CHAB radio in Moose Jaw is 100 years old today!!! This edition is a little peek into my time spent there in 78/79. It was only for 1% of the station’s existence and there is most likely a 0% chance I had any effect on CHAB, but that year had an undeniable effect on me!!!
I rarely miss the American Top 40 countdown with Casey Kasem on Sirius Xm. It’s my weekly ear candy treat of the Billboard charted 70’s pop music counted down in order and “they don’t stop, until they get to the top”.
Coincidentally, this week’s featured year is 1978 and my musical libido is flashing me back to my first year in radio. So much great music and I got to play it all on the air!!!! In April of 78, I was at CKSA in Lloydminster and by that September I’d be working at the legendary CHAB 800 AM.
The positioning line was Saskatchewan’s Super 8!!! And it really was Super!!!
The list of Canadian radio broadcasters who worked at CHAB is the stuff of legend. I barely know where to begin. In fact, I can’t, as it wouldn’t be fair to all those I will miss but suffice to say, you know who you are.
For me, it was about working at the station that was part of the Moffat family, which at the time, also owned CKLG/CFOX Vancouver, CKXL/CHFM Calgary, CKY/CITI Winnipeg and the station I grew up listening to, 630 CHED Edmonton. I dreamed of working at CHED and I knew my best and maybe only opportunity to do so, was to work at CHAB first. Moffat promoted from within and used CHAB as their minor league affiliate, to coin a MLB term. After a stint in Moose Jaw, in theory, announcers were ready for larger markets and those markets would almost always look for talent from CHAB before they went wider in their search. In those days, small, medium and sometimes major market DJ’s wanted to work at CHAB for the possibilities of being called up. It was an incredibly successful and brilliant strategy for Moffat that kept their talent pool full and their stations sounding amazing!!!!
I remember it like yesterday when I got the call from Pat Bohn, the program director at the time, he himself in training for a bigger and better opportunity, offering me the overnight gig in Moose Jaw. I was so excited!!! The salary was $450 a month and I thought I had won the lottery.
So, I loaded up the Honda and I moved to the Moose, Jaw that is, wheat fields, train tracks and that clear channel 800 am station CHAB!!
I remember driving to Moose Jaw on one of the warmest days that summer. I can’t recall the exact details when I arrived, but I ended up being an apartment roommate of a couple of guys already working at the station. Kevin Gallant was the sports guy and Graham Johnson was a swing announcer. I remember my pal from Edmonton, Kelly Seidler brought my gaudy velvet furniture from Lloydminster to Moose Jaw in his van and after under loading, we all ended up going to the Moose Jaw drive in to see Grease!!! It was the big movie that summer and all the music from it was being played on CHAB.
Even though I had a place to live, I ended up living at the station too. It was such a cool place to be.
When I started in 78, the line up to my memory was as follows, Jack Ross in mornings, Sammy James middays, Daddy Don West in drive and Humble Howard in evenings. Audie Lynds was Swing and Music Director, Graham and yours truly did swing and overnights too. I remember we had the Reverend Brian Brown doing editorials. Pat Stradeski was in production, Mike Soar in engineering, Colleen Liepert (from Australia) was at reception, Kim Bloom in creative, Warren Morgan GSM and Duncan Cameron was GM. Norman Jack would join the newsroom soon after, chronology gets a bit blurry after 44 years as turnover was really high. Not many of us lasted more than a year or two before opportunity knocked as mentioned above. The list of those who worked there before me was crazy as was the roster of talent after I left. It was a special place.
Moffat was an incredibly innovative broadcaster. CHAB was the training ground, yes, but corners were not cut in supplying the tools and working conditions for staff. Corporate culture wasn’t a thing back then, but if it was, the halls would be considered great! One small caveat to that modernization was commercial traffic. I remember the program logs were done by hand!!! Thinking back that was crazy, but remember it was before computers. Think about that statement!!! That said, I remember starting there when the old control room was operational and it was a big glassed in room where the entire station could see in from the office. It was kind of cool to this wide eyed 19 year old DJ but in hindsight, it was a relic with old school everything!!!
When I write about innovation, Moffat did some planned studio renovations after I arrived (nothing to do with me) and they built a flagship control room with all the bells and whistles. It was fantastic! All custom built. It overlooked Main Street with the Houston Pizza across the road. Still there in 2022 I believe. It had auto open/close drapes and one of the first computer operated boards (well, sort of, it was more remote start buttons but nevertheless) with push button pots, computer monitor and a ton of LCD countdown clocks. No doubt, when visitors arrived, their jaws dropped to see this beautiful control room in Moose Jaw!!!! WTF??? But that’s what I meant by being ahead of the curve. The B team learned from the best on the best equipment.
We played all our audio on carts. They looked like 8 tracks but only had one piece of audio on each cart. Songs and commercials and jingles and sound effects. People in production would wind new carts all the time to insure they were the proper length. (Those in the biz will remember large pancakes of audio tape). It was a major market practice, unusual for Moose Jaw. If the control room was the showpiece of the station, the production studio and newsroom weren’t shabby either. CHAB had a 4 track Ampex reel to reel player and Pat S. knew how to use it. 4 Tracks!!!! That was a big deal. Again, in Moose Jaw??? WTF?
Radio programming was all about excitement and show biz back then and we walked the walk. We did all the big promotions that were being done in the major markets and a few original campaigns that had the majors paying attention. We had CHAB sunspot car stickers which wasn’t super unique, but instead of giving away cash all the time, we’d mix up the prizing. In 1979 the price of Gold went through the roof and everyone was talking about it. So, we decided to give away Super 8 grams of Gold for sun spotting. The value was about $80 at the time. The jocks would go out in the Sunshine Van and look for Sunspots on cars. We’d award gold to daily winners!!! That was better than cash in most cases. (Would that gold increase in value?) It didn’t change the world but we had a lot of fun. We were always trying to get under the skin of stations in Regina and Saskatoon. The signal was so strong CHAB had audience in both those markets. And many listeners responded to the excellent programming. Rawlco owned CJME and CKOM, similarly formatted and great sounding stations and no doubt they always knew what CHAB was up to. Humble Howard did the High School spirit contest where schools would send entries through the mail to win a free dance for the whole school with Howard as the host!!! It was the talk of Province!! I know right?
CHAB was a super station. It was proud to be broadcasting from Moose Jaw but it acted provincially, always. The one super strict rule was that we could never say “here in Moose Jaw”. We wanted to sound big!!! We’d never say “over in Regina” or “up there in Saskatoon” We were geographically neutral. Quite clever really!!!
It’s impossible to work at CHAB and not be familiar with the Moose Jaw landmarks. The Modern Cafe, just below the station, where I still remember the absolute best club house sandwich and their daily Chinese food specials allowed substitutes!!!!! That’s unheard of. Customer service. What a concept. Then there was the Harwood Hotel, a heritage establishment for accommodation and refreshments. It was the most famous bar!!! The Moose Jaw Canucks at the time of the SJHL were a big deal and of course, the large Moose statute on Highway 1!!! He’s a beauty!!!
After I left for CHED, I still had many friends that I kept in touch with and I would occasionally go back and visit, but eventually CHAB was getting smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. The station was sold to Golden West broadcasting decades later, another family owned media company and has been in good hands!!! With all the challenges for radio today it’s still the small markets that are run locally that are doing well. CHAB running locally comforts me given what the time spent there means to me. It will never leave my great memories bank!!!! Although some of those memories are a bit fuzzy!! We did have some wild times then!
Happy 100th birthday CHAB!!! Thanks for the love and lessons. I’m glad I knew ya!!!