Paul Wilson: Canada's oldest radio still rockin'

It's hard times for old-fashioned radio, especially on the AM dial. But Hamilton's CKOC has hung in long enough to become Canada's oldest radio station.
CKOC started downtown in 1922. (Paul Wilson)

My radio is pretty well glued to CBC 1... and I'm not just saying that. But every now and then, I need a quick fix of The Animals, Supremes and some one-hit wonders like Rosie and the Originals.

So I push AM and tune in CKOC, Oldies 1150. That puts me in select company, because the station does not do well in the ratings any more. The latest BBM figures show that in terms of market share, it's sitting near the bottom of the pack.

But a little respect please. Hamilton's CKOC is the oldest station in the land, born 90 years ago. It's a survivor, at a time when terrestrial radio is in steep decline. Especially AM.

Montreal station silent

CFCF, an AM station in Montreal, used to be the oldest. It signed on in 1919. In 2010, with unsustainable ratings, it went silent.

So CKOC, which began in downtown Hamilton in 1922, is now proudly running with the slogan "Canada's Oldest Radio Station."

And the other day they had a birthday open house at the studio, located in a plain-box building on the edge of the Lime Ridge Mall parking lot. The place was packed, there for memories, dj's, cake, red hots and girls in poodle skirts.

16,000 45s

The granddaddy of CKOC,  Nevin Grant, showed up - a man who owns 16,000 45s. In the early '70s, when he was program director at CKOC, he had a crew of nine full- time announcers and three part-time. Now, with automation and slim margins, it's down to two live on-air personalities - Ted Yates and Rock'n Ray Michaels.

At the open house, the fans crowd 'round, and lap it up when Ray goes to the control panel and runs through some canned sound effects - cows mooing, guns blazing, some deep-voiced guy going "Give daddy some loving." Pure, solid-gold cornball.

Roy Orbison, Righteous Brothers, Little Eva doing The Locomotion - no satellite charge, no internet, just turn that radio on and they are there, free in the air.  Still a miracle.

Paul.Wilson@CBC.ca