CHUM in the Beginning

In the beginning, there was CHUM.  For young people growing up in Toronto during the 50's, 60's and 70's, 1050 CHUM was something of a religion.  One that defined pop music and pop culture.  For many of us there is a certain reverence for the songs that are interwoven with memories of the era.  There was an energy, innocence and enthusiasm that has given way to more cynical times.  As Bob Seger once said, "I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."  On a tough day, it's easy to feel like that.

In 1957 Allan Waters launched hit radio in Canada with the debut of CHUM.  It is difficult to estimate the full impact of the station's influence in the years that followed.  For Canadian artists, making the hallowed FHUM Chart meant that their careers were taking off.  Listeners enthusiastically picked up their free copies of the chart at record stores.  Even after all these years, those same charts are prized collector's items; icons that map out the memories of our youth.  for fun, check out the charts on CHUM's searchable web site (

The station consistently drew a large, diverse and loyal audience.  The baby boom generation, comprising a significant percentage of the overall population, were reaching adolescence and tuning in to the station for the sound-track to their youth.  DJ's like Jungle Jay Nelson (who is currently being honoured in Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) were household names.  Clients lined up for promotional considerations and airtime.

By the late 1970's and the 1980's the FM band made a dramatic impact on AM.  Transistor radios gave way to boom boxes and car stereo systems.  Classic rock and new wave emerged as viable music formats.  Young listeners tended to be audiophiles who preferred FM stereo with its increased fidelity and frequency range.  CHUM finally came to a crossroads.  In 1986 it was time to grow up.

Ultimately, the rationale for moving to an oldies format was financial in nature.  The baby boom bulge in the population could still be counted on for the station's financial wellbeing.  Now that they had grown older, give them the music of their youth on the station that they remembered fondly.  This 35-54 demo with high discretionary income is attractive to advertisers.  This audience will tune to a mono signal in order to hear the songs they love.  The hit restrictions on the FM band prevented the oldies format from cropping up there.  In fact, the new CRTC ruling continues to protect oldies AM stations by limiting the hit songs released prior to 1981 that FM plays.

CHUM, along with CHUM-FM, remains the company's flagship station in Canada.  CHUM is one of the few financially viable music-based stations remaining on the AM band in Canada's major markets.  The strong trend on that band has been toward talk, following the U.S. lead.  CHUM Ltd. itself has been developing a syndicated talk network.  Still its flagship station continues to crank out the tunes, presenting a unique alternative to Toronto's over-crowded talk on AM.

From the outset, the Waters team (Allan and son Jim) displayed a distinctive approach to sales.  While other stations were volume driven, giving preferential rates to larger customers, CHUM remained very sympathetic to smaller clients, feeling that they too were valued and deserved the same rates as the big boys.  The Waters also felt that their product was worth a certain amount regardless of the client's target demo, and as such were reluctant to cut outrageous deals.  Lastly, the Waters' pride in each of their properties was exemplified by the fact that both the AM and FM were strongly promoted and sold in a standalone fashion as opposed to following the combo approach adopted by other broadcasters.

On the national sales side, CHUM has maintained, as Tim Stelle put it, "a great working partnership" for 30 years with Major Market Broadcasters.

MMB was formed in 1967, with Allan Waters purchasing a 15 per cent share, which he maintains to this day.  National rep shops have come and gone.  Consolidation has swept a good many of them aside, but MMB keeps rolling along, currently representing about 80 stations across Canada.

The current approach to sales is dramatically different from days gone by when we bought and sold spots.  Straight GRPs are about to go the way of the dinosaur.  Simple demo runs are not sufficient to give you a sales edge in an era when everyone has their own computer.  Reps must be knowledgeable about the format, attuned to promotional considerations, and well versed in the qualitative/lifestyle data that better defines a station's audience and its ability to strategically target a client's consumer.

What does the future hold for 1050 CHUM?  It is impossible to speculate.  Digital will, over the next decade, change the playing field.  CRTC deregulation will also impact on market complexions.  Why worry about tomorrow today while were' having so much fun remembering yesterday?

I have to admit, it is a little difficult to be objective about CHUM's early history.  Given that this venerable station is celebrating its 40th birthday, I prefer to reflect on fond memories.  Now, if I can only remember where I put my collection of old CHUM charts.