Much has been written about Allan Watersí business achievements, but what about the other side of Allan Waters? Was there a human side? A side we did not see during the years he was building his incredible legacy?
His daughter Sherry Bourne told me how he got into the radio business quite by accident.
"Dad was a partner in the pharmaceutical business, making and selling a magic potion elixir with Jack Sharp, who also owned CHUM, a low power, dawn-to-dusk radio station which was losing money. In 1954 Sharp told Dad he would sell him the station. Dad preferred to buy the elixir company. Sharp won the discussion and Dad was in the radio business, which he readily admitted he knew little about."
Enter Tommy Darling of CHML, Hamilton. During the 17 years that Tommy was my mentor at CHML/CKDS-FM I must have heard this story a hundred times. Tommy always told it respectfully as an example of the kind of bright business guy Allan was.
Apparently Allan called Tommy shortly after acquiring CHUM, explained how he had heard Tommy Darling was one of the best, if not the best programmer in the country. Allan wisely asked Tommyís programming advice. "Not offering to pay," Tommy would add with a smile.
Tommy told him of a new format he had been watching develop in the U.S. called "Top 40." Tommy felt it was too progressive and experimental to risk trying at CHML, but he felt it would work in the much larger, more aggressive Toronto. And, as they say, the rest is history.
That is an oversimplification of Allanís success with CHUM but it does echo what Fred Sherratt said in his excellent and touching eulogy to Allan Waters on December 7, 2005 when he read the memo that Allan read to the CHUM staff in March 1957.
"I havenít been in this business as long as anyone in this room, but if I was in the shoe business and operating a poor shoe store, then I think I would find out who is running a good shoe store and copy his style. That is why Iíve had tapes made of a number of the leading American radio stations. So, as you probably all suspected anyway, CHUM is going to be patterned after a Stortz station. As Stortz owns five stations and is first in each market, itís not a bad pattern to follow."
To quote Fred: "Allan's business acumen had found the right 'shoe store'. CHUM started turning over the hits and became an overnight sensation."
Allan had the remarkable ability to hire the right people and keep them forever. Fred Sherratt joined Allan in 1956. Paul Ski started as a young announcer 34 years ago and became president, CHUM Radio. As Paul explained it to me, "Dick, the reason that people have stayed with CHUM over the years is a direct result of the culture that Allan Waters and the Waters family have maintained over the years. A culture of integrity, fairness, honesty and a real concern for people.
"One of his favourite words was 'fun'. He expected you to have a strong work ethic but he also had a great sense of family priorities and knew how important it was to have fun along the way."
Allan's family commitment was echoed by his son Jim. "He was a great father to the three of us kids, Sherry, Ron and I. He was always there, supporting whatever we did. My fondest memory is him driving me to all of my hockey games...no matter what time or where, despite his hectic business schedule. He loved CFL games. Although he owned the Ottawa Rough Riders, he was always an Argo fan. He loved to play squash, tennis, golf. He was very completive and hated to lose...same as in business! He liked playing bridge and cribbage with his high school buddies, who he always kept in touch with. He loved to be surrounded by his family at the cottage on Buckhorn Lake. Dinner on Saturday night, preceded with by horseshoes and drinks, was the highlight!
"He taught us the same values and principles as he did those who worked with CHUM. Be humble, treat others as you would expect to be treated, tell the truth...and have fun."
"Family was really the most important thing in Dadís life. He adored my mother till the day he died. They had the greatest marriage on earth; I never once heard them fight."
On a personal note: I never got to know Allan other than to say hello at industry events. As general sales manager and later general manager of CHML/CKDS-FM, Hamilton I always respected Allan and his people as being fair, honest and tough competitors.
Later when I launched Drew Marketing, producing syndicated radio programs and station promotions, I had the pleasure of working with a number of CHUM stations across Canada. I always looked forward to working with them, and still do. Although Allan Waters has passed away, his legacy remains alive and well. He truly was a Canadian Achiever.