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RIP: CHUM Radio's Unforgettable Brian "Henny" Henderson

Brian "Henny" Henderson, known for his career at 1050 CHUM for 27 years, from 1977 to 2004, died from cancer in Toronto on Jan. 11. He was 73.

RIP: CHUM Radio's Unforgettable Brian "Henny" Henderson

By External Source

Brian "Henny" Henderson, known for his career at 1050 CHUM for 27 years, from 1977 to 2004, died from cancer in Toronto on Jan. 11. He was 73.


Funeral arrangements and a celebration of life pending.

The following is taken from the CHUM Tribute Site

From his first day at CHUM in 1977, Brian Henderson was known as ‘Henny’. Growing up in Toronto, Henny discovered CHUM and ‘teens’ DJ Dave Johnson early on – 1957 to be precise, when Henny was 12. He became an avid CHUM listener and even practiced being a DJ himself.

His first real radio job came at CKMP Midland, Ontario and after on-air gigs at CKBB Barrie/CKCB Collingwood (where, as Program Director, he hired a novice broadcaster named Jim Van Horne), CKVR-TV Barrie, CHLO St. Thomas and CJCH Halifax, Henny finally arrived at 1050 CHUM in 1977 as a sportscaster. 

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Henny recalled those heady days (courtesy of Dale Patterson's rockradioscrapbook.ca): 

Jay Nelson was there then, [as was] Terry Steele, John Majhor, John Gilbert, Roger Ashby, J. D. Roberts…and working in the chair next to me, Dick Smyth, the best radio news writer, reader, commentator ever. Dick Smyth left CHUM in 1987 and I accepted an offer to take over the news and sports commentary, which became not only an opportunity to vent my opinions, but to relate interesting stories and offer some insight into the most personal elements of my life.”

Henny occasionally got into trouble with a few of his commentaries, but he weathered most of those ‘topical’ storms (usually with the help of CHUM’s Allan and Jim Waters) and continued to speak out on matters that interested him. 

Prior to the launch of CHUM’s sports format (The Team) in May of 2001 and after its demise in 2002, Henny In the Morning (along with sidekick/traffic reporter Nanci Krant, producer/board operator Doug Kirkwood and newsman Doug Beaumont) entertained Southern Ontario in a uniquely entertaining way, even as Henny’s health deteriorated. He survived several heart attacks as well as several serious bouts of cancer.

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Henny was terminated from CHUM in November of 2004 after 27 years at 1331 Yonge Street. 

From Dale Patterson’s Scrapbook, reprinted this week on SOWNY.net

A few years ago I asked Brian Henderson to tell me about his career, and this is what he told me...

"My first recollection of radio being a career ambition occurred in 1957 when I discovered Dave Johnson playing rock and roll on CHUM. I was 12 years old and used to practice being a disc jockey while listening to his show every night. There were no broadcast schools back then (except for Ryerson which required a Grade 12 diploma), and since I was kicked out of Thornhill Secondary at age 16, my broadcasting dreams had pretty much been dashed. How ironic. Years later I was invited back to "Thornhill" to speak to a careers day assembly, where they introduced me as a graduate. I didn't bother to correct them.
 
Anyway, after a number of years of working menial jobs, I was reacquainted with an old friend from school (Glen Cooper) who had somehow drifted into an announcing job at a one-thousand-watt radio station (CKMP) in Midland, Ontario. On a visit there, Glen introduced me to his program director, an old guy by the name of Bill Brama, who had seen better days, but still had a voice that rumbled up from somewhere around the balls of his feet, and so was still working part-time in radio while teaching full-time at the local high school. Other seniors like myself may remember him resurfacing years later doing featured reports regularly on Global TV newscasts called "Bill Brama's Ontario." While discussing my interest in becoming an announcer, he handed me a sheet of "Broadcast News" copy and demanded, "Here kid, read this." I did, and he hired me on the spot at $180 a month.
 
Cooper's career took him through Barrie, and Brampton's CHIC Radio, Canada's first all-female announce staff, except for Cooper who read the news. He eventually moved on to CJOB in Winnipeg, after which he pretty much disappeared off the map.
 
