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Do you remember Orillia's CFOR? It was 'like Facebook times 100'

CFOR, known as 'your hometown favourite,' was where people turned to and personalities like Rusty Draper and Jack Latimer were keys to the station's success
CFOR-JackRusty (1)
During the 1970s and 80s, CFOR radio played an especially significant role in the lives of local families, due in large part to on-air personalities, Jack Latimer (left) and Rusty Draper.

Today, when you wake up and want to know what the weather is, or get the latest local news, you probably go to your smart phone. But a few decades ago, the morning routine in Orillia was quite different.

Whether you wanted to find out who scored in last night’s minor hockey game, tomorrow’s weather, good deals on used goods, backyard gossip, who had died, or even the current price of hogs, there was only one place that had it all – all the local news and happenings you could imagine.

Before your smart phone, before Google, before The Weather Network, Facebook and Twitter – in Orillia, there was CFOR radio, “your hometown favourite.”

The local radio station was launched in 1947 with Pete McGarvey serving as program director until 1965. In the 1990s, as new radio stations emerged, the station’s format began to change. CFOR became known as KICX FM, EZ Rock, Jack FM and The Dock, among other variations.

But it was during the 1970s and 80s that CFOR played an especially significant role in the lives of local families, due in large part to on-air personalities, Rusty Draper and Jack Latimer.

Rusty Draper, the “morning man” at CFOR radio during the 1970s and 80s, describes the era as being the heyday of radio.

“We didn’t know it at the time, but I believe that was the pinnacle for the role of radio in the community. Back then, if anything was happening around town, you got it on local radio.”

Draper, originally from Gravenhurst, who calls Orillia home, got his start in radio in 1966 in Muskoka and joined CFOR in 1968. He helped get local listeners up every morning with his entertaining style up until the late 1980s, always signing off with his signature, “Put the kettle on honey. I’m coming home.”

“He was the star announcer in Orillia,” said Jack Latimer, who worked with Draper as announcer and program director at CFOR. “We didn’t have the internet; the newspaper wasn’t out until the afternoon. Where did you go? You went to see what Rusty was going to tell you – about what the day was going to be like. You listened to Rusty to find out how to dress the kids, or whether you needed to bring your umbrella.

"Everything done on social media today was done on the radio then," said Latimer.

“People were so tuned in that if the fire truck left the fire hall, you would get a call asking where it was going? If you didn’t report what happened in the news report, you would get more calls. It was like Facebook times 100,” Latimer added.

During this era of radio, the station was “anything and everything” for every family in town, according to Draper and Latimer. They described their audience as thinking of CFOR as part of the family.

After Draper left the station, Latimer said his wife lamented, “I don’t know how I’m ever going to get up again in the morning.”

Draper was instrumental in getting Latimer started in radio, and what turned into nearly a half-century career in the world of broadcasting.

As a high school student at Park Street, Latimer was set on becoming an electrician and began apprenticing with a local firm. It turned out that being colour blind was going to be a major barrier for succeeding in such a profession.

“When I realized I couldn’t be an electrician, my first thought was that I wanted to be Rusty Draper. He was on the radio when I was in high school, and at the time, I was announcing the football scores.”

Once he graduated, Draper hired him to join the staff at CFOR.

“My first shift was on January 1, 1972. I think he probably hired me because he didn’t have anyone else to work on New Year’s Day,” laughed Latimer.

Both Latimer and Draper say it was the creativity of the radio format at the time that allowed them to enjoy their work and made their careers so memorable.

"CFOR allowed me to find myself, to experiment, to do crazy things, where maybe a lot of other stations wouldn’t,” said Draper.

“As long as we were within the boundaries, you had full control of what you were going to do,” added Latimer, who described their roles as being the opposite to producing a “Big Mac.”

Reciting the slogan for the McDonald’s burger used to be a contest on Latimer’s radio show. Latimer rhymed off the ‘Two All Beef Patties, Special Sauce, Lettuce, Cheese, Pickles, Onions on a Sesame Seed Bun,’ perfectly as he described the difference when producing local radio.

“Let’s say we make hamburgers; instead of using a strict formula or recipe, you get to make it any way you want to attract as many people as you can to your radio show, as long as you know that we make hamburgers, and not lobsters.”

“We had the freedom to do almost anything” said Draper, ‘because there was no competition at the time.”

While Draper was the “go-to” source for essential information every morning, he was also known for his daily friendly banter, jokes and “Back Fence Gossip,” not to mention his regular behind-the-scenes antics, often in an effort to upset a fellow announcer’s report.

Latimer recalled having fun with his “Buy and Sell” show.

“It was like your classified ads. We would have people calling in to sell all kinds of things. I even had one woman who wanted to sell one black sock, believe it or not.”

Latimer also remembers the times he would climb the radio tower, located above the Chamber of Commerce building near Highway 11, to do traffic reports for the “Rolling Home” show.

“Friday evenings were fine, but on Sunday afternoons in the summer, it was so hot up there – I’d be doing the report with sweat pouring down my back!”

Whether it was sharing the latest news, spinning 45s, or packing up the entire station for on-location events, Draper and Latimer say they were the driving force of their own creativity.

Once new radio stations popped up, providing alternatives for people, local radio began to change.

“Instead of one station being everything to everyone, listeners could pick and choose stations where they could listen to their favourite music all day,” said Latimer.

What made the CFOR era special was the focus on local, something Draper remembers hearing from his colleague and sports announcer, Barry Norman.

“He would say many times – ‘there is only one thing we can offer the listeners out there, and that is local.’”

Latimer agreed. “That’s what made it work. For example, we had a sports show all about kids’ hockey. Every Monday we’d have stories from all the weekend hockey games and the announcer (Barry Norman) would tell you about Johnny Smith scoring a goal. If you knew someone was going to announce your name on the radio the next day, you were there. People would tune in, every family, every grandmother, every grandfather,” said Latimer.

“That’s local radio. You can’t get that kind of programming anywhere else.”

“When Rusty did mornings at CFOR, he couldn’t say anything without almost everyone in the city knowing about it. We didn’t have broadcast measurement at the time. But seriously, if 70% of the city listened to Rusty in the morning, the other 30% found out about what he said from everyone else who did listen.”