Radio-radio I'd sit alone and watch your light. My only friend through teenage nights. And everything I had to know I heard it on my radio. Radio Ga Ga, Queen
Remember when radio was good?
Radio’s glory days were from the ’20s to ’50s, the heyday of scripted radio. In the mid-twentieth century, unregulated US radio operated in Mexico, their powerful antennas broadcasting the mysterious Wolfman Jack as far north as Canada (listen to his show here). And in the UK, ’60s pirate radio originating from the open seas played the rock music banned by the BBC (listen to their jingle ads here).
By the ’80s and ’90s, when I was a growing up in suburban Toronto, radio had been regulated to playing mostly music. As a teen, I loved radio shows idiosyncratic for a kid my age, and they became a staple of my adolescence. Here are some of my favourite Toronto radio shows of the ’90s.
Sunday Night Funnies
Today Toronto’s CHUM FM is a painful experience, a henous blend of adult contemporary and dance music. So it may come as a surprise to younger listeners that in the ’70s, CHUM FM had an eclectic format, playing an international playlist of music that probably inspired then CHUM FM deejay David Marsden to develop The Spirit of Radio at the Edge a few years later.
For me, Sunday evenings on CHUM FM stuck out. For three hours, CHUM lifted the needles off the LPs and went straight to talk. The first two hours–8 to 10 PM–were the Sunday Night Funnies, hosted by Rick Hodge (remember him?) Hodge sampled comedy albums. He played a who’s who of comedians: (pre-allegation) Bill Cosby, Jeff Foxworthy, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Monty Python. In particular, I remember one Sunday driving down from the cottage with my family and listening to a Monty Python sketch that spoofed the double meaning of the British English word “fag.”
Hodge, who was also part of the station’s Roger, Rick, and Marilyn morning show, amassed a huge collection of comedy, painstakingly editing it for radio broadcast. When Hodge was asked to play younger comics who “live and die by the ‘F’ bomb, [they] allow[ed] me to let that word go into their bits…and we only received one complaint.”
Theatre of the Mind
This was my all-time favourite radio show. It also aired on Sundays on CHUM FM, from 11PM to midnight, playing scripted radio shows from the ’30s to ’50. It included classics: Dragnet, The Green Hornet, Superman, Harry Lime, Gang Busters, Boston Blackie, The Shadow, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly. The first time I stumbled upon Theatre of the Mind, it was the summer going into grade 6, and after playing with friends all day, I went to my bedroom and turned and an eerie episode of the sci-fi serial X Minus One. It focused on a man who had travelled to the future in which everybody was living through a fallout from a nuclear war. I was hooked and when I was in high school, I stayed up late to listen to Theatre of the Mind, regardless of how tired it would make me for school Monday morning.
Sunday Night Sex Show
How can this long-time Toronto staple go unmentioned? Airing on Toronto rock station Q107 for years, the Sunday Night Sex Show was the source of sex ed for Toronto teens of the ’80s and ’90s. Sue Johanson, a registered nurse and grandmother, originally worked as a sex educator at Toronto-area high schools. After being noticed for her frank discussions and great stage presence, Johanson became a sex-advice radio host in a time when you couldn’t google “cock ring.” When I was a teenager, Johanson was my primary source of sex knowledge; her frank talk (“Oh, honey, don’t take the whole penis in your mouth!”) was an eye opener for teens who had nowhere else to turn to.
Interestingly, Johanson became a celebrity across North America in the 2000s, when she hosted call-in sex tv shows (watch her appearance on Letterman here).
Six O’clock Rock Report
Before Q107 lost its focus in the mid-’90s, it was the go-to station for rock enthusiasts. And part of its reputation came from the Six O’Clock Rock Report, airing weekday evenings. Broadcasting from the ’80s to the mid-’90s, then afternoon rock host John Derringer was joined by Joey Vendetta for an hour of interviews with rock musicians large and small, including Page and Plant, Clapton, Blue Rodeo, and Crash Test Dummies (I remember a hilarious show during which the hosts reviewed the Crash Test Dummies’ huge album, God Shuffled His Feet, and Derringer, with his wry sarcastic humour, criticized the title of their single Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm).
A couple of episodes stood out for me, including an entire episode devoted to the memory of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, and another episode, which aired on a Friday afternoon in August, when guest host Doug Gilmour, then the captain of a successful Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, was invited to play his favourite songs; Gilmour was in awe of the size of Q107’s music collection.
Talking about shows the Mighty Q should air again, Barometer is another one. A rare talk and news show airing on an FM station, Barometer was hosted for most of its ten-year-plus run by Q107’s news director, Bill Carroll. Airing on weekday afternoons, it typically featured two 20- to 25-minute interviews. The show was popular enough that Carroll opened the show up to a love studio audience on Fridays (in high school I hosted a German exchange student, whom I took to one taping).
I remember one hilarious incident during which Carrol interviewed a carpenter Carroll deemed sexist. The carpenter had written a how-to book for simple projects, like making shelves. When the carpenter continually said “I’ll teach her how to hold a hammer. I’ll show her how to hit a nail,” Carroll yelled and kicked him off the show.
Barometer became a victim of the changing radio scene. With AM radio becoming increasingly devoted to talk radio, Q107 moved its talk programming to AM640, and Barometer was cancelled. But as a high school student, I spent many lunches listening to Barometer on my walkman, earning it a spot on my list of favourite shows of yesteryear.