As I look back at my time at CFTR, I’m amazed. Hey, how ballsy was it for Ted Rogers and Keith Dancy to turn over a radio station in Canada’s largest market for me to use as a laboratory. My time in Toronto was a great adventure which ended up changing my whole life.
We had a lot of great talent on the air at CFTR but if it weren’t for the people who worked behind the scenes absolutely nothing would have happened. I had folks helping me backstage like Keith Elshaw (pictured above) who’d done a previous tour with me in Saskatoon, Sharon Henwood who did promotion in Ottawa and Roger Klein who was my guy in both Sudbury and Ottawa. As much fun as these folks were to work with they were also very smart, and I’m now smart enough to know that my life wouldn’t have turned out as it did without them.
What we were doing at CFTR was so different that we needed to communicate with each other constantly, so we had frequent staff meetings. I had a large office so instead of tying up the conference room all the time we just held them there. Because we were meeting so often, I tried to keep the sessions as light as possible, but with Sandy Hoyt and Rick Moranis (pictured above) in there, I needn’t have worried about it.
I’d set the chairs up in rows facing my desk for every meeting, and occasionally the pretty promotion girl would sit down in front and torment me. When I would begin the meeting with some opening remarks about our need to stay focused she’d slowly slide down in her chair revealing that she’d recently gone “Brazilian.” Whew, focus on that baby!
I guess I’ve never been what you would call sales friendly, but I like to think of myself as always being fair. Although when my brother Reg became the new PD of CFTR years later, and they were introducing him around, the sales manager upon hearing his name said, you’re not related to that prick George Johns are you?
In spite of my reputation in sales, Ted and Keith surprised me one day by making me the new station manager. Being that we were in between rating books, I decided to head home to Winnipeg for a little vacation and to also share the good news. My folks never understood what it was I did at a radio station but manager they understood.
Once back in Winnipeg I had to pop up to CKY to visit with my old pals, but they were headed out to a press conference, so I tagged along. The Winnipeg Jets were presenting hockey great Bobby Hull with a check for a million dollars for jumping from the NHL to the WHL and getting to see him was a great thrill for me.
This was major news in Winnipeg, so most of the media were there, so I got to visit with a lot of folks I knew from the other stations. One of my favorite morning men Don Slade was there, but when he asked how things were going in Saskatoon and I told him that I was no longer there, a pained expression came over his face. Oh no he said, what happened and when I told him that I had just been named the new station manager at CFTR in Toronto his pained expression was replaced by one of disbelief.
It had taken me almost four years to get to that position which didn’t seem all that fast to me at the time, but as I look back on it now, I’m even more amazed than Don was.
I’ve got a lot of fun memories from Toronto, and one of them was the day when Ted Rogers stuck his head in my office to say that he’d just got off the phone with my old boss Allen Waters. Allen had called he said to advise him that he should be a little more careful about the type of people he hires because he’d hired a despicable human being when he hired me. Before I had a chance to defend myself, Ted broke into a huge grin and said, “George, turn the heat up, I think you’ve got them on the run.”
The only thing that changed when I became the station manager was the perks. I got to run up a tab at fancy restaurants, go on exotic sales trips, buy new furniture, and put free gas into my brand new Pontiac Grand Prix. I loved the stereo system in my Prix which I had to check out while I was driving along Lake Ontario on the QEW. The only FM station in Toronto that played some pop music was CKFM-FM, and when I dialed them up, they were playing “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” by Chicago. I figured it all out at that moment, you talk on AM, and you play music on FM.
Now I’m off to America
and a brand new life
I was very excited
but not so much my wife.
Crossing the border
was a scary thing
But there’s no turning back
so this can’t be no fling.
The timing was perfect because Jim was in the middle of buying KVIL in Dallas and wouldn’t be able to do it all anymore, so he wanted me to be his National PD. What was so appealing about it was when I was a board op for Jim back at CKY what I did was just implement all his ideas. CFTR was taking pretty good care of me, but as I explained to Lana, I missed the learning part because in Toronto I was the teacher. There was no talking me out of it, so before long I turned in the keys to the Grand Prix, jumped back into my beat up old ’67 T-Bird and headed south for America.
I didn’t even make it through my first weekend in Indianapolis before becoming Americanized. Jim decided to go shopping for a new car at the Cadillac store, so he took me along, but I was me who drove out in a red Cadillac Eldorado with a super stereo system which turned the “caddy” into a necessity. Now all I had to do was sell this concept to my wife Lana who was back in Toronto wrapping up the sale of our house.
What a great week of listening plus I met everybody and got to reunite with Chuck Riley and Gary Todd whom I’d worked with in Winnipeg when I was just a pup. When Friday rolled around, I was more than ready to meet with Jim because I had a lot of questions and was most anxious to get started. When he asked what I’d heard so far, I told him that WNAP’s music was a way too esoteric and hip for me whereas WIBC’s was almost too unhip bordering on very square. WVBF, on the other hand, sounded similar to WNAP except unlike the music on the Buzzard I recognized more of their tunes. The air talent however on all stations was in my opinion outstanding.
Jim said he agreed with me about the music and then asked which station I wanted to fix first. When I told him that he should choose because I was standing by to implement what he wanted to do, he said … George if I knew what to do I wouldn’t have hired you!