"We Taught The City How To Rock" - Dave McCormick
By Glen Livingstone
Vancouver has lost another of its legendary broadcasters - "Big Daddy" Dave McCormick one of the chief architects of Top 40 radio on the West Coast has passed.
No one remembers who hung the nickname "Big Daddy" on Dave, back then all the disc jockeys had to have one and it stuck through his entire career in broadcasting.
If you were a Vancouver radio listener during the fifties through the nineties you could hardly have missed hearing Dave's booming rock 'n roll pipes cutting through the ether during those decades. It was Dave who in 1960 was the instigator who helped transform the 'cardigan sweater' blandness that was CFUN and ushered in the then new Top Forty format.
Rivals CKWX and CJOR had been playing the hits since the mid fifties but CFUN became the city's first full-time 24 hour a day rocker and it was all thanks to Dave. Blasting out those three minute long 'symphonies for the kids' amidst a non-stop barrage of snappy patter and snapping fingers it wasn't long before the station had a stranglehold on the teen market.Looking back at CFUN during that period Dave later recalled:
"They weren't very old; they weren't a rocker yet. The station was all over the place in those days. I turned it around and started rocking a little bit there and got some ratings and in the summer of 1960 a whole bunch of us turned that station into a rock 'n' roll station. Brian Lord, Brian Forst, Al Jordan and myself. We were the 'Swingin' Men At 1410,' then later, the CFUN Good Guys.' We were a really fun radio station, you ask anybody who remembers. I had 100,000 members in a thing called the Hi-Fi Club."In an online interview with Joseph Planta published in 2014 Brian "Frosty" Forst concurred.
"The most memorable times were the initial times following that CJOR disaster when a bunch of us started up CFUN and eventually knocked off Red (Robinson) and all the other high paid American guys over at 'WX because that was just a bunch of young guys - which is what we were - and we had no direction and management didn't know what the heck we were doing but they let us have a free hand and so for five years we just went at it, and there's some very talented people involved there but that was the day of Brian Lord and Jerry Landa and Dave Mccormick and a few other similar types ... Just a bunch of kids loving what they did knocking off the high-powered rock and rollers CKWX in those days. I would say that had to be the most memorable time."
"Unlike regimented radio today, we didn't 'think tank' or sit around with department heads, or hire a consultant. The listener phone line was our consultant. Our 'format' was very loose, in fact just about non-existent, If it worked, we kept doing it" said Dave.
With the format switch, the fifties were officially over, Dave and his on-air co-conspirators had successfully kicked the staid CKWX to the curb, and by the time 1962 rolled around it was time for him to embark on a new adventure. More on that later.
Dave's broadcast career stretched all the way back to 1954 when at age 14 he began working after school and on weekends in the record library at radio station CHML in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario.
"I thought I'd died and gone to heaven, he laughs, "it's the only real job I've ever had."
That first tantalizing taste ended when the family moved to the Coast but by then the radio bug had already gotten under Dave's skin.
After finishing high school he began volunteering at U.B.C.'s campus radio station while attending the university and was soon hired by CFUN in 1959. Three years later after successfully turning the station around Dave was approached by legendary American programmer Ron Jacobs who hired him in 1962 to become the music director and midday announcer at KMAK in Fresno, California.
In Fresno, Dave was reunited with his old CFUN pal Brian Lord who had moved there a few months earlier.
Dave worked at both of Fresno's Top 40 rockers KMAK and KYNO until 1966 when he left to become midday announcer and PD at Seattle's KOL until eventually returning to California's KMEN in San Bernadino in 1967 where he remained until 1972.
"Those were wonderful times" said Dave. He liked to tell the story of a blistering hot Fresno day in 1967 when he and Brian Lord were MC'ing an appearance by San Bernardino's Count Five, a band that Lord had discovered and helped secure a recording contract for.
Their song "Psychotic Reaction" was about to become a national hit and the group was making a live appearance on the roof of a local supermarket. The heat was so intense that the records that Dave and Brian had brought to hand out were immediately warping. When Brian mentioned it and asked him what they should do, Dave replied, "Don't worry about it Brian, they'll still be souvenirs of the show and the kids will always remember the experience and the fun they had."
Back in B.C. on vacation, Dave looked up his old pal Brian Forst, then doing mornings at New Westminster's CKNW. Frosty hooked him up with 'NW GM Mel Cooper who, after a six hour meeting offered him a job.
"I'm surprised they hired me; I had long hair, a Fu Manchu moustache. The atmosphere at 'NW was so different after my rock 'n roll days at Top 40 stations in California. It was so antiseptic at 'NW."
With Dave's extensive musical knowledge and extraordinary photographic memory he soon became the permanent fill-in man for Jack Cullen whose somewhat older audience would sometimes complain about Dave's rapid disc jockey patter - a holdover from his top 40 days.
"I'm not talking too fast, you're listening too slow!" I heard him tell a phone-in caller on more than one occasion.
Big Daddy's old Top 40 chops were always just bubbling under the surface it seems, and served him in good stead in later years.
Dave's 'flying by the seat of his pants' approach to radio never ceased to amaze me.
It wasn't unusual to to stop by the studio to find Dave, shades on, menthol Kool dangling dangerously from between his lips, cueing up the next record fifteen seconds before he had to introduce it while simultaneously slamming a trio of carts into a commercial carousel and carrying on an involved telephone conversation with a listener who had fifty bucks riding on a barroom bet and desperately needed to know who Carly Simon was referring to in her song "You're So Vain."
Could Dave help him? Of course Dave could. "Hang on a sec buddy, be right back" he'd say before cracking the mic to address his radio audience.
Dave's versatility came in handy when 'NW's new FM sister station signed on the air in 1970 with a short-lived country music format but soon switched to light pop.
"(In 1972) A conversation I had with (CFMI Program Director) Rod Gunn evolved into a concept I invented and named: Discumentary."
'Discumentary,' an award-winning daily one hour long history of rock 'n roll series written and voiced by Dave and produced by yours truly ran from 1972 to 1986 on CFMI and was later syndicated across North America and Australia. Each show focussed on a particular artist or theme and incorporated music and interviews.
"We borrowed stuff, we traded stuff. When you think back, a lot of them didn't have interview clips in them. You just don't get Eric Clapton. In the beginning we did everybody, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, whatever. I was quite flattered when the format was stolen left and right all over the place. We did hundreds of those shows."
As the program gained in popularity, Dave's workload increased proportionately and freelance writers were brought in to write new scripts and update old shows when required.
One of the best was my friend Paul Wiggins who later went on to work with Vancouver band Doug & The Slugs and is now a popular musician on Canada's East Coast.
The 'McCormick' era of Discumentary ended in 1986 when a shakeup at CKNW/CFMI resulted in Dave being unemployed for the first time in fourteen years. Happily this state of affairs didn't last long. Dave quickly found work as the afternoon drive announcer at Vancouver's new country station CJJR/FM.
"I was hired before they even went on the air. I never missed a payday."
Dave stayed at 'JR for ten years where he did the afternoon drive show and wrote/hosted Countrymentary, a series of one hour, nationally syndicated programs that profiled the top country music makers of the day.
Said Dave during that period, "I'm part of the Woodstock generation but I heard it all and met everyone back then. Country is the most exciting music now. its poetry, and people who can't get over a hillbilly bias are missing the boat."
In 1992 at their annual conference, Dave was named "Provincial Broadcast Performer of the Year" by the B.C. Association of Broadcasters.
Dave was on the move again in 1998, but this time it was just a short trip down the hall.
JR Country's sister station, 600AM (the one time frequency for CJOR) switched format and Dave took over the 10am-3pm slot, spinning old favourites by established artists such as Neil Diamond, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Barbra Streisand .
As if he already didn't have enough on his plate, for three years Dave served as Vice President on the Board of Directors for the B.C. Country Music Association. A career highlight for Dave was At their being voted "On Air Personality of the Year" for four straight years at their Annual Awards ceremonies.
"The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost." - Arthur Schopenhauer
Thanks for everything Dave, you were truly one of the good guys. - GL