Doug Thompson headshotI LOVE RADIO!!!!!  There, that’s my confession for the month…and that’s as loud as I can possibly say it in print.  Here, let me say it again.


OK, maybe not the radio of today (although some of it is still good).  I’m talking about the radio I grew up with.  Those wild and crazy days of hit parade radio aka Top 40.  I’ve been in love with radio since I was a fair haired boy of 13 (and where did all my fair hair go anyway?).  Growing up during my early teenage years in Oakville, Ontario (about an hour west of Toronto), I first discovered CHUM radio in 1960.

stromberg-carlson-stereo1 (1)Prior to that, my early radio listening habits had begun with my parents.  They had a wooden Stromberg-Carlson radio, which stood four feet high and had a 78rpm record player on top.  It took about a minute for the radio for warm up (ah, the days of tubes) and gave off a toasty amount of heat.  Each and every week, my parents and I would sit around the radio (this was a few years before television became popular and oh boy, am I dating myself here) and we’d listen to radio shows such as the Jack Benny Program, Fibber Magee and Molly plus one of my all-time favourites, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCartney on the “Chase and Sanborn Hour”.  Chase and Sanborn for those who don’t know, was a coffee company and back in those days, the sponsor was often billed in the title of the program before (or even instead of) the talent.

They paid the bills, ya see!

Edgar and CharlieAnd without getting into the logistics of how or why a ventriloquist act could possibly work on radio when you couldn’t actually see Edgar Bergen’s mouth move, it was still wonderful ‘theatre of the mind’, especially when that snippy little wooden boy with a monocle, Charlie McCarthy, feuded with legendary curmudgeon and rapscallion, W.C. Fields. It was a mock feud obviously (just like Jack Benny’s on-air feud with another ‘50’s radio host, Fred Allen), but it was still wonderful to hear the fast and furious back-and-forth insults escalate.

Some of my other favourite radio programs from the 1950’s were “Boston Blackie” (a private eye detective story), “Dragnet” (the cop drama Jack Webb successfully transferred to television) and “The Lone Ranger”.  What pre-teen kid didn’t get goose bumps listening to the opening narration from announcer Fred Foy (at least from 1948 when Foy started) accompanied by the stirring strains of the Rossini score to “The William Tell Overture”?  “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi Yo Silver’.  The Lone Ranger.”   Foy memorably recited that opening for both the radio program and the entire run (1949 – 1957) of “The Lone Ranger” television series, which starred Clayton Moore and Canadian First Nations actor Jay Silverheels as Tonto.

But that was then.  When I first discovered rock and roll (or at least pop and roll) on the radio in 1960, it all changed.  Once I found CHUM on my dial, I was hooked.  I simply couldn’t get enough.  I became obsessed.  Like most of my peers, I listened to the radio while doing my homework at night and on Friday and Saturday nights, my parents would allow me to listen past midnight and almost always fell asleep listening to the radio.  CHUM (later called 1050 CHUM) is still considered to be one of the top Top 40 (actually Top 50 at the time and later, their chart shrunk to the Top 30) radio stations in North America.  CHUM is right up there, in the same league as WABC, New York; WLS, Chicago; CKLW, Windsor-Detroit; KHJ in Los Angeles and a few other select stations.

Long before iPods, iTunes, You Tube, and MTV (Much Music in Canada), music fans got their fix on the radio.  In the decades since rock and roll began, there have been dozens of songs written about radio – mentioning radio in the lyrics, or at the very least, using radio as a plot twist.

Possibly the first song in the rock era to do so was “Roll Over Beethoven”.

In 1956, Chess Records released Chuck Berry’s, Roll Over Beethoven”.  I’m gonna write a little letter.  Gonna mail it to my local DJ.  Yeah, an’ it’s a jumpin’ little record I want my jockey to play.  Roll Over Beethoven.  I gotta hear it again today.”  Berry’s original version made it to # 29 on Billboards’ Hot 100 singles chart.  The song has been recorded by dozens of artists, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles (who included it on the second British LP, “With The Beatles”), The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, Leon Russell, Johnny Rivers, Mountain, Gene Vincent, Iron Maiden and the Electric Light Orchestra, who brought the song back to the singles chart in 1973 (# 42).  In 2003, the Library of Congress chose “Roll Over Beethoven” as one of 50 songs to be added to the National Recording Registry that year.

The following year (2004), Rolling Stone Magazine ranked “Roll Over Beethoven” at # 97 on their “500 Greatest Songs Of All Time” list. 

One of my all time favourite records about radio is a novelty record called “Chaos” by Bob Arbogast & Stan Ross.  Arbogast was a Los Angeles DJ and later, character voice actor (“Roger Ramjet”, “The Jetsons”).  Released as a double sided single on Liberty Records in 1959, “Chaos” never charted, but became an instant cult classic.  I recently bought a copy of the Liberty 45, complete with the original picture sleeve, on eBay.  “Chaos” is a ‘mock’ radio show featuring fast talking DJ ‘Speedy Clip’ (Arbogast).  “Chaos” had all the elements of real Top 40 radio of the late ‘50’s, including station jingles: “K-O-S Radio is the best radio.  Sends the music out your way, forty hours every day”.  Stan Ross sings the really short (15 seconds) songs, using the identical musical background with the only lyric change being the name of the girl that’s being sung about, “Oh Linda”, “Oh Emily”, “Oh Blanche”.  Eventually, Speedy Clip is blasted into outer space by the government all the while calling for assistance from the rock and roll idols of the day, “Elvis!  Ricky!  Help!”

It’s kind of corny today, but still a wonderful satire.

Another skewering of radio is Stan Freberg’s 1960 two sided 45 single,“The Old Payola Roll Blues”.  This one barely made Billboards’ Hot 100, cracking # 99 for one week only, then disappearing.  I first heard this on CHUM.  Bob Laine, CHUM’s all night maven Bob Laine played it a bunch of times and I instantly fell in love with it.  I didn’t know much about radio and ‘payola’ at the time, but it was still a very funny record, even if Freberg did tear a strip off Top 40 radio and the manufactured ‘teen idols’ of the day.

Other songs that made the Billboard Hot 100 chart that mention radio in the title (and occasionally in the lyrics) include:

You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” Joni Mitchell (# 25 in 1973) “Oh honey, you turn me on.  I’m a radio.  I’m a country station.  I’m a little bit corny.  I’m a wildwood flower.  Waving for you.            Broadcasting tower.  Waving for you.”  OK, so this is more about a love relationship than about radio, but it’s Joni Mitchell, so I’m counting it.

Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)” Reunion (# 8 in 1974) “Life is a rock, but the radio rolled me.  Gotta turn it up louder, so my DJ told me.  Whoa whoa whoa whoa.  Life is a rock, but the radio rolled me.  At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie.”         


WOLD” Harry Chapin (# 36 in 1974). “I am the morning DJ on W*O*L*D.  Playing all the hits for you, wherever you may be.  The bright, good morning voice who’s heard, but never seen.  Feeling all of forty-five going on fifteen.” 


FM (No Static At All)” Steely Dan (# 22 in 1978) “The girls don’t seem to care tonight.  As long as the music is right.  No static at all, no static at all.  FM – not static at all.”  The theme song from the 1978 film, “FM”.

Song On The Radio” Al Stewart (# 29 in 1979) “You’re on my mind, like a song on the radio.”  Again, more of a relationship song using radio as a metaphor, but it’s Al Stewart, so I’m counting it.

Video Killed The Radio Star” The Buggles (# 40 in 1979) About the rise of MTV/Much Music et al.  “Video killed the radio star.  Video killed the radio star.  Pictures came and broke your heart.  We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far.”


Who Listens To The Radio” The Sports (# 45 in 1979) “AM or FM, I listen to both of them.  Listening to the radio since I don’t know when.  It was so busy, everyone’s got somewhere to go.  In the background there’s always the radio.”

On the Radio” Donna Summer (# 5 in 1980) “If you think that love isn’t found on the radio.  Then tune right in, you may find the love you lost.  ‘Cause now I’m sitting here.  With the man I sent away long ago.  It sounded really loud.  They said it really loud.  On The radio.  Whoa, oh oh oh, on the radio.”  Once again, more about relationships with radio as the catalyst.     


The Spirit of Radio” Rush (# 51 in 1980).  CFNY ‘The Spirit of Radio’ in Brampton, Ontario, under the guidance of Program Director (a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame radio DJ honouree) David Marsden and featuring such on-air talent as Pete ‘N’ Geets, Earl Jive, Martin Streek, Don Berns and others, inspired Rush to write and record this hit released as a single and on their “Permanent Waves” album. “Begin the day with a friendly voice.  A companion unobtrusive.  Plays that song that’s so elusive.  And the magic music makes your morning mood.” 


WKRP In Cincinnati” Steve Carlisle (# 65 in 1981).  The fictitious 1970’s TV sit com’s theme song spawned its own real life chart hit.  “Baby, if you’ve ever wondered.  Wondered whatever became of me.  I’m living on the air in Cincinnati.  Cincinnati, WKRP.”             


Magic Power” Triumph (# 51 in 1981) “She climbs into the bed, she pulls the covers overhead.  And she turns her little radio on.  She’s had a rotten day, so she hopes the DJ’s gonna play her favourite song.” 


Mexican Radio” Wall of Voodoo; (# 58 in 1983) “I hear the rhythms of the music.  I buy the product and never use it.  I hear the talking of the DJ.  Can’t understand – what does he say?  I’m on a Mexican radio.  I’m on a Mexican whoa-oh radio.”


Radio Ga-Ga” Queen (# 16 in 1984).  The original title was “Radio Ca-Ca”, a phrase uttered by  drummer Roger Taylor’s toddler son, who was referring to a crappy song he’d just heard on the radio.  Taylor changed it from ‘ca-ca’ to ‘ga-ga’ (thus giving Stefani ‘Lady Gaga’ Germanatto the idea for her new last name several decades later).  It’s a not-so-subtle jab at how bland radio had become in the 1980’s.  “All we hear is radio ga ga.  Radio goo goo.  Radio ga ga.  All we hear is radio ga ga.  Radio blah blah.  Radio, what’s new?  Radio – someone still loves you.”  “Radio Ga-Ga” references two important radio events – Orson Welles infamous 1938 radio play “War of the Worlds” that had Martians invading New Jersey which scared the entire U.S east coast (“through wars of worlds, invaded by Mars.”) and Winston Churchill’s ‘Finest hour’ speech from June 1940 (“You’ve yet to have your finest hour.  Radio.”)


Make Me Lose Control” Eric Carmen (# 3 in 1988) “(Turn) turn the radio up for that sweet sound.  Hold me close, never let me go.” 

That’s Why God Made The Radio” The Beach Boys (# 16 in 2012).  The Beach Boys album, also titled “That’s Why God Made The Radio”, debuted at # 3 on Billboards’ album chart.  The song was a fond remembrance of radios’ emotional power.  “That’s why god made the radio.  So tune right in everywhere you go.  He waved his hand, gave us rock’n’roll.  The soundtrack of falling in love (falling in love, oh).  That’s why god made the radio.”


‘Radio’ songs more at home being heard on FM radio include:

Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?” For their fifth studio album, “End of the Century”, released in 1980, The Ramones hooked up with ‘Wall of Sound’ producer Phil Spector and yes, at least according to Ramones folk lore, Spector did pull a gun on them.  This was only The Ramones second single release with “Baby, I Love You” also from “end of the Century” being their first.  “Do you remember lying in bed.  With the covers pulled up over your head?  Radio playin’ so no one can see.”

You Can’t Say Crap On The Radio” comes from the British band Stiff Little Fingers’ 1983 compilation “All The Best”.  Oh flip, oh gosh, oh golly gee.  We really shocked the local rock disc jock.  Oh crumbs, oh boy, oh sugar me.  The poor bloke nearly went right off his block.  We only told him what we did and didn’t like.  And then we used that word and he jumped on the mike.  You can’t say that on the radio.  You can’t say that on the radio. Yes, we all do it but you can’t refer to it.  You can’t say that on the radio.”

Border Radio” is from The Blasters 1981 self titled album.  “This song comes from nineteen sixty-two.  Dedicated to a man who’s gone.  Fifty thousand watts out of Mexico.  This is the Border Radio.”

The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” The Doors, from their 1971 album “L.A. Woman”, their final one with Jim Morrison as frontman.  Texas Radio refers to the Mexican radio stations that both Jim Morrison and keyboardist Ray Manzarek used to listen to.  Wolfman Jack was once on a station from Del Rio, Texas.  The lyrics, of course, do not reflect any of that, as they’re more a Jim Morrison tone poem.  “I wanna tell you ‘bout Texas Radio and the Big Beat.  Comes out of the Virginia swamps.  Cool and slow with plenty of precision.  With a back beat narrow and hard to master.” 

Left Of The Dial” Taken from their 1985 album “Tim”, The Replacements wrote about college radio stations that are traditionally on the left of the radio dial. Weary voice that’s laughin’ on the radio once.  We sounded drunk, never made it on.  Passin’ through and it’s late, the station started to fade.  Picked another one up in the very next state.”


And then there were songs about disc jockeys…sometimes BY DJ’s.  From the beginning of rock radio in the mid ‘50’s until the late ‘70’s, every town and/or city had at least two or three (sometimes more), radio DJ’s that were easily as popular in their area as the stars whose records the DJ’s played.  Record hops, hosted by these same said DJ’s, often at high school auditoriums or local dance halls, were always well attended… and often, the DJ brought a recording star with them.  This was how a lot of DJ’s in the ‘1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s made extra money to augment their radio salaries.

chum-duffroman-65Some U.S. DJ’s, like Joe Smith, parlayed their radio popularity and went into the record business and wound up running large multi-national record companies.  In Joe’s case, he ran both Capitol Records as well as Warner Brothers Records (at separate times of course).  In Canada, Duff Roman, a Toronto DJ (CKEY and CHUM in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s), was also a record producer (The Paupers/David Clayton Thomas/Little Caesar & The Consuls) with his own Roman Records label.  Duff went on to become the head of CHUM Radio in Canada for several years.  He was also the founding President of FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent On Record).  Duff has been inducted into several broadcast Halls of Fame.  More recently, Duff was one of the producers of the three hour television documentary, “Yonge Street: Rock and Roll Stories”.

Many disc jockeys (especially morning men who thought they could sing) released a single or two in their local markets.

Some did well.  Others did not.

A few of the successful ones include NY DJ Jim Lowe who had a # 1 hit in Billboard with “Green Door” in 1956; Memphis, L.A. and nationally syndicated DJ Rick Dees took “Disco Duck” to # 1 in 1976.  San Francisco DJ Sly Stewart quite radio to form Sly & The Family Stone and racked up a bunch of hits, including three # 1’s – “Everyday People” 1969; “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” 1970; and “Family Affair” in 1971.  Then there was J.P Richardson aka The Big Bopper.  He not only had hit records of his own, including “Chantilly Lace”, a # 9 song in 1958, he also wrote Johnny Preston’s 1959/1960 # 1, “Running Bear”.  Richardson died in the February 3rd, 1959 plane crash that also killed Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly.

The list of DJ’s who’ve had hits records would fill an additional column.  I’ll save that for another time.

In 1964, KRLA Los Angeles disc jockey Casey Kasem recorded “Letter From Elaina”.  Warner Brothers Records released the 45, which only made it to #103 on Billboards’ ‘Bubbling Under’ chart.  “Letter From Elaine” has Casey reading a letter from a female listener who wants to meet The Beatles.  Who didn’t in 1964?  The letter reading later morphed into the ‘long distance dedication’ feature when Casey launched his weekly internationally syndicated radio countdown, “American Top 40” in 1970.

There’s one legendary DJ who’s had more ‘tribute’ songs than any other.  His name was Bob Smith, but on the radio, he became Wolfman Jack.  When da Wolf was broadcasting on Mexican radio with hundreds of thousands of watts of unbridled power, he could be heard all over the Western United States and up into Canada.  I remember listening to Wolfman on many a late night in Edmonton.

Todd Rundgren first sang about da Wolfman in his song “Wolfman Jack”, from Todds’ 1972 album, “Something/Anything?”  “Now you maybe want a man who throws ‘round his money.  But he ain’t as cool as Wolfman Jack.  And you might want yourself a man.  Who don’t act so funny.  But he ain’t your fool like Wolfman Jack.”   Later on, the lyrics praised the legendary DJ to the skies: “You know the Wolfman’s just about the number one cat alive.”

In the summer of 1974, Canada’s The Guess Who paid their respects with “Clap For The Wolfman”.  It zoomed up Billboards’ Hot 100 singles chart all the way to # 6.  Wolfman even contributed some of his patter for the song.  “Clap for the Wolfman.  He gonna rate your record high.  Clap for the Wolfman.  You gonna dig him ‘til the day you die.”

Two years later, in ’76, The Stampeders used a ‘mock’ conversation between Wolfman and Cornelius as part of their re-worked Ray Charles song, “Hit The Road Jack”.  “Hello Wolf?
Yeah!  Is that you?  Eh, who’s this?  Cornelius!  Oho, ho, Cornelius!  Yeah.  Oh, Cornelius,
Listen.  Hahahaha, what about…Listen.  Yeah, baby, what’s up?  Eh, I’m in trouble.  Yeah.
My girl just told me to…Hit the Road Jack…”

“Mr. D.J. (5 For The D.J.)”“ was a minor hit (# 53) for Aretha Franklin in 1975. “I thought about the disc jockeys yeah.  Playing them ballads and the beat all day long.  So I decided, yes I did.  Give them a little tune they could take five on.  Because I know they get tired.  Playing them records.  All day long.” 

DJ” It was a single taken from David Bowie’s 1979 album “Lodger”.  The video for the song has Bowie destroying a DJ studio, mixed with footage of David strolling around London.“I’ve got believers in me.  I’ve got believers.  I am a D.J., I am what I play.  I am a D.J.” 


Pilot of The Airwaves” Charlie Dore, who also wrote it, took this song to # 13 in 1980. “Pilot of the airwaves.  Here is my request.  You don’t have to play it, but I hope you’ll do your best.  I’ve been listening to your show on the radio, and you seem like a friend to me.””

I Love My Radio (Midnight Radio)” Taffy was an American singer/songwriter who had a # 5 hit with this song in Italy in 1985.  A re-recorded version, “I Love My Radio (Dee Jay’s Radio)”, was released in Britain and climbed to # 6 on the British charts in 1987.  “And now the radio is my mind’s new video.  Because your memories are revived there only so.  And now the radio is a film of my life’s show.  My mind goes back to all the good times I recall.  Wo oh, my guy.  The deejay after midnight.” 

Then there are songs by The Clash, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty and Ray Davies of The Kinks, all of whom recorded anti-corporate-radio songs such as:

Capital Radio” The Clash took their best shot at British corporate radio in 1977.  It was an attack on the music policy of London’s only licensed commercial music radio station at that time, Capital Radio.  “A long time ago, there were pirates.  Beaming waves from the sea.  But now all the stations are silenced.  ‘Coz they ain’t got a government license.” 


Radio, Radio” In 1978, Elvis Costello took radio to task with such lyrics as: “Radio is a sound salvation.  Radio is cleaning up the nation.  They say you better listen to the voice of reason.  But they don’t give you any choice, cause they think that it’s treason.  So you better do as you are told.  You better listen to the radio.  I wanna bite the hand that feeds me.  I wanna bite that hand so badly.  I want to make them wish they’d never seen me.”


Around The Dial” comes from The Kinks 1981 album, “Give The People What They Want”.  “Where did you go Mr. DJ?  Did they take you off the air?  Was it something that you said to the corporation guys upstairs?  It wasn’t the pressure.  You never sounded down.  It couldn’t be the ratings.  You had the best in town.”

The Last DJ” In 2002, Tom Petty released this song, purported to be about long time LA FM radio jock Jim Ladd, who quit radio stations rather than play what the ‘corporate masters’ wanted him to play.  “Well you can’t turn him into a company man.  You can’t turn him into a whore.  And the boys upstairs just don’t understand anymore.  Well the top brass don’t like him talking so much.  And he won’t play what they say to play.  And he don’t want to change what don’t need to change.  There goes the last DJ.  Who plays what he wants to play.  And says what he wants to say, hey, hey, hey…” 


Of course, there are plenty more examples of radio/DJ tribute/attack songs.  You may even have your own favourite I haven’t mentioned.  We’ll have to wait and see how many more, if any, future songs will be written about that magic medium of radio, but whether there are or aren’t any new ‘radio’ tunes coming out, somehow I just don’t see too many songs being written about the iPod or iTunes.

Do you?

Editor’s Note: Well, hell…I do. Dougie, you have dropped another amazing column, entertaining, steeped in history, AND inspirational. I feel obligated to add my 2 cents. I hope you don’t mind….

Raised on the Radio – The Ravyns. Not the cut from their album, but the demo that was used in ‘Fast Times at Ridgemount High’. The story of my life….

The Road and the Radio – Kenny Chesney. Captures the symbiotic relationship between you, your car, the radio, and the open road. A classic that touches me everytime I hear it.

I Miss the Radio – Segarini. Hell, why not. I DO miss the radio….


Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.

Contact us at:

DBAWIS_ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.


  1. David Lennick Says:

    Thanks for the CHAOS sleeve..never saw it before. I still have the original 1959 pressing from London Records of Canada.
    And don’t forget Monty Python’s “I Bet They Won’t Play This Song On The Radio” (Contractual Obligation Album).

    • Doug Thompson Says:

      David, I didn’t know the Chaos 45 had a picture sleeve either until I saw it on eBay about a month ago. I bought it right away.
      And it’s in excellent shape.

      I first heard Chaos in 1964 when I was cataloguing a DJ in Edmonton’s 45 collection. He let me dub it, and I’ve had that tape ever since. I found it about twenty years later in LA on some new Liberty compilation vinyll album, but now I have the original.


      • David Lennick Says:

        Thanks for confirming that it was on a Liberty compilation lp. I thought I’d seen one behind a “do not play” chain in the CKLB library, and when I moved into that office as MD it had vanished.

  2. Rich Griffin Says:

    Thanks Doug … just recently thought, “hey, I’ve been on the air for just over half my life.” Hmmm. And more than 97% of those air shifts have been live-in-the-moment. (Can anyone on-air under the age of 35 say that?)

    Anyway, thanks for the article. Lots of those ‘radio songs’ still give me chills.

    in Sudbury

  3. One of the highlights of that famous John Donabie lunch arranged by Duff back in February was meeting Doug. Even though we worked different streets (he on Yonge, me on Davenport) it was a great pleasure to meet a legend in Toronto radio. Great piece Dougie. Like Lennick, I too still have my copy of Chaos. And I leave you with this famous quote:
    “Don’t be nervous,
    Don’t be rocky,
    You’re our teenage
    guest disk jockey.. now,
    in radioland,
    On K-O-S and K-O-S AM!”

    • Doug Thompson Says:

      That was the point when Side 1 of the 45 ends and the local DJ can talk while he turns over the record (unless he had two copies of that 45, but nobody ever had that).

      I was a HUGE Bob Arbogast fan and when I worked with Gary Owens the first time, I asked him all kinds of questions about Bob (They worked together on dozens of projects, including Roger Ramjet). He gave me his phone number, but I didn’t want to bother the guy, so I never called him. Bob passed away in 2009. I guess I’ll have to wait a few more years (until the afterlife) to actually ask him any questions.

  4. Doug, Thank you for a very entertaing page! I love it! As a child of the 60’s I was heavy into radio, especially the novelty stuff. As a teen, a friend of mine gave me a cassette of “Chaos” and I collapsed in laughter. Thanks for your memories here!

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