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Today, Jim Jj Johnston Salutes David Marsden

Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes.

Today, Jim Jj Johnston Salutes David Marsden

By Jim Jj Johnston

Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018 every day we have paid tribute to one of “The Good Ones.” David Marsden has the final spotlight.


David to me is like the Neil Young of radio. Neil Young manages to appeal to all shapes and sizes, all music fans no matter their favourite genre, and no matter how old or young you are. He is a music treasure, and David is that to radio. He has been and continues to be so influential in so many ways. He is a pioneer, he is an original, he is never afraid to take chances. He has reinvented himself many times and has always maintained that devilish and charming smile.

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I had run into him occasionally at, again, you guessed it, record company events or conventions, and later, when he moved to Vancouver, we managed to have a chat or two. I’ve always found him friendly, smart and very entertaining and had him on this list from day one.

David started his radio career in Chatham at CFCO. It’s wasn’t as easy as that sounds. David tells that story through something that happened many years after that: “A lawyer contacted me asking if I would have lunch. After a few contacts, I agreed.

We met at 7 West on Charles Street. A place I have always found relaxing and cool. We chatted small talk for quite a while. The drinks arrived. The food arrived. And the small talk continued. I was becoming very curious. What was this lunch all about?

‘Why did you want to have lunch with me?’ I asked. The lawyer's name - Michael Alexander. He then asked where I had started my career. I told him that happened in Chatham at CFCO. I also told him the story behind that. You see I had visited about 30 radio stations throughout Ontario, where each of the Program Directors told me it was likely I would make it in radio. Oh yes - they all used different words, but the message was always the same.

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I had heard of an opening for an operator at CFCO in Chatham. From Toronto, I took a bus. Only one other person was on that bus. We had not spoken, but we both got off in Chatham. When I finally arrived at the station the other person from the bus was there in the waiting area?
He got called in. After only a few minutes he came out, nodded at me and as he left the building. I was called in and told that the guy in front of me had taken the job! It was about that time when I was ready to give up. I was living on the kindness of people and the money I could borrow from them, although they weren't people I really knew.

After thinking about the situation, I was kind of becoming annoyed. Two weeks later I called the station to tell them they had been unfair to me. The PD said – ‘Where have you been? Another guy just left’, and they were willing to hire me as Morning Operator.

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I hitch hiked to Chatham and started work the next day. (BTW - the guy in first who got the job two weeks back was Dave Pender-Crighton and we became friends. And while we haven't talked in years, I admire his career.)

I'm telling Lawyer Alexander this story and a few others about my time at CFCO. Of course, I also mentioned how lucky I was to worked there during the time when John Beardall owned the station. They were wonderful teachers in a smaller town radio station. I shall never forget.

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At this point, I look at Lawyer Michael Alexander, and he is tearing up. In fact, there are a few tears rolling down his cheeks. I asked ‘Are you OK?’ Through sniffles, Michael says ‘John Beardall was my Grandfather...’ After lunch, Michael Alexander gave me a ride home in John Beardall's Rolls Royce, which Michael had inherited.”

At the time his name was Dave Mickie. Before radio, he was into managing bands with one of those being a Canadian rock band called The Revols. One member of that band, Richard Manuel, ended up being famous when he became part of 'The Band’.

After getting into radio in 1963 at CFCO, he was off to his second radio station, CHLO in St. Thomas. He started out doing a phone-in show in the afternoon and worked in the newsroom the rest of the time. And then good luck came tapping on the door. Don Lumley the PD asked him if he wanted to do a music show? The evening announcer was leaving and if David wanted that time slot, Don would make it happen. And he did.

It was a Beautiful Music station, so he got to play Ray Conniff and that sort of music. But he didn't like doing that, so he brought a stack of 45's from home and started getting some audience action. The station didn’t like him breaking format and blew him out but rehired him quickly when they saw the ratings increases.

One night, while he was doing the show, he got a call from a record promo guy who said he was in London and had been listening to him. He had only recently begun to do the fast-talking, screaming Mickie thing.

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That record promo guy wondered if he was interested in being in Toronto radio.

As a kid, Dave would often listen to ‘The Make-Believe Ballroom’ on CKEY and he said yes, telling him about his favourite Toronto radio station. The guy said “OK. I think you would be good in Toronto and I'll see what I can do.”

A few weeks later Dave came into the radio station to find a pink-phone slip in his bunk. It asked that he call a guy named Gene Kirby at CKEY. As he had never been secretive about what and where he wanted to be, he figured it was someone at the station trying to hose him and didn’t return the call.

David goes on to say: “This happened a second time, and again I threw the pink-phone paper in the waste basket.

A few days later there was another message. But this said - call Gene at home. And it gave his home phone number. I decided OK you mother****ers I will call that number and OK you got me.

