By Scott MacLean
In 1985, as part of a school project, we had to interview someone who worked in an industry which interested us. Being that I have always been in love with radio, I decided to interview my idol of the day, the Live Earl Jive.
Being only 16 at the time, I was painfully ignorant of a lot of realities in radio. That said, I did have a great time with the interview, and Earl was amazingly tolerant of my wide-eyed fascination. This was my first of many visits to the "Chickenhead" studios in Brampton.
Interview with the Live Earl Jive
I interviewed "The Live Earl Jive", the prime time 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. disc jockey at the CFNY studios in Brampton. I was greeted cordially at the front desk and given a seat to wait in. Many people moved in and around the offices, and I couldn't help wondering whether these were people that I should know from hearing on the radio. After a short wait, I detected the unmistakable voice of Earl and another belonging to David Marsden, another disc jockey and also program director of CFNY. Earl came through the doorway and invited us into his office (the staff lounge), housing among other things, a refrigerator, coffee machine, pop machine, stereo, and pinball machine, as well as the staff lockers. The interview was conducted during a game of pinball, and goes as follows:
SM: How did you first get into disc jockeying?
EJ: Hi, I'm the Live Earl Jive. I first got into being a disc jockey in Michigan, but I first started working in radio when we moved to California in 1963. I worked at KRLA in the music department, and I sort of absorbed everything there about radio for about four years. I had a show there, it was just a public service show at about 3:15 in the morning, which I sort of snuck my way into.
SM: When did you come to CFNY, and where did you start there?
EJ: I started in the control room, and I came here in 1981.
SM: Do you find that people that listen to you recognize your voice on the street or in stores?
EJ: That's happened before, but it's not real frequent that it would happen. I've had when you're standing in line at the market or something, and someone says you sound familiar. Very rarely will somebody recognize your voice and know immediately who you are. Likely they will say "you sound familiar," or "you sound like a DJ." That might happen twice a year. I'd say on a very regular basis people would recognize me from looks, rather than from voice, which seems weird for radio, but we are out a lot, so I guess that's how people recognize me.
SM: How does your popularity affect your private life?
EJ: Wait until I do this ball. (Proceeds to quickly and efficiently lose a game of pinball) Well, I don't know. I don't really know how it affects my private life. My private life is all at home, and it's all pretty much private.
SM: What do you think makes you a popular DJ?
EJ: When I guess it's hard for me to understand. When you say "what makes you a popular DJ," that confuses me, so I'll answer the question, "what makes a disc jockey popular?" I think a disc jockey gets popular by playing good music, playing the best music and being entertaining while stringing the music together and presenting music in the best way possible.
SM: What does it feel like to speak into a microphone and know that people all over North America are listening to you?
EJ: You don't think about it. Maybe the first day or the first couple of days you might think about it. I find that thought doesn't enter my mind when I'm on the air. Maybe twice a year it will. If I start screwing up or I'm bored or something like that, I'll try to recall the fact that there's thirty or forty thousand people listening this minute, and this is important. It's like talking to two Maple Leaf Gardens full of people or the Exhibition or something like that, and I should be making an effort to be entertaining or do what they want. It's more like entertaining myself when I go in there because I'm talking to myself, and I'm talking to this certain place in myself, even though it's the listener that perceives this. That's who I'm talking to, is the listener. I don't think of the listener as an odd number of people, I think of the listener as one person and that's how I, when I am talking to the listener, that's that one person to I'm talking to. The individual rather than the group electively.
SM: How do you feel about meeting people that only know you by voice?
EJ: It doesn't bother me, it's great, especially if they're nice. That's why I think most people or a lot of people get into this business, for the opportunity to meet people and have a basis for communication. If you don't like people, this isn't a good business to be in because you're dealing with people all the time. I enjoy it, because I'm very shy, and I don't have to work real hard at meeting people now, because I'm known and people are willing to come up and take the initiative a little bit. When they're just there, at a roadshow or something like that, it's real easy to meet people. You get to meet a lot of people, and as a result, you end up with a lot of choice of people to relate to, and the chances of getting some neat friends is much greater than if you only meet five people a year. People are people, no matter what, and there's no difference between Sting or Simon Le Bon or anybody else as a person as there is from the guy who's working at the hardware store. That's what makes people interesting, getting to meet a lot of interesting people. If you're a nice person, nice people seem to attract nice people, jerks seem to attract jerks. There's somebody for everybody.
SM: What was your most amusing "on air" experience?
EJ: It's difficult to pick out just one amusing experience. I find I'm just amused by myself and I try to amuse myself because I find being on the air entertaining for myself. Right now I work so much I never get away enough to feel that I miss it. I've had periods in my life where I would get away from being on the air, and I would go through withdrawal, because I wasn't playing radio, and I really wanted to. I need that in my life, to be able to play radio and do it because I like it. I remember once I went to Hawaii for two weeks, and after ten days I couldn't take it any more and I had come back. I left early because I had ants in my pants to get back on the radio.
SM: What you think of "Top 40" type radio stations?
EJ: If they're good, then they're good, and if they're not very good, then they're not very good, just like any other kind of station. I think the perception that a lot of people have, especially CFNY listeners, is that the music that CFNY plays is an exclusive music that all the people that play music like. Maybe Brian Ferry and Echo and the Bunnymen, all those people just like the kind of music we play on CFNY, where that's not the case at all. I think musicians especially like all kinds of music, and people are amazed when they ask a musician what kind of music they like, "Oh, I like classical," or "I like country and western." You ask Elvis Costello and he likes Country and Western, or you could ask Brian Ferry and his favorite music is classical. I was watching the other night Dick Clark, and all these people that CFNY doesn't play were all very close to and getting along with all these people that's CFNY plays. I think on a big scale of things of what we find cool here, you go somewhere else, and maybe fifty percent of that at another place they find cool there, and other things that we don't find cool at CFNY are cool there, and other things that we find cool here they say oh, that's, you know, wimpy and stuff like that. I found that when I came here, a lot of the music that we played here was the same music we played at the previous station. But other things we don't play here because it's not cool to play. Other things that I used to play there that I would get flack for like Kraftwerk and stuff like that, they don't like that, but it's cool to play here. It's just different everywhere you go. Whatever people are burned out on there that they don't like, or the perception of what's not very good.
SM: Do you intend on staying with CFNY?
EJ: That's difficult. I don't have any intentions of leaving, if that's what you mean, but nothing is ever forever. I don't know of any permanent situation. I don't know if anybody who is ever a disc jockey or a performer or anything on a permanent basis. If you mean ultimately, no, I'm sure nobody who is here right now will ultimately be here in the end. The station I first worked at in California, Johnny Hayes came there while I was there and is still they're now, and that's I think about twenty-two years he's been there. That's amazing for anybody to last that long at a radio station. It's not really something I have control over.
SM: Who else do you work with in the control room?
EJ: Just myself usually. Beverly comes in once in a while, and might help me. Occasionally I might have other people in the studio with me, who maybe help me do what's involved. Ultimately it's me, and if anybody else is there, they just become an extension of me, getting the records, pulling commercials, filing the records, or whatever. But no, I don't have a regular person. Alternate Earl (CFNY personality) used to help me out on my show all the time, he helped me for about three years. It evolved from where he just called me on the air one day, and he called me a second time, and I said, "Come on down," so he did, and he was there every night and thereafter for about three years. He ended up working with me on our shows outside the station at high schools and clubs. He eventually got hired here at the radio station, and he's the director of research and enrichment, which means he takes care of all the Live Mikes (Sporadic events where the disc jockeys interview recording artists) and the taped programs.
SM: What you attribute to the recent rise in CFNY's popularity?
EJ: Well it isn't a recent rise really, it's taken nine years to get to this point. It's been a steady progression, it has just grown gradually over the years. Getting on the CN Tower of course made it easier to attract a greater audience. The audience is just about twice what it was when I started four years ago. It had grown up to that point when I arrived, and has continued to grow since then, so it's a continuing progression. CHUM-FM right now is the most listened to FM station in Canada. I think they've got over a million (listeners), I'm not sure. Look how long that took them to gain that kind of popularity. They started 15 years ago. If you do something long enough, and you satisfy enough people, more and more people catch on. I've noticed since coming here that our audience has gotten younger, the number of high school aged people is much greater than it was. When I got here there were very few high school aged listeners, I'd say maybe ten percent of any one high school would be seen in my listeners, so it was very rare. I think as time goes by, the music is much cooler to listen to, and more fun for a lot of people, especially people who like to dance. Then, a solid diet of heavy metal or something like that, or the same 10 songs over and over and over is not appropriate. Anybody who listens to radio for a long period of time, more than half an hour or an hour a day, eventually will, I think, if they like contemporary music, evolve to CFNY. If you listen to CFTR or CHUM (both Top-40 AM stations) or something like that, and you only listen to radio for half an hour a day, then they'll probably have what you want. If you listen five or six hours a day, before long you get sick of hearing the same old thing and you'll start burning out. That's what happens when they flip it (the radio) over and start listening to us. I think probably the variety of music we play is the biggest factor in contributing to it. I think CFNY does have a unique approach.
SM: Are you and Beverly really married?
EJ: Everybody asks that, I don't know why, they all do. Yes, we are. We've been married I think six years now. It's amazing how many people don't believe we really are married. There's a lot of things I guess that people don't believe. For me, I have a different perspective on it, because I talk to Beverly, and I'm with Beverly all the time, I don't know what it's like for other people, how they see it or how they perceive it. Why, how does it seem to you?
SM: I've always thought you have been married, but there are a lot of people who don't think you are.
EJ: Yes we sure are. People ask us all the time, at clubs and stuff like that.
SM: Well thank you for your time, Earl, it's been a pleasure meeting you.
EJ: Thank you.
At this point I was given a tour of the station including the sports department, the news department, and the one which I found most interesting, the advertising/promotion department. CFNY has one of the best promotion staffs anywhere, in terms of creativity and ideas, and I was given a demonstration of the creation of a "jingle." We then moved to the studios and control rooms, where both live and taped shows are created. All these rooms are interconnected with a maze of doors and soundproofed halls. The main control room, where most of the DJ'ing is done, has three turntables, two compact disc players, the entire record, compact disk and commercial library, and various other items of complicated equipment, as well as two very high-powered speakers. One invitation, I stayed in the control room and picked some records to play, and "pulled" some commercials, which means you literally pull a commercial cartridge out of the slot in the wall, according to the computer printout determining when each would be played. Eventually, I left and returned home to listen to the songs I had selected. Somehow, he just didn't seem the same, as I could envision Earl doing all his normal activities, such as ignoring callers, dropping advertising cartridges and waiting until the last three seconds before a commercial was over before cueing up a new record to be played. Overall, I enjoyed my visit to the station, and hope to do it again sometime.
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