It's gratifying that I was able to say what a lot of people in radio want to say but can't, even if it meant dynamiting every professional bridge in my wake.
Well, not every bridge. There's still the Mercier.
-Ted Bird, on his blog
Even he admits it was the worst kept secret ever: Ted Bird, who left CHOM-FM over "creative differences" in January, will be one of the co-hosts of the morning show at CKRK 103.7 FM in Kahnawake, starting April 19.
Mike Cohen broke the news on his blog based on "reliable sources" about a day before what should have been a Gazette exclusive Monday morning, followed by an official announcement from the station.
After getting the news from a "reliable source" of my own, I got Bird to confirm the news under the condition that I hold off publishing it until the first editions of the Gazette were published at midnight. Basem Boshra's article on Ted Bird headlines Monday's Arts & Life section. There's a similar piece at KahnawakeNews.com with a photo of the three new hosts.
What the hell is K103?
The 250-Watt station on the south shore isn't exactly burning up the ratings. In fact, most Montrealers probably haven't even heard of it. But it was the only one that could offer Bird what he needed: a radio job in (or rather near) his city that could offer him a salary and complete creative freedom, he tells me via email:
I'm really excited. K103 is about the only place left on the dial where the announcers are left to their own creative devices, and that's hugely appealing to me. Also, because of who it is and where it is, there's a pirate radio element to it. The main differences are that instead of pirates, it's Mohawks, and if it doesn't work out I won't have to walk the plank, although they may tie me to an anthill and smear me in honey.
Bird won't be alone on the morning show. Joining him will be Paul Graif, the former local TV sportscaster who rejoined the station in February, and James "Java" Jacobs, a CKRK veteran who, you know, actually lives in Kahnawake.
"The worst that will happen is I'll have a shitload of fun doing the kind of radio you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else," Bird says. "I defy you to name me another morning show with a West Island WASP, a Kahnawake Mohawk and a Hampstead Jew."
The show will run 5:30am to 10am, which is a slot Bird is used to. Fans of his regular segments Bird Droppings (sports commentary) and Revisionist History (just making shit up about the past) will be pleased to know that he's planning to bring them with him to his new gig, at least as long as Astral Media doesn't sue.
Bird says he's committed to the station for at least a year, and while the salary is nowhere near what he got at CHOM, the ability to keep his integrity and freedom is more important than the money. He's hoping that bringing a big name to the station might also give it an increased audience, which might bring in sponsors. A big "if".
"It's definitely not a between-radio-jobs job," Bird says, "because the only way I would ever go back to mainstream commercial radio is on my own terms, and there's not much chance of that happening, considering the fine job I've done of dynamiting professional bridges in my wake - a circumstance with which I'm totally at peace."
Oh, and one more thing: Bird said the day he joins CKRK is the day he shaves his hair into a mohawk. So he's doing exactly that (as a publicity stunt, mind you).
So when you see him on TV on April 19 with a half-shaved head, now you'll know why.
Bird blasts CHOM PD
Meanwhile, Bird has opened up on why he left CHOM in January. Saying his contractual obligations to the station expired on April 1, Bird posted on his blog that:
Within the past five to ten years, CHOM and most of the rest of the country's radio stations have been acquired by corporations who jettisoned the majority of the creative people in favor of bean counters beholden only to shareholders. The impact was swift, enormous and predictable. By the time I left CHOM, it was about as much fun as working at the Soviet Ministry of Agriculture.
Though he points to a trend happening at radio stations across the country, Bird takes particular aim at Daniel Tremblay, CHOM's program director:
He barely paid lip service to the insights and opinions of staff members who've been on the front lines of English radio in this town for decades. That spoke volumes to me, and I could not in good conscience continue to work for someone who was making decisions in a vacuum that were running a treasured Montreal institution into the ground.
Bird also says CHOM offered him a lesser job - at reduced salary - after he quit. Says Bird: "He was - or at least appeared to be - genuinely surprised that I took offense at being thrown a bone on the assumption that I was desperate and could be lured back on the cheap."
As the featured guest on Mitch Melnick's web show Melnick Underground, Bird also let lose on CHOM and Tremblay and the state of modern commercial radio. Melnick can relate, as he also values his creative freedom and has found one of the few jobs left in commercial radio that lets him do what he wants.
I've been invited by Tremblay to meet with him to discuss what's going on at CHOM. Once that happens I'll try to get his side of this story.
UPDATE (April 12): Bird himself discusses the new job, as well as the elephant in the room of a white guy working for a Mohawk radio station. A Facebook group has been setup welcoming Bird to the community.
A more critical Facebook group has also been setup, with some saying Bird's hiring is directly tied to budget cuts at the station and other people losing their jobs. Bird comments on the group, saying he doesn't recall saying anything derogatory about the community.