Friday, September 29, 2023

The Women Pioneers of CKLW AM Radio--Jo Jo Shutty and Rosalie Trombley

When we Detroit Baby Boomers were in our teens, CKLW-AM radio was known as "The Big 8." The station broadcast out of Windsor, Ontario, and they had offices in Southfield, Michigan. The Canadian station's 50,000 watt transmitter dwarfed everything within its broadcast signal, making CKLW the dominant AM station in the region on both sides of the Detroit River. 

During the day, CKLW's signal could be heard throughout Southeastern Michigan, much of Ohio, and beyond. In the evenings, the station directed its signal to a northeastern nightime signal, so it would not interfer with powerful Mexican AM radio signals to avoid static overlap. The Canadian station could be heard as far away as Des Moines, Iowa; Cincinnati, Ohio; Toronto, Ontario; and the Eastern Seaboard. On a good night when the atmospheric conditions allowed, CKLW could be heard in Scandinavia.

The station first broadcast in 1932 during the Great Depression. With the growing popularity of television in the 1950s, CKLW radio began to lose its traditional adult audience base. A decision was made in 1967 to target a younger demographic. CKLW-AM began programming locally-based disc-jockeys playing Top 40 singles for their younger listeners. The management commissioned the Johnny Mann Singers to produce an upbeat, youthful-sounding station ID jingle. Three months later, CKLW became the number one pop radio outlet in their market and one of the top ten AM stations in North America.

To complete the station's makeover, management hired twenty-two-year-old Byron MacGregor as their news director, the youngest in the station's history. MacGregor was known for his deep resonant voice and high-energy delivery. The news was repackaged as 20/20 News because they offered their news programing at twenty minutes after the hour and twenty minutes before the hour. When all the other radio stations in town had their news at the top of the hour and half-past the hour, CKLW was playing music.

The Big 8's newscasts were delivered in a rapid-fire manner to make the news sound more sensational and exciting. The sound of a teletype machine clicking audibly in the background gave the news the sound of immediacy.

Another news innovation at CKLW-AM was having North America's first female helicopter traffic and news reporter, Jo Jo Shutty. Jo Jo, as she was popularly known, spent up to seven hours a day reporting live on Detroit traffic. As a news person, Jo Jo would often be the first reporter on the scene of breaking stories where she would do live remotes. Jo Jo became an instant celebrity.

Jo Jo Shutty grew up in West Bloomfield, Michigan. At nine years old, she became a world champion baton twirler, and at seventeen while a student at Berkley High School, she became Miss Teenage Detroit. Jo Jo went to Michigan State University graduating Cum Laude with a bachelor of arts degree in television, radio, and film.

Jo Jo Shutty was twenty-six-years-old and single when she was hired to be the "Eyes in the Sky" for CKLW-AM radio on Monday, September 9, 1974. News director Byron MacGregor thought he had hired a helicopter traffic reporter, but soon discovered she became a radio personality much loved in the Detroit and Windsor area. Jo Jo's feminine voice was a welcome change from the deep-voiced, male dee-jays who dominated the radio airwaves. Her starting salary was $20,000 with an attractive fringe benefits package.

Six months later, Byron MacGregor married Jo Jo Shutty at Marygrove College in their Sacred Heart Chapel. They were both twenty-seven years old. Just shy of twenty years later, Byron MacGregor died unexpectedly from complications of pneumonia on Tuesday, January 3, 1995, in Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital.

The real powerhouse behind the Big 8's popularity was a woman unknown by most people outside the radio and music communities. Rosalie Trombley was CKLW's music director from 1967 through 1984. She had an incredible ability for recognizing talent and hit singles, earning her the title "The Girl with the Golden Ear."

Rosalie Trombley with Bob Seger on the occasion of Seger's 1978 album "Stranger in Town."

Trombley helped the careers of many Detroit and Canadian musicians by debuting their music over the airwaves: artists and groups like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, Little Stevie Wonder, the Funkadelics, and many musicians like Bob Seger, Mitch Rider, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Anka, Joni Mitchell, and Anne Murray to name just a few.

Trombley chose the right blend of pop music that appealed to young Black and White audiences on both sides of the Detroit River. On the CKLW television side, dee-jay Robin Seymour hosted a popular afternoon dance program named Swinging Time, giving many of these artists their first television exposure as well.

