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Old CKNW logoI see that radio station CKNW is making some dramatic changes to its programming.

Let me declare my interest. I worked for NW as a broadcaster for 19 years and I am very proud of the association. I still consider myself part of that CKNW that I always knew.

I was very badly treated by Corus who bought out NW but that has left no bitterness whatsoever. I mean that sincerely.

Corus never was CKNW in my mind.

CKNW started when I was a boy. We all listened to the station as we grew up and as we got into our 20’s and 30’s. It was where we learned about our community and the world in general. We listened to our music there.

There were, of course, other stations that we listened to, particularly for the music. But through the years until I started to broadcast for them in 1984, CKNW was the default station in my life.

When I went to work for them it was one of the proudest moments in my life. I was in the big leagues!

I had left the government in 1981 to go to work for CJOR as a talk show host … with indifferent success. When I started with NW in 1984, I had been fired by CJOR and was definitely on my uppers. I was not too fussy about what kind of work I did. CKNW was manna from heaven!

I paid my dues– Starting with the midnight till 2 o’clock in the morning show for a year, I moved to the evening show from 6 to 9 for another year, then to the afternoon show from 12 until three for two years, then in 1988 to the morning show where I stayed until 2003.

I tell you all this to show that I was mentally a part of CKNW and that never left after I was fired. Sure, I was pissed off at Corus but I never lost my love for the old call letters. If CKNW were to make a big comeback today, even owned by the pricks that fired me, I would be delighted.

When I was fired in 2003 the station made a very big mistake. Instead of filling my slot with Jon McComb, a first-class broadcaster who would’ve been able to carry on a similar type of show as mine but with his own imprint, and done very well, they moved Bill Good from the afternoon into my slot. This was a huge error.

I must say that there were an awful lot of people listening to NW who hated my guts. That’s the nature of the beast. I did have, however, an enormous share of the audience sometimes exceeding 20% of the available listeners. Some probably listened just because they didn’t like me!

Bill was an entirely different breed of cat. He wouldn’t say you know what if he had a mouthful of it and avoided controversy like it was the Ebola plague. Superbly polite, he rarely showed any kind of emotion and this is just not what the audience I had expected.

I don’t say that Bill was not a good broadcaster. That would be cheeky in the extreme. Everybody has different tastes in these matters. I’m only talking about what the public, between nine in the morning and noon, had come to expect from 1988 until 2003 and what would have been the wise way of keeping the ratings up.

The facts speak for themselves. When I left the show the radio station was getting something around 16% of the total listening audience while I was getting something between 18 and 21%. Those numbers, proportionally, continued throughout the day. The station was hugely strong.

It is the old truism – the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If you take a major part of the show, nine until noon, and bugger that up, you’re going to suffer throughout the entire day. That’s the way radio works.

The best broadcaster at NW when I left was Phillip Till. But Phil was a specialist. He was a world class newsman who could make it hugely entertaining in addition to being informative. He had amazing world wide contacts. To put him where Frosty Forst used to be in the morning just didn’t make sense. There are horses for courses and this wasn’t Phil’s course and it sure as hell wouldn’t have been mine either!

In very short order, the audience had gone from Frosty Forst and Rafe Mair two completely different broadcasters, different strengths and different specializations.

The shock was too much. Within a remarkably short period of time CKNW, so long the number one station in the province that one couldn’t remember when they were not, fell to number two then number three and its ratings dropped by more than 50% and stayed there.They became number 3 to a rock station and the CBC!

As I say, that gave me no pleasure. I wanted to see NW the winner it always was and I didn’t much care who owned the radio station nor who on the air was responsible for its success. It was a matter of pride of belonging – I was a CKNW alumni and I wanted them to succeed and didn’t care who got the credit.

Are they now on the right track?

Frankly, I had to chuckle when I read the story.

Of course Jon McComb should be in the morning but not 5:30 AM!

People have not changed. If you wonder about people listening to radios in their cars in the morning just get into the middle of the Vancouver morning traffic jam. It’s no different than it was 50 years ago. Most of them want to hear the kind of show that Frosty used to do peppered with information snappy humour and features.

Then, when they get to work, they expect hard talk. I believe that Ian Koenigsfest, the program director, is right to say that less phone-in talk is required. Regular callers can become an enormous pain in the ass and begin to think that they are a part of the programming itself. That’s why I used open line far less than other broadcasters did.

To broadcast without open line takes a host who can carry the show and Jon McComb is just the person who can do it. The problem is, he should start at 9 o’clock and end at noon.

Simi Sara has become a very good broadcaster but should do the afternoon show, not start at 10 AM.

About three in the afternoon the people in the morning rush-hour start driving home. Traditionally, radio has always catered to them as the “afternoon drive” show and I frankly don’t see that much has changed in that demographic. Yet I cannot see from the announcement that they have any plans between two and six. That may have yet to be announced. A more sensible balance would have Simi on from noon until three then a drive show from three until six. But then, what the hell do I know?

Justin Wilcomes, called Drexel, the DJ man who asked premier Clark how she liked being a MILF, will take over from six until 10. It’s amazing to me to think that CKNW has finally recognized that contrariness and not necessarily popular opinions go hand-in-hand with good radio!

I have no comment on Drex because I’ve never listened to him and I don’t know what he plans to do.

There is one constant factor that has existed since I left in 2003 – Ian Koenigsfest. Talk about a survivor! For the last 10 years every single thing has gone wrong and for the last 10 years he’s been in charge!

I know and like Ian and wish him no ill but I just wonder what he did to become Teflon Man?

In summary I think it can be said that CKNW has recognized that they have two very good broadcasters and has very cautiously moved them along. Unfortunately they did not pick quite the right spots and they haven’t solved their problems. You can’t combine your breakfast show and half your morning show expecting one host to have the right talents for both. Similarly you can’t combine the last half of your morning with the first part of your afternoon show, two very different audiences, and expect one broadcaster to fit the bill.

At the same time both of those broadcasters are superb and well suited to the morning and afternoon shows respectively.

There is always the danger of the “old guy” thinking that things have never changed.

Well this “old guy” knows things have changed and changed considerably but on the other hand some things have not. Radio has a whole new set of competitors and has to recognize that these options prevail. The fact also remains that there is a hard core radio listener who for many reasons prefers it to the Internet or Sirius or what have you.

To produce programming under these circumstances must be very challenging. Because you don’t know what you’re competing with on the Internet – it’s like trying to puncture a huge blimp with your fist – you really don’t know how to compete. That being the case you must assume that many people will still like the things that they used to like on radio. Others will let you know if you seek them out.

Radio was never expected to survive television – but it did and with the proliferation of TV channels and the rubbish they put on, it would seem to me that radio has got the better of the contest. I think it will continue to carry on and be a big part of people’s lives.

Interesting days ahead and I have offered this as constructive criticism because I really would like to see radio in general survive and, CKNW in particular, prosper.

10 Responses to “The gang that couldn’t broadcast straight”

  1. C.MacGregor says:

    Hi Rafe,
    Thank you Thank you for your continued articulate views regarding these latest changes on CKNW radio.
    I couldn’t agree more on your views of Bill Good. I think he is probably a very nice person but a ‘Milk toast’ when it came to taking a stand (any stand would have been nice) when it came to holding the Government’s feet to the fire on any subject. I used to listen for awhile and then, after yelling ‘ask them this’ etc. etc. I would sadly turn to another station.
    I am glad that Jon McComb will still be there, but I will not be listening to him at 5:30 am.
    Continue doing what you do and once again a big thank you for your fair
    analysis on all subjects.
    Are you still doing your travels to small villages in England. I so loved living through your travel logs after your returns.
    Continued good health Rafe and for your wife Wendy.

  2. Brian says:

    Excellent analysis Rafe. I am not quite so nice as you and will freely state my considered opinion that Bill Good-once described to me by someone who worked with him-as a 6 foot 6 year old, is no loss to broadcasting and along with Koenigsfest did a great deal of the damage to the once great ‘NW.

    Simi, who started strong, has since declined dramatically to where some call her “Silly Sara” and will not further the stations fortunes in my view.

    Eckford will be no help either. I find him inane and self-centred.

    Drex I turn off the minute he comes on.

    There is an excellent opportunity in the market for someone to start a REAL talk station and hire McComb away to anchor it.



  3. Gavin Bamber says:

    Mike Eckford will be on from 2 to 6, He does light stuff, trying for humour, some shock. Might work.

  4. Gavin Bamber says:


    ok, now I’m far less enthusiastic after reading this G&M article.

    CKNW is dropping the number of guests and going bonkers: Mr. Koenigsfest also said “party politics and getting into the machinery of politics is not a big sell for our audience,” so the station will cut back on its coverage of politics.



  5. Rafe Mair says:

    Gavin – I saw that quote and couldn’t believe my eyes. It occurred to me, perhaps, that Koenigsfest was just repeating what CKNW management has said for years namely that they don’t care for politics very much – all the time profiting very handsomely from their coverage of politics!
    I think, however, that you may be onto something here. The station has disintegrated so badly that almost anything is possible. Now that you have me thinking about it, I wonder if this is part of the overall corporate policy in this province to continue to go easy on the liberals.
    If so it is indeed a sad day. I w went through many, many years, of pissing off management because I held Socreds feet to the fire. During that time, not a word was ever said to me, however, and that’s what made CKNW so strong in those days.

  6. Gavin Bamber says:

    The sad thing is that it is the healthy criticism that makes a government better itself. When the NDP criticizes the Liberals, the Lib govt. will ignore it because they’ll say it’s just political posturing. When Rafe or McComb etc. say it, it carries weight.

    If I wonder about a policy, I think maybe it’s just me. When I hear it discussed on CKNW, I know I’m sharing a view. That view will get honed by listening to others.

    CKNW is purposefully sabotaging this process. We will all be the worst for it.

    I will be writing the hosts if/when they don’t disregard their orders, telling them we need controversy not blandness.

  7. Ken Byron says:

    B.C. Is about politics. Because we are such a polarized province politically, politics here is entertaining, and always newsworthy. Anyone, and especially NW who thinks otherwise is doomed for failure.If they don’t make changes soon it won’t be long before they are being referred to as the “midget”, and not the “Giant”
    Ken Byron

  8. oh my.. says:

    Oh Rafe… Ian’s not so Teflon anymore! Word is he got fired today!
    Sorry.. I am not, and will not ever be a fan of Ian… worked with him for a few years, and found him to be like a used car salesman. He probably treated you better because you were the talent, but anyone he didn’t consider talent (i.e. producers, assistants, newsies etc..) were not treated very nicely.
    I agree, that CKNW was not the same once Corus took over. They have tanked like the titanic and now it seems, the will going through format changes — until they tweek it, to the liking of Corus heads up in Toronto.
    I look forward to reading more of your views Rafe.

  9. Jason N says:

    I am as limp-wristed a liberal as they come. But there are some former/current right wingers who’s integrity/idealism I trust fully. (McCain, Joe Clark, Kevin Page … thats about it.) But you Rafe are amongst them. Thank you for CARING. Thank you for your sense of social responsibilty.

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