CHOM founder Geoff Stirling dies

Geoff Stirling, who founded CHOM in Montreal but is better known nationally as the eccentric owner of Newfoundland’s television superstation NTV, died on Sunday at the age of 92.

The Gazette has an obituary with Canadian Press that talks about Stirling and his Montreal connection (Presse Canadienne has another that does the same). There’s also an obit from St. John’s radio station VOCM and, of course, from NTV itself.

CHOM noted the passing on its Facebook page. Stirling started the station as CKGM-FM in 1963, back when FM radio was a novelty and few people were taking advantage of it.

I never met Stirling, so I don’t have much to add, but his reputation is larger than life. NTV was notorious for its bizarre late-night programming, and there are plenty of legends about Stirling himself making programming decisions or putting things on the air that no sane corporate owner would do today. But it wasn’t just that he was a crazy old man with lots of money. I mean, how many TV station owners have created comic book characters?

This story in The Scope gives a good rundown of some of all the things that made Stirling special.

His passing opens up a lot of questions about NTV. Will it be sold? It holds the unique distinction of being a de facto affiliate of both CTV and Global (it carries national newscasts from both networks). Either might be interested in buying it to have a Newfoundland station that carries 100% of their schedule.

Independent super stations in Canada are much less common than they used to be. Most are either owned by the networks themselves or are private stations that are affiliated with one of the major networks. Aside from the community stations, the religious stations and other special cases, there are only three independent commercial super stations, the others being CHEK in Victoria (a former E! network station that was sold to its employees and other local investors by Canwest) and CHCH in Hamilton, owned by Channel Zero. And those stations don’t have owners like Stirling.

Maybe this is truly the end of an era, when television stations were owned by one guy instead of a company with multiple shareholders, and when that one guy could just call up the station and say he wanted video of a fish tank to be played on air overnight.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. That NTV programming wasn’t exactly award-winning stuff. But it still feels as though a piece of the past has slipped away.

On YouTube, there’s video of a presentation Stirling gave to the Memorial University of Newfoundland entrepreneur society in 1992. It gives you an idea about his views on business and politics:

8 thoughts on “CHOM founder Geoff Stirling dies

  1. Media Man

    My favorite Geoff Stirling was around the time of the 69-70 transition of CKGM-AM from the Pat Burns era to the top 40 powerhouse it became just a few years later and the hiring of Ralph Lockwood, Geoff via the PD or General Manager at the time, called most of the staff in to the conference room, and via reel-to-reel tape, thanked everybody for showing up and then promptly told everybody they were fired…and thanked them for their services….That was about it in a nutshell..

  2. Al Gravelle

    I had the opportunity to meet Geoff Stirling on a couple of occasions while I was working at CHOM. He came into the studio while I was on the air in the old house. We just chatted as I was my doing my show….talk about intimidating!
    Here was this guy, that I heard so much about, the legendary man. As it turned out, he respected his on air talent and staff. He seemed to genuinely appreciate the work we were all doing.

    He led the way! A real pioneer. CHOM-FM was the first of it’s kind and it was because of Geoff Stirling.

  3. Neil K.

    I’m surprised, in all the local press about Geoff Stirling, that the subject of the naming of CHOM has not been raised. According to the urban legend, OM was Stirling’s meditation mantra so he chose the call letters available that would end in OM. Apocryphal, perhaps, but the story has endured over the years.

    Or the legend how he showed up at 1355 Greene at 2 or 3 a.m. one night with his guru in tow. He demanded to be let in the building (we had the door on a buzzer so it could be unlocked from the third floor studio) and then told the jock on duty at the time that the guru was going to take over programming and lead meditation live on air.

    I did meet him once before the sale to CHUM in ’85. As he was being led through the building to meet the staff, he seemed to knew who everyone was and what they did at the station from memory. I guess he wanted to verify that everyone on the payroll actually existed!

    1. Media Man

      Good stuff Neil, it seems you and Al Gravelle, ran into him in the later years..but those 70’s is where he was rocking…His two stations were the envy of all AM-FM operations..CHOM was happening and hip and to think how many stations have stuck to one format for 40 years plus…His decision for CKGM to go Top 40 24 hours was also a big deal and take on Gord Sinclair at CFOX was an event and really killed FOX.. Bringing in Ralph Lockwood and the French Connection was something to..

      But Neil it’s not legend, he did bring in a Guru, I think it was around the Doug Pringle days ( 71-72)..The firing story was probably the best in terms of how it happened..

      I heard it really killed him to sell to a corporate outfit his beloved Montreal stations to CHUM, at least it was run by one guy Allan Waters…But if he could have found an individual to buy here he would have.. he’s probably wincing now to see the Canadian media landscape being torn apart by suits who know squat about running a station.

  4. Michael Black

    Its interesting how young he was with his first radio station, and then
    about a quarter century later, was still “young enough” to make CHOM what
    it was.

    On one hand, CHOM could have just been opportunistic. “Underground
    Radio” had started in San Francisco when Tom Donahue rented time on
    an otherwise dying FM station, and gradually the programming took over
    the station.

    So the model was there for others to say “hey, we can make money from that”.
    But despite starting later, CHOM still had the feel for a good number of years
    into the seventies. It seemed like he helped make it that way, rather than just
    “let’s make money from this new fad”. He does seem like an odd guy.

    I am reminded from elsewhere that he was involved in that film “Waiting For
    Fidel”, which I remember nothing much of, but which did get a special
    showing at the Seville in 1976 or 77. I don’t think Geoff Stirling was there, but
    Michael Rubbo was.

    And like I said a few weeks back, Gregg (or was it Craig?) Stirling went to
    Westmount Park School for the 71-72 year, I thought he’d gone to
    private school before that, but I’m not sure. I also don’t remember
    him at Westmount High School, so either he moved away or
    went back to private school for grade 7.


    1. Media Man

      Thanks Michael for that reminder about “Underground radio” ..and you’re right, that was really the concept of CKGM-FM back then, me and my high school buddies hung out in each other’s basement and last years of high school, downing cases of 24 and playing our fav card or board games and listening to Doug Pringle, and Angus Mackay, and Meatball Fulton, and others of that ilk…But Doug was the man..
      But you’re right about ‘Frisco and the birth of that radio genre and I believe it was KSAN-FM Radio….I remember and I have the recording here at home that the jock at the time a guy called Norm had the Sex Pistols in during their early days and it was a riot with stuff that I can’t mention here…and having fun with the callers..It was insane..

  5. Jeremy Lansman

    Toooooo bad. My mom knew and mentiond him. Reading this, I feel loss that I never did meet him. I think I was once in the studio of CHOM, after meeting Meatball Fulton. But all those are such fuzzy memories.
    And.. yes. The OM, at least my mom thought, was exactly as stated above. Ommmmmmmmm


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