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Just after breakfast this morning, Duff Roman and Bob Laine will leave their offices and descend a flight of stairs to kill something they have loved.

The two men were once disc jockeys and this was at a time when having a job spinning 45-rpm records on an AM radio station was about as cool as it got.

Even cooler, they plied their trade at Toronto's CHUM, which had a lockhold on teenagers and was the only place in town that visiting musicians and under-assistant West Coast promotion men wanted to be seen.

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You could be, as Laine was, a high-school dropout earning $400 a month, but when you left work there were teenagers on the pavement outside who just wanted to touch your arm because you were their link with what was happening.

Or you could find yourself, as Roman did, in an exclusive audience with the Beatles and have your picture taken with Herman's Hermits and the Everly Brothers.

This was cool. And now it's nearly gone.

The world has moved from 78-rpm records through eight-track and cassette tapes to CDs and MP3 -- and CHUM is moving on, too.

Just before 3 p.m. (EDT) today, Laine and Roman -- now both CHUM executives -- will slip into chairs in a semi-darkened studio and play one last song before CHUM switches to an all-sports format. (The music format will remain a presence on the Web.)

It's a mystery what the final tune will be, but there's no uncertainty about about what will happen when the last chord goes out over the airwaves.

After 44 years, the music will stop. Allan Waters was a cough-syrup salesman in 1954 when his boss, Jack Part, faced a dilemma. He owned a pharmaceutical firm and a radio station and he wanted to get rid of one of them.

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Waters wanted the drug company but Part wouldn't give it up. And so Waters became the owner of a middling station that played a mish-mash of music -- a bit of rock, a lot of Patti Page -- from sunup to sundown.

Dissatisfied with what he was hearing, he went to the United States to peek around the curve and see what was happening. He came back from a visit to a Miami station with the idea for a 24-hour rock 'n' roll station.

Some people argued with him and told him that rock 'n' roll was just a flash in the pan. But he persisted with his vision and left his DJs with little choice but to play the music he wanted. In doing so, he stumbled upon the format that dominated the airwaves for years.

"I took all the records we had and threw them out the back door so we had only 40 records," Waters, 79, said. "That was the only way to get rid of them."

The newly formatted station had its debut on May 27, 1957, with All Shook Up by Elvis Presley proclaimed as the No. 1 hit.

Ratings doubled in the first week. That first CHUM chart, with Pat Boone and Perry Como in the top 10, indicates that the rock 'n' roll era did not dominate immediately, but teens recognized that if they wanted to hear more of their music they had to listen to CHUM.

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Soon, however, younger DJs arrived on the scene and any chance that old-fart music would ever be spun again disappeared.

Laine, for example, was just 17 (he lied about his age) when he joined in May, 1958. It seemed the most natural thing in the world for a teenaged DJ to be playing songs for kids the same age. There was a seamlessness to the connection that still awes him.

"The energy level here was unbelievable," he said. "We were our audience. We were all young."

In the next decade, CHUM -- it's been the word "chum" rather than a spelled-out "C-H-U-M" since the earliest days -- beat back all competitors and became the voice of postwar boomer Toronto.

"They were the first ones there," said Nicholas Jennings, author of Before the Gold Rush, a history of early Canadian popular music. "They created a legend by becoming a part of the music scene and they were the institution that you thought of first when you thought of rock 'n' roll."

The station's genius was to recognize that radio had been blown out of the living room by television and that it needed to be more informal, more accessible. Teens listened to the station in their bedrooms and in the car but mostly on the new portable radios -- tinny six-volt transistors -- just coming on to the scene.

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The weekly CHUM chart quickly became an institution. Teens lined up at record stores to get the pocket-sized pink brochure that listed that week's top 50 records. As a result, the station became a dominant force in the sales of popular records.

There's a bit of braggadocio in the station's claim that it "