Chapter 1 - Where It All Began

Chapter 1 - Where It All Began

Postby Tom Jeffries » Mon May 06, 2013 7:20 am

Before I start on the long and winding road of my “gypsy” life, as a Radio Announcer – I want to lay out a few things up front.

First off – I am not going to lie to you and say that working as a deejay in the 1960’s-70’s -80’s 90’s and in the new Century, was a ball of fun wrapped up in a bow. In some ways, it was a life of stress, doubt and fear. Fear of lousy ratings and the inevitable call from HR and the “envelope”, was always in the background – BUT – on balance - working as Professional Broadcaster was pretty good to me.

What follows is a brief glimpse into Radio “The way it used to be”.

I started on the radio, before Man stepped foot on the moon.

I did my first ‘shift’ – at the UVic Radio, in the Fall of 1967.

The “Radio Station” – was in a grubby basement, of the Health Services building, behind the Student Union Building. It smelled like fuel oil. Our soundproofing was literally, egg cartons.

We ran on just about nothing. Robert Patterson, Clint Nickerson and a few other bright folks made the place go. I got my shot at ‘doing a shift’, by pure luck.

I was busy flunking most of my classes – when one of my neighbors in History 311, Brian L’Hirondelle, asked me to do his one-hour ‘radio block’ for him, because he missed the week before and if you missed two in a row – you lost your slot. (Think that was the way it worked).

In any case – I was taken over to the “Station” – and when I walked in I was taken by Randy Maze and Bob Patterson and shown ‘the board’ and the two HUGE old McCurdy Transcription Turntables – with NO cartridge machines and an EletroVoice mic, that must have come over on the Pinta or Santa Maria.

I was entranced. I sat down at the end of Randy’s show, he had cued up my first “tune” – and wished me good luck.

The first song “Beck’s Bolero” – with Jeff Beck on Epic, rang out through the huge speaker and I was hooked.

That’s all well and good. A peeny studio, with a broadcast audience of the UVic dorms – we didn’t even have a transmitter – wow, talk about the big time.

That’s where I came from – and there is one other thing I want to bring up before we start the series. I was lucky to work with some very fine people and we had a TON of fun. The stories that I will share with you, by necessity, will be somewhat sanitized, for I do NOT wish to embarrass people that are not here to defend themselves.

I would like to thank some people up front: RadioFan for the chance to drop these notes to the site, my Wife, and great broadcaster, Julie Brown, her Son, Jared, and my friend, and mentor, Fred Latremouille. Special thanks, and best wishes to Ted Farr.

I could write three pages of names of people that were there for me – but they know who they are. To all of you – THANK YOU for being part of the story.

After hurting people’s ears at UVic – I found myself at 18, out of my Parent’s home – unemployed and flat broke.

I wound up couch surfing for nearly a year.

My Father – got me a job – as a front end man (yes – people used to pump your gas, and check the oil and tire pressure) at Al’s Esso, on Hillside – all nights, six days a week.

One morning at around 4:30 – a sleek black convertible – with the CFAX logo slid into Bay one.

It was Barry Bowman, Victoria’s “Morning Mayor” – and the pride of 1070, CFAX. The station was number one by a huge margin.

Sucking up my courage, I mentioned to Mr. Bowman that was I working at UVic radio and was there any room for rookies at CFAX.

Nice guy that he is, Barry invited me down to CFAX and introduced me to Walter Cownden, the Program Director. Mr. Cownden, was an elegant, urbane, and very astute dude. Maybe Mr. Cownden was not that astute – because he hired me to do 3:30-12 midnight – six days a week for $250.00 a month. May 1969.

What followed was 40 years, which flashed by in a nonce.

CFAX was basically wall-to-wall music, played on big Ampex machines – with voice tracks, done by great talents like Barry Bell, and others. I didn’t even to get on the air, until about month three. “CFAX Accutron time is 6 PM – and time for the News with Hugh Curtis”. (*then the Mayor of Victoria!).

Yes – one live break an hour – I was a star! (*As if).

I chafed at the bit at CFAX, it was boring – even though it was thrilling to be on the board when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The memories are still vivid. In those days – news rooms were serviced by AP and BN on Teletype machines that clattered out information on rolls of yellow paper, fed into the print conveyor. There was also a Bell system, on the grid. If there was something BIG moving ‘on the wire’, a bell would ring. I forget how many different signals there were – but I do recall every bell in the newsroom went insane as Ray Orchard came on live and said “The Eagle has one less passenger – Man is walking on the moon”.

One of my classmates at Lansdowne Junior High, Art L. Cooper, had become the music director for CFMS-FM and CKDA – and we ran into each other a few times and he would tell me I should look to CKDA and make a move.

The details are hazy – but I wound up at CKDA, as an afternoon op, and general “do everything except news’ guy. I sucked. I actually opped CFMS-FM on Christmas Day 1969 – and was so green I couldn’t manage to switch to the second machine’s tape of Christmas music – and so the poor listeners of CFMS had six hours of the same music repeated – over and over again. It was my first and last shift at that Station.

In 1969 - CKDA was in the basement of the Douglas Hotel. The Station was entered by a glass door off the Lobby, and owned by eccentric millionaire – David Armstrong. The brain of the Station was a formidable lady named Ruby Masters – the lady in the corner office. I worked there for a year, and I was so intimidated, I don’t think I ever talked to her. Mr. Armstrong would be out on his cabin cruiser and call the private line and tell me to play one of his current favorites. I guess some listeners must have wondered why Dean Martin was singing during the talk show that was on. I wish I could tell you stories about Ralph Pashley – the king of Victoria talkers – but I wasn’t allowed near his show. He was something else.

I fell in with Art Simmonds, the News Director at CKDA, and as insane as this sounds – I would turn the board over to my friend Ken Brown (who went on to be a top scientist) and Art and I would go around the corner to the basement of the Olympic Hotel and shoot snooker. This while I was supposed to be at work!

At this point I better step in and own up to something.

I was lucky enough to work a few summers at Chateau Lake Louise. 1967 – I rented the canoes to Tourists on Lake Louise and in 1968; I was Busboy, until I was moved into the lowly job of house boy. Why?

ALCOHOL.

I had never had a drink until 1967. I believe I had a problem from beer one. It was at the Railway Hotel, in Field BC – in June 1967. Although the drug nearly cost me everything, including my life, I continued to abuse alcohol until I was nearly 42.

I have been alcohol free since 1990.

I attribute it to AA, my wife, step Son and intense therapy. I am not ashamed of this. It is a disease. BUT, I wanted you to know that some of my memories are a bit affected by this addiction – and I apologize if I get some facts slightly skewed.

One fact is indisputable – I was a tenor voiced, no talent, who was going to have to make a go of my chosen career – (I flunked out of UVic) -

Or starve.
Tom Jeffries
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