The day the boomer eclipse struck 1050 chum

chumMass culture died its first death in Toronto the first weekend of June 1986, when 1050 chum abruptly ended 29 years of a format based on a weekly pop chart, in favour of “Favourites of Yesterday and Today”. An aircheck of the transition, via Rock Radio Scrapbook, sheds light on the thinking: A spin of the worst song ever, Starship’s “We Built This City”, is followed by a montage of the biggest chum tunes of 1957 through 1985, a minute of wave noises, then a sermon from program director Terry Williams, sounding more social worker than disc jockey: “A few months ago, I asked you what exactly you wanted from this radio station. I told you then that what you said would matter very much. I’m here now to tell you how much. After all the calls were listened to, and all the letters were answered, and all the research was analyzed,” he explains, “we had no choice but to come to an undeniable conclusion”. The audience for AM radio music was aging, so the best they could do was satisfy “an unfulfilled demand” for sedate sounds of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – after all, the rock ‘n’ roll youthquake moved to the FM dial, not to mention the impact of 1050’s corporate spin-off MuchMusic, while the more dynamic 680 CFTR had successfully siphoned off the remaining local interest in the hyperactive teenybopper Top 40 format. Plus, draconian CRTC policies ensured a ratings-deprived station like chum had nowhere to go but backward, as their internal energies shifted to synching CHUM-FM with the emerging yuppie zeitgeist instead. A few weeks later, the legendary CHUM sign outside 1331 Yonge St. was splayed across the road, coincidentally cut down by crafty vandals. The attempt to keep 1050 sounding quasi-contemporary hobbled along for a while, until the switch was flipped to nothing but oldies in 1989. Five years ago, when they tried to escape that trap as the flagship for a national sports radio network called The Team, it was an unmitigated disaster that resulted in a return to music 16 months later. Today, 1050 chum is a low-rated relic not without considerable charm, in spite of all the DJ patter outside of its morning show comprised of pre-recorded voicetracks. But while its definition of oldies radio has plunged deeper into the 1970s, the last several years of chum’s weekly hit list aren’t acknowledged. The final chum chart – published the day of the format change – is pretty drab, but the station fought to retain its cultural vitality until the battle turned into a losing one. While they’ve vowed to keep 1050 chum intact to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2007, the nostalgia is running on fumes now, especially in the era where an AM signal in Vancouver has surrendered drive time periods to nothing but the traffic reports.

4 responses to “The day the boomer eclipse struck 1050 chum

  1. Ah, if a 70s-style CHUM tee suits Ashton Kutcher, an 80s-style CHUM tee suits Merrill Nisker.

    (Speaking of which, I can somehow picture a modern-day version of 80s 1050 CHUM having Peaches on its playlist, with the same endearing naivete that once led it to playlist “Johnny Are You Queer” or Malcolm McLaren’s “Madame Butterfly”…)

  2. Okay, the eighties often gets knocked–unfairly I think–as a fallow decade in pop music history, but even the harshest music critic ought to hesitate before calling that June 7, 1986 CHUM chart “pretty drab.”

    The number one track that week: Madonna’s “Live to tell,” probably one of her most musically interesting hits (ask Bill Frisell, who did an excellent cover). At 22 and climbing: “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, easily the most recognizable of his many hits, and a playlist staple of all the Jacks, Bobs and Joes. Maybe Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston are clichés now, but their contributions to the list are breakthrough songs for each. Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to love?” Come on!

    Top 40 pop charts are what they are. Nobody expects avant-gardism, but as pop charts go that week’s was better than most. Were you even listening to radio in the eighties?

  3. Hindsight is 20/20 (news), I guess. Look at all of the adult contemporary ballads at the top of that last chart. The change to “Favourites of Yesterday and Today” was only the addition of more gold titles to the daily run. 1050 was more than half way through a format change by that point.

    While “Live To Tell” is the song where Madonna really learned to sing, it’s not the 80’s Madonna people remember like “Lucky Star”, “Into the Groove” or even “Like A Prayer”.

    All the action was on FM by that point anyway, CHUM-FM doing adult top 40 for the Yonge and Eglington yupsters, CFNY was quite firmly established for the alternative, post top 40 crowd and the Buffalo FM stations like Majic 102 and club friendly Kiss 98 and half were playing the “edgier” urban titles that never had a home in southern Ontario. By 1986 Much Music was setting the pop music agenda anyway. The post musicradio era was already well under way.

    While I was no Ashton Kutcher, I bought a red 1050 chum t-shirt (with blue letters) at the Calhoun T shirts store at Jackson Mall in downtown Hamilton, not far from my grandpatent’s place, sometime around 1976 for less than 10 bucks. It was my favourite shirt for quite a few years and beleive it or not helped me land my first girlfriend.

    I’ll never forget a late 70’s editorial with Dick Smythe talking about adding a letter ‘P’ on to his ‘chum’ and wondering why anywone would spend their own money to advertise a radio station. He had a good point.

    The death of 1050 CHUM is entirely subjective. For some it was the introduction of the super tight Drake/KHJ Los Angeles Boss Radio formatics in the late 60’s. For others it was the rise of disco in the mid 70’s, not that 1050 spent a lot of air time on that anyway. For me it was the commercial rise of New Wave in 1979. The tides were turning, disco was on its last legs, corporate rock a la Foreigner and Styx sucked the life out of rock music and all the exciting stuff was found on FM, ironically, to a degree on CHUM-FM and 102.1 when it was still in Brampton.

    There isn’t a sadder radio station in all of Ontario that today’s 1050 CHUM. A completely sqandered heritage that is nothing more than a digital jukebox on an inferior AM frequency beleaguered by today’s electrical interfernece from things like computers, hydro lines and anything with alternating current. The sports hero from high school who ended up a janitor at the school where he was once the king.

  4. By the standard of the day, there wasn’t all *that* many AC ballads on top of that last chart; and they were in large part “validated” though general CanAm pop chart performance. So if it seems wussy in hindsight, it’s more the consequence of kids deserting Hot100CaseyKasemville whitebread AM Top 40 in general than 1050 CHUM in particular.

    Remember that the strongest symbolic act wasn’t the musical change: it was the killing of the CHUM Chart…

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