When I called, a voice answered. I said who I was and asked for Gene Kirby. ‘This is Gene." the voice said. For a few moments I didn't know what to say. Gene said ‘I'm interested in chatting with you. May I come down to St. Thomas?’ Still thinking I was being had - I said, ‘Sure come on down anytime’.

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Gene said – ‘how about Thursday at 2 in the afternoon?’ Sounds good to me I said, adding let's meet at the station. Now I knew it was a gag. Why would PD at CKEY named Gene Kirby drive to St. Thomas and why would he meet me at the station? He probably didn't know where the station was, or for that matter - St. Thomas.

Thursday came, and I decided - what the Hell, I'll just go by the station at 2 to prove it was a bluff. I told no one. But I figured I would hear them all laughing their asses off, upon my arrival.

I got to the station. While hanging around in the little reception area I saw a big black Lincoln Continental parked outside with the driver sitting behind the wheel. So, I strolled out the door and casually wandered by the Lincoln. Then the window on the passenger side opened and the guy hollered – ‘Hey are you Dave Mickie? I'm Gene Kirby’. Well Holy Shit - I thought. Mr. Kirby took me to some restaurant for coffee. By the end of the first hour or so - I had a new job doing evenings at CKEY in Toronto. I was to start in two weeks.

And oh yeah - about that record promo guy. He became my Manager for a couple of years. His name was Walt Grealis. And his friend Stan Klees would often give me advice about being professional, and also would write some of my Mickie's bits for the next evening.”

When CKEY hired him, he was soon labelled "the most controversial thing on Toronto radio." He got hot pretty quickly in the Big Smoke and shortly after replaced THE Alex Trebek as the host of Music Hop on CBC Television. Then came a column for the Toronto Star in the same year and all this made him very popular.

Marshall McLuhan's loved his unique DJ style and patter and wrote about him in his book Understanding Media. Here’s a Dave Mickie on-air break from Marshall’s book: “That's Patty Baby, and that's the girl with the dancing feet, and that's Freddy Cannon there on the David Mickie Show in the night time ooohbah scuba-doo, how are you booboo? Next we'll be Swinging on a Star and sssshhhwwoooo and sliding on a moonbeam. Waaaaa how about that . . . one of the goodest guys with you . . . this is lovable, kissable D.M. in the p.m. at 22 minutes past nine o'clock there, aahhrightie, we're gonna have a Hitline, all you have to do is call WAlnut 5-1151, WAlnut 5-1151, tell them what number it is on the Hitline.”

In the mid-to-late '60s, the Dave Mickie name and persona morphed into David Marsden. He was off to Montreal to join CKGM in 1967. A few years later David crossed the hall to sister station, CKGM-FM and had a huge hand in switching the station's format from beautiful music to free-form progressive rock on CHOM-FM. In 1973, he returned to Toronto with his new, completely different on-air delivery and personality at CHUM-FM. A couple of years later he left the station for a couple or reasons: To devote more time to his radio commercial production company, and because he didn’t like having to follow the tight playlist CHUM-FM had now instituted. He refused to follow it and split shortly after the philosophical change.

He returned to the Toronto airwaves as a DJ at CHIC-FM, shortly before it transformed into CFNY. Dave Pritchard who was the Program Director had some differences with station management and in 1978 it was David who they promoted to the PD job. Before his CFNY arrival, it was quite an eclectic station. David saw the commercial potential of punk and new wave and morphed in into Canada's first alternative music station, The Spirit of Radio CFNY. Instantly the station became the champion of new international and Canadian artists. They played tunes that most radio stations had no time for.

In 1985, CBC Television's battle of the bands’ competition series 'Rock Wars' was hot and David was brought on as a judge for some of the episodes.

In July 1987, GM Bill Hutton and David hired Don Berns to be the new Program Director. David continued as director of operations and as executive producer of the CASBY Awards (which is still an important awards show and still going strong with 102.1 the edge). Not one to have any moss grow under his feet, David left a year later and rejoined the CBC, this time moving to Vancouver to be a producer of the multi-award-winning TV show, Pilot One.

Following that, and this is where we ran into each other more often, he launched another free-form modern rock station, Coast 800, later Coast 1040, in Vancouver. This was a great station and quickly gathered its audience even though is was on AM. Even though we were competitors somewhat, David was quick to invite us in to see the station and talk ‘stuff’. Once again, in another huge Canadian city, he made a big difference in exposing new international and Canadian music.

David tells a side story about that time and space: “It happened during the decade I lived in Vancouver. At the time I was Director of Operations and Programming for COAST 1040. The great weekly paper called The Georgia Strait was wanting to do a story on us, but that's not the story I tell today.

It all started when The Georgia Straight put my picture on the full cover. Flattering? Humbling? Of course, yes, to both questions. The paper came out each Thursday. That weekend I stopped by a shop on the North Shore. When I walked in the door the owner looked at me. I saw him smile. I was ready for something nice to be said. What he said was – ‘Wow! There's a picture of Charles Bronson on the cover of this week's Straight. And you look just like him!’ I said nothing but gave him a big smile.

About two weeks later there was a Big Roasting Party for Harvey Gold - CEO of the company who owned COAST 1050. I was asked to speak. The place was wall to wall with the main players of West Coast radio.

I said a few nice things and then indicated that sometimes Harvey didn't always see the whole picture. I held up the copy of The Straight with my full-blown photo on it. The word Georgia was in very small letters. Meaning - the name of the paper was splashed across the top of the front page just above my head. All it said was - STRAIT. I then said – ‘Harvey indicated he was really impressed!’ He said to me – ‘Wow David, how did you do that. Amazing!!’ I then said to the top quality audience – ‘You see - Harvey really thought that was the headline’.

They all laughed for 5 minutes, except for Jack Stark who was losing his hearing. ‘What did he say?’ he asked everyone at his table.”

David came back to Toronto and ever the innovator he got involved in the creation of Iceberg Radio, the first major Canadian Internet radio project that had a major role in carving out the streaming way.

In the early 2000's he got back onto the terrestrial radio airwaves as host of the David Marsden Radio Program, which was a free-form rock show (also called ‘The Marsden Theatre’) in Oshawa on The Rock 94.9. My son Geordan Johnston was the Promotions Director there when David showed up. Geord loved talking to him, hearing his stories and of course his show. During this time, he was the only free-form DJ on a commercial radio station in North America.

Of all the recognition he has received over the years, a stand-out was from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where he is profiled in exhibits for both his on-air Dave Mickie persona and for his role as Program Director of The Spirit of Radio, CFNY. He was invited down and recalls that trip: “When I spent a week in Cleveland for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honour - it was the final big night. Before the big show, I was sitting at a table in the Green Room. Three of us were having a nice chat. My table mates?‎ Little Richard and George Clinton! Of course, The Rock Hall recognition was a huge thrill - but meeting and spending time with radio’s legendary Dick Biondi, ‎almost equalled the big moment.”

Then there was the little vacation to New York City. David had previously had several meetings with Rick Sklar Program Director (an absolute programming guru and god) at the amazing 77 WABC. One afternoon during that vacation he gave him a call. Rick said, "oh David can you come over to the office?" No one never said no to Mr.Sklar.

David recalls: “You can only imagine the thoughts that went through my head as I made my way there.

Now one has to visualize Rick Sklar he says. A man of great stature but even slightly shorter than me. He was always dressed in what today would be called business casual. And his face, eyes and ears were always open to learning something new. He loved radio but didn't seem to fit the mold I had been accustomed to with Program Directors. When I got to the ABC Black Rock I was immediately sent into his office. Rick was a most charming guy. I always enjoyed my time visiting with him. He really understood the radio of that time. I mean - this was the home of such greats as - Ron Lundy, Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie and Bob Lewis (who later I would become friends with after Bob visited Toronto to see his friend Don Berns. Bob Lewis once told me he really didn't understand CFNY).

Mr. Sklar was at the door of his office to great me. But before I could even say HI he leapt forward for the handshake and said in a loud and excited voice with that delightful New York accent - 'you're in the book!!!!'

I had no idea what he was talking about. 'What?', I said. 'You're in the damn book!', Rick said loudly. By now we are sitting comfortably in his office and he is all aglow and keeps suggesting that I am in some book. I finally had to admit that I didn't know what he was talking about? He quickly opened his top desk drawer and pulled out The Book. 'Look look you're in it' he said. What he held out was Marshall McLuhan's ‘Understanding Media’. At that time I wasn't up on the latest Gospel's but was soon to learn that Dr. McLuhan was in charge. Particularly on Madison Avenue. Sklar then proceeded to call as many people into his office as he could to be introduced. Including Howard Cosell!”

We all have defining moments in life. David is a master storyteller. This story is what he calls ‘the difficult part.’

“This is about when I was kicked out of High School by a Principle named Thrasher because he thought I was ‘different’. And then I was dumped from at least one radio job because someone had heard I was ‘different. There was no choice but to hide.

And then came that day in the early '80s when it all came to the point of no return: It was a Saturday morning. I was sleeping late as I had a late show each Saturday evening. That Saturday morning, the phone rings very early. Half asleep, I pick it up. Gruffly I say - hello.

It's Pat Hurley the head guy at the time, for CFNY-FM. He doesn't sound angry, nor does he sound happy. ‘Meet me at the station in 20 minutes’ he commands. I say – ‘But- but....’. Pat says ‘20 minutes.’

I dress quickly and head to the little yellow house. Pat is there waiting. As I get out of my car, Pat meets me by opening my car door. With not so much as a greeting Pat says in a rather brusque voice – ‘Did you hear what happened last night?’ I hadn't. He seemed surprised.

Turns out the Toronto Bathhouse Raids had taken place the night before. Apparently more than 300 men had been arrested. Pat was quite upset. And then came the moment. The moment that may be one of the most important in my life till that time. Pat says – ‘And I want to do an editorial about it!’ Bath Houses.

Editorial? This may not be good!

The problem was I didn't know which side he was on. Would this be the defining moment for me? Would I be terminated on the spot if I revealed my thoughts and beliefs? After all - being ‘different’ hadn't worked so far. I think I stammered searching for the unknown answer.

‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I asked Pat.

There was no question. He very much wanted to record an editorial, and he wanted it to run many times a day and into the next week. I stood searching for a way out of this perceived predicament. I had lived my secret for many decades and when someone thought they recognized I was ‘different’ they often ended our association.

At that moment he thrust the paper containing his written editorial toward me. If we differed in our opinions should I say no - or should I just keep quiet? Protect myself? These were the questions racing through my mind.

I loved what we were doing at CFNY. And believed very much that the opportunities for the future and how we could change things was very much a part of it. I sure didn't want to lose it. I looked down at the paper, reading Pat's words for his editorial about the night before and the raids on the bath houses.

Frankly I have never been in a bath house - but yes, I did have friends who often frequented them. And from what I had heard there was nothing creepy happening.

Slowly I read. I read Pat's words. OMG! Pat was on our side. This was my moment. It was finally safe. I looked Pat Hurley in the eye and said – ‘Yes - let's get this done’.

I will always remember that few minutes on a cold February morning when I finally knew I would not be viewed as ‘different’ by my boss. Thank you, Pat. I'm so glad we have remained friends all these years later.”

What’s this maverick up to now?

Innovation, of course. David created the subscription-based radio channel NYTheSpirit.com and launched it in September 2014. The station plays a mixture of music, concentrating heavily on the 80’s alternative scene. There’s a marvelous line-up of DJ’s, all who have the free-form mentality that is all about the '80s heyday’s of The Spirit of Radio, CFNY. You will hear All Nite Andre, Ivar Hamilton, James New Music Show (Ufton), Brad McNally, Scott Eagleson, Rob Stuart and drop in a regular diet of special DJ Guests, all at NYTHESPIRIT.com.

David sums up: “CFNY really happened because Mr. Bill Hutton believed and always supported my ideas. Steve Kassay and Doug Kirk took a chance to let me be Free Form, also a risk. It lasted 11 years.

There are so many who provided me with the place needed to do whatever it is, I do. Gene Kirby, Walt Grealis, Stan Klees, Steve Dunn, Geoff Stirling, Stan Jacobson, Bob Laine, and dozens of folks as we stood together for what we believed.

Then there’s the life-defining Pat Hurley, Mary Curtis Morgan the Comptroller who from the moment I walked into CFNY helped steer me through the dreaded ‎process of budgets and so much more.

There are so many who helped me make something happen. I must not forget Bob Lehman - an amazing producer with whom I worked together in several stations in Canada and of course a shout out to my Business Partner at NYTheSpirit.com - Igor Loukine.”

I loved CFNY and was so thrilled when I got to work there under my CORUS Toronto GM watch. Yes, it was the edge now, but the spirit lived on. How great that RUSH wrote and recorded that song ‘The Spirit of Radio’. I still smile every time I hear that song of well-deserved recognition and see David’s face with that inimitable smile.

You have just read the story of 'The Spirit of Radio', the trailblazer, the wonderfully charming, smart, innovative and fearless David Marsden. One of the most influential figures in the history of the Canadian radio and music industry who gave/gives Canadian and international alternative rock artists the radio exposure they deserve.

Thank you, David Marsden, for being one of “The Good Ones” and for making a difference in so many ways. Keep it going, and atta be! Feel free to like and share David’s positive story.

That, my friends, is a wrap! Thank you to everyone for being with me on this 365’er journey throughout 2018. It's been a labour of love and hasn't been easy.
There are still so many people still to salute. I will be summing on this whole endeavour and will have other thoughts in the days to come. Stay tuned as they say.

BTW you will be able to hear some of those thoughts as of Jan 1 on Matt Cundill’s excellent podcast series SOUNDOFFPODCAST.COM.

All the best in 2019, Cheers and bye for now.

– Jim JJ Johnston is the CEO, President and Chief Programmer/Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries worldwide.

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