Sunday, August 29, 2010

CKLW: The Big 8

I can’t even remember how many times I have tried to recount to people what it was like growing up in Windsor in the 60s and 70s. I admit to major nostalgia, and have set the novel I am perpetually revising there, in that period.
Part of my explanation always has to do with the music. How to describe to others what it was like, how I was positive our experience was different from elsewhere. Who else can name “What Does It Take” (Jr. Walker and the All Stars) and “Rainy Night In Georgia” (Brooke Benton) as their favourite songs from elementary school? I mean really.
Well folks, finally I have a full and complete answer. I just bought and watched RADIO REVOLUTION: The Rise and Fall of The Big 8. No wonder I was having trouble. It took writer/director Michael McNamara 72 minutes to do justice to Windsor in the era I grew up in. (To buy it, and I strongly recommend this – go here )
The documentary is a Gemini winner, fast-paced and full of amazing background on the radio station and the songs that we were glued to… We would have said 24/7 if the expression had existed.
At the same time, I was totally unprepared for the factual side of the film – the immense musical, cultural and news achievements of the station. OK it was important to us, but I just had no idea about the huge role that the station played in both Windsor and Detroit. Any viewers will recognize the huge names of Canadian media, who started out in the border city, at CKLW.
In our world of Grade 7 and 8, we were obsessed with music. Artists from Detroit and Memphis and elsewhere in Canada and the States, but really it was the Motown r’n’b tunes that were the soundtrack to our lives. Little did we know that CKLW was itself responsible for making these songs hits across most of the northeastern States. We just knew which ones we were in love with.
The mom of our friend Pam worked for a Detroit radio station which, having seen the movie, I believe must have been “Keener.” One day Pam showed up with tear-off pads of Keener’s Top 30 listings, and before long we were collecting the weekly Keener charts, the CKLW charts and charts put out by CHYR in Leamington.
We all listened to this music primarily on transistor radios. In the fashion of the day, many of the girls had long, straight hair. Our friend Geri’s sister, in Grade 8, could weave the earphone up through her hair and listen in class. I even remember that her favourite song was “Chain, Chain, Chain” (Aretha Franklin). And I still remember the first time I heard “These Eyes” (The Guess Who). On the radio, being driven to a city-wide mass band rehearsal one Saturday morning, jammed into the back seat of some parent’s car with four or five other girls. I learned in Radio Revolution that airtime on CKLW was a major reason the song became such a massive international hit.
Now, the reason I know Windsor music was different from elsewhere stems from our family camping trips. Four kids, Ford Falcon, tent trailer and cat. As the oldest, I went on three: Grade 9, around Ontario, Grade 10, west coast, Grade 11, east coast. Then mercifully I entered the work world and stayed home. On our travels, my sister and I were appalled. There was nothing to listen to from Windsor to Vancouver and back again. We discovered that three songs were in constant rotation in Canada: Close To You (The Carpenters), Snowbird (Anne Murray) and Sweet City Woman (The Stampeders). We actually stopped replacing the batteries in our radios during these trips.
Then we got to Calgary and our cousins were playing Carole King’s “Tapestry.” And the BeeGees. Honestly we had never heard of either one, but ended up liking them anyway. The cousins had never heard of any of the groups we liked.
In one final music memory, Alice Cooper played our high school gym about six months before “Eighteen” became a hit, via CKLW. The band wrecked the boys’ changing room. And we never went because the school grapevine said he was going to bite the head off a live chicken.

No comments: