A Few Memories
by Mike Rivers

[This came to me as an e-mail message, but it was a bit longer and covered a lot more than the typical e-mail I received at the time, and since it was written by a former CKLW DJ, I put it in a separate section. I am sorry to report that Mike Rivers passed away on September 13, 2004 in Antioch, Tennessee. Of Mike's passing, Big Jim Edwards wrote in the discussion forum, "I'm very sad to report the passing of Ralph Wendel Wright, better known to his many fans as Mike Rivers who dominated the airwaves from 1967-1970 at CKLW. His wife Celeste said that Mike passed away at his home in Antioch, TN on Monday night (9/13). He suffered a cerebral bleed in May from which he never recovered. I remember Mike as an active ham radio operator (W5VJI), a gifted musician and jingle writer, a master of production, a phenomenal DJ and most of all, a truly wonderful guy. Those of us who were lucky enough to have him enter our life will miss him. Celelste said that since his friends and family are located all over the country that no memorial service is planned. I hope and pray that Mike will be playin' the hits on a big 50 kW in heaven. Long live "Mighty Mouth Mike Rivers."]

Hi, Jack, just finished reading the entire CKLW page...I'd dashed off a note to you before reading the page, and now I would like to add a few memories of my own.

I came to CK to do afternoon drive in September of '67, one week after the riots (as it happened). I'd been working in Tulsa at a Drake-Chenault-programmed AM-er (KAKC) and had been there all of 4 months (ex-KOMA) when they offered me CK's 3-6pm slot. At the tender age of 21, to this Okie From Muskogee (OK) CK was quite an awakening! Oddly enough, the guy I was replacing (Johnny Morgan) had come in just a few months previous from, you guessed it, KOMA! Here I stood in the engineer's booth looking in at Morgan, who, unbeknownst to him, was doing his last show there. He waved rather surprisedly to me...I'd been the kid that did News on his afternoon show at KOMA! I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall in Paul Drew's office at 6:01 that evening when he was canned ... and learned who his replacement was to be!

[Mike noted in a later message that the D.J. he replaced was known as "Johnny Morgan" to CKLW listeners, but prior to that had used the name "Dale Wehba" all of his air career, but Paul Drew made him change it.]

To say that CKLW was a monster is to engage in monumental understatement. During those glory days, no matter where you went or what you did, you got treated like royalty. Back in those days, all the Motown stars plus the likes of Mitch Ryder, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent...they were all 'local' acts, and you'd run into them everywhere.

One afternoon in the middle of a newscast on my show, the studio door opened and a fotog came in, trailed by Drew, trailed by Diana Ross! "Just need a picture for next week's Big8 Survey," they told me. "Sit on his lap, Diana," Drew intoned in that eternally-stopped-up nasal twang. And so she did. She might have weighed all of 80 pounds back then. And, sure enough, next week's survey came out with a picture of Diana Ross sitting on my lap.

One evening, we had some sort of party at a hotel on Grand Boulevard for Booker T and the MG's. There were the usual station types, the usual promotions types, a few ad types...it was basically your closed-circuit bash. Except for Booker and his band, the only other black guy there (this is in '67) was a slender fellow with a big globular hair-do. He seemed to have glided in with a promo guy. No one seemed to be paying him much attention at all. So I asked whomever it was that I was talking to, "Who's the guy with the huge hair?" And he replied, "Oh, just some soul singer I think. Al Green or something like that."

Al Green! Of course, back then no one had ever heard of him.

At the same party, about an hour into things, this extremely large hulk of a man ambled over and said, "Hi! Are you Mike Rivers?"

I craned my neck in the direction of the sky, and made out, way up there, a face with a piano-like smile and a voice to match his body. "Uh, YEAH...I am," I gamely replied, certain that I had just met the world's first Human Transmitter Tower.

"Well, I'm Big Jim Davis from WTTO in Toledo! How are you?", he asked, pumping my hand like a drilling rig.

"I'm small...very small," I answered, still looking up expecting his head to be crowned by an FAA blinking obstruction beacon. I'm six feet, and I felt the size of an infant. "Nice to meet you, Jim...what th' hell are you doing here? No one knows about this party..."

"Oh, one of the record guys told me about it, so I just drove up and walked right in!", Davis gleamed.

"Really," I chirped.

"Ya know," he continued, "I'd really LOVE to work at the Big 8!" Silence. I was thinking, he was waiting. Then he continued.

"I'd REALLY love to work at the Big 8." Hell, he could BE the Big 8.

