Guest Post: Dick Joseph – My First Adventure in the World of Radio

Dick Joseph in the CKSL 1410 control room as seen through the guest booth.

Anyone who listened to London radio in the 80s knew Dick Joseph. Dicker Q and the Afternoon Zoo was a hugely popular show on CKSL 1410 from ’82-’87. Dick hosted the on air and live versions of Desperate and Dateless. To me, the overnight host, he was a mentor and colleague. Recently, I wrote about some radio memories that prompted Dick to send me the story of his first job in radio. Without further ado, I give you his story in his words.

I could have started this story a few paragraphs down at the radio disaster I experienced on one Christmas Eve, but decided to begin five days earlier, upon my arrival in Blind River.

December 19, 1969. 9:51 PM.

After an eight hour ride, the Greyhound from downtown Toronto finally arrived at the Iron Horse Inn, which also served as the Blind River, Ontario bus terminal.

The Iron Horse Inn has a new white sign with green lettering and new windows. The building is brick, painted teal, with a little bit of paint coming off.
(The Iron Horse Inn, Blind River, 2021, a much nicer place now! Photo used with permission.)

I left the safety of the Greyhound for an unknown world as I entered the Iron Horse Saloon with an old suitcase and my Fender Strat. Although my Toronto rock band, Caesar’s Ghosts, had played in dozens of pubs and seedy joints, none compared to the look and smell of the Iron Horse. If you can imagine stale beer, human odor, cigarette smoke and a skunk rolled into one, that was the Iron Horse Inn & Saloon. Incredibly, customers did not seem to notice.

Adding to it all, Patsy Cline’s ‘I Fall To Pieces’ was playing on the jukebox. I was a tough kid, but that song hit me hard.

I remember being dressed in bellbottoms, my Neil Young fringed leather jacket and a pair of $100 Beatle boots. In the snow.

My hair wasn’t what you would have called long, but it was well over my ears. Back in Toronto I would have blended in. Blind River, 1969, not so much.

Two scantily-clad, heavily made-up women at the bar began giving me the wink. As it was 20 below outside, I suspected they were on a separate mission. Another bar customer had on a hat that looked like either a dead beaver or raccoon, and upon seeing me and my guitar, slurred out, “Hey, G-Geronimo, p-play us a f-f-fuckin’ tune.”

The bartender doubled as the room clerk. I paid fifteen bucks for the night which included a free (possibly used) toothbrush, a coupon for a coffee and donut in the morning, and a little packet with something squishy inside. Wtf? (A condom!)

I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

It was 8 am when I answered my room phone to learn that Basil Thummer, the CJNR sales manager/program director (think Herb Tarlek, WKRP) was downstairs and had found me a place to live. Full room and board at $40 a week. My salary was only $50 a week.

He graciously drove me to the rental to pay.

——————

A large, weathered woman of Viking descent greeted me at the door. Her home smelled of warm cinnamon, baked apple pie and 4711 Cologne. There was no hello, except to say in a thick Norwegian accent, “I am Gerda. Breakfast 7. Lunch 11:30 and supper 5 pm, sharp. Miss mealtime and you’ll do without until the next.”

Basil Thummer returned to the radio station. I was shown my quarters next to another room that Gerda said was rented to a freshly graduated RCMP constable. Just as I put my stuff away, Roger the cop returned from the shower with only a towel over his shoulder. For a buff RCMP guy, he was small… I mean short in height.

I made it to supper that night. 5 pm sharp. There was Gerda’s mountain man of a husband, Rolf, in green overalls at the end of the table, already half way through his turkey platter sized plate. He never verbally acknowledged my presence, although he’d occasionally look in my direction and sort of grunt. The pot of stew on the table was like nothing I’d ever seen, or smelled before.

Two days later Rolf looked right at me, grinned and yelled ‘yahh, hogs and boners’. Guess he found out I was the one on the radio who read the CJNR Farm Report at 4:55 PM.

I later learned from Dudley Do-Right the stew was a mixture of deer, rabbit, moose and wild mushrooms. I was so hungry that first night I ate it. And seconds. A lot of gristle, tongue and hooves.

I’m thinking, does every radio DJ starting out in a ‘far away from home town’ go through this? In honesty, I did pick Blind River. I had two other offers in Moose Jaw and Kenora that I dismissed.

Mountie Roger said they enjoyed the same supper most nights except for Sunday, which was special, as Sunday was often ‘road kill night’. Never knew if he was joking. I seldom ate dinner at Gerda’s after that. When I located the town’s only fast food joint, Smoke Signal Burgers, I’d grab one before I went to the radio station.

However, Gerda’s breakfast was worthy of a Michelin 3 Star rating. Wild boar bacon, cranberry sausages, fresh eggs, churned butter and cream, pancakes with local maple syrup, preserves and the best home baked breads, muffins and pastries I’ve ever tasted. So good, they are ingrained in my memory all these years later.

Sgt. Preston of the Yukon and I were also becoming buddies. He was the only RCMP stationed in Blind River at the time. But for some reason, was intrigued by radio. Hours of questions.

After breakfast one day Roger took me to his room and taught me how to take apart and clean a 9 mm Smith & Wesson. He had to do it everyday. He also gave me a beautiful .22 rifle that he told me to carry on the daily long walk to CJNR. Evidently moose and the odd wolf were occasionally troublesome. There were also rabid coyotes in the area. Wtf? The next day we went target shooting together. He knocked off a jackrabbit. I came close to putting a round through my foot.

—————

And so… Fast forward to Christmas Eve.

I’d been at my first radio job five days. I was quickly becoming accustomed to the smoky, sweat-scented, mouse-trap filled control room of CJNR. The station was in an old two story house. There were also mice that scampered across the board every couple of hours. C’mon.

