Faced with a daunting task: making the creative vision, of another, succeed, Chuck Azzarello crafted CHEZ-FM, Ottawa, into a lucrative and influential radio station. He played by the rules and beat the deep-pocketed corporate competition. On 20 March 1987, CHEZ-FM displaced CFRA-AM, as the top station in Ottawa; it was the tenth anniversary of CHEZ-FM and the first time, in twenty years, CFRA-AM wasn't the number one station in the Ottawa radio market.
A former DJ, music and programme director, Azzarello recognized talent. This was the essence of his success. He knew how to develop radio talent to its fullest.
Azzarello stands tall, among radio builders. His affect on Canadian radio is no less than that of McClendon or Storz on radio in the USA. Heroes slay dragons and Azzarello wielded a sword of insight, intellect and social responsibility. Winning against all odds, he contributed to Canadian society in copious, lasting ways.
This interview originally appeared in "RPM Music Weekly," in 1979.
Enigma. Webster defines it as something for which the motivation is not altogether clear.
Canadians are an enigmatic lot. From the Prime Minister on down, their motivation is often lost on the outsider. Canadian radio certainly has more than its share of enigmas. Take Chuck Azzarello.
Young, successful and complex, at 33, Azzarello is a twelve year veteran of radio, including stints at CHLO-AM, in St Thomas, CJFM-FM, in Montreal, and CHUM-FM, in Toronto – each a legendary station in its own right. Most notably, he is co-architect, with the ubiquitous Harvey Glatt, of CHEZ-FM, the influential AOR outlet in Ottawa.
The achievements of Chuck Azzarello speak for themselves. His experience is substantive. His career distinguished. The enigma, as with all successful men and women, is why.
The question posed, a normally forthright Azzarello dodges it with a Trudeau-like shrug.
Pressed, he says, “I've always wanted to be in radio, ever since I was a kid. I dont really know why; just wanted to be."
Was it to emulate a personality who had made an impression on him? Was it a need to communicate? To influence? To attract attention? To be in the thick of things? Could it have been an urge for the stardom and riches (sic) promised by popular notions of radio?
"All of these," he says. A momentary gaze betrays the sagacious shifting of evidence in search of support for one, maybe more, of the possibilities. "None of them," he says confidently. “There really wasn't any inspiration."
If there’s no inspiration, what is there!
Lunch arrives. The conversation turns to other things. It is generally agreed that Gary Parent is a superb sales manager.
This is food!
Jamie Wohl has moved on to CKIK-PM, the CHEZ-owned station in Calgary, to do the music and PM Drive.
The lettuce tastes like corrugated cardboard!
“One of Barry Sarazin's students from Fanshawe College, in London, was just hired."
This stuff tastes terrible! Are you sure this isn't a health food restaurant?
“There was a lot of trouble finding the right person for Calgary; I think we found him in Sarnia, though."
What was it about radio that attracted you? “Well, my earliest recollections,” he says, “involve radio.
“Not as principal player,” he adds, “but that it always just seemed to be there.” The silent stare reveals he realizes what he has just said.
“It always struck me the way the living room in my grandfathers home was organized around the radio, much the way today's homes have living rooms organized around the television.
“Radio soaps were important to my mother. She used to stop everything to listen to em. Even during the early days of television, she continued to listen rather than watch. They were an important part of her life and that stuck with me.
“When 1 was very young – two or three or four, maybe – I liked to watch my father shaving. He always had the radio on when he shaved – at least, it seems that way, today. I can remember, quite vividly, wanting to be that voice coming out of the radio."
Do any personalities or programs stand out in his memory? “I can recall that Bruce Smith did a show on CJBC,-AM in Toronto (now French language CBC owned and operated), called, Toast and Jamboree. Really! Remember that was the early fifties and CBC.
“Stu Kenny did the Toronto version of Martin Blocks Make Believe Ballroom on CKEY-AM.
“Years later, I really liked Al Boliska, who did mornings on CHUM-AM. He was a hundred percent personality. In fact, when CHUM-AM went rock, twenty-five years ago or so, all the jocks were personalities in their own right. They were entertaining.
“CKEY-AM jumped on the rock band-wagon in the early sixties and I remember listening a lot to Bill Brady, Duff Roman, Big G. Walters, J.P. “Fun Again Finnigan (now in PM Drive at CJAD-AM, in Montreal), Lee Vogel.
“I remember enjoying this guy named Dave Mostovay on EY. One weekend he announced that he was going on a couple of weeks vacation. He never came back. I felt betrayed, I think. But, amazingly, a couple of weeks later Duff Roman pops up. He sounded so much like Mostovay. It was eerie! Really amazing!"
Interesting, there are no big name American jocks in this list. “I was just getting to them. The American majors that bounced in at night dominated summer, on the Lake Simcoe beaches. Arnie Woo Woo Ginsberg, WMEX, in Boston (now, WITS-AM), stands out. All those sound effects before carts – how’d he do it?
“Jefferson Kaye on WBZ, in Boston, and Dick Biondi at WLS, in Chicago also stand out. Of course, everyone listened to Cousin Brucie at WABC, in New York – what a signal. WLAC-FM, in Nashville, as I remember, came in quite strong. And, I guess you could toss-in the likes of Joey Reynolds and Dan Neverth at WKBW, in Buffalo; and, Bruce Bradley and Dick Summer at WBZ-FM, in Boston."
Who made the biggest impression? “As far as the jocks go,” he says, “no one in particular. I listened because they were generally entertaining, not because I was in training to be them or anything.
“I suppose the last of the network radio shows had the most effect on me; Amos n Andy, for example, Fibber McGee and Molly, Inner Sanctum, The Shadow and so on.
“In the transitional days of television, it was these radio shows that I remember best, not the television ones. When my father brought home our first TV, it was a radio until the picture tube warmed-up. Even then, all I could really relate to was the radio in the lower part of it."
The successful, when publicly faced with their accomplishments, often refute responsibility in favour of what they call an element of luck. Translated out of the language of luck, what they mean, of course is that they were well prepared and sufficiently visible for someone to take notice. Luck, in other words, is good planning, well executed.
Chuck Azzarello is no exception to this. “My whole career,” he says with a hint of resignation in his voice, “has been the result of one fateful turn after another."
Fateful turn number one was the critical linking of radio with those people who had a significant impact on him as a child: mother, father, grandfather.
Fateful turn number two, he says, came at the end of high school. A high school busybody, Azzarello was on student council, in the band, a thespian, school entertainment coordinator and an honours student, too.
“What all this meant, “he says with great pride, “is that I was well prepared for a successful life in the mainstream. I was a shoe-in at the prestigious University of Toronto, its prestigious Commerce faculty, majoring in Finance, no less. Somewhere, someone was busy putting up a lifetime supply of three-piece pinstriped suits, off-white made-to-measure shirts and wing-tipped shoes for me.
“But, I bombed the departmental exams. If you didn't ace the departmentals, prestigious schools lose your application. Charles, who?
“The thing was, I didn't care. My parents did, I think, but, it just didn't make any difference to me and Michael Cohl and Steve Harris.
The ivied walls and hallowed halls tradition of UT was traded for the crispy newness of York University.
“York had just opened,” says Azzarello. “At the time, they'd take anyone with the tuition fee. That was me!
“When I went up to register, it was with every intention of getting into a business programme. By the time I got home, I was in Social Psychology and Mathematics!"
Social Psychology and math is a wise choice to get both sides of the brain humming along in sync. It was much better preparation for a media career, too.
“Second year at York, I got hooked up with a few people who wanted to start a radio station. Radio York seemed like a natural."
Today, those few people read like a who's who of Canadian broadcasting. “Steve Harris,” says Azzarello. “Steve was the driving force behind the station. The get things done person. Steve went on to CHOM-FM, in Montreal and CJOM-FM, in Windsor; spent a year-or-so with Sjef Frenken at the CRTC working on the FM Policy; and, now he is a Vice-president of Allarco, in Edmonton, and one of the Ontario region Pay-TV licensees.
Jamie Crookston, now Operations Manager at CKFM-FM, in Toronto, was also part of the thing. There was Bill Okterlone, too; hes doing mornings at CKMW-AM, in Brampton-Toronto, right now. Bruce Harding, now the music director at CFNY-FM, in Brampton, was in on it, too, as was John Youana, whos with CKEY-AM, in Toronto."
That’s not a bad collection of people. “It was a pretty good operation, considering. Its where I learned the basics, where I figured out how to do things. It got my thinking on track. We were trying to emulate CHUM-FM, at the time. Our approach was straight-ahead, progressive for the sixties. It was an all-volunteer station, of course. There was no School of Journalism and Mass Communications like at Carleton University, in Ottawa. We worked hard at it. Academic work took distant second to Radio York.
“All in all, Id say it was a fantasy involvement, and great preparation for the future."
After York, it was all-nights on a small station, in the general vicinity of Toronto,” he says, steadfastly refusing to be more specific. As it turns out, there is good cause for anonymity. “That job was a good deal, in some ways,” he says. “It was my first real job, all-nights almost in Toronto, no Toronto blues. Now, that's a captivating situation; the kind of thing you can dream about and never have happen.
“But, as Id soon find out, it was, to say the least, a scurrilous operation that took the romance out of radio.
“A couple of weeks into the job, I found myself standing in the station washroom watching the two owners trying to strangle each other. This was no fantasy, and hardly exotic. They were serious about it. And, they were brothers!"
Fate was at it again. “I had to get out of there. Again, I lucked out. Paul Ski, at CHLO, in St Thomas, offered me a job. At the time, CHLO was seen as a pipeline to CHUM-FM, in Toronto. (J. Robert) Wood had worked there. So, too, had Chuck McCoy, Hal Weaver and Ski, of course, eventually ended up with the CHUM Group.
“I leapt at it. Just as I was leaving for St Thomas, Ski called to say that he was leaving for CHLO, for Sudbury, I think, and that Gerry Stevens was taking over. He hoped I didn't mind, too much. I didn't have much choice: I could still hear homicidal screams coming from the station washroom. Besides, CHLO meant a 45% increase in pay. I mean, how could I turn down $400.00 a month!"
That was 1970. $400 a month was almost a living wage. How did it go with Gerry Stevens? “He was great, says Azzarello. “I learned an awful lot from him. And, when he left for CJEK-AM, in London, I became PD.
“Id done every shift at the station. I was ready for the job. Besides, the pay went up to $600.00 a month!"
While at CHLO, Azzarello became the Canadian representative for the "Bob Hamilton Report", an influential tip sheet of the time. More important, he broke the ABC-FM format designed by Lee Abrams. A feat, he would later learn, even the self-proclaimed top programmer in the country was incapable of doing.
“It all began,” he says with obvious pride, "when I wangled expenses to a programming conference in Denver, in Colorado. All the biggies were there. I can still see Tom Donahue, who developed the progressive format at KMPX-FM, in San Francisco; he was as big as an apartment block!
At the meetings, I got to talking with Lee Abrams (now a partner in Burkhart, Abrams consulting). He was programming WRIF-FM, in Detroit, then; and working on building the ABC-FM format. We talked for a while, and agreed to keep in touch.
“Before I went out to Denver, I had this idea to take CHLO-AM in sort- of-the-same direction as WRIF-AM. I spent a lot of time listening to the format, taking notes, mulling it over.
"I eventually came to a point where I need to get an outside opinion. I decided to write Abrams. Id been taken with Lee, and thought he'd be genuinely interested.
“Boy, was he! Seems I cracked the whole nut. I had the format down pat. What a contribution to the reputation, not to mention my self- confidence."
Another fateful turn, Azzarello calls it, and it fired his ambition. About this time, I began getting itchy feet, he says. CJFM-FM, in Montreal, offered me AM Drive and music. I took it."
Jamie Crookston, from his Radio York days, had joined Standard Broadcasting in Toronto and put Chuck onto the Montreal job. Fate!
"Frank Van der Van was programming CJFM-FM,” says Azzarello. Paul Faulkner was General Manager. It was just before [Peter] Shurman and [Greg] Stewart came on the scene."
There’s a conceptual re-orientation that Anglophone jocks have to make going into Montreal. Some handle it well – Rick Peterson at CJFM-FM, for example. Many do not.
“I didn't do too bad,” says Azzarello. “First day, I called Ste Catherine Street, St. Catherines, as in St. Catherines, Ontario. I called then-Quebec Premier, Henri Bourassa, Henry. A whole bunch of little things like that. Nothing too serious, I guess. Nobody said anything, anyway.
“There were some very good people at CJFM-FM, at the time. Sandy Graham and Rick Sherman, spring to mind. There was no news. I don't think it was as commercial as it is now, under Greg Stewart. The station has gone through a lot of changes since 1976, when I was there.
“Still, it was pretty progressive – a lot farther away from what its Contemporary Middle of the Road (CMOR aka Adult Contemporary) license called for. Since the CRTC gave it a full renewal last time out, I guess it is right where its supposed to be, now."
During his time in Montreal, the groundwork for another fateful turn was laid. “Tim Thomas, who’s now with CBX-AM, in Edmonton, was programming CHOM-FM at the time. When we met later at CHUM-FM, he confided to me that he feared the CJFM-FM competition, that if anybody could take a good run at CHOM-FM and its strangle hold on the progressive audience, it was ‘FM.
“That meant a lot to me. Tim had done a tremendous building job at CHOM-FM, he made the moves that put the station on the map. A lot of other people took credit for it, though."
The Toronto blues hit hardest in Montreal. It is the sharp contrast between the two cities. Toronto is very much a city of distances. The isolation of private vehicles turns people inward. Montreal is close, crowded: a cacophony of fashion, haute cuisine and communication. Toronto is business-like. Montreal is alive, vibrant, aesthetic. Toronto demands conversion to a monolithic ideal of acceptability. Montreal delights in multifaceted and mercurial notions of acceptability. Toronto is Harold Ballard, Peter C. Newman, Bob and Doug Mackenzie. Montreal luxuriates in the would-be hedonism of Rejeans, Crescent Street and the quaint eccentricities of bon vivants like Douglas Leopold (pronounced Doo Glass, come dan haute sociï¿½tï¿½).
A year to the day, Chuck Azzarello was back on the 401 heading for Toronto and CHUM-FM, no less. To replace John Donabie, no less, who was heading for Montreal to replace him!” Isn’t radio wonderful?
“It was great going back to Toronto,” he says. “And, CHUM-FM! As far as I was concerned it was the penultimate success. Duff Roman was programming. Dave Pritchard, Geats Roman and Pete Griffin were there. So was Jim Bauer. So, too, was Don Schaffer, who's now at CFOX-FM, in Vancouver. Tim Thomas was part-time. Rick Moranis came a little later.
“Duff had just replaced Bob Lane who'd moved to the CHUM station in Winnipeg, CFRW-AM. Lane, I don't think would ever have hired me. The first time we met, I unsuspectingly said a couple of things that reminded him of his rock n roll days at CHUM-FM --something I now think he wanted to forget, completely and forever. Every time he saw or heard from me, I think that's what went through his mind. And, he could do without that on a day-to-day basis.
“CHUM-FM, at the time, was a tight-knit group. I was the first new announcer in something like five years. That did nothing for my confidence. The FM Policy was about to go into effect and it was seen as problematic.
“All in all, making it to CHUM-FM was not all that I thought it would be. It wasn't the station, of course. It was me! My expectations, my anticipations had grown too grandiose. Nothing could have matched them. CHUM-FM didn't have a chance from the beginning."
Enter fate. “Tim (Thomas), as I said, was working the station part-time, and helping Harvey (Glatt) put CHEZ-FM, in Ottawa, together. Along with Hugh Bachelor (a one-time CHUM executive and CRTC economist) and a few others, he was piecing the station together. Tim successfully pushed me for PD. Fate was at work behind the scenes, as Hugh Bachelor explains. “We were all very high on Chuck. Tim's recommendations aren't to be taken lightly – he is usually right.
“Plus, “says Bachelor, “Steve Harris was a big help. Steve agreed that Chuck was right for the job. He put the extra pressure on for us.” CHEZ-FM went on-the-air 1 April 1977, launched by Stevie Wonders, Isn't She Lovely.
“Shortly after that,” says Azzarello, “Hugh Bachelor decided to leave. I became manager."
Bachelor fills in the background. “I don't know if Chuck really knew what our plans were. Basically, I was to stay on until the fall and Chuck was to take over then. Id sort-of stick around long enough to get things rolling, to let Chuck get the programming in shape, and then hand things over to him.
"As it turned out, a couple of things came up, I wanted out sooner rather than later, the CHEZ-FM agreed and Chuck was manager.
“Its certainly worked out alright. He has had some very good people to help him over the rough spots and he has adapted very well. He's established that he can do the job."
Azzarello went from jock to programmer to manager in a span of two or three months. He went into management with no sales background. This is definitely not the usual pattern.
Bachelor agrees. “The usual thing, of course, is to put someone with sales experience into the managers office --preferably a sales manager moving up. Sales people tend to have a better grasp of the business side of radio (sic). They know how to generate revenue, control costs and so forth. CHEZ-FM, however, was conceived as something that would transcend a simple business organization. That meant you'd need someone who was more than a sales manager, more than just a revenue generator, to build and operate it. Chuck fit the bill perfectly."
CHEZ-FM was and is more concept than business. The concept belongs to Ottawa entertainment entrepreneur, Harvey Glatt. "Other broadcasters," he told Stephen Bauer of the Ottawa "Journal," in 1980, "felt rock wouldn't work here; they felt there wasn't a market for it. There’s a tendency to underestimate the audience [in Ottawa]. Since CHEZ-FM went on-air, I've learned a lot about peoples tastes.
"[Broadcasters] think there are all kinds of stereotypes out there, people who like New Wave or Hard Rock and nothing else. But, our research shows that the people who like Max Webster might also like ABBA or jazz; peoples tastes can be spread out quite a bit."
The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) took the Glatt philosophy to heart. In granting the initial license, the Commission pointed out that, “proper and fair representation of the applicants extensive knowledge in the music industry should enable it to provide a varied and comprehensive radio service, especially in the area of music programming.” The stations subsequent five-year renewal was approved with equal enthusiasm.
So, it was into this mares nest of concepts, philosophies and expectations that Chuck Azzarello was thrust. Success depended on several things: being able to separate business interests from philosophical ones, on the one hand; and to integrate them, on the other; operationalizing concepts and philosophies in terms of music, news, announcers and other programming components; packaging the programming in a manner acceptable to the audience; marketing a new audience to advertisers.
Azzarello had a licensee who believed and had been licensed on the belief that musical taste structures are broad and eclectic when traditional thinking held that they were narrow, very narrow. He faced the dilemma of news and AOR in a city of insatiable newsophiles. Finally, there was the programming-orientation of the FM Policy and the very special problems it poses for independent licensees.
Music, of course, is a critical ingredient in the AOR format. Azzarello is quick to reinforce the fact that it is one of many programming ingredients and each one is important. “The initial attraction to this station,” he explains, “would have to be music – or must excusably be so.
“But, the overall mix of music and non-music input contributes to the stations appeal. Music is the attraction. How the music blends with the announcers, the news, the promotion, the production, that is what holds em, I think.
“When you get down to considering the less time consuming ingredients – news, announcers, production --its hard to be specific about the nature of the cause-and-effect relationship. But, they are all important to the long-term success of any station."
“Look at it this way, music consumes the bulk of our programming day, so we have to assume its the drawing card. Now, what if someone came along and played the same music as us, would their ratings be the same; would they split the audience down the middle with us. I doubt it. They'd surely put things together differently. Production values, the non-music things, would make the difference: they are the thing when comparing two stations that are more-or-less in the same mould.
"Nor can you overlook the fact that CHEZ-FM is musically isolated in this market. There might be some overlap with CKCU-FM, in Carleton University --sometimes. Generally speaking, its hard to discern the effect of certain ingredients, given our milieu; to know exactly what makes CHEZ-FM successful."
Chuck supports the thinking of Harvey Glatt, that variety is the important ingredient in CHEZ-FM music. ""Given the original concept of the station -- and that is what it was, a concept – we felt the music had to be broad- based. Since were not in a head-on competitive situation, we've had some room to experiment, to spread out. I doubt if CHUM-FM or Q1O7 or CHOM-FM really enjoy the breadth potential that we do. Maybe they wouldn't want it.
“After five years, I think the right decisions were made starting out. I believe Ottawa appreciates a varied menu within the rock genre. They certainly want more than just out-and-out blister rock."
CHEZ-FM plays more of everything with the genre. “We play a lot more country-rock and folk-rock, for instance. There are a number of acts currently played on the station who don't get much exposure elsewhere. This is especially true in folk-rock. James Taylor and Joan Armatrading, come to mind. CMOR outlets, here or elsewhere, shunt these artists aside, yet, their appeal is fairly strong."
Music policy mechanics also reflect holistic approach of Chuck Azzarello. “We let the announcers pick their own music – more or less. That part hasn't changed since we started. Each announcer has a quota of hits or currents or past selections, for instance. The quotas are filled over the hour. No announcer is totally pre-programmed" This allows a lot of room for personalities to develop, to intermix with the music.
"The degree of responsibility allowed the announcers is, I think, an indication of the confidence we have in their judgment. Our people have always been familiar with the music. The effort has been to help them learn how to blend it throughout the day; how to juxtaposition a piece of music with other music, with news, with the production, with the commercials, with their personality. We want the whole station, including the music, to address various basic audience needs throughout the day; needs as we perceive them, as our research reveals them.
As a result, just saying that we programme X percentage of hits or y percentage of non-hit album cuts or Z percentage of past selections doesn't tell you very much. Nor would it be a successful policy for us to follow. Its the blend, the mix that counts, What is good about this approach is its flexibility. The nature of the mix ebbs and flows throughout the day; changes as the day progresses; changes with the announcer; changes with the day of the week, even.
“Now, this isn't to say our music policy lacks structure. It is quite structured. Later and more unfamiliar material usually comes in later in the day. Gold is more evident in the daytime, where there is also a more commercial balance. Nights involve more of a progressive.
The CHEZ PD oversees implementation of the music policy with Music Director, Greg Torrington.
The PD characterizes the CHEZ-FM music policy as simple yet complex. "First of all, the music is chosen by a music committee which meets each week with myself and Greg (Torrington). Its at this meeting that we put together potential selections for play over the next week.
Potential selections,” he says, "come from a number of sources: what we hear, generally; the trades, what’s selling well that we haven't picked up, yet.
“Potentials fall into one of several categories. The first one depends on the stature of the artist. The less well known the artist, the lower they place in the rotation. If the act happens to be unknown and it garners a lot of airplay because the announcers like it or we get a lot of requests for it or its selling well, locally, then well increase its rotation. Wed also probably try to add more cuts from the same album, if we could.
"We also have a category that includes high profile cuts from major albums. This insures that they're heard twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, which contributes to the consistency of our overall sound.
"Next, there are four gold categories defined by the age and stature- over-time of the record. A Doors album, for example, would be in much higher rotation than a Suther-Hillman or Furray Band one.
“The announcer,” he says, "has a format sheet and some choice within each category. The music committee system insures that a certain number of albums are in the control room, at any given time. Each one has a sheet listing the playable cuts and the days of the month. The announcer then checks-off the cuts, as played, with a colour-coded marking pencil.
“This system assures a constant flow of music throughout the day and night, and in an organized fashion. We don't want some artists unwittingly relegated to certain dayparts because of announcer preference. The system controls for this. Moreover, it is flexible enough to allow the announcer to be creative without becoming redundant.
“For example, new music increases at night and gold decreases. In other words, the level of familiarity drops at night. This is a reaction to what our research tells us about the way people relate to radio. We see radio servicing various types of listener moods. The more successful the music is in meeting those needs, the more successful CHEZ-FM is. Our dayparting system certainly reflects this. You wouldn't hear Ted Nugent, for example, at 9 AM. Nor would you hear James Taylors Handyman at 9 PM. Neither reflects predominate needs in those dayparts. We try to colour the day according to peoples needs. While the same album may be available for play throughout the day, certain cuts may be restricted to specific dayparts.
“Someone recently described the CHEZ music system as a descending spiral. At night, the universe is substantially larger than in the daytime. As a result, the night time announcers have more flexibility in what they can play.
“Finally, Azzarello points out that, “consistency in the music was the hardest thing to develop. When we first went on the air, the music was all over the place. A given sweep could bridge all sorts of parameters. To be truthful, it sounded like a dogs breakfast!
“Over time, as we became increasingly confident and ironed-out the bugs, the music began to take on an obvious consistency. The transitions, for example, were no longer illogical. Inconsistency gave impression we didn'tt know where we were going or what we were doing. I think the fact that we have become increasingly consistent, musically, helped the announcers in blending the music and, overall, made the listener more comfortable and more confident with CHEZ-FM."
News and Information
Ottawa is a conclave of newsophiles. The addiction to a ceaseless flow of pristine news and information is epidemic. Information is the work and leisure in Ottawa.
“Part of the problem,” says Azzarello, “is that Ottawans are extremely well-educated. The average level of education is the highest in North America. The well educated luxuriate in exposure to information.
“Part of the problem is that Ottawa is a one-business town: government. Within a fifteen mile radius of downtown, there are approximately thirty separate government bodies. All but a very few are in full-time operation. Governments run on information.
“Part of the problem is the Press Gallery. Reporters need officials. Officials need reporters. The substance 0ï¿½ this symbiotic relationship is information: both parties are in the business 0ï¿½ generating and transmitting news and information."
For radio, then, this means a solid commitment to quality news. AOR is not really known ï¿½or the quality 0ï¿½ its news. Budgets, for example, tend to favour music. Audiences, furthermore, have traditionally been seen as coming to AOR mainly ï¿½or the music, everything is being superfluous.
CHEZ-FM has deployed an imaginative mix of community access and foreground-programming with traditional news programming concepts. “Dealing with some material in depth,” says Azzarello, “has been a characteristic of the station from day one. Encouraging access by community groups has been another ingredient that has made a difference.
“CHEZ Ottawa,’ our noon hour news and information package, covers many subjects in some length, subjects that you don't normally hear elsewhere on AM or FM – except maybe CBC. These differences have provided a solid foundation for the overall news operation.
Might CHEZ news be called, commercial CBC in approach? “Well, CBC is extremely popular here. They do well in the ratings. Our research shows that they are a respected news and information source, even if they aren't loved.
“The popularity of CBC and the rather high level of education evident in the market have both contributed to a different attitude toward news. There is, for instance, a more positive attitude toward longer interviews here than in Toronto or Montreal. Non-mainstream subject matter is also appreciated more here.
"Newscasts are also affected. Elsewhere a clip might run two or three lines. In Ottawa, we find it almost necessary to go into the story, to get behind the newsmakers media mask, to dig and generally spread out more in terms of story treatment.
“And, we aren't too restricted in the type or number of stories we cover. The audience demand is for lots of news and information. The more variety the better.
“Finally, I think that radios immediacy in a breaking news story is more powerful in Ottawa. A lot of the news and information heard across the country originates here. Participants in the news, and there are lots of them, I think really count on radio to provide details and updates, television can show the pictures and newspapers can detail a story tomorrow, but radio says it now.
“So, to answer the question, I think its inevitable to end up a little bit CBC here. I don't think were copying them. Its just the needs of the market that CBC and everybody else is responding to."
Since 1976, FM radio in Canada has been subject to a set of regulations intended to differentiate it from AM. The crux of these regulations is a four-part format typology. First, there is GRAMOPHONE, which in practice, would come across like a Beautiful Music format, with lots of sweeps and few interruptions. Second, ROLLING which is quite close to current Adult Contemporary formats --music dominated with frequent interruptions for news, weather, adlibs, commercials and so on. Third, FOREGROUND, which involves a programme-orientation --a single theme, subject or personality, dominates content for at least fifteen minutes with interruptions only for commercials and station or programme announcements; Foreground, largely, comes off like a television programme. Finally, there is MOSAIC, which involves any other kind of programming.
FM stations are required to undertake a minimum amount of Foreground and Mosaic programming. At licensing or renewal time, each station promises to do a certain amount of Foreground and Mosaic. This promise is considered a condition of license.