In the meantime, I also moved to CKBB Barrie/CKCB Collingwood, where I served several tours of duty over the years including stints as the first nighttime rock announcer (nicknamed THE WHITE NIGHT.) I even had my own published hot hits chart. It's also where I began to dabble in television at CKVR where I hosted a daily kids cartoon show called "The Marvelous SuperHeroes." It was 1967-68.

From there it was on to CHLO in St Thomas where they were playing Otis Redding in the morning, while CHUM's contribution to the "soul train" was the token "white bread" Supremes. Paul Ski was the afternoon drive host/program director. One of the other announcers was a British hippy immigrant from a "pirate radio" ship in England, who lived in a big white house with a peace sign painted high on the front peek facing the street. What a surprise when the police raided the place one weekend and arrested virtually the entire announce staff, leaving Ski and me as the only ones still free to work on air that Monday.
 
One of the other names of some renown to come out of CHLO was a news reader by the name of Bill Hirtz who resurfaced a number of years later as the on-site frontman and media relations coordinator for the Terry Fox "Marathon of Hope."
 
When CHLO sold its 680 frequency to the fledgeling CFTR in 1969 and moved down the dial to 1570, we all knew the station was doomed, and a lot of us fled. I eventually returned to CKBB/CKVR where I tried television sports for the first time, working for an old retiree by the name of Steve Douglas. Contrary to popular opinion Foster Hewitt was not Canada's first international hockey broadcaster. It was Steve Douglas, and he was the one who drove it into my head that being a sportscaster didn't mean just "ripping and reading" wire copy. "Write the stories in your own words" he demanded, and I did, and it would eventually change my whole career, and my life.

My program director during this turn at CKBB was Doug Lennox who had his own dramatic life-changing experience. At age thirty, and seemingly in a rut, he just quit it all. Walked out of the job, amicably, divorced his wife, bought a robin's egg blue convertible and took off for Toronto. Over the next 30 or so years, he's worked numerous radio jobs, had a moderately successful acting career ... and a lot of commercial work. You might even recognize his voice. He's the Labatt Blue man who resonates the catchphrase,"THE GOOD STUFF."
 
On another turn at CKBB/CKCB, I was the program director, and it was in that capacity that I discovered a couple of names you might recognize. Jim Van Horne was from the nearby hamlet of Waverly. I hired him, but it didn't turn out that well. Apparently I forgot to tell him that it wasn't for a job in Barrie, but at CKCB in Collingwood. Not exactly a great career move, and I know he was pissed for a while. But he got the last laugh, enjoying some of the best years at CHUM, way ahead of me .... and then a long career at TSN.
 
I wandered for a few years after that, working as a beer sales rep among other things, and for a couple of small radio stations in the interior of British Columbia before ill health forced me to return to Ontario. Once I was well again, I got the itch, and so flat broke I found myself hitchhiking to visit a young woman I knew in "the business" in Ottawa. But the first two guys to pick me up said they were going to Halifax ... and I thought ... what the heck ... and through a roundabout series of coincidences ... found myself sitting in the office of the station manager at CJCH in April 1976. It was my old St.  Thomas PD Paul SkiCHUM had just purchased both the radio and television station, and Ski had been sent in to revamp the whole radio operation, which included a complete overhaul of the announce staff.

Over the next few months, I worked every position on the dial, before finally taking advantage of that long ago Steve Douglas tutoring to gain the radio and TV sportscasting assignment, which is where I was discovered by Hockey Night in Canada's Dick Irvin, who hired me to come to Montreal to work at CFCF. But CHUM got wind of it and before I was signed at CFCFJ. Robert Wood scooped me and moved me to Toronto in 1977.

Jay Nelson was there then,,,,,,,Terry Steele,,,,,,John Majhor,,,,,,,John Gilbert,,,,,Roger Ashby,,,,,,J.D. Roberts,,,,,Pete and Geets on CHUM-FM, and working in the chair next to me,,,,,,Dick Smyth,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,The best radio,,,,news writer,,,,,,reader,,,,commentator ever. I was briefly in awe. Smyth and I got along well for the most part. Except for the day when his commentary was about a high school play he'd attended the night before. His own daughter's high school play. He trashed the play AND her. I blew my top. Walked out on him mid-broadcast.
 
My excessive drinking also became a problem. It probably should have cost me my career the number of drunken Thursday night flights I took to Fort Lauderdale and Treasure Island. Usually tracking me down at some beach bar, boss Jim Waters would just laugh and urge, "Just get back here when you've got this out of your system." And he always forgave me as did my wife Susan, even on Valentine's Day when we were supposed to be going out to dinner. Instead, a dozen roses were delivered to her office with a note which read, "Gone to Nassau. LUV you hun. brian"
 
In 1984, Susan and I welcomed our first and only child, son Kyle (AKA., The Wonderkid.) A short time later I entered rehab and quit drinking. The Toronto Star did a major story on it. It was both embarrassing and motivating.
 
Dick Smyth left CHUM in 1987, and I accepted an offer to take over the news and commentary, which became not only an opportunity to vent my opinions  but to relate interesting stories,,,,and offer some insight into the most personal elements of my life,,,,including the painful months before and after Susan's death from stomach cancer in 1993 at age 42. A few days after Susan's funeral,Terry Steele, my best friend, also died. I was emotionally gutted.
 
But before she passed Susan left me with instructions to "take care" of her best friend Gayle, the single mother of two young girls. In 1995 we married, but before we could even move our blended family into our new home, I was felled with kidney cancer. Shortly after my recovery, I was asked to also take over the morning show in addition to the news and commentary. It was beyond overwhelming. By the end of 1998 my health and my enthusiasm for the job were seriously deteriorating. I was promised that in the new year, management would find a way to reduce my workload, but on the Friday of Super Bowl weekend 1999, I suffered a series of heart attacks ... and near death, underwent emergency bypass surgery at St Michael's Hospital.
 
Then came "The Team" sports fiasco and 15 months of demoralizing ineptitude followed by the sudden switch back to "all oldies" again. But the damage had been done, and I was done.......... I had a mental breakdown. Somewhat I'm sure caused by the chaos at CHUM, but we were soon to learn of an even more threatening health issue. Within weeks of returning to work with my mental state still teetering on the edge, I was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma. Another death sentence.

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Incredibly,, while I was enduring intense chemotherapy, and repeated blood transfusions, CHUM continued to run re-airings of "The Best of Henny" commentaries. Even while discussing (unbeknownst to me), my forthcoming termination they still aired those commentaries, milking the very last drop out of 10 years of work. In November 2004, I informed my bosses that my oncologist was ready to write a note authorizing my return to work. Instead of having me deliver the note to them, they offered to meet me downtown. And so after 27 years at CHUM LTD (28 including the year in Halifax), I was terminated with a limp-wristed handshake and a brown paper envelope in a TIM HORTONS DONUT SHOP next to the hospital.
 
59 years old, with only very specific skills in an industry which doesn't require much personality or creativity anymore, I was done.

I did a commentary once on the ruination of Canadian radio, in which I described this very circumstance, never realizing then that I was predicting the eventual demise of a broadcasting institution.
 
Even I'm not that smart.
 
You say bitter.
 
I say sad."

And here’s what Dick Smyth had to say two days ago in Warren Cosford’s newsletter

It's been a bad few months.

Radio has lost yet another of its great people.

In recent weeks, we lost J.J. Richards and Fred Ennis. Dave Wright and Tom Rivers are gone. Terry Steele. Bob  Humenick.

Then the devastating news today that Brian Henderson is gone.

Henny not only was a superb writer, a great performer and a larger-than-life character, he was a great and caring guy. He had a great and genuine loyalty to the CHUM organization which was rewarded by a crude firing. It was shameful, insulting and absurd. You don't fire unique talents like Henny. You cherish and safeguard them. But then the bean counters who have taken over the industry just don't understand that.

Henny was a great broadcaster because he understood people. He had a common touch and street sense that I envied.

When I decided to leave CHUM, mainly because of ... the inane management style, Henny took me out to lunch and did his best to change my mind.

I last saw Henny at the memorial for Nanci Rivers last summer (I didn't make the CHUM reunion). He had lost so much weight that, much to his amusement, I literally didn't recognize him. But he still looked healthy and was the same booming, boisterous guy.  I will dig out a couple of pictures from that event and post them, probably tomorrow.

I think we, his friends and colleagues, should arrange some sort of permanent memorial for him. Any ideas?

Read more comments about the man on Facebook

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