Homegrown jock Roger Ashby recalls CHUM’s days at Yonge and St. Clair
When I first moved to midtown Toronto, my apartment was within a five-minute walk of one of the most iconic landmarks in Hogtown: the CHUM building at 1331 Yonge St.
My then-fiancée and I lived in a five-storey apartment building on Woodlawn Ave., and when we were hunting for a home, I have to admit, the CHUM building was a contributing factor. That, and we had an awesome view of the Summerhill LCBO’s clock tower.
Unfortunately, the iconic neon sign at CHUM was taken down in September of 2008, in preparation for the station’s move downtown. I reported on its departure from the building for the Town Crier.
I’ve always been drawn to the pop-culture beacon, probably because my mom always beamed when talking about the CHUM chart, the CHUM horoscopes and all those little contests they used to have.
Roger Ashby was one of the many jocks who spun the vinyl for kids clutching their AM radios close to their hearts — and my mom was one of them, listening from her home in Fenwick.
He joined the troupe under the watchful eye of owner Allan Waters in 1969. Back then there was a Chevrolet dealership across the street, and a gas station around the corner. No condos or big apartment buildings.
That year, 1969, was also about a decade before I entered the world.
Ashby laughed when I told him I was born the year Breakfast in America by Supertramp was released.
“Oh my god,” he said, with a chuckle. “You’re making me feel old.”
He had some pretty awesome stories to tell about the Osmonds, Bay City Rollers and a couple of yahoos who ran amok in 1986.
There was even a room in the building named after the quintet.
He told about how having the Osmonds in “created pandemonium on the street.”
“Rather than bring them in where all the kids had gathered, we brought them in the back door and kept them in this little room in the back. It really was a nothing room — a storage room.”
As for the Bay City Rollers, a pop-rock troupe from Scotland, they shut down Yonge Street for a couple of blocks when they came to midtown. Their fans couldn’t contain themselves.
“[The city] actually had to close Yonge Street off for a couple of blocks because the kids outside were jumping up and down on their limousine,” Ashby said, excitement in his radio-honed voice. “[The band] thought the roof was going to collapse.”
Whenever artists came to Toronto they visited the CHUM building, whether it was for AM or FM. They knew it was the hub for breaking the Canadian market — before video, by way of MuchMusic, killed the radio star.
Just before our signals were disconnected for the day, Ashby shared one final anecdote that certainly intrigued me.
On Aug. 11, 1986, Ashby’s birthday (and owner Waters’s too), two “stoners,” as he calls them, who lived across the road decided the radio tower was interfering with their TV signals.
“They came over in the middle of the night and cut the guy-wires,” Ashby said. “Down came the tower, right across Yonge Street, smashed into the car dealership — did some damage there — and nearly missed one of the all-night buses.”
Marilyn Denis, who had only recently joined the on-air team, had just walked through the door to the station when it happened, Ashby shared.
And I’m sure the two stoners were front runners for the Darwin Awards that year.