Vancouver Talk Radio is Dying: 1984

Stories and info about those no longer involved in the industry

Vancouver Talk Radio is Dying: 1984

Postby cart_machine » Wed Jul 31, 2019 3:50 am

If Ed Murphy were correct in 1984, almost no one would be listening to talk shows on Vancouver stations today. The audience would be dead.

In a freelance story in the Vancouver Sun of January 29, 1984, Murphy lashed out at the banality and old hat of the talk business. He also strains his back patting himself on it, and rips into the CJOR morning news which, I believe, was being handled by Tom Mark then.

No, Ed, there still is an audience for local talk radio in 2019, whatever one may think of its content, and Mr. Mark went on to a sterling career, respected by peers and colleagues.

C. Arthur Machine

Hotliners are all talk amid falling ratings
When Rev. John Smith went on the air in the fall of 1951 with the first radio talk show in British Columbia, he had no idea what would happen to the medium during the next three decades.
After more than 30 years, talk shows are still a factor in the Vancouver radio market, but over the last few years they've been showing signs of decay: A dwindling audience consisting for the most part of people aged 60 and more.
Smith, who was the pastor at Collingwood United Church in Vancouver, called his show Pastor's Study. It aired late Sunday night on CKNW, then a fledgling station in New Westminster.
This kind, gentle man dealt solely with those troubled in heart and mind; nothing was heard of politics, sex, abortion, authors and soothsayers. He dispensed old-fashioned, common-sense advice. The show ran for almost eight years and was a success from the start.
Actually, the idea for Pastor's Study originated in the southern United States. But it was CKNW owner Bill Rea, struggling to build his seven-year-old station, who first saw the possibilities of "talk" radio and put it on the air.
Since that humble beginning in 1951, dozens of talk-show hosts have come and gone; some made big dollars but most fell by the wayside, victims of dismal ratings and changing formats. The first big salaries in Vancouver radio were paid to open-liners who could put numbers on the chart. In the early 1970s, Jack Webster and myself were pulling down more than $100,000 a year. When we left CJOR in 1978, Webster was making $200,000 and I was getting $150,000.
Here's a partial list of talkers who over the years were heard on Vancouver radio: Jack Wasserman, John Wilson, Mark Raines, Chuck Cook, John Reynolds, Allen Garr, Jim Nielsen, Judy LaMarsh, Pat Burns, Don Porter, Bob Bye, Rafe Mair, Kim Calloway, Denny Boyd, Fanny Keefer, Barrie Clark, Terry Moore, Nadine Berger, Keith Spicer, Doug Collins, Jack McPartland, David Berner, Jim McDonald, Terry Spence, Gary Bannerman, Jim Robson, Art Finley, Ted Peck, Annis Stukus, Sandy Price, George Searcy, Rod Booth, George Garrett, Don Hamilton, Fred Latremouille and a charming lady who went under the name of J. J. McColl on CJOR.
In 1960 Barrie Clark on CKWX introduced what is today's format for talk radio. Starting at 6 a.m., the hours varied until the mid-1960s when 'WX finally went head-to-head with CJOR and CKNW from 9 a.m. until noon. The ratings war was on.
CKWX gave up the battle in 1974, abandoning talk in favor of a country-and-western music format.
But it was not until May 13, 1963, when a gravel-voiced ex-newspaperman and politician with a penchant for phoning around the world burst on to the air, that talk-show radio captured the imagination and attention of B. C.
His name was Pat Burns. He was opinionated, aggressive, outspoken and at times outrageous. He discussed issues until then taboo on Canadian radio.
Before he was fired by CJOR in March 1965, Burns was wooed with big bucks by CKNW general manager Bill Hughes. The deal fell through, and 'NW put Webster on the air to fight the Burns phenomenon. That started Webster's 20-year career on talk radio and television. Webster, now on the glide path to 70, is still making big money fighting Sesame Street and fitness shows on morning TV.
Burns moved to CKGM in Montreal for a five-year stint before returning to CJOR in spring 1969. He still holds court nightly between 6:30 and 10 for a loyal audience of right-wingers. Over the years he has turned down some lucrative offers from stations south of the border.
Talk radio reached for the financial stratosphere in the early 1970s, when CJOR owner Jim Pattison lured Webster from CKNW with the first $100,000 paid to a local radio host. But Webster failed to bring his 'NW listeners with him and by the spring of 1973 he was in third place, behind myself at CKNW and LaMarsh at CKWX. At that time I had more listeners than Webster and LaMarsh combined.
So what did Pattison do? He hired me away from CKNW and paid me more than $100,000, creating the highest payroll in local radio. But he got the ratings. With Webster, Murphy and Burns, CJOR jumped into No. 1 position. The cost was high, but 'NW's domination was broken.
What is happening to talk radio now? What has caused the dramatic decline in listeners and the increasing trend to an audience in the over-60 age group?
Simply stated, talk radio is not relevant to today's affluent audience aged between 18 and 49. They have tuned out the repetitive droning of politicians, heart and cancer specialists, phoney psychics and obscure authors.
Talk radio today for the most part is redundant, boring, bereft of humor and plagued with recycled guests. Most guests kill a talk show after 30 minutes.
Another reason the 18-to-49 group has turned off is the emergence of FM radio. During the last decade FM has made giant strides in capturing the younger market. The latest ratings show CFMI, CFOX and CHQM, all FM stations, outdrawing CJOR by a wide margin. CJOR's news, information and talk format has failed to attract what the big-dollar advertisers want — that huge consumer group between ages 18 and 49. The 1983 fall ratings show that between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday to Friday, 65 per cent of CJOR's listeners are over age 60, compared to CKNW at 33 per cent, and CKWX at 23 per cent.
