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Saturday 22 Jun 2024

the ideal broadcaster
dr george pollard

This profile qua interview originally appeared in  RPM Music Weekly on 30 June 1979,  pages 20 to 22. Minor typos, spelling errors and syntax errors are corrected. Otherwise, the text remains as originally published.

 

It is difficult to describe Ken Grant, his singularly outstanding achievements in Ottawa, without appearing hyperbolic, ingratiating and sycophantical. Thankfully, his performance speaks for itself.

In the fall 1978 BBM radio book, Ken Grant monopolized AM Drive in Ottawa Roughly 27.4 per cent of the AM Drive audience listens to him. That is about 2.85 items the audience of his nearest rival.

Grant similarly dominates the quarter hour figures. His quarter peaks at 135,400 the highest quarter recorded in CFRA-AM history.

Last year Grant made some 300 personal appearances, most of them were for non-profit causes. It was his positive attitude toward public service and community involvement in general, which earned Ken the Howard Caine Memorial Award for 1978.

Ken Grant epitomizes the ideal broad caster: hard working, successful and dedicated to his station, his audience and his community.

How do you get involved in radio?

First, it took a lot of luck, says Grant; it was very difficult getting into radio, I guess it is for everyone I couldn’t get a job, so I went to radio school.

Eventually, after radio school. I landed a job at CHRS-AM, in St Jean Quebec. It was a multilingual station and I worked as the only English announcer …. That was in 1960 and I was making just 410.00 a week. I did not last long at CHRS-AM because I had to make some money. Enough to live, anyway.

I managed to land a job at CKCW-AM Moncton where I did both drive shows. They had split shifts down there at the time. I worked CKCW-AM for about a year and a half.

Passing through Ottawa on holiday, I decided to see what was happening at CFRA-AM. I had applied to CFRA-AM previously, right after I came out of radio school.

Terry Kielty, who was Programme Director (PD) at the time, told me I had potential but to come back in two or three years. There were rumours at the time that CFRA-AM was looking for a morning man, so I figure I was in the area: why not check it out. I was under no pressure. I had a job. There was nothing to lose. And here it is, almost 18 years later.

CFRA-AM was a totally different kind of station then, I presume?

It was very small operation, then 5000 watts, I think Terry Kielty was both PD and sports director. The station had a lot of sports programming. There were live sportscasters. They almost had a bigger sports staff than they did a music staff.

Things have obviously changed.

Yes, it is reality a first-class operation. I have had a lot of offers over the years, but something has always held me here CFCF Montreal made ma a very nice offer several years ago – it was about the time Al Boliska went to Montreal but something just told me to stay here at CFRA-AM. Things have worked out much better for me.

You really do not have that varied a radio background. When you think about it, there are guys kicking around for 25 years, working maybe 15 or twenty stations and never even approaching your kind of success.

That’s right. When I came to CFRA-AM it was a small-town radio station. A five thousand-watt-station with no music policy, no real direction. It was just a family information, good community station. We all started with that and built the station and improved our own performance from that.

You have been an active part of building the whole station?

Yes, Ernie Calcutt, our sports director, Lowell Green, who does our talk show, and me have all been here right from the beginning. When I first came here they would not even show me the ratting book.

CKOY was so dominant in the market it was demoralizing.

Things have certainly changed since then!

That situation is reversed. The station as a whole, has managed to survive and grow substantially. And that’s not withstanding the fragmentation of the Ottawa radio audience. New stations have been coming in for some time. Ottawa has more radio stations per capita than any other market in Canada. I think there are 15 stations here.

How does it feel to be so successful in such a cluttered market?

I don’t even think it I’ve always had the philosophy that I’ll just go and work. And, if a guy at another radio station has all the same things as I have and we are equal, then I’ll beat him because I will out work him. I really believe in hard work. I don’t have a super great voice. I’m not a sex symbol in the community. I’m not a great athlete or anything else like that I’m just an ordinary guy. I just work very hard to try to be myself on-the-air. In other words, when you meet me outside the station, I’m the same guy in person as I am on-the-air.

Do the ratings have any effect on you?

I never look for the book, I just try to do my best every time I’m on-the-air. If I do my best and that isn’t good enough, then I shouldn’t be here. That’s the way I look at it.

But your ratings are nothing to sneeze at, are they?

Well, our peak quarter-hour hit an all-time peak in the Fall’78 book, at 135,400 quarter-hour is the best we’ve done in the 18 years I’ve been here. George Balcon at CJAD-AM, in Montreal, had about 145,000 and Ralph Lockwood at CKGM-AM, Montreal, had a bit less than we did in that book. Our quarter-hour peak relative to those two Montreal powerhouses; remember Montreal is considerably larger than Ottawa and with fever stations per capita.

Who was second in that quarter, CBO-AM?

I think so; whoever it was only had about 33,000.

How much of this substantial market domination do you attribute to your community involvement?

I think they identify with me. I’m over at the athletic club, I play squash. I emcee all the functions. They’ve grown up with me. I’ve been to all the high school award banquets and so on.

You are as much a part of the community as the churches the schools and so forth.

That’s right. But it takes a longer time you don’t just acquire that status over-night. A lot of stations tire their guys after six months because their books didn’t look good. You will never build a radio station that way.

How much preparation do you do for your show?

I’m preparing all the time, every minute of every day. I have a Dictaphone and I carry it with me all the time in case I see things on the street to get an idea or whatever. I work at home. I buy a lot of services and I edit and re-write them constantly, as they are so Americanize. Overall, I’m always at some form of preparation whether it’s reading the newspaper, a magazine or whatever.

Which of the comedy services do you prefer?

I don’t really think I can pinpoint the best single service. Personally, my favourites are, I guess, Fruitbowl and Tom Adam’s Electric Weenie. The Weenie is more adult than the Fruitbowl, so I must be more selective in using it. I am, after all, doing a family show.

When I edit material from these services. It is geared to a certain half-hour.

Are you suggesting you may have different audiences in each half-hour segment of your show?

Right. The turnover is such that if something scheduled to go, for example, between 6:30 am and 7:00 am does not make it for one reason or another, then it must wait for another day.

What is your selection basis? what criteria do you use to select material for a given half-hour?

First, I consider the type of audience we have and at what time. The humour is more adult between 5:30 and 6:00 than later in the morning. Also, we have a lot of farmers up for the first hour of the show (5 to 6 am), consequently more rural-oriented humour; not yokel or talking down material, just topics they can relate to.

As the morning progresses, the audience becomes more broad based. More kids, More women, More men, More urban listeners. As a result, the show becomes more family oriented and more talky.

After 8 am, the audience is again narrowing. It is mostly mothers and smaller children. Interestingly, we have found during the last half-hour of the show, 8:30 am to 9 am, we have a lot of doctors, lawyers … listening. Thus, the show becomes slightly more adult.

It sounds like you are doing 6 or 7 shows?

Sure, every half-hour is basically a show of its own.

How did recognition of the multi-show notion occur?

Well, I tried to figure out who was listening and when, when I did phone bits with listeners I always asked where they live, where they worked, what time they got up and so forth. It’s amazing the number of people who are up and about at 4:40 am when I hit the city on my way to work.

With the Civil Service having staggered hours in many departments, it means that many, many people are starting office jobs as early as 7 am. Those who go to work for 7 am are probably up between 5:30 am and 6 am.

These and a lot of similar considerations went into the decision that we really had a different audience every half-hour and consequently needed marginally varying appeals to reach the different type of listeners.

Thus, the 7 shows strategy.

You do not really play that much music. Maybe it just seems that way with so much else going on? Do you think listeners really care that much about music in the early morning?

If you rated music relative to the other ingredients of our show,  I think it would come fourth or fifth in audience importance.

I always put the show together this way most important is time check, for obvious reasons. Second is weather information, again for obvious reasons. Third is news and sports information. Fourth is traffic information. Fifth is music.

Finally, how those of us on the show integrate these ingredients goes a long way in determining how successful the show is.

They go in between but I do no rate them as an important item. They are necessary. As a matter of fact, if we could do without them it would be a better show at least, I think so. Obviously, since we are number one. Moreover, they haven’t hurt our ratings.

You seem to use the stop-sets as stingers for much of your humour.

Well, we have to run to stay in business, so why not put them to good use.

How much of your performance would you attribute to your producer, Henry Lane?

I consider the union between Henry and myself to be very important. My previous producer was with me for 14 years; he had come up from Moncton with me.

We have been talking around the real central issue here, personality. It has to be an intervening factor in your success. What weight do you give your personality.

Once all the other factors are put together personality should tie them all up into a pleasing, saleable, listenable package.

Personality, it sounds like, is the glue which holds the show together?

Right!

Getting back to music for a moment, who picks your music?

The music part is asking to eat in a Chinese restaurant. Roughly, I play 3.5 songs an hour. They are picker from a colour codes system. The first is a big hit, for example. Al Pascal and Dave Watts tell us which ones to play so as to keep their rotation intact. The second part of the rotation call for a super hit and again, we are told which one to play to keep system clear and consistent.

Record length must be a critical consideration with so little excess time on your show?

True. For example, during the 7 am to 8 am hour, I have no more than 4 minutes for records. Ever!

I recently read in a CFRA-AM press release that you do an average 300 personal appearance per year.

You know, I never really knew how many I did until I was going through a divorce proceeding a few years ago and my former wife’s lawyer thought I had been paid for all these appearances. So, we had to go over what I had done and determine how many were free and how many were paid appearances. Most were for worthy causes and therefore gratis.

But 300 appearances a year there are only 365 days in a year!

Sometimes there are 2 or 3 a day.

But you are up at 3:15 each morning and show runs till 9 am. You must sleep and find time for you self?

Organization, for one thing. I have a secretary, she does all my typing and arranges and organizes appointments plus, I am very organized. I have a day-timer and everything is in there. For example, a typical morning comprises the show, about an hour and one-half work in the office, some late morning squash and a short nap, all before 4 pm. So, my evenings are wide open and I’m rested.

What I have done in the past year of so is cut my appearances to weekends, only. My kids are growing up and I want to spend as much time as I can with them.

Is there anything in broadcasting you would still like to do or would have like to have done?

I think I would have liked to have been in management. But you can’t do both.

There is not time. CFRA-AM, however, involves me in major decisions. So maybe I am getting enough management exposure to satisfy me.

What advice would you offer the new broadcaster or the ambitious broadcaster?

If they are looking for career advice. I would suggest they stay clear of Top 40. It is a burnt-out format. Longevity is nil, at best. By the time your into your mid- or late-twenties, the teenie-boppers have trouble identifying with you. Maybe not in every case, but in most.

I suppose Top 40 is alright for a year or two. To get one’s kicks, I guess. The experience can’t hurt.

 

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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