An irate hockey fan (almost) topples the Big 8
Before CKLW radio got their own building on Ouelette Avenue, they shared facilities with Channel 9 (CKLW-TV) on Riverside Drive. Chuck Reti wrote to say that he recalls the night that CKLW had to move out of the Riverside Drive building, and out to the transmitter in Harrow because someone, probably an irate hockey fan, had chopped a guy wire on the Channel 9 tower (if you have ever stood under this tower, you will appreciate what a truly stupid act this was! If that tower ever came down, not only could it have wiped out CKLW's facilities, but quite possibly a few older residences that were in the shadow of the tower!). Anyway, Chuck says: "The DJ had to shlep out there [to the transmitter, shown in the photos on this page] where there was a board, ONE turntable and a mike and no cart machine. It was the only time CK had any spontaneous programming during the Drake format era." When Chuck wrote this, he added that he'd dearly love to hear a tape of the broadcast from that night, and while we don't have an entire broadcast, we actually do have some audio from that historic night (on "The Great Sound of the Big 8!" page, elsewhere on this site).
The photos above show the interior and exterior of the 50,000 Watt transmitter building located near Harrow, Ontario, which was opened in 1949. The photos below were taken by Detroit resident Tim Tyler in February of 1998.
Steve Hunter figures prominently in the tower story. Steve was a D.J. at CKLW from late January, 1969 through early September, 1971. He began as all night jock (for two months) and then replaced Tom Shannon in the 6-9 P.M. slot in March, 1969, when Shannon fell off a horse and broke his arm. He continued as the prime evening jock of CKLW until September, 1971 (about two and a half years) until he left for WIXY in Cleveland. During his first few months at CKLW, he was Byron MacGregor's room-mate in an apartment on the top floor of the old Windsor Holiday Inn, located on the Detroit River (just a one-block walk from CKLW's Riverside Drive studios). Charlie Van Dyke also lived there, just down the hall.
(The old Holiday Inn, later a Ramada Inn but always "The Plywood Palace", was a three-storey hotel and cinema, and in later years was the only remaining commercial property in a five kilometer stretch of riverfront. It burned to the ground on Thursday, April 8, 1999, just days before it was scheduled to be demolished, in what the Windsor Star described as "a spectacular afternoon fire" that was almost certainly deliberately set. The Star reported that "The flimsy wood construction of the hotel had long been a concern to the Windsor Fire Department", according to Acting Fire Chief Wayne Pestru. "It was one of the scary things about this building," he said. "Every night you had people in the rooms sleeping. It was a constant concern of ours." See the full text of the Windsor Star article for further details).
Anyway, "The Hunta" - or "Stevie Stars", as Pat Holiday used to teasingly call him on the air - was the jock in the studio on the night the cable to the transmitter tower was severed, and, being in his 20's and therefore (he figured) immortal, he and his trusty board op, Frank Lee, refused to leave the studio and kept broadcasting even though the 32-ton tower was leaning directly over the main AM broadcast rooms. This was despite several orders to both of them from the police and station security (with the ambivalent support of Program Director Paul Drew) to get out of the building. They kept the station live and rocking (it was, after all, a RATINGS period!) until another jock could get out to the transmitter and go live from the mike and turntable out there. Steve now notes that this was stupid, but it was worth a few ratings points! He also recalls, and my memory concurs, that this particular tower was made of huge sections of steel pipe, not a steel framework like most modern towers, and if it had toppled all the way over, there would have been only a few grease spots and lot of crushed bricks - and some morning headlines - to memorialize the night-time staff at The Big 8.
[Thanks to Steve Hunter for supplying
most of the information for the previous two paragraphs (not
including the parenthetical "Plywood Palace" paragraph).]
The photo at the left is the top portion
of what remained of the old CKLW-TV tower in February of 1998,
showing the steel pipe construction. All of the color photos
on this page are by Tim Tyler of Detroit.
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