watts to 20,000 watts.


Gerry Phelan was news director.


VOAR 1230 received CRTC permission to continue its temporary use of one of VOCM’s towers, which it had been sharing since its own tower was downed in a January, 1985 storm. However, if the use was to be permanent, VOAR was to apply for an installation that conformed with DOC standards by the end of the year.


Randy Simms was director of community affairs.


Denys Ferry, former vice president of VOCM passed away. He retired from VOCM in 1988 after 36 years with the station (1952-1988).


NewCap announced plans to buy all VOCM Radio Newfoundland stations (VOCM-AM/Magic 97 St. John’s, CKVO Clarenville, CHVO Carbonear, CHCM Marystown, CKGA Gander, CKCM Grand Falls/Windsor and CKIM Baie Verte). The deal would bring the VOCM stations together with Newcap’s CJYQ group in the province. 

Gerry Phelan was news director.


VOCM-AM, VOCM-FM and their repeaters in Clarenville, Grand Falls, Baie Verte, Carbonear, Marystown and Gander owned by VOCM Radio were sold to Newcap Broadcasting Ltd. in May. 


On April 2 the sale of Humber Valley Broadcasting Co. Ltd. (CFCB Corner Brook and its rebroadcast stations) to Newcap Inc. was approved. 

Gerry Phelan was news director. Brian O’Connell was morning man. 


Shawn Basha became Chief Engineer at Steele Communications in Newfoundland & Labrador on March 1. Basha was the Director of Engineering at CHUM Halifax. He stepped into his new job to succeed Harold Steele, who retired December 31 after 35 years with Steele Communications and the stations’ previous owners.

Former VOCM announcer Dave Wheeler (retired) passed away on November 27 at the age of 63. He worked on-air at radio and television in Newfoundland and Labrador from the ‘60s through the ‘90s and also served as mayor of Torbay. 

Elmer Harris passed away at age 71. Harris was senior vice-president of VOCM and for over 40 years was an integral part of the station. He was the first Newfoundlander elected as the national president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada and was among the first in the country to receive the RTNDA Lifetime Achievement Award. 


In May, Jay Lawrence was named program director at 590 VOCM. After 27 years as news director, Gerry Phelan left VOCM.

Gerry Phelan, long-time VOCM news director, left the company. He led the VOCM news department for 27 years. Brian Madore succeeded Phelan. He had been assistant news director. Madore had been with Steele Communications full-time since 2003, and off and on since 1984. John Reynolds added assistant news director to his duties (programming and on-air).


Harold Steele died in May at the age of 65. Steeleworked for VOCM for more than 30 years, 10 of which he was Chief Engineer. He was also with CHVO Carbonear for several years. Steele was credited with having superior technological skills, particularly in circuit boards and transmitters.

Dennis Dillon, the Retail Sales Manager at Steele Communications in St. John’s, added Station Manager duties for 103.9 FM KIXX Country Carbonear and Sales Manager responsibilities for VOCM St. John’s. He succeeded Darlene Myers who moved to Newcap Radio Halifax as an Account Manager.


Jay Lawrence, a 20-year radio veteran and Program Director at 590 VOCM was no longer with Newcap Radio/Steele Communications. In his seven years with Newcap, Lawrence was also PD at CHFT Fort McMurray from his base in St. John’s and initially moved to Newcap to become APD/MD at CKRA/CIRK Edmonton from his PD’s gig at CHUM Radio Brockville.

VOCM General Manager Mike Murphy apologized on-air for an insult directed at a band council chief by one of the station’s open line hosts. Randy Simms, in the heat of the moment, erupted with; “I said you’re stupid and you are, you know that, right?” Murphy described Simms’s behaviour as “unprofessional and offensive.” For his part, Simms said he let the discussion descend into name-calling rather than sticking to the topic, for which he apologized.

Randy Simms, the VOCM talk show host who came under fire for remarks he made during an interview with a tribal chief, retired from the open line program. He’d been in broadcasting for 40 years. Simms was also the mayor of Mount Pearl, a St. John’s suburb.

Fred Hutton became news director at VOCM. He’d been with CJON-TV since 1990, working his way up from general assignment reporting through anchoring to assistant ND and, lastly, to ND in 2008. 


Bas Jamieson passed away at age 85. He began his broadcast career in 1958 and hosted a variety of open line shows in St. John’s during his 40-year career. He was the brother of Don Jamieson, co-founder (with Geoff Stirling) of CJON-AM-TV.


Mike Critch passed away at age 93. He was a reporter with VOCM for over 20 years beginning in the 1960s and was known for his distinctive style and presentation. Mike was also the father of comedian Mark Critch and radio announcer Mike Campbell. 


Ron M. Ryan, 59, passed away September 15. Ryan started out in radio in 1999 as vice-president of sales for Newcap Newfoundland. He went on to become general manager of Newcap Radio Halifax and VP of Operations for Atlantic Canada from 2008 to 2013.


Rodney French (73) died June 18. French was a news reporter and hockey broadcaster with VOCM in the 1970s and 80s.

VOCM news reporter Meech Kean died at age 27 on August 18.

On October 23, the CRTC approved an application by Newfoundland Capital Corporation Limited, on behalf of Newcap Inc. and its licensed broadcasting subsidiaries, for authorization to effect a change in the ownership and effective control of various radio and television broadcasting undertakings in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador, so that effective control of the undertakings would be exercised by Eric Boyko (Stingray Digital Group Inc.). Stingray took ownership of the stations just a few days later.


Adrian Graham died January 1 at the age of 66. Graham started his career in the early 1970s  at CHCM Marystown. For many years he hosted the morning show. In the early 1980s, he moved over to VOCM as an announcer. Graham retired in the early 2000s after a more than 30-years in broadcasting.

Ron Pumphrey, 87, died on January 8. He was the longtime host of Open Line and Nightline on VOCM.

In January, Vince Gallant announced he would retire after 65 years in radio and television, including the last 35 at VOCM. He started his career at CJRW Summerside in 1954. He moved on to Charlottetown, ATV  Halifax, CKGM Montreal, NTV and CJYQ in St. John’s. Gallant received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the RTDNA in 2005.

The story continues elsewhere…
Effective September 1st 2019, we will only be adding new material to these station histories in exceptional circumstances. Our intent to chronicle the early days of these radio and television stations has been achieved, and many new sources and technologies, from the CRTC website to Wikipedia, and others, are now regularly providing new information in these areas.

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