His given name is Gerry Thom, and he grew up in Alberta, mostly in the Drumheller area. He started his radio career at the small town station in Drumheller where he began working on Sundays. He was 14 at the time, but tells us he “lied to them,I told management I was 16.” Back then, the station wanted some one who could come in to work the second half of the day, “jockeying” the “religious tapes”, which were a big part of small and medium market programming in those days, as these shows paid money to be on the air, thus earning the stations a nice set of pay cheques at minimum expenses to themselves.
A friend of Thom’s worked 6 am to 3 pm and he (Thom) was given the 3 to midnight shift. Thom tells us he was only allowed to “crack the mike” to deliver time checks and top of the hour station identification messages.
So, why did he do it? In his words, ” for a dollar and a quarter an hour, mostly, and it looked like fun and I was interested in music at the time, as I was playing in a local garage band. New records were coming in to the radio station every day, such as “brand new Beatles records” (they hadn’t yet broken up at that point). It was extremely exciting from that stand point, and I was also greatly interested in current events because news seemed to me to be so immediate on the radio.”
Speaking of which, Thom says he recalls the news room teletype at the Drumheller station banging away all the time, which “seemed quite exciting to me at the time. We were a rip and read operation. The only actual news writing I ever saw anyone do was the farm report.”
Then, one day, as it does to most every on-air radio person, Gerry Thom’s big break arrived. As he tells it, the story could have been taken right out of a show business movie. “One day everyone else got sick and they just threw me in there. The first thing I did was I played “One Tin Soldier” by The Original Caste. It was in the top ten at that time, in January of 1970, and I was just sweating bullets. I was so relieved that I got the first record on the air so for the next one I grabbed this John Lennon record that I liked but because I was nervous and young I played the wrong side (in those days 45 rpm records had two sides to a disc) and it was Yoko Ono on the other side, sounding like three cats fighting in a two cat sack. The song was on for about thirty seconds before the manager came running into the control room and yelled at me to ‘get that crap off my radio station now’ so I did. I thought I was going to be fired.”
Thom wasn’t fired, and he stayed at the Drumheller station for most of his high school years. He says he dropped out of school to take a radio job elsewhere but he was on air in Drumheller from 1970 to 1972.
“Every time I got paid the manager said I should be paying him for all the experience I was getting…”
(To be continued)