Chapter Nine

Lloyd Moffatt’s new radio station was to be called CKY. You’re right: I’ve mentioned those call letters before. They had been used only two years before by the Manitoba Telephone System station scooped up by the CBC, lock, stock and studios, and renamed CBW.

The new boys in town (Moffatt came from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan) obviously hoped to gain from the affection Manitobans retained for the old CKY and the many popular programs it had brought them.

But Lloyd Moffat’s CKY was nothing like the Manitoba Telephone System station. It had to struggle desperately to gain an audience, even after it lured the city’s most popular morning man, ‘Porky’ Charbonneau, away from a rival station.

I began work for the new CKY long before ‘Porky’ put them in the running. In fact, I was on the station’s payroll while its studios were still under construction. There were wood shavings on the floor here and there, and the furniture was being unpacked and assembled.

That’s when I was given good reason to describe Lloyd Moffatt as an old-fashioned ‘hands-on’ entrepreneur. While I was trying to learn my new trade by churning out dozens of sample commercials at my brand-new desk in the Continuity Room, Moffatt was nearby, squatting on the floor, laboring to put together another – desk, that is. He was still in suit and tie.

The challenge was to get the new station on the air by January first, 1950. We met the deadline – minus some of the double windows that separated the main control room from one of the studios.

Nineteen-fifty was the year a flood emptied entire neighborhoods in and around Winnipeg, including my own. It was the largest major evacuation in Canadian history: 100,000 people were forced to move. The sight of uprooted trees, bits of lumber and bloated animals racing by under a bridge only a block away made a deep impression on me. A few months later I left home.

It was while I was still at the new CKY, Winnipeg, that I learned that the industry had given birth to a national scourge: the Floating Disc Jockey. The best and quickest way to describe this pest is to put him where he deserved to be – on a Wanted poster.

WANTED

FOR FRAUD, EXTORTION, AND

CARNAL KNOWLEDGE OF A MINOR:

Be on the lookout for a male, clean-shaven except for the occasional disguise, usually a goatee or pencil-line moustache. Affects a deep voice for most attempts at deception, but normally speaks in the tenor range.

Last seen wearing well-worn oxblood loafers, bright red socks, grey or green tapered trousers, a double-breasted blazer with brass buttons, sunglasses, and a black beret.

Known to be extremely talkative and to change residences frequently, usually on or around midnight. Shuns early morning light.

Prefers large cities but will seek out smaller communities when in difficulty. Will misrepresent himself as a famous radio announcer with special knowledge of dance music and/or ‘jazz and/or ‘swing,’ but will accept any other radio function that brings him to public attention, especially that of under-age women.

Drives an older vehicle, often of a more visible color or combination of colors. Prefers the convertible, but has been known to use a station wagon with a mattress added to the cargo area. (See ‘Carnal Knowledge of a Minor’ above.)

MODUS OPERANDI: Begins a typical ‘sting’ by requesting a small loan, or some relatively innocuous sexual favor. Before the victim has realized that the same approach has been made to as many as twenty others in a given community, the perpetrator has moved on to another location.

CKY had only been on the air a matter of weeks before its first Floating Disc Jockey turned up in the reception area, waiting to see the Program Director. He flashed me a confident grin as I passed him on my way back to the Continuity Department from my morning coffee break. Minutes later I looked up from the commercial I was trying to compose to see that the Program Director was leading the stranger down the hall to the studio block. I guessed that an audition was about to take place.
I envied announcers. Compared to what I was doing – writing commercials – their function seemed to offer so much more in the way of challenge and prestige. And judging from the way they dressed, the pay had to be better.
What did it take to become an announcer? I saw this as a rare chance to find out, and started down the hall towards the control room attached to the studio in question. I remember taking a handful of commercials along in case our hard-nosed Program Director resented my attempt at eavesdropping; I could always tell him I had come seeking his advice about my work.
Slipping into the control room unobserved was easy because whatever noise I made coming through the airlock doors was drowned out by the newcomer’s voice. And what a voice! The prevailing rage in Canadian radio was Lorne Greene, the basso Canadian known then as “the Voice of Doom” because of the grim news he had imparted on national radio during the war years. (It was only much later that Greene dominated TV as the head honcho of the program “Bonanza.”)
And – wonder of wonders – the voice booming around the control room walls was a dead ringer for Greene’s, down to the same buzz saw delivery. I needn’t have worried about disturbing the Program Director with my unwarranted presence: he was looking for someone – anyone – to share his delight.
Needless to say, the newcomer was hired on the spot despite the fact that, at the time, the station had a full roster of announcers. The next day I saw one of them packing his belongings into a cardboard box. He’d been fired to make room for the Lorne Greene clone. For me, it was another hard lesson learned about commercial radio.
CKY’s first-ever Floating Disc Jockey lasted all of two weeks. One day he failed to turn up for his shift. Frantic enquiries uncovered a divorced wife in a distant city looking for child support, and any number of local tradesmen waving unpaid bills, but no F.D.J.

Of the original announcers at CKY, the most impressive was John O’Leary who soon moved on to the CBC, ending his career in Toronto as the host of CBC Radio’s The World at Six. John had started in radio at CKUA, the provincially owned Edmonton station the federal government had tried so hard to squash a few years earlier. It was still around and John had left a good impression there. When I confided in him that I lusted after his announcer role, John suggested that CKUA would be a good place or me to start. He even approached the station’s manager on my behalf. Was it John’s endorsement or someone’s unexpected departure – or a combination of both – that led CKUA to hire me sight unseen and without an audition? I’ll never know.

Accepting the job meant leaving home for a city I’d never seen, and putting myself at the mercy of strangers – not to mention a live microphone – on a regular basis. On the other hand, it would let me work out all the bugs where no one knew me. And bugs there were bound to be! No wonder I climbed aboard that CNR train for Edmonton with my heart in my mouth.

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