The rise of FM stereo radio and album-oriented programming in the 1970s began eroding CKLW's youthful audience. Rock & Roll grew up and so did its audience. The Big 8 Top 40 format was abandoned in the 1980s, replaced with fully-automated programming of jazz standards and Big Band music for an older demographic. The station's Golden Age was over.

Rosalie Trombley passed away on November 23, 2021 at the age of eighty-two. At her funeral, Jo Jo Shutty called Trombley "an important mentor whose power as a woman in a male-dominated industry commanded respect." Trombley was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame as a legend of AM pop radio.
Because of Trombley's importance and influence in the pop music business, the Windsor, Ontario City Council approved $100,000 for the creation, installation, and unveiling of a life-sized, bronze statue of Trombley leaning against a big 8. The statue was unveiled at Windsor's Riverfront Park by artist Donna Mayne on September 18, 2023, to coincide with Rosalie's eighty-fourth birthday.

Swinging Time's Robin Seymour

CKLW Jingle 

Friday, September 1, 2023

Walter P. Reuther Assassination Attempt Foiled

Walter P. Reuther, recently re-elected to a second term as United Automobile Workers (UAW) president, lived with his wife May and their two small daughters in a modest ranch house on Appoline Street in Detroit, just south of Eight Mile Road.

In his 2013 book Built in Detroit: A Story of the UAW, a Company, and a Gangster, Bob Morris recounts the evening of April 20, 1948. After coming home late from a UAW meeting, Reuther prepared to eat his warmed-over dinner. He was opening the refrigerator door to get some peaches when he turned to answer a question from his wife and survived a 12 gauge shotgun blast through the kitchen window.

Four lead pellets lodged in his right arm, one in his chest, and the rest hit the kitchen cabinets. Reuther was taken to New Grace Hospital where doctors told him he might lose his arm. The labor leader was determined to save it. By working tirelessly at painful physical therapy, he was able to regain limited use of his arm. For the rest of his life, neither Reuther nor his family were without UAW bodyguards and traveled everywhere in an armored Packard.

The attempt on Reuther's life was not an isolated incident of industrial violence. Thirteen months later, Walter's brother Victor, met a similar fate. Bob Morris writes, "Late on the evening of May 24, Victor was reading in his living room when a shot gun blast blew threw his front living room window. The shotgun pellets ripped through the right side of his face and upper body tearing out his right eye."

Victor and Walter Reuther shaking hands left-handed with brother Roy between them.

At first the Detroit police dismissed the botched murder attempt of Walter Reuther as a power struggle among union Communists. The Red Scare was a popular and convenient scapegoat for corporate America and made good copy for the post-war press. A Detroit detective said, "Gamblers and crime syndicates have nothing to do with this. It's Communists."

But investigators began hearing underworld connections might be involved. Within five days of Reuther being shot, Detroit police--acting on a telephone tip--brought former vice-president of Ford UAW Local 400, Carl E. Bolton, in for questioning. He was charged with intent to commit murder.

Joseph W. Louisell and Carl. E. Bolton
Joseph W. Louisell, Detroit attorney known for defending suspected mob figures, argued Bolton had an alibi and was not at the scene of the crime. After three days in jail, Bolton was released and prosecutors dropped the charges. Bolton was free but still under suspicion.

During the Senator Kefauver Organized Crime Committee hearings (1951-1952), testimony suggested Walter Reuther ran afoul of the Detroit underworld.

Before the shooting, Reuther was aware a Sicilian gang, led by Santo Perrone, was acting as a strike-breaking agency for Detroit companies--big and small. Author Nelson Lichtenstein writes in The Most Dangerous Man In Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor, "Reuther's assailants were paid by Santo 'the Shark' Perrone, an illiterate but powerful Sicilian gangster." The mid-century labor movement was the age of "the cash payoff, the sweetheart contract, and the gangland beating. It was part of the industrial relations system."

The Organized Crime Committee felt the Detroit police made no serious attempt to solve the crime or curb the anti-union violence. "The Detroit police saw industrial violence as little more significant than a bar brawl," Lichtenstein wrote.

Six years later, Wayne County Prosecutor O'Brien announced at a Detroit press conference that he had solved the Reuther shooting. Arrest warrants were issued for Santo Perrone, Carl B. Renda, Peter M. Lombardo, and Clarence Jacobs.

Donald Ritchie, an ex-con with connections with the Perrones, made a secret arrangement with UAW officials. Ritchie agreed to rat out the people involved with the Reuther shooting for a $25,000 payoff placed in escrow.

If he cooperated with authorities, he would get $5,000 after making the initial statement to the prosecutor and the arrest warrants were issued, an additional $10,000 payable when those named in the warrants were bound over for trial, and another $10,000 when convicted. If murdered before he could cash-in, Ritchie wanted the reward given to his common-law wife.

Part of Ritchie's statement to Prosecutor O'Brien reads, "The night of the shooting, I was picked up at a gas station. The car was a red Mercury.... I sat in the back seat. Clarence Jacobs drove and Peter Lombardo sat in the front seat with Jacobs. The shotgun was in the front seat between (them)--a Winchester 12 gauge pump. I was there in case there was any trouble. If anything happened, I was to drive the car away.

"Jacobs did the shooting. He was the only one who got out of the car.... I heard the report from the gun. Then Jacob got back in the car and said, 'Well, I knocked the bastard down.' After the job, they dropped me off at Helen's bar.... I had some drinks and went to see Carl Renda. He got a bundle of cash and handed it to me. I took a taxi to Windsor and counted my money after I got to Canada. Exactly five grand."

As prearranged, when Ritchie came back across the international border, he was immediately placed under the protection of the Detroit Police Department. While waiting for the trial so he could give his star-witness testimony, he told the Detroit police detail assigned to protect him that he wanted to take a shower. Ritchie escaped from a bathroom window at the Statler Hilton Hotel on Grand Circus Park.  Ritchie was on the lam. Once again, he took a cab to safety across the United States/Canada border.

At the same time, Ritchie's common law wife was given the first installment of the escrow account. Ritchie delivered on the first part of the bargain. He made an initial statement and the suspects were charged. The UAW had no choice but pay off the first escrow installment. Ritchie dropped a dime from Canada and denied his entire confession to a Detroit Free Press reporter. He said he needed the money and was taking the UAW for a ride.

Without Ritchie's testimony, Prosecutor O'Brien's case collapsed leaving him with an embarrassing fiasco. He dropped all the charges. The UAW made the stupid mistake of paying a witness. The labor organization had been swindled out of $5,000 by an ex-con.


Seconds before the confrontation.
The assassination attempt was not the first time Walter Reuther ran afoul of the car companies. On May 26, 1937, Reuther and several other labor organizers were badly beaten by Ford Motor Company Security men in what history notes as the Battle of the Overpass. This was Ford's security chief Harry Bennett's opening salvo against labor organization inside the Ford empire. 

Bob Morris writes, "This was a public relations disaster for Ford, as a Detroit News photographer captured the beating of the labor leaders. The photos... were published around the world. The attack on Walter Reuther made him one of the most recognized labor leaders in Detroit and the country."

Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen
Arnold Freeman of the Detroit Times reported that Bennett assembled semi-permanent gangs of thugs known as outside squads. A member of one of those squads "Fats Perry" turned state's evidence in 1939. He testified,
"These squads were armed with pistols, whips, blackjacks, lengths of rubber hose called persuaders, and a variety of weapons, some of which made up by a department in the (Rouge) plant itself."

On May11, 1970, The New York Times reported Walter Reuther, his wife May, and four other people died in the crash of a two-engined Lear Jet on May 9th at 9:33 PM. The chartered jet--on its final approach to the Pellston Regional Airport, arriving from Detroit in the fog and rain--broke through the clouds short of the runway and clipped some tree tops sheering off both wings. The plane crashed and burst into a fireball a mile southwest of the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration listed a faulty altimeter as the official cause. It had been tampered with. Some parts were missing, others were incorrect, and one was installed upside down. No charges were ever filed, but the persistent belief is the crash was not an accident. Reuther was sixty-two.

Silent clip of police investigating Walter Reuther's home after the assassination attempt. His wife speaks briefly to the press. Fingerprints are taken outside the Reuther home.