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Peace, Love, And Armed Guards

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On Monday morning October 9th Larry Himmell and Steve Cappan arrived at CJOM-fm in Windsor to do their morning show. The CJOM transmitter is shut off every Sunday night for maintenance work, so there was no one on the air when they arrived at the station. Trying to get into the part of the Sheraton-Viscount Hotel where the station is located, Steve and Larry discovered that all the locks had been changed and there was an armed rent-a-cop blocking entrance to the studio door who directed the two to a memo posted on the wall. "The memo basically said that the progressive rock free-form experiment at CJOM was over and directed us to a meeting scheduled for the next morning with the staff," Larry told us about a week later. The memo was signed by George MacDonald, general manager of CKWW, CJOM's am sister station who also serves as economie manager of the fm station. The entire staff, except for one secretary, received the news that day that they were no longer employed by CJOM. At the meeting the next day George Macdonald offered nothing but general statements like "inability to follow policy guidelines, lack of programming control, and general irresponsibility on the part of the announcing staff" as the reasons why the staff was being fired summarily and without any prior waminq whatsoever. CJOM has been a totally free-form progressive rock station for about 18 months when the staff was offed that Monday morning. The on the air staff could program without any restrictions at all, which is almost unheard of in radio. In recent months the station had begun to piek up a wide audience and was actually making money through advertising. CJOM, despite certain weirdness that definitely did go down, was filling a real need for the radio listeners that it reached in Canada and throughout Michigan, Ohio and several other states - it was the only free-form station on the dial. On CJOM you could hear more than the current commercial hits, there was a variety of music, the announcers didn't come on like automated idiots, and in general you could listen to the station and not be bogued out like you'd get listening to most of the other stations on the dial. The station is owned by Geoff Stirling, a Canadian hipster in his early 40's who according to members of the staff "has taken acid and is the main financial supporter of Baba Ram Dass, Richard Alpert. He meditates, he also gets high, toots and smokes hash, and talks about awareness and higher levéis of consciousness." Stirling owns three radio stations, (the others are in Montreal and Newfoundland, where he also owns a video operation.) and is worth many millions of dollars. His devotion to meditation, in case you never noticed, can be seen in the cali letters of his stations, like dig the oms at the end, CJOM, CHOM, etc. We spoke with Stirling on the phone about his armed guard and the forcible eviction of his djs from the studios without any warning. (Of course with the armed guard no explanation from the dj's point of view ever reached the listening ence. But that was the whole point, right? Stirling went on the AM station a few days later to defend nis action, but never spoke with the audience directly affected by the change.) Stirling told us that the main problem was that the dj's "consciousness wasn't high enough. They used obscenity for pointless shock, the absolutely pointless use of filth for filth's sake. It just got so damned desperate that the manager, called and said this is so desperate we just have to move tonight. What the heil could we do? I mean they were so obscene Lenny Bruce would have washed their mouths out with soap " Of course the whole point of Lenny Bruce's life is that he would never do anything of the sort. But the worse thing is that Stirling, though he may have had some justified complaints about the content of certain "obscenities" uttered on the air (apparently the morning show people were yelling "fuck fuck fuck" into the microphone as well as doing things like simulating farts, etc, none of which we see very much point n) still he never once gave any indication to the staff that they were doing anything he didn't like. "There was never any warning," said Don Scott, titular manager for the station who also lost his job, "there wasn't even any discussion. Never anything like why don't you guys cut it down, the license is coming up. We would have cooled it if they'd asked it." When asked by the SUN why he couldn't sit down with the staff, which was doing some very valuable radio and not simply uttering obscenities, and try to solve the problems that way Stirling replied "There was no point, they were so damned dumb. The negative energy was so great. They weren't into anything themselves, they didn't have any fatth or belief in anything. It was a totally negative trip. That's their trip, I don't care about their trip, it's their life, their reincarnation, if they want to blow it this time around they can blow t. But we can't let people abuse freedom and jeopardize the radio station that can do a helluva lot of good in the community." "You've got to understand the CRTC regulations, man," Stirling pleaded, "you cannot do that stuff. It's the fucking regulations. They yell fuck six times in no context at all, and we've got regulations which say you cannot do that." The Canadian Radio and Televisión Commission (CRTC) is the Canadian counterpart of the FCC. The main difference is that it's much more in tune with the times and much less repressive than its American counterpart. The Commission reviews the licenses of radio stations in Canada once every year. "I think they were really getting worried because our I Ícense renewal was coming up," explained Don Scott. "But it was unjustified paranoia, really, on their part. The CRTC could have been convinced to support what we were doing, and if they couldn't we would make whatever minor changes they directed us to. But like last week here in Canada Channel 9 ran a film on tv that had total nudity and lovemaking, so I seriously doubt that the Commission would have censured us to any great extent. It was paranoia and what I would term management failure, they never even set down any policy and then all of a sudden it was goodbye." If you tune-in to CJOM now you'll hear a slightly more than top 40 radio approach, the hits over and over etc, sort of like WRIF but not quite as slick and sophisticated. The reason the thousands of listeners are now without any free form radio on their diais except for portions of the sounds coming out from WABX, is because Geoffrey Stirling, who you see "owns" the station and can do what he wants to with it, has decided that in order to "rebuild an audience" which he's convinced was lost because of some four letter words and fartsjhe has to make the station play only the hits. "It'll only be for a short time," Stirling told us, "and we'll get back to free form with an all Canadian staff that we're shipping down from Montreal. We're still committed to this experiment." But not committed enough to the "experiment" (which seems to imply that they don't necessarily regard free-form as anything but a temporary phenomenon) to try talking to the staff, not committed enough to it to serve his listeners anything but programmed garbage in the months to come. So another fairly good radio station that served thousands of people has been offed by an unscrupulous "owner" at little more than his individual whim. We would completely question a system where individuals are able to own and totally control an institution that should belong to the people, but as long as the older obsolete system of ownership is still in effect we have to question Geoff Stirling, who tries to come on like a brother, but who in fact acts just as callously and plays power trips much tike any other millionaire.