"Well," I said, finally getting the picture. Paul Drew was the Pope Of The Big Eight and I was being asked to arrange an audience. "I've got an idea. Why don't you send Drew a tape, and put in your resume that you and I go 'way back. And we'll see what happens."

Davis sent the tape.

About a week later, Drew comes shuffling down the hall to the studio where I'm on the air.

"I just got a tape from a guy named Jim Davis...says he knows you," quacked Drew. I look at the countdown timer...record's almost over.

"Oh, yeah, he's GREAT!", I exclaim. 7 seconds until I've got to say something. Grabbing the headphones, I add, "He and I go WAY back. He's fabulous. You oughta hire him."

After the break, I turn to continue, but Drew's gone.

3 days later, I go to the water fountain, turn around, and there's Big Jim, smiling like the Cheshire Cat.

"Hey! How' ya doin?" I ask.

"Great! I got th' job - noon-3!"

Two weeks later, Davis was on the Big Eight as Jim Edwards, and we became good friends. We're both ham radio operators, as well, and we've kept in touch over the years.

Everything that's been said about the board ops is true times two. You literally couldn't make a mistake if you tried. These guys were all frustrated jocks...fabulous hands and timing, no voice at all. My board op and I would sit there during songs and rehearse those 'layovers,' which started on my show and spread to the station as a whole. Colin Kennedy was he, and I believe he's now selling insurance in Hamilton. But he was the best. Frank Lee was also exceptional.

In all the accolades on the page about the news department, not much was mentioned about the incredible STYLE of the news writing...one of the hallmarks of CK 20/20 News. I remember driving along one Saturday morning, listening to Grant Hudson relate the grisly details of a car-pedestrian fatality. The victim, according to Hudson, "was strained thru the grille of a '65 Cadillac..."

I had to pull over.

The contests we ran also stirred up huge response. After blowing out the phone switches on a regular basis, we did a contest that wasn't so telephone oriented. This was the CKLW Corvette.

The beast in question was a shiny red 68 Vette with 'CKLW - The Big 8' all over it. The drill was that we'd announce the car's odometer reading on the air in AM drive each morning, then the Big 8 Jocks would drive the car periodically all day long with the odo covered up. When it was almost contest time (once per shift), whoever was driving the car would pull over at a pay phone, note the mileage, cover the odo back up and call in the mileage to the jock. Then a phone contestant would be put on the air to guess the mileage, followed by the tape replay of the jock stating the actual miles. Hit it on the nose, you win the car.

Wherever the car appeared, huge listener entourages would follow. I drove up and down Woodward one early afternoon doing U-Turns about 4 miles apart. The amount of traffic following me was astonishing. 3 lanes of traffic backed up for almost a mile, trying to do a U-ey to follow me and calculate the miles. Then, when I DID stop, pandemonium! No pay phone within a mile was safe!

Fortunately, the car only lasted 6 days, and the traffic in Metro Detroit could return to normal!

Many have commented on the technical sound of CKLW, and I can tell you just about everything that was in that chain. The CBS twins, slightly modified, and an old RCA peak limiter. That's it (at the time I was there). And the modulation was held to no more than 85%. I was told that the modulation transformer in that huge old RCA rig got 'warm' when they ran it any higher, and that there was no replacement for it to be had anywhere. So 85% was it. Of course it was clean. There was almost nothing in the line to dirty it up! That may have changed after I left, but that's the way I remember it.

There was yet another phenomenon at work as the byproduct of the station's reach into other markets. The jocks' material get stolen mercilessly. I had a regular listener in Buffalo who dutifully reported each day that the stuff I'd used in my afternoon show one day would be the entire content of this other guy's show in Buffalo the next day. I'm sure it happened to all the guys.

Someone mentioned the dial-up line that Drake and his lieutenants could call...as the writer said, all the Drake stations had one. Our sport at the Big 8 was to find out the numbers and do several things:

1. Dial ours up and leave it off the hook. I remember regularly doing some pretty blue material for that age, and everytime I was about to do a blue line, I'd call the dial-up and leave it off-the-hook so Drake couldn't call in and accidentally hear it.

2. Dial up KHJ in LA and listen to them for material. When we did this from home, to avoid the huge long-distance bills, we'd use the station's long-distance codes, supposedly secret, but we had our ways. Drew had them on a card in his upper-right-hand desk drawer. Ted Atkins, who followed him, posted them on his personal corkboard above his desk. That is, for ONE long-distance billing cycle, and then they disappeared, but we still found them.

