Origin: Coburg, Ontario
Paul’s career in broadcasting began in Peterborough at CHEX.
He basically annoyed the station manager enough to give him a chance. The manager told Paul that if he would learn good diction and enunciation he would give him a shot. Paul practiced announcing by reading the newspaper aloud everyday until he learned speech rhythm, intonation, diction, enunciation and the most elusive of arts, phrasing and timing. He got his shot and his career was born.
He became a popular announcer and did everything he could to widen his expertise. He called play by play for the local Lacrosse league, hosted a radio feature called “Uncle Paul’s Children’s Hour, (much of which he wrote as well) and began to develop his on-air persona. He was fired from that job. Legend has it that his penchant for practical jokes and a racy Children’s Hour laced with double entendres for the adult listeners were the culprits.
He was soon hired away by CHML in Hamilton, Ontario. CHML was a power house AM station and the move was to be a good one for his career. It was 1954 and at this point June and Paul had two sons, Gregory Paul and Michael Patrick and the family moved to Steeltown.
Hamilton was a hotbed for radio due to its proximity to Toronto and Buffalo. It had to compete with a major Canadian market and a huge market blasting in from the United States. CHML proved to be the farm league for radio in larger markets, cultivating such legendary broadcasters such as Dave Patrick, Joe Cannon, and Paul Hanover. A competing station, CKOC, groomed another future CJAD star, the consummate morning man, George Balcan.
In Hamilton, Paul’s career took off. He started reading poetry on the air. His romantic selection of music and love poetry enthralled a generation of listeners. One of his many shows was “Nightcap”, which allowed him to program his own music and do what he wanted. He loved that show and the freedom of expression it brought.
He also began writing. Notably, he wrote a radio series entitled, “Count Your Blessings”. These were initially just some program time fillers. Short vignettes of one to two minutes that encouraged listeners to take stock of their lives and appreciate what they had. They became so popular that a local company decided to sponsor them.
Oddly enough, for a man so engaging on the air, Paul was painfully shy in public. CHML had a booth in downtown Hamilton for live remotes. Paul had to do many Saturday afternoon shows there. He called it a “Goldfish Bowl” and hated announcing while everyone gawked at him through the windows. I remember my brother Greg and I stopping by sometimes on the way back from the movie house, and making faces at him through the glass.
He also was extremely nervous having to speak in public. I remember an ethnic festival that was held at the Hamilton Forum and all of the on-air personalities from CHML had to make an appearance in their bright red CHML crested blazers. Dad was a wreck having to go on stage in front of hundreds of people.
The family grew larger with Kimberly and Jamie. We outgrew the apartments downtown and rented a house in Winona, east of the city in the Niagara fruit belt. A fifth child, Robert was born and the family loved life in the country.
Paul loved to exercise and walk. He would walk to work a couple of times a year, a distance of 13 miles. People thought he was nuts. It was one of the things that made him wonderful to us kids.
We would vacation at grandma’s house in Peterborough and rent a cottage on Chemong Lake. Dad would swim the lake once each holiday. One mile across, a half hour rest and one mile back. This made Mom worried sick because there were many power boats on the lake. We kids would watch and follow the powerful kick splashes and flashes of arms as he did a championship style front crawl.
His radio notoriety soon spread further a field and he received a call from H.T. (Mac) McCurdy, the station manager for CJAD of Montreal (until he left to become the president of Standard Broadcasting in the mid-1970s.) Paul was enticed to the big city and what was considered one of the top three AM stations in the country. The year was 1964. The Beatles invaded, and the Reid family pulled up roots and moved to Quebec.
The trauma of this large move was soon dispelled by the magic that was Montreal in the 60’s. Expo 67 was on the horizon; the city was clean, modern, progressive and full of a spirit that was (and still is) unlike anyplace else on this earth.
Paul thrived on this city. He embraced its differences. It gave him newfound insight for his talent and artistry. His show, “Paul Reid’s Wonderful World of Music”, was an instant rating success. He became well known on and off the air. I remember one of his colleagues said, “Paul Reid owns this city.”
It is here that the last child, Michelle was born. Dad was so tickled by her arrival he played the Beatles song “Michelle” 10 times in a row. His listeners loved it. The switchboard lit up and Montreal was in love with this hopeless romantic with the deep voice and sentimental values.
Paul soon was in great demand for radio and television spots. The National Film Board of Canada hired him to voice many documentaries. He even was persuaded to do an on camera TV spot for the Royal Bank of Canada. He played a bank manager and I remember he was nervous for a week before the gig.
An American documentary house, Wolper Films, wooed him to be the “Voice of Wolper.” It meant moving the family to California and Paul would not do it to his family. He politely declined the offer.
Paul was at the zenith of his career. He could do no wrong and the city embraced his talents.
It is here that his legendary Christmas show took on its form. He had always done something special at Christmas but in Montreal the show took on a life of its own and became his most popular piece ever.
He became the Announcer Representative for CJAD and a father confessor for anyone who worked in the industry in Montreal. He had large shoulders to cry on and was a great listener. He would go to bat for people and lobby for raises or fairness and change. But when it came to himself he would humbly say, “just give me what you think is fair.”
That Paul was a man of the people was never in doubt. He had the common touch. He became a consummate interviewer. He met and talked on air with all manner of famous people, politicians, actors, singers and the like but one of his most memorable evenings was when he had to take a cab to work when his car was in the shop. He talked to the cabbie for the 20 minutes it took to get to the station and then had the driver come on the air with him so that Montreal could hear first hand what the life of a cabbie was like in Montreal. They yakked for the whole show in between songs and it made a memorable piece of radio.
Reid’s former co-worker and newscaster, Tom Armour, described the magic of a Paul Reid show:
“The really wonderful thing about working with him is that you had no idea what was going to happen next on the show. Monday to Friday it was usually music and then later poetry and romantic music late at night, but there was no guarantee that was every night. I mean Gordon Lightfoot might come in one night and they’d sit and laugh for three hours, Tony Bennett one night. Anyone who came to town, if he could get them in for an interview; a lot of sports personalities, Paul loved sports. A program that was designed with music and poetry in mind all of a sudden would be tossed aside you know while Bernie Faloney the quarterback would come in and talk football strategy for two and a half hours. But people didn’t seem to drift away from that. From English Radio in Quebec “
From Mountain to the City”: A Brief History of CJAD by Melanie Fishbane and Mary Vipond
When the Montreal Expo baseball franchise came to town they had nobody to broadcast their games. They approached CJAD and offered them money in order to get on the air. This meant several nights a week in season. Mac McCurdy said he would have to ask Paul before deciding. Dad wondered out loud what it would do to his audience. As a testament to what Mac thought of Paul and his art, he turned the Expos down and they went across town to CFCF.
In 1968 he recorded his first album of poetry entitled “A Letter To My Love”. It was an immediate success and led to other recordings such as “The Snow Goose”.
While in Montreal he was invited to be a part of a press junket that spent three weeks in Africa with a brief stay ion Italy. Dad was always an adventurer but this would mean a lot of air flights. He was petrified of flying and was due to have 23 flights in 21 days. It is safe to say he consumed a lot of Scotch along the way.
Paul was known to like his Scotch and House of Lord Panatela cigars. There was always a bottle in the studio in case someone stopped by and there was always someone stopping by. He called it his “buttermilk.” He was known to frequent the Press Club and many other Montreal nightspots after his show ended at 11:00. He was a generous spirit with his time and his money. He was generous to a fault. Unfortunately this generosity meant he got taken advantage of all too often.
Radio is a terrible hatchet business. There are a lot of people who have been drawn into it, chewed up and spit out. Only the best survive in this competitive business but even the best have hurdles to jump.
Program Directors over the years had tried to erode Paul’s poetic license over the last three hours of his nightly show. These were the hours Dad programmed as opposed to the first two hours that were done for him. Ted Blackman, a newspaperman turned sportscaster, turned Program Director eroded the “Paul Time” to a point where Dad was disenchanted. As luck would have it, his old boss from CHML, Tom Darling came to town and called Paul with an invitation to lunch. Here he asked the question, “So Paul, are you ready to come home?”
The answer was yes and Paul, June and the two youngest Rob and Michelle packed up and moved back to Hamilton.
Evening radio in Montreal has never been the same.
Paul Reid’s evening show had remained on air for over twenty years. It is still considered to be one of CJAD’s most successful programs ever.
Paul spent the next three years on-air in Hamilton. I visited him in the studio only once while he was there. They say you can never go home and the proof was in his eyes. He was in poor health and he had a producer on the other side of the glass dictating his every move. He hated his work. He went through the motions and got more ill. He was finally admitted to hospital where he took some time to convalesce.
Back in Montreal, a station manager for FM station CFQR, Ralph Lucas, plotted Paul’s return to Montreal nights. When Paul was healthy the family was reunited in Montreal once again.
Dad was extremely glad to be back. He was still frail but he worked his magic once again for a while. Unfortunately, his once deep voice started to suffer with an infection that would not go away. Then he suffered an extremely badly broken ankle, which laid him up and wouldn’t allow him to drive. The station installed a remote hook-up at home and he spent several months doing the show from the comfort of his bedroom. I remember one night close to Christmas, sitting beside him on the bed and wishing Montreal a “From Our House to Your House….” with him. It would be his final Christmas with us.
Dad was taken from us all too soon in January of 1983. He was at a funeral for his sister, Connie, in Peterborough. He came home extremely ill. Mom treated him for the flu. She called me at 6:00 am one morning and asked me to take him to the hospital. She had called an ambulance but it was taking too long to arrive. I was dressed and there in about five minutes just in time to see the ambulance attendants wheeling him into their vehicle.
We were told in the Emergency Room that he was very sick. He was losing blood from an ulcer faster than they could replace it, complications from a lifetime of drinking, cirrhosis of the liver.
Paul died that same day. I was the last of the family to see him alive. I cherish that.
Montreal was shocked that he would no longer charm them on the air. Tributes from colleagues and listeners poured in. No more would he read your favourite poem on the air. He would never play Roger Miller’s version of “Me and Bobby McGee” thirteen times in a row. No more “Christmas in July.” No more “this is Paul in Montreal, and the night is ours….”
A small memorial service was held. Ralph Lucas, one true friend through it all, spoke the eulogy. June died ten years later. Their ashes share the same urn. Their love story continues into eternity.
But Montrealers still sing his praise. His legendary “Paul Reid Christmas is still CJAD’s most requested show and plays several times each season. I receive emails and telephone calls each year from devoted fans and the sons and daughters of devoted fans who wish to pass on the legacy of a simple man with a simple wish.
“Say Merry Christmas, because it really means I love you!”