But CJOR and CKNW are still shelling out the loot. Rafe Mair on 'OR between 9 a.m. and noon trails Gary Bannerman on 'NW Mair with 25,900 to Bannerman's 39,500. Mair's rating is a far cry from Webster's 55,100 in the fall of 1977 on CJOR. Bannerman has dropped from the more than 60,000 listeners he took over in 1973, but both he and Mair make in excess of $100,000 annually.
Mair goes on the air a half-hour earlier than his opposition and registers the highest number of listeners the station has all day 37,400 while CKNW's news at 8:30 a.m. hits 75,400.
With the salaries being paid in the talk-show world, it's no wonder ex-politicians are waiting in the wings to grab some of the bounty. New Democratic Party leader Dave Barrett was once peddling himself in the talk market for a reported $150,000 a year.
Another former politician once seeking the glory of talk radio is ex-Liberal-turned-Socred Bill Vander Zalm. He had an agent pounding doors to sell the former provincial cabinet minister's talent. Radio nomad Peter Kosick was promoting Vander Zalm to do a garden show sprinkled with political opinion.
The history of ex-politicians doing talk shows is abysmal. First there was federal cabinet minister LaMarsh on CKWX. She lasted for only 10 months of a one-year, $60,000 contract before CKWX sent her packing back to Ottawa.
Then came Reynolds, federal Tory turned Socred, hired at $100,000 a year on a three-year contract. He departed when CJOR would not renew his contract because of poor ratings. He's gone back to politics.
Former Socred cabinet minister Mair dropped from a high of 30,800 listeners during his first rating in spring 1981 to 15,900 in the fall of the same year. He too has failed to attract the 18-49 crowd; almost 22,000 of the 25,900 listeners he recorded in the latest survey are over 50.
In the early-afternoon talkfest, until recently 'NW's Barrie Clark knocked heads with 'OR's Doug Collins. Clark, a 30-year veteran of the local radio scene, had a substantial lead on the abrasive Collins. The latest ratings showed Clark with 27,300 listeners to Collins's 16,000 between 12:30 and 3 p.m.
Although Collins trailed Clark, ever the past year he almost tripled the numbers Fanny Keefer had in the same time slot.
Despite that marked improvement, CJOR has refused to renew Collins's contract.
Now CJOR lineup has Art Finley in the 12:30-to-3:30 p.m. slot and former CKVU performer Bob Spence in the 3:30-to-6 p.m. period.
CJOR boss Harvey Gold calls the Spence show "a new concept": No callers only news, information and commentary (hardly new).
Between 3 and 6 p.m. CJOR's Finley is the only talker on Vancouver radio, but the latest ratings show people are not listening. Finley trails badly in the market, with a three-hour average of 19,300. Rick Honey on CKNW, with a music format, averages 27,100 while Jim Fraser on CKWX, playing Dolly Parton records, has 25, 900.
CHQM, CFOX and CFMI all pull higher numbers with a music format than Finley does with talk in the prime-time, drive-home slot.
The 18-49 crowd also eludes Finley. Of his 19,300, only 4,800 fall into this important age bracket, compared to 15,400 for Fraser and 15,300 for Honey.
Another sometime talk-show host is Terry Moore on 'NW. Moore does a half-hour interview show in the afternoon and fills in for Bannerman and Clark on holidays.
Moore attracts 17,800 listeners, according to the fall 1983 survey.
Just about every type of open-line show has been tried on Vancouver radio: Fishing, household hints, religion, home and automotive repairs, and others best not remembered.
But the worst by any standard was "crotch radio." introduced on CJOR in early 1973 and hosted by Denny Boyd, now a Sun columnist. Boyd played tapes of a Los Angeles-based sex show and then opened the lines for reaction and comment. The station was deluged with calls, most of them complaints about the subject matter.
A news-information-talk format is expensive. Not only does a station have to be prepared to spend money, it must also attract first-rate news people. It can't be done on the cheap, with inexperienced and poorly trained staff.
Let's compare. CJOR has a three-hour news and information package between 5:30 and 8:30 in the morning. Station manager Gold says he is delighted with the numbers this prime-time show generates, but one wonders why. At 8 a.m., the peak listening period in morning radio, CJOR draws 35,300 listeners. Compare that to the almost-100,000 tuned to CKNW.
Why the vast difference? In one word — professionalism, both in content and presentation.
For just over 25 years CKNW's news operation has been directed by Warren Barker, a workaholic with an obsession that news must be accurate, well-written and properly presented. Another reason for the high numbers is the station's eight o'clock news voice, Hal Davis, who has been reading this major newscast for 30 years.
Barker has gathered around him first-class newsmen like John McKitrick (with the station for 20 years) and George Garrett (more than 25 years). Their experience shows.
In comparison, CJOR's early-morning news and information package is disjointed, badly written, poorly presented and plugged with inane fillers. If it is to narrow the huge gap between itself and CKNW, 'OR must overhaul its news operation, but the kind of expertise needed costs money.
Pastor Smith died in 1974. May he rest in peace. The founder of talk-show radio in Vancouver never made $100,000. What a pity. His ratings were so good.
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Re: Vancouver Talk Radio is Dying: 1984

