The Master of
May Be Down, But Hes Not Out
didnt get to be the Master of the Morning without facing
a little adversity along the way. Thats why this latest
setback doesnt seem to bother him one bit. At least,
you wouldnt know it if you talked to the man.
got word in mid-September that his popular morning radio show
on 1290 CFRW in Winnipeg would be gone before the end of the
month, replaced by network sports programming based out of
the United States.
what happens when you have corporate-owned radio stations,
Percy said with a sly grin. Even if you make your station
a lot of money, and I can guarantee you, I made CFRW a lot
of money, you can still be gone tomorrow because some guy
in Toronto always knows best.
lets be honest, Percy has faced lots of adversity.
the 73-year-old honored member of the Canadian Broadcasting
Hall of Fame knows hell be back on the radio in Winnipeg,
and probably soon, because he still sounds just as good as
he did 54 years ago when he showed up at a small radio station
in Chatham, Ont., to begin a career that now seems without
read a newspaper ad looking for a junior announcer
at CFCO radio in Chatham, Percy said, nursing a Caesar
at Earls St. Vital one day this summer. I applied
and got the job. My parents drove me to the front door of
the station, watched me walk up the stairs, gave each other
the 1956 equivalent of a high five and left me there.
was 19, I was out of the house and they had their lives back.
quite an auspicious debut in an industry that would put
up with me, for the next 54 years.
Chatham radio station paid 19-year-old Donald S. Percy $37.50
a week to clean wire around the studio and operate the board
for other announcers. He worked six days a week and on his
day off, the news director would occasionally let him read
the news; That was usually at 4:30 in the afternoon
on a Tuesday, he laughed.
lasted almost a year in Chatham and, of course, as any young
man would, I thought I was ready for the big time, he
said. So I got hired at CHOK in Sarnia in 1957 for the
whopping amount of $45 a week.
in the raise. In Chatham, he picked up a partner.
was this woman in Chatham, Percy said, his eyes twinkling.
She was a six-foot redhaired beauty who drank and already
had two kids and for reasons I didnt understand, liked
and Lenore move to Sarnia and Percys career and
the learning curve that goes with any career took off.
He not only got the all-night shift, but was also the colour
commentator on Senior ORFU football broadcasts of the Sarnia
was kind of the golden age of football in Sarnia, said
Percy. It was a great opportunity for me, but it wasnt
the biggest opportunity I got there.
the day the morning man went on holidays.
those days, the morning shift was the worst shift of all,
he recalled. It was the birth of rock n roll and
Top 40 radio and the announcers who were the stars, making
the big dough, were the jocks who worked afternoons and evenings.
Thats when the kids listened. Nobody wanted the mornings.
You had to get up at 3:30 a.m. It was an awful shift.
the morning guy goes on holidays and they put me on the morning
show and when the guy came back, they put him on afternoons
and left me in the morning. That would happen three times
in my career and every time it just got better and better.
To this day, I tell the people who take my spot on holidays,
Dont be too funny,
the break that started what I laughingly call a career.
a career its been. Percy went from Chatham to Sarnia
to North Bay to St. Thomas to Richmond Hill to Toronto and
then started heading west. And it wasnt even 1970 yet.
never intended to be a gypsy, he said. But as
I look back on it, thats what I was.
was eventually fired in Sarnia for some long forgotten dispute
and wound up in North Bay. From North Bay he ended up in St.
Thomas doing mornings but Lenore wanted none of that and she
took the kids to Toronto. Don followed, and eventually wound
up on CFRB, Torontos legendary news and talk station,
but first things first. In 1962, he found himself selling
fire detection equipment door to door.
was the top salesman in the company, he said proudly.
I sold one. The rest of them didnt sell any.
after that, he was back in radio, in Peterborough, Ont., the
start of a lifelong love-hate relationship between Percy and
the Waters family, the people who owned the original
CHUM network of stations.
he moved to CFRB in Toronto, but of course, it wasnt
long before Percy was back on the street, looking for a new
1968, a crazy person named Johnny Lombardi owned the ethnic
station in Toronto, CHIN, Percy recalled. He hired
me and it was a nuthouse. Old Johnny fired people every couple
of days and then when he realized hed fired somebody
he needed, and usually liked, hed hire them back. I
was fired two or three times.
be safe, he took a part-time job as public relations director
for the National Soccer League and even did a Canadian movie
with Leslie Nielson and Donnelly Rhodes. It think 50
people saw it, he said, laughing.
Percy had no security in his life. Lombardi fired him again
in 1969 and this time, Don was actually distressed.
was riding home on the subway one night, he said. Johnny
was firing me every couple of days, at this point I had six
kids and I didnt know what to do. So as Im riding
on the subway, a fellow sitting across from me is reading
the Globe and Mail. I noticed that on my side of his Globe
was an ad for a radio instructor at Confederation College
in Thunder Bay.
thought, what the hell and I went home ang applied to Howard
Duff, the dean of arts. I eventually got the job and my life
was now a school teacher. It was 1970 and he was making a
whopping $11,600 a year in Thunder Bay and he had no idea
that things would get even better.
