Whatever happened to …

… The Big 8?

Earlier this week, I had an online interaction with Jane Mitchinson.  I had run across a story about the reaction to Windows 95 and she indicated that she had covered it as a reporter for CFTR Radio.  That brought back nice memories from commuting from Kitchener to Toronto to attend the Faculty of Education.  My car at the time only had an AM radio.  That was OK because I only had it set to one station – CFTR.  During the morning commute, I’d listen to Jim Brady play the music and always got a kick from listening to Russ Holden and Darryl Dahmer do the traffic from helicopters.  I don’t know how they did it; but just envisioned them flying in a helicopter and putting it on autopilot or something to do their reports.  It was a regular routine.  Of course, once I got to where I lived in Toronto, the in room radio was changed to the FM band and CHUM-FM.

But long before that, CFTR wasn’t on the dial.  Growing up, there was only one channel – CKLW, The Big 8.  It played the best music of the day and was on everywhere we went.  One weekend drives with friends, it was cranked up really loudly and we enjoyed the expertise of such disk jockeys as Pat Holiday, Jim Edwards, Gary Burbank, Charlie O’Brien and I’m sure I could remember other names if I remember.  It broadcasted from Windsor, Ontario but you never really got the sense that it was a Canadian radio station.  All the advertising and traffic reports that I can remember were from Detroit, Michigan.  Given the location, I know that it was high on the charts all across Michigan and into Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio.  At night, the signal got ever clearer and more powerful and I remember hearing once that it was number 1 in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday nights.  CKLW was one of those stations that were termed “Border Blasters” as they were in one country essentially broadcasting to another.

Who could forget the “Million Dollar Weekend”?

If you were waiting to hear a favourite song, you didn’t have to wait too long – there wasn’t a huge playlist.  When Canadian content laws came into effect, the playlist changed dramatically.

AM radio became a victim of the improvement in technology.  With FM radio delivering stereo and a much cleaner signal, discriminating ears changed their dials and I’ll confess to being one of those.  The music just sounded so much better.

Eventually, CKLW changed format looking for something to retain listeners.  I remember changing the dial one day to hear the “Music of Your Life”.  I didn’t stay long; this wasn’t the music of “my life”.  Today, it’s taken a talk and news radio format like so many AM stations.  Traffic reports from Windsor streets and Windsor weather make it a station to listen to in the morning to find out what’s going on.  And, you can listen online.

But, I still have fond memories of driving around with friends listening to great music.

So now, it’s your turn…

  • Did you ever listen to The Big 8?
  • Do you have a favourite radio station from your past?  Is it still in operation?
  • Have you stopped listening to AM radio and switched to FM or Satellite radio?  How about online radio?
  • How do you get the morning news and traffic where you live?
  • Did you ever own a car that only had the AM band on your radio?

As always on a Sunday, I’m curious to hear your thoughts

Please share them via comment below.

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8 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. I’ll admit that I’ve never heard of the Big 8, but I do love listening to music as I drive. 1050 Chum used to be my favourite AM station. I haven’t listened to it in many, many years, and I have no idea if it’s still on the air and/or what music it plays. You have me curious to check this out today. I wonder about other people’s “musical car” experiences.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would suspect that most people’s preferences are local. CKLW was just so unique in that it broadcast seemingly everywhere. Except to Toronto when I lived there.


  3. The Big 8 also had regular helicopter traffic reports from Jo Jo Shutty, who was marrief to one of the best ‘voices’ in the history of radio, Mr. Byron MacGregor (sp?)

    When I worked at McDonald’s one of our favourite initiation pranks for new crew members was to send them across the street with a bag of food to wait for Ms. Shutty’s copter, as she’d “just called in her order.”

    We’d let the person stand out in the parking lot, staring up at the sky, for about ten minutes before calling them back in and telling them how often people fell for that one.

    But back to your questions: I think just about every kid our age had a transistor radio next to their bed tuned to AM 800 until a (I’m sure) slightly more expensive one was received for a birthday or Christmas that would bring in W4 and WRIF from Detroit on the FM dial.

    Today, and for most of my teaching career, I listen(ed) to the news on CBC in my car. That was always at 1250 on the AM dial until they moved to 97.5 on the FM dial a couple years ago. The morning shows of Paul Vasey and now Tony Doucette were and are old and trusted friends.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the “just called in her order” story. Brilliant. For me, it was high school pop via CJBK in London, and trying to make really bad mixtapes from the radio. I switched early to CBC, though. It was what was on in house and car, and stayed with me into university. These days it’s Radio 1 for info and Radio 2 for tunes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When I think about the great radio voices of my childhood, it’s the great CBC voices that are gone now: Harron and Gzowski, Maitland and Frum. I am still spellbound by The Shepherd on Christmas Eve, now listening with my own kids, knowing that my mom is listening, too, even if we’re not together.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Big 8! “C-K- L-W…The Motor City…” Can’t you just hear the music behind those words? 🙂
    It is a pleasure to reply!
    Did you ever listen to The Big 8?
    Yes, soundtrack to my life for years, from about Grade 7 on. The world’s best playlist, possibly literally. I didn’t realize at the time how influential the station was. I learned a lot from Mike MacNamara’s film Radio Revolution. One year our parents took us camping across Canada and we could not stand the music elsewhere! We missed the Big 8 so much. And our cousins in Calgary had never heard of the Motown, Sun and Stax artists that we favoured. We also listened sometimes to CHYR which broadcasted from Leamington.
    Do you have a favourite radio station from your past? Is it still in operation?
    I think CKLW is still operating but the format changed long ago.
    Have you stopped listening to AM radio and switched to FM or Satellite radio? How about online radio?
    Due to the cost of Internet up here, I do not listen to satellite radio or stream music. For several years I have had a new favourite station, CBC Radio 2, the morning and drive home shows. Also some of the other programs like Deep Roots, blues, jazz, and Vinyl Tap.
    How do you get the morning news and traffic where you live?
    If I’m honest, Facebook and Twitter. I do listen to the radio and hear news on my way to a school or meeting, but earlier I would have read at least the headlines online.
    Did you ever own a car that only had the AM band?
    No – lived in cities, cycled, and used public transit, and learned to drive late:)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Never listened to the Big 8 or had a car with only an FM band (lol). But yes I remember one station that I loved as a kid, and they were bought out when I moved from home. (cries in the dark now).


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