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CKOC 100 years old today, but no birthday cake

CKOC 100 years old today, but no birthday cake

A visit to Bell Media’s website makes no mention of the fact that one of their radio stations in Hamilton, CKOC, is celebrating its one hundredth birthday May 1. Indeed, one has to search the corporate website to find any mention of the station at all. Eventually it did turn out to be mentioned under the banner of BNN Bloomberg radio. That is what CKOC is now—a rebroadcaster of the Bloomberg business news service.

It wasn’t always that way. At one time CKOC was one of the most popular radio stations in Ontario. In 1980 it boasted 734,000 listeners a week—compared to the 25,000 listeners a week it now reaches as a Bloomberg outlet. This writer first discovered CKOC when living in Toronto in the late 1960’s. Our favorite rock station, CHUM, broadcast Larry Solway’s talk show in the evenings, and for top 40 fans in Toronto, it was a short hop up the dial the continue listening to all the hits on CKOC.

Kevin Leahy alerted the Bay Observer to the anniversary, writing about the station’s founder Herbert Haslam Slack. “Herb’s (Slack’s) partner was my great grandfather George Crawford the electrical wizard of their partnership.” He said it was Crawford who introduced Slack to the possibilities of radio in 1921

The station got its start in 1922, when Herb Slack, owner of the Wentworth Automobile Company, an auto accessories company that eventually established stores across Canada as a forerunner to Canadian Tire, decided to add radios to his product line. Like many of his contemporaries, he established the radio station in order to sell radios. Ted Rogers Sr. did the same thing in Toronto. Slack’s business grew and by the end of the 1920s he had nearly a dozen stores, with an increasing focus on radio. He had a luxury showroom in Toronto in the same building now occupied by Bay-Bloor Radio, where people could sit on comfortable sofas and listen to radios that sometimes cost up to $2,000.

Slack died of appendicitis in his 30’s but the station carried on before Slack’s estate disposed of the station to the Toronto advertising firm Taylor, Pearson and Carson who operated a string of radio stations under the All-Canada banner. Shortly after, J. Lyman Potts , who later became a legendary Canadian broadcast executive, joined CKOC as program director.

In 1936, the station became an affiliate of CBC as many private radio stations did in those days. During that time stations like CKOC would carry US comedy, music and drama programming during its evening schedule in those days before television. Detroit sports broadcasting legend Bud Lynch worked at CKOC for a time.

In the days before television, stations like CKOC carried all the popular American music, comedy and drama programs, typically with a single sponsor

Speaking of television, the owners of CKOC, were a partner in a consortium that successfully applied for a license to operate CHCH TV, under the leadership of Ken Soble of CHML in 1953.

By the mid 50’s CKOC boasted on air talent like Perc Allen in sports, Baden Langton in news and Graham Emslie as news director.

With arrival of the 1960’s CKOC talent included George Balcaen, who later went on to dominate morning radio in Montreal, Mike Jaycock, Jason Roberts, Con Stevenson, Roger Ashby and Bob Bratina. In 1972 Nevin Grant became program director. Connie Smith worked there in 1974. Kathy Renwald worked at CKOC before joining CHCH,

Up until 1992 CKOC was an AM top 40 station, but FM was quickly overtaking that genre with its better music reproduction.  AM stations were forced to look for other formats as their market share declined.

For CKOC, the move was to become an oldies station—a format it would maintain for more than 20 years with the likes of Rockin’ Ray Michaels, Jason Farr, Brent Sleightholm and Shelly Marriage part of the on-air team.

During this period the station underwent many ownership changes as broadcasting in Canada began to consolidate. CKOC eventually passed into its current ownership by Bell Media. In 2015 the oldies stopped coming, as the station was turned into a TSN affiliate, an experiment that failed to capture market share. In February 2021 CKOC essentially ceased providing local Hamilton  content as Bell media converted it and several other Canadian stations it owned into a network of BNN Bloomberg rebroadcasters. One of Canada’s first radio stations reaches its 100th anniversary virtually forgotten, a victim of shifting tastes and technologies.

Noted Kevin Leahy on the anniversary of the radio station his great grandfather helped found, “you would think Bell Media would want to build Hamilton’s accomplishments but I see no celebration listed yet on the internet and when I wrote them a year or so ago I had no reply.

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