I had already done mornings, two remotes, the 3 pm to midnight show and played Lola by the Kinks 93 times. (It was the station manager’s favorite song. There may have been a bigger story there, too.) After the late shift I turned off the transmitter, cleaned the shitter, emptied the trash, and fed the owners’ ducks out the back. Did I mention it was 20 below? I didn’t own a winter coat.

CJNR was a CBC affiliate, and I was told to turn up the big red knob at exactly 7:59:59. Evidently, the Christmas Eve tradition of Handel’s Messiah would magically be broadcast through the control board and play over 1,000 watts to all the redne’…. I mean, nice people in the area. CJNR Blind River also covered nearby Elliot Lake as CKNR.

Anyway, I did as was instructed. It was going to be a heck-of-a lonely, but easy, peaceful Christmas Eve. I thought.

It was 9 PM when CJNR’s two other DJs, Owen Smicker and Andy Caprezio and their friend, Rufus, an intern from CKSO Sudbury, showed up with pizza, weed and beer. After a couple of drinks I felt brave enough to tell Owen and Andy they really needed new radio names if they were to progress to the big leagues.

At roughly 9:45 pm as Handel’s Messiah went into a ten minute O Holy Night, Rufus asked if he could practice his DJ schtick at the controls. I said OK.

Those old boards had two channels with big round rotary pots. Below the pots, levers flicked left for ‘A’ on-air, or right for ‘B’ cueing. Primitive, but they worked well.

I made sure all controls were switched to the B side so Rufus could NOT go over the air. He seemed to understand, though he clearly had ingested way too much liquor.

A moment later he got up, clutching his genitals, and ran down the hall to the bathroom. Upon returning, he fell back into the chair, and thanks to whatever he was on, inadvertently flicked ALL switches to the ON AIR SIDE. I simply didn’t notice. (And who the hell names their kid Rufus, anyway.)

Rufus then taps the mic ON, grabs a liner card and begins to read, slurring his words.

“Merry fuuuuckin’Christmas from the ‘Big R’ to Emileen Shamas (O Holy Night..) who won a fully stuffed twenty pound cocksuuuucking turkey (hic) from Green’s IGA! (The stars are brightly shining..) Fuck me! I’d like to fuckin’ stuff your turkey Emileen! (It is the Night of the..) Son of a bitch, that is one fat ass motherfuuuuckin’ bird!”

I heard Rufus say it, no big deal I thought. Except wait, why was the control room bathed in RED!? Perhaps it was, ahh… due to the fact that the TWO FOOT WIDE ‘ON-AIR’ LIGHT was glowing like the sun!

Phone lines began blinking. Suddenly panic. Rufus had read his ‘special version’ of the turkey giveaway promo card ON-AIR! I flew over a chair and slammed the mic button off!

I was a skinny kid, maybe 110 pounds, but I picked Rufus up and literally threw him into a four-foot high Christmas tree at the back of the studio.

A lady from Red Barn (program sponsor), called first from Sault Ste Marie. She was completely freaking out. I put the gal on hold. (I hear she remained on hold until Boxing Day.) Then, the station owner, Mr. Jordan called. He was listening at home with his wife, who he said not only almost went into cardiac arrest over the language, but spilled hot chamomile and hibiscus tea on her new red holiday dress. Also listening were Mr. Jordan’s twin thirteen-year-old daughters and a younger brother visiting for Christmas, from the… SEMINARY. Wtf?!

Oh boy. Could this get any worse?

Yup. Rufus’ diatribe went out over Blind River’s airwaves right on top of… can I even say it… O Holy Night.

I felt sick to my stomach. Maybe I was hallucinating.

I was ripped apart on that call from the station owner. As it was my shift, I was fired over the phone. That was the same day I got my first radio press pass. As you can see, I still have it.

I’m told Handel’s Messiah continued without further interruption after I left the station. Not sure how the night at CJNR played out as I had to walk two miles BACK to Gerda’s house. Of course with my .22. Without a winter coat. Did I mention it was 20 below?

I wondered if ol’ Gerda would break the rules for just one night, you know, Christmas Eve and all, and let a young scared radio DJ have a small bowl of that warm beaver-moose-possum stew.

—————

She was sitting in a chair at the kitchen table with only the glow of a candle. Still listening to Handel’s Messiah. I blurted out, Mrs. Maggusson, that wasn’t ME!

She turned around and pushed a piece of warm peach cobbler over to me.

Gerda said, “I know. Here, put on sweater. Sit. Eat.” A moment later…

“And, your Mr. Jordan called the house, hour ago. Yahh, is small town. Says he sorry and wants you back for morning. Six AM? I said you would be there. Merry Christmas, Richard.”

I remained at 730 CJNR doing the 5pm to midnight shift until March of 1970.

—————

Newspaper article on Dick Joseph's departure from London to Los Angeles. The headline reads: The radio matchmaker heads for L.A.

Stay tuned for part two, where we reminisce over control room sexcapades, wild on-air pranks like setting a newsman on fire, becoming Bossjocks, borrowing (without permission) Ted Rogers’ CFTR yacht, and envelopes stuffed full of record company payola. (Thank you Motown!)

My film script ‘The Last Bossjock’ is currently awaiting production where the Blind River Christmas Eve scene is recreated in all its glory.

Dick Joseph, Toronto

8 thoughts on “Guest Post: Dick Joseph – My First Adventure in the World of Radio”

    1. Thanks, Brenda – Dick has a way with words! He was the first person I ever saw use a laptop. This was in the 80s. And he moved from London to a job in Los Angeles, which was unheard of back then. Thanks so much for reading. 🙂

  1. Hilarious! Hard to believe this really happened
    but Dick Joseph’s first radio adventure is one of those ‘you can’t make this stuff up.!”

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