Back then, all that appeared on the phone bills was the EXCHANGE the call was placed from...not the full number. Atkins once called me in and asked me about a 2-hour call to KHJ's dial-up that appeared to originate from my home's phone exchange. Did I know anything about it? I was remarkably ignorant.

Now that we knew how the billing worked, we'd all, from time to time, drive to a pay phone in Atkin's home exchange and place the calls from there. Standing in a phone booth in Royal Oak Michigan, listening to KHJ for 2 or three hours. The bills would roll in, and there's this mountain of calls from his home exchange. The last time I did this, I left the phone dangling, taped a large 'Out-Of-Order' sign on the phone itself, shut the door and duct-taped it closed. No one knows how long that connection actually lasted, nor how large the bill on it was that Atkins received.

And then there was 'The BatPhone.' A red telephone instrument with no dial or keypad (supposedly receive-only) in the studio, with the ringer connected to a 100-watt pink light bulb about 4 feet from the microphone. The number was a secret, and only Drew, and then Atkins, would ever use it...usually to call in and rip us a new one for some supposed format violation. Awfully tough to do with those board ops.

We never screwed with that number under Drew ...we all respected him. But Atkins was another game entirely. He came from outside the Drake system and none of us ever gave him the slightest credit for actually knowing what the format was all about. Radio he pronounced "Ray-de-oll" and he immediately became twit-bait.

Back in the days before Bell had AutoAnnounce codes that would read back the phone number of any phone you were on, we had other ways of getting the BatPhone number. Atkins would change the number to foil us, but when he did, we'd usually get a wrong-number call on it within a week. Whenever that happened, we'd cajole out of the caller what number they'd dialed. Then we'd dial it. If the Sun lit up, we had it. If not, we'd try combinations that were off by a digit. Never failed. Then we'd use the number to call the air guy and just chat.

Without fail, sometime in the 2 weeks after he changed the number, he'd be in the studio and the Sun would light up from one of us calling the jock. "Who's THAT?" Atkins would snarl....and the number would change again in a few days.

Once Atkins called me from his car phone (back then, there were mobile operators) to double-check something on a contest liner. Hangs up. I wait about 5 minutes. I pick up the regular phone, dial O, ask for the mobile operator. When she answeres, I do an Atkins impersonation: "Hi, operator...this is Ted Atkins, and about 5 minutes ago I made a call from my car to a number in Windsor. I'm no longer in my car...my wife has it, and my address book is in the car, too. Could you please tell me that number...I need to call it again." And, of course, she dutifully read the number back to me.

When Atkins left the station, we had a small going-away party at which event we presented him with a gold-spray-painted phone mounted on wood. On the phone was the then-current BatPhone number.

Everyone's right about Rosalie, but she wasn't there continuously. She left in '68 because her husband had been transferred to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. I wasn't there for her return. But I do remember the day they hired Frank Brodie - for the all-night shift. His real name was Mike Marshall, but Drew thought that sounded a little too 'radio-ey' so he invented Frank Brodie.

I left the Big 8 late in '68, thinking I'd become a consultant, but it never happened. Instead, Paul Drew, who'd landed at WIBG in Philly, tapped me for middays there. One year later to the day, Storer sold the station to Buckley Broadcasting. Buckley moved me to mornings and PD.

Some months later, we had a shift opening and an old friend of mine in Detroit (not in radio, but a 'radio-pig' -- somewhat like a radio groupie) suggested I come to Michigan and hear this guy who's going to college at Michigan State in East Lansing and grubbing up a few part-time bucks doing nights on WILS.

I went. I heard. I hired --- John Records Landecker. He came to the station briefly as "Scott Walker" (we had a jingle with that name ), then went to nights as his real personna.

In 1971, Landecker came into my office and closed the door. "I'm leaving," he announced. Just as my protest was rising in my throat, he said, "it's WLS." "You MUST go!" I shouted. He went. Everyone knows the rest.

Other stops on my tour in radio included 4 years at KVIL and a few years with the George Johns consultancy at a few stations.

I'm now in Nashville, Tennessee running a couple of businesses, one of which is Voice-Over Express...promo/ID work, same-day service available. If anyone wants a demo, they can call...[number removed] or email me at [address removed].

Michael Donahue (air name: Mike Rivers)

[Regarding the name used above, Big Jim Edwards explains that, "Like most of the Drake-Chenault names, "Mike Rivers" was a copyrighted name. Therefore, as Mike pursued his career, he was forced to change his professional name. He became Mike Donahue at I believe WIBG, Philly and WKLO, Louisville. His real name however, was Ralph W. Wright."]

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