(Congratulations CFCO on 80 years of broadcasting!)
This is the first hopefully a few installments of what I'm finding on my car radio on my daily commute in the Detroit area. This only applies to those in the Detroit area (able to receive local stations) and for now, refers to the so-called terrestrial (not satellite) radio, and not necessarily HD radio, either.

The first car I ever owned only had an AM radio.  I know all most intimate (and in some cases) now useless details about how it works and how to get it to sound as good as it can.  So unlike most people, I still use the AM button on my car radio when I get bored with everything going on, on the FM band, and my own CDs spewed about the front seat.

I have often made reference to a certain format flavor called “Full Service,” which today is very rare style of programming, especially in this immediate area.  It basically is comprised of what its name implies:  A little news, a little sports, information, music, and chat.  Historically, it is also very locally oriented as well as very heavily personality-oriented. 

It takes a mixture of abilities by the host to be successful, but mostly they have to be well rounded and informed communicators.   It is a style that can’t be taught either, because there aren’t too many examples around (and why teach it anyway, if no one is programming in that “style” !?).

This type of format was the mainstay of radio stations on the AM band back when FM was largely “elevator music.”   There were variations of approach, tempo and emphasis, but most stations had live local news and sports at least once per hour in addition to perhaps a national newscast from a major network.  

For several reasons, you won’t find stations in a top 10 market like Detroit with this format, but if you tune down near the left side of the AM band, you’ll hear a station that is still playing music and being a success story.

CFCO, at 630 AM is enjoying 80 years as a “heritage” station serving Chatham Ontario and surrounding counties with its booming 10,000 watt signal.

When you are toward the bottom end of the AM dial, it actually takes very few watts to enjoy massive coverage, and CFCO has no problem blanketing the metro-Detroit area with a very listenable signal.  

CFCO is a fantastic station!  Even the technical quality is flawless. Did you know standard AM broadcast standards when you boil them down, are actually HIGHER than FM??  The problem is nobody makes a good AM radio anymore, so we tend to think of AM as muffled, scratchy, garbled old-school broadcast form.  But latch on to a station with a good signal and uncompromising standards in their technical plant and you will be in for a pleasant surprise.  That is assuming the program CONTENT is of interest.

WJR and WWJ are of course, two of the legendary “heritage” Detroit stations whom everyone knows even if they never listen to AM.   CFCO apparently is Chatham’s version of WJR.  

Unlike some heritage stations, CFCO  has not sacrificed much if any of their program line-up to nationally syndicated satellite-fed material.  CFCO also has incredibly strong local ties.

On Halloween night, rather than replay the old 1938 Orson Welles “War of the Worlds”, a local theater group recreated the scripts and originated them from a theater building under construction in Chatham.   OK, it wasn’t QUITE as good as Mr. Welles, but I give them A++ for effort and same to the station for actually doing a remote segment from the theater. A great station will also have a strong presence in the community, and CFCO seems to be ever-present as well.

Most of Detroit’s best broadcasters are on the air in the morning.  At CFCO, they are on the air around the clock!  Perhaps there is a little voice-tracking going on, but maybe not.  It still sounds live, so who cares!?

George Brooks has been a long-time mainstay of the station I have caught off and on over the years.  Just by listening, you KNOW the guy is a seasoned veteran who is as “good” as they come at what he does.  Yet he still has that personable, approachable “Pal-on-the-Radio” smoothness that seems real and genuine.  Here’s a guy who undoubtedly has thousands of friends in Chatham and Kent County (and at least one the in Detroit area) whom he will never meet, but probably know as much about him and his mannerisms as his own family members.

I have repeatedly said the best radio – no matter what the format – is PERSONAL radio.  Overly-researched play lists – if they are the main content of the broadcast hour – get painfully boring, if the broadcaster is not allowed to be him or herself.

I saw that coming during the latter days of the On-Air part of my career.  I was told the creative parts of my show were to be dropped, that I had to segue (and not talk at all) every other song, and read some stupid liner rather than make any mention of what was bugging me in today’s news.

The fact that stations like CFCO still exist, and elsewhere, talent such as Jeff Deminski and Bill Doyle managed to survive on rated Detroit stations gives me reason for hope that radio is alive and well in a form that MATTERS.  

CFCO has an oldies format ranging from the 1960s to the early 1980s.  Perfect!  It makes me feel like I’m in a time warp.  Those songs were current hits when I played them on the radio myself. 

Now if only my BAND can learn to play a few more of them...

…And maybe I’ll even listen to CFCO enough to start cheering for the Toronto Blue Jays instead of the Detroit Tigers.   Fat chance on that one!

But thanks for the great radio anyway, guys!

They are on the web at www.630cfco.com

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