Finally, it is worth noting that the CRTC is not telling licensees what to programme. It is merely establishing categories to be filled as the licensee sees fit. Some stations go to great lengths to develop top quality Foreground content; some simply run a 15 minute sweep by one artist; still others programme sporting events.
Although in general agreement with the spirit of the regulations, Azzarello remains critical. “First, I think they've helped separate FM from AM and FM outlet from FM outlet – not everybody promises the same amounts and types of Foreground and Mosaic. So, yes, I think the FM regulations have helped us out.
"The basic problem, as I see it, is that the Commission is too strident when it comes to implication. They establish floor limits for Foreground and Mosaic, which often impede the programmer. To a large degree, they have taken control of the stations sound out 0ï¿½ the programmers hands. It should be given back.
“Say that I feel I can execute an AOR format with ten percent Foreground and forty percent Mosaic, or someone else wants to try five percent Foreground and 45% Mosaic, or someone else thinks a 25-25 split will work best, why cant they do it? It might be more effective that way. We need the flexibility to program to the people we want to reach.
“No doubt, some people would try to take advantage of such flexibility, That's probably why the floor limits are so high, to start with. But, a lower floor limit would be better for us.
"Say, five percent Foreground and forty-five percent Mosaic were the floor limits. At licensing time, let each station argue why they should be left at the floor limit or why the Commission shouldn't ask them to raise it, or why they want some other apportionment. Let us at least make a case for what we want, on a license-by-license basis. If the argument doesn't hold up, we've had the chance.
“I really think that under a more flexible system, the Quality and Diversity goals of the Commission could be more effectively met – more effectively for all sides.
Five percent is not much. Twenty-six quarters a week, maximum. That fits nicely into an early Sunday morning block. Could that uphold the spirit, let alone the letter of the FM Policy? “Well, right now there is a provision that Foreground should be reasonably distributed over the week. Maybe that could be strengthened.
“But, blocking Foreground into the weekend may, in fact, be just what the station needs. That might be the way the stations target audience most appreciates it. CHEZ-FM is a case in point. A lot of our special features appear on weekends. By and large, they qualify as Foreground. Programs like the Sunday Funnies and Rhyme and Reason draw large audiences" We get our largest quarter on Sunday evening which is basically Foreground in nature.
“Blocking the Foreground this way differentiates weekend from weekday programming which is the way our audience likes it.
“Now, Ill grant you that if wed had five percent Foreground and 45% Mosaic from day one, Sunday evenings would probably never have evolved the way they did. There wouldn't have been the stimulus – at least in that direction. In this case, the cramping-of-style paid off. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way all the time.
“In a nutshell, I suppose what Im saying in a number of ways is that the spirit of the regulations is fine, but, that the programmer should have more room to maneuver, to achieve the goals set out by the Commission.
“If the Commission would give more heed to the ratings, they'd see that Foreground rarely appears in prime time; its an off-time phenomenon. Mosaic, on the other hand, fits well into prime time.
“The CHEZ morning show is nearly all Mosaic. There isn't a quarter-hour between 6 AM and 9 AM that doesn't qualify as Mosaic! And, that is not by design. Mosaic is basically what we do in AM Drive.
“The listener … doesn't realize she pr he is listening to Mosaic – and couldn't care less, either. They want what they want; they want certain needs fulfilled and that's that. Moreover, you can drop the Enrichment material into Mosaic where it generally fits well and it doesn't interrupt the cycle and the listener probably appreciates it more because it fits what is going on.
“In other words, tell me I can make an argument for 45% Mosaic and five percent Foreground and Ill find a way to work the Mosaic into the normal run of things and a way to deploy the Foreground to my best advantage – probably as specials and features and such. This is a far more effective way to achieve the aims of the FM Policy – the overall Enrichment objective, for instance, will be more effective and Ill have the flexibility to programme to my audiences needs."
Has the CRTC undermined its own goals by being relatively inflexible with the FM Regulations? “Frankly, I think so. They've forced Enrichment on FM radio. The way they set up implementation of the Regulations, you do what you have to in peak periods and in weak periods, alike.
“Nobody gains this way. This doesn't contribute anything to Quality, Diversity and Enrichment objectives" The bulk of the listeners are not exposed to Foreground. A minority hear the Quality, Diversity and Enrichment materials – maybe a large minority if you hit upon something like the Sunday Funnies or ‘Rhyme and Reason.’ Sensibly, it should be the other way around. Given the current Regulations, it cant be. “The FM Regulations have the potential to reach, maybe even surpass, their stated goals. The problem, today, is implementation. Adjust the method of implementation and move closer to goal attainment."
Azzarello is exceedingly successful in meeting [audience-related] challenges. CHEZ-FM dominates in its 18-to-34 year old primary target market. In 1978, 84% of its 18+ audience fell in that range with males outnumbering females 2.4 to one. By late 1981, nearly 87% of the CHEZ audience was between 18 and thirty-four with a male-female ratio of just 1.4 to one.
“Within this age group,” says Azzarello, “males, as expected, listen more than females. The younger end of the range, the 18-to-24 year olds listen more than the 25-to-34 year olds. And, in the younger group, males and females both tend to be fairly heavy users of radio; in the older group, males are somewhat heavier users than females."
How does the CHEZ-FM audience compare with the competition?
“First, as I said earlier, I don't think we really have any competition in the market, we are basically isolated, musically.
“However, among our primary target audience, our research shows that we are tied with perpetual market leader, CFRA-AM (a CMOR outlet) in terms of first choice station. “CFGO-AM (CMOR), CBO (CBC), CIMF-FM (Easy Listening), CKBY-FM (Country) and CHOM-FM, in Montreal, (AOR) rank three through seven. CBO-FM, CBOF, CBOF-FM (all CBC 0 and 0) and CKCU-FM (Carleton University student station), interestingly, all beat out one time market leader, CKOY-FM (talk heavy CMOR)."
How do females and males compare on first choice station? "Our research reveals that among l8-to-24 year old females CHEZ-FM is a strong number one. CFGO is second. CFRA and CIMF-FM are tied for third.
“Astoundingly, CHEZ-FM is a runaway among 25-to-34 year old females.
We beat second choice CFRA-AM by better than two-to-one; third place goes to CIMF-FM.
“Males present a different story. Although we are a male-heavy format, l8-to-24 year old males opt for CHOM-FM, in Montreal, and its somewhat heavier music, first, with us second. And, 25-to-34 year old males tend to prefer CFRA, first, and us second. in terms of second choice station, CHEZ-FM comes out quite a bit ahead of the others, CFRA included. Most of the other stations are well back when it comes to second choices among males.
“So, overall, when you consider how the first and second choices size up for the l8-to-34 year old group, we come out ahead of RA, even though they have about a fifty percent lead over us in the 7+ audience."
What accounts for the predominance of CHEZ-FM in its target segment? “Obviously,” says Azzarello, we’re providing the service, the right mix of things. Musically, for instance, CHEZ is broader than both CFRA an CFGO can ever hope to be. There is a lot of product available on CHEZ-FM which isnt available elsewhere.
“This is the outgrowth of our approach. I like to think that we see the audience as living, breathing human beings; as people who need or want certain things, some of which radio can provide better than other sources. What we try to do is service these needs better than anyone else.
“We tend to emphasize need fulfillment as much as possible. Our research has shown what needs we can best deal with. We try to go after them. The upshot of all this is that were able to adjust to accommodate the audience."
The finesse of Chuck Azzarello, in effectively pulling together these diverse inputs, speaks for itself.
In 1980, Harvey Glatt told the Ottawa "Journal," “The success of CHEZ-FM has been beyond my expectations, both in terms of audience and advertising it has attracted.
“When I compare CHEZ-FM to other similar stations in Canada and the US, I feel good --I think the sound is great. And, were doing better in share of market than either CHUM-FM or Q107 (CILQ-FM) in Toronto.
“We lost money in the first and second year, but now we've turned the corner [in 1980]."
It is a perfection of means and a confusion of goals, observed Albert Einstein, which characterizes our time. While he was probably talking about governments, the statement is certainly appropriate to radio, where managers have tended to perfect the means of achieving economic goals without the realization that those goals are valid only if they can be justified in terms of social and technical responsibility.
There is no evidence of such confusion with Chuck Azzarello. Profits should be a measure of effectiveness, efficiency and responsibility. So earned, they should be worn as a badge of accomplishment and honour.
There is substantial evidence that such is the case with Chuck Azzarello.
Fortune, instructed Machiavelli, is a woman, and you must, if you want to subjugate her, beat her and strike her. Fortune, he thought, was the providence of those who controlled by edict and fear.
There is evidence, here, that sister Fate is good planning, well executed: more responsive when pampered.
Innovative and influential, Chuck Azzerallo passed away, peacefully, on Saturday 22 August 2009, at Gatineau Hospital. The cause of death was cancer. Surviving are his wife, Deborah Fleming; step-children Ryan and Victoria; parents, Salvadore and Kathleen Azzarello, and sister, Marie Rose.
Around 10 pm, Monday 24 August 2009, Ben McCully, a DJ on CHEZ-FM, paid tribute to Azzarello. "I didn't know Chuck," said McCully, "but I wouldn't have a job if it weren't for him." Then McCully rolled, "Into the Great Wide Open," by Tom Petty, which fit the sentiment and the fact as a glove.
dr george pollard is a Sociometrician and Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth," Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment as well as umbrella repair.
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