Postby Jack Bennest » Sat Aug 03, 2019 4:36 pm

Ah the good old days

When BC radio history had it's fling on the internet (radiofan can remember) I stole as many articles from the sun and province on radio. I admit it.

Not sure where Jim is getting this NEW material. Recently I was offered a subscription to old newspaper content from the past - maybe that is it.

I would hate to think some is typing up the articles from the Vancouver library.

signed: the cut and paste King
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Re: Vancouver Talk Radio is Dying: 1984

Postby cart_machine » Sat Aug 03, 2019 6:15 pm

Jack Bennest wrote:Not sure where Jim is getting this NEW material. Recently I was offered a subscription to old newspaper content from the past - maybe that is it.

I would hate to think some is typing up the articles from the Vancouver library.

No, Top Dog, I don't have a subscription to anything. These take a bit of snipping, proofing and OCR correction. I have a few more to put up and that'll be it for now.

I can't view photos; a shame as I discovered a caption from a collage of CJOR's news staff 45 years ago: Bill Joyner, George Wilson, Mike Dixon, Nancy Wall, Clarke Housley, old Irwin and others whom we both remember. Even the late Sykes. Everyone worked hard and played hard then. Actually, the young ones today work hard, too, but things have changed in many ways.

I shall raise a glass for you and Randall Knight tomorrow afternoon.

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