King at CKBR in Thunder Bay called one day to ask if Id
be interested in doing the morning show, Percy said.
I asked the school and they thought it would be a great
idea to have their radio instructor actually on the radio,
so I started doing mornings at CKBR. Id work radio from
6-9 and then go and teach. At that point, I was making $12,000
a year at the college, with no chance of being fired, and
another $5,000 a year on radio. Nobody in Canada was making
$17,000 a year in radio in 1970.
he was making $40,000 a year teaching and doing the morning
show when one of his closest friends, a former Thunder Bay
sportscaster named Peter Young, called him from Winnipeg.
Young was now the TV sports anchor at Winnipegs CKY
and he called to say that something was brewing at CKY radio.
Phillips was doing the morning show and it was going nowhere,
said Percy. So I had a talk with Aldon Diehl and Gentleman
Jim Jackson, who were running CKY at the time. The college
had a return to industry clause in the contract,
where you could return to your industry for a year, kind of
like a sabbatical. I asked if I could use the clause to move
to Winnipeg and they agreed.
off I went, at $22,000 a year at CKY in 1975. And in six months,
I think I had a nervous breakdown. By this time, his
marriage to Lenore was over and he had the same money problems
most men face after a marital collapse. Then, one morning,
while on the air, he got a call from his sister. He wasnt
going to take the call until after the show, but his producer
said that his sister insisted. Percy was told, on the air,
that his mom had died.
time, he didnt think he could continue, but with the
support of the station, he soldiered on and stayed with CKY
until an offer came from Edmontons CFRN in 1981.
going to be a tough market to crack, but with a new partner,
glamorous Winnipeg TV star, Lorraine Mansbridge, he was going
to give it a shot. After all, hed done everything he
could in Winnipeg. He was now The Master of the Morning,
and hed been the key to turning a radio station that
was doing $900,000 a year in advertising in 1975 to a station
that was doing $4 million a year by 1981. It was time to move
up and move on.
population at the time was 500,000, but it was growing,
Percy said. There were stars already entrenched there,
stars like Bob Bradburn and Wes Montgomery and they had big
audiences, but Edmonton was going to grow to a million people
and I had a chance to build my own audience.
along came our friend Pierre Trudeau with his national energy
program and Edmonton died. People were leaving and not going
back. Lorraine got a TV gig and I had six good months in Edmonton,
but after the national energy program started, I spent the
rest of my time trying to put my career back together.
not be easy. In early 1984, Percy and his bride took a little
vacation in sunny Mexico, but on Friday night, Feb. 15, 1984,
he jumped into the front seat of a Mexican taxi that was,
in essence, bound for the hospital.
last place youd expect to have an accident is in a taxi,
Percy recalled. But it was horrendous. I spent the next
year and a half recovering.
broke just about every bone in his body and at one point,
nearly died. He spent four months in hospital and there were
serious concerns about his long-term recovery, but there has
never been any quit in this guy. He recovered, went back to
work and in 1986, CHUM Torontos Terry Williamson came
roaring out to Edmonton with a contract in hand.
was an interesting situation, Percy said. It was
perfect for me and I agreed to go, but Lorraine wouldnt.
That was the end of that.
second marriage finished, Percy moved to Toronto to ply his
trade on what he called the worst format in history
favourites of the 70s and 80s. He lasted nine months
and for the second time in his career, he was fired by a member
of the Waters family.
on to CISL in Vancouver where he worked on an oldies station
and stayed a couple of years.
were going very well until my son Willy showed up across the
street, Percy said laughing. He was more talented,
taller and better looking. I was done and Willy has become
one of the most successful morning men in Canadian history.
Day 1991, Don returned to Winnipegs CKLU, and in early
1992, at a party, he met a woman he called, a very pretty
young girl. Linda Brown was 22. Don was 54. They hit
life back on track, Percy moved to CKY in 1994, just before
CKLU went broke. He co-hosted a cooking show on TV with his
radio pal Lee Major and also hosted the wildly successful
CKY television show of the1990s, Headline Sports. He was almost
60 and had never been more successful or in demand.
the morning show for 10 years at KY-58 before the entire staff
signed off in 2004. AM radio was dying and CKY was flipped
to the FM dial where it became 103-CLEAR-FM. Percy was forced
to stay with Rogers for three months while his contract wound
down (he took a lot of long lunches) and then moved on to
days the Master is off the air, the victim of a Toronto-based
corporate decision that seems to have forgotten that an all-sports
format devoid of local content, has already failed miserably
in this market. Still, its unlikely hell be absent for
Percy is a personality to be reckoned with and has a
style and a sense of humour to match. On-air or off,
the Master of the Morning is, indeed, still the master.
Percy, age is meaningless. Hes 73, sounds 25 and he
and Linda are still madly in love. Fact is, Don Percy is a
personality to be reckoned with and has a style and a sense
of humour to match. On-air or off, the Master of the Morning
is, indeed, still the master.
more in the Sep
27-Oct 18/2010 issue of Senior Scope)