Bill Rae: Save the Accounts Receivable!

Stories and info about those no longer involved in the industry

Bill Rae: Save the Accounts Receivable!

Postby cart_machine » Mon Jul 29, 2019 10:29 pm

Denny Boyd's column in the Sun on August 22, 1994 was, ostensibly, about Bill Hughes retiring from 'NW. But he talks about a bunch of other people, with some funny stories about Bill Rae. I imagine the bulk of the people reading this know, or at least know of, the other personalities involved in those days before Toronto-based corporations vacuumed up Vancouver radio stations. It's a little hard to believe this was 25 years ago.


Bill Hughes says goodbye to NW and Rafe Mair moves to his time slot
In 1942, a lawyer for the Canadian Association of Broadcasters complained, "The press of Canada has maintained a conspiracy of silence concerning radio. The most insignificant concert merits a column of criticism; most papers carry motion picture reviews, but radio, presumably because it competes with the press, cannot even be mentioned," If it isn't too late to respond, I'd just like to say, Oh shut up. And get on with a column about radio.

WHEN Bill Hughes recorded the 15,083rd broadcast of Roving Mike for Saturday morning, he wasn't within hailing distance of a tour bus. He didn't interview any twanging Australian tourists or ask a Texan if he'd had his grits. And, signing off, he didn't say, "See you on Monday." Because he wouldn't be.
At 8:45 this morning, instead of Hughes and the bus passengers ("Are there any swingers at the back of the bus, hah hah?") there was Rafe Mair, moved up 30 minutes and grousing about God knows what. And right across the program board there were domino schedule changes as CKNW entered it's 51st year.
Why would the most successful AM radio station in Canada tinker with its enormously successful self? To fix something that ain't broke?
CKNW's vice-president of marketing John Plul said Sunday, "This isn't fixing. It's adjusting to Bill's leaving. We decided long ago that as long as he wanted to do the show, there would be no changes. But Bill was tired, the show had run its course and we didn't think anyone else could do it."
The station's founder, Bill Rae, started that program in 1944, meeting streetcar passengers at the New Westminster Public Market. Rae tried to buy an Edmonton radio station when he was 16 but his father wouldn't lend him the $500. Told the kid there was no future in radio.
But on Aug. 15, 1944, 50 years ago last Friday, Rae signed on CKNW as a 250-watt station operating above the Fraser Cafe at 732 Columbia Street in New Westminster. His starting capital was $30,000.
Rae was a combustible, innovative, unpredictable genius. Once, turning down a raggedy job applicant, he gave the guy enough money for a new suit to improve his chances elsewhere. Once he cancelled the Christmas party and bonuses in a snit fit over Christmas trees.
And he was a quick thinker. In a 1947 station fire, Rae rushed into the flames, hollering, "Save the accounts receivable!" What about accounts payable, he was asked. "Let 'em burn", he said.
Until 1956 when he sold the station for $850,000, to the Frank Griffiths group, Rae established some working rules that have kept CKNW on top: Have the best hourly news in town; get the best people; if the competition has someone better, steal them.
British monarchs used to slaughter infants who might compete for the throne. Rae and all his successors spared the sword. They stole or bought anyone who threatened their ratings.
Rae climbed a fire escape and came through a CKMO window at midnight to make an offer to Jack Cullen.
In 1964, when Pat Burns ruled the air at CJOR, 'NW offered him $900 a week, twice what he was making, to jump. Burns declined, citing loyalty to 'OR owner Marie Chandler. 'NW jumped the offer to $1,800, then to $3,600. Still, Burns declined and went off on vacation. When he returned, Chandler fired him. As he headed off to Montreal, his outraged fans held an emotional party for him at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. CKNW, their Burns problem solved, happily paid the theatre rent.
When Jack Webster at CJOR was top-rated in the mornings, CKNW tried to lure him away. Webster told 'NW suitor Ted Smith that a contract clause forbade him to work for another local radio station for two years, should he leave. Smith asked Ray Peters at BCTV if he'd like to have Webster for television. Peters said he couldn't afford the Oatmeal Savage. Smith told Peters not to sweat the details. And CKNW paid Webster's salary for his first two years on television, just to get him the hell off radio.
When CKNW and morning host Gary Bannerman had their acrimonious parting — they were thoroughly sick of each other — it seemed Bannerman (150 libel suits; four prison hostage incidents mediated, one with a knife at his back) would never get back. But when Bannerman was negotiating the purchase of CHQM, to install a rival talk format, CKNW rehired him, causing his successor, Mair, to publicly savage his own station.
If that 1942 lawyer still wonders why, it's that radio is too deep and dark a jungle for we timid print people to explore.
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