MACLEAN’S REPORTS

How a talk show hit the jackpot by plugging into pay telephones

CYNTHIA GUNN August 1 1969
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

How a talk show hit the jackpot by plugging into pay telephones

CYNTHIA GUNN August 1 1969

How a talk show hit the jackpot by plugging into pay telephones

AT THE PEAK of the recent tension in Northern Ireland, Frank Ogden of radio station CKGM, Montreal, flipped through his closely guarded files and pulled out a telephone number. Moments later David Bassett, moderator of the station’s daily Talk Line To The World, was interviewing a Protestant extremist who just happened to answer the pay phone in a Belfast railway station.

“There’ll be a civil war here soon,” the man predicted, “and there won’t be any popeheads allowed in here then.”

Candid — and often startling — interviews like that have become daily fare on CKGM since Ogden took over last February as executive talk producer and immediately thought up an idea so logical that other radio producers wonder now why they didn’t think of it themselves: Somehow (he won’t say how) Ogden got hold of lists of pay phones throughout the world — 100,000 numbers in all — and instantly added a lively new geographical dimension to the station’s phone-in and phone-out programs.

□ From the subway entrance in Picadilly Circus, a Londoner named Mr. Hammer passed judgment on the budget the Wilson government had brought down that day: “It’s all right with me if it’s good for England.”

□ From Cardiff, Wales, an 18-yearold cook suggested Prince Charles shouldn’t attend university there: “I think it’s wrong for him to take up room someone else could use.”

□ In Miami, Florida, an answerer volunteered an off-the-cuff opinion about Richard Nixon’s current popularity.

□ A suspiciously effusive reaction came from an interviewee at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa the week of the opening. “It’s a wonderful place!” he exclaimed, and no wonder:

he was the centre’s public-relations man, who just happened to be passing the booth when the phone rang.

Ogden, 49, was an LSD therapist in a BC psychiatric hospital and had never worked in broadcasting until CKGM owner Geoff Stirling read about his involvement in the Vancouver - based International Synetics Foundation — alias Canada’s Think Tank — and lured him to Montreal to think about radio. As a basis for his innovations Ogden set up an information bank, capriciously dubbing it the Glass Onion.

By arranging phone hookups between celebrities and local listeners, Ogden has helped the station capture some prominent listeners. Once, with New Zealand race-car driver Bruce McLaren on the line, a listener called in to try selling him on Shell Oil products; it was Phil Gordon, Shell’s vicepresident of manufacturing. A few minutes later a call came from an eager McLaren fan who just wanted to chat: A. W. Broadbent, New Zealand Trade Commissioner in Montreal.

CKGM brass claim that in this first six weeks on the job, Ogden’s innovations boosted the station’s phone shows from sixth in the listenership ratings, to first place. And, as Ogden tells it, he’s barely started. “If I don’t give them 10 new ideas a week, they should fire me.” Among his ideas: a “views of Montreal” series, broadcast from such “vantage points” as the bottom of Lac St. Louis, with Ogden himself in a diver’s suit equipped with microphone; importing a chastity belt (“a Canadian first”) from a British ironmonger who had suddenly discovered a world-wide market.

What’s the secret of his success? “I don’t know what’s not possible,” Ogden explains. “When I first started, everybody said, ‘This won’t work,’ or ‘You can’t do that.’

“Now I’ve pulled so many magics they think I can do anything.”

CYNTHIA GUNN