Montreal - Aug. 19, 2011 - Sad.
Seems all I've written about lately are people I've admired who have passed away. When I received a call from Earl Zuckerman while in a car on the New York State Thruway informing me that Ted Tevan had died I slumped. Not only did I admire Ted greatly, I loved him.
I grew up listening to the radio. My father, a gambler at the time, used to drive me around Chomedey in the mid to late 1960s while listening to out of town baseball broadcasts. On my own, I listened to Johnny Most calling Celtics games on WBZ Radio out of Boston, complete with sounds that were completely foreign to a kid in the Montreal area: The thwack of a basketball being dribbled and the squeaks of sneakers on a parquet floor.
Hockey, of course with Danny Gallivan calling (mostly) Canadiens games on Sunday nights on CBC radio. And talk. A lot of talk. From Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Detroit and Buffalo and Philadelphia and New York and (back to) Boston for Larry Glick. My hometown?
I remember Dave Boxer being among the first voices I ever heard. My mother was a fan. (Years later I got to work with Dave, briefly, at CJAD. They hired him to do weekends and swing shifts. I was always around prepping sports updates or filing tape following a game or practice. I remember Dave playing a Rolling Stones song on a Sunday afternoon and getting a phone call. He wasn't happy. "They just told me I can't play Stones or Beatles songs on my shift" said Dave, the guy who introduced The Beatles when they played The Forum in 1964, to his young radio friend. "Why would they hire me and then tell me I can't play my music?" I felt terrible for him. Less than a month later he fled to Vancouver.)
I listened to almost every Expos game that first year with Dave Van Horne and Russ Taylor, especially enjoying those late nights from the west coast falling asleep with a small transistor radio under my pillow. But it wasn't until I discovered Ted Tevan on CFOX between 11 and midnight in 1972 that I found somebody who seemed to be talking directly to me. And, perhaps more importantly, for me.
Sports Rap - still the best name ever for a radio show - was a revelation. Hosted by a gravelly voiced hysterically funny guy who seemed to know everybody in Montreal. And everybody in Montreal seemed to be a guest or caller on his show. I was hooked. (A couple of years later, when I saw Wolfman Jack in that great first scene in "American Graffiti" there was no turning back. I was going to be a professional radio guy. Nothing else mattered.)
Ted instinctively knew when to turn it up or down a notch. He played with his callers. Toyed with some of them. Humiliated a few (but they usually had it coming). The early regulars became bigger celebrities than some of Ted's co-workers including The Sting and Count X. Combined with weird sound effects, music, personalized commercials that went on forever and enough actual sports talk to tease the hardcore fan, Ted was the best in the business in this town. His popularity outgrew the late night spot and caused mainstream media types to roll their eyes. (I still remember meeting Ted one day at CFCF on Ogilvy Avenue when he showed me the small office space he shared with another well known Montreal broadcaster. "He wants me gone" said Ted. "Every call that comes in here is for me".)
Ted fought racism and championed the little guy. There were not a lot of on air conversations dealing with issues of race in Montreal and society. Until Sports Rap came on. And then there was Ali. Muhammad Ali was my hero. As universally beloved as Ali is today, that was not the case in the early 1970's. I felt sick when I heard the morning sports reports that Ali had lost to Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden the night before, March 8 1971. I didn't want to go to school. I did, but cried as I walked. Some of the kids, the bullying type, taunted me as I entered the school yard. It was as low a feeling as I had felt, failing to understand that not only was bold, beautiful and brash (and especially black) not fully embraced by many people but actually caused resentment.
Fast forward three years and now I'm a frightened 15 year old thinking Ali is going to get killed in the ring in Zaire by George Foreman. Even some of Ali's own travelling party were fearful. But not Ted Tevan. Ted was on every night guaranteeing an Ali victory. I knew that Ted also loved Ali so I was thinking that maybe he was just trying to convince himself. But those nightly pro-Ali rants brought some comfort to me. Until fight night. No radio, no TV and about a decade away from a computer, I was a wreck not knowing what was going on. Ted was at the Forum watching on "closed circuit". But we had to wait until he got back to the studio to discover what had happened. I kept turning on the radio every few minutes only to hear music. Then, suddenly, on came Ted's voice through a telephone, a little higher pitched than normal. "You won't believe it, Montreal! You won't believe it but it's true! Ali has beaten George Foreman and wait until you hear all the details!! I'll be in studio in about 20 minutes".
Yes, there were a few "I told you so's" that night but Ted had earned the right. He was a lone voice in the wilderness. And then to discover that not only had Ali beaten the bigger, stronger Foreman but had actually knocked him out, well that made for one of the great nights of my young life, maybe The Greatest. As I recall Ted went deep into the morning talking about the fight with guests and callers. How could I have doubted him?
I've already recounted some other stories on the air including how Ted helped get me started in radio. I've got a hundred others but I'll save them, pulling them out perhaps as occasionally as Ted pulled out his machine gun. I've had the good fortune of working alongside some truly great talent in this city who meant so much to me early on as a reader and or listener. Most, including Ted Blackman and George Balcan, became good friends. But nobody inspired me more than a man who forever altered the landscape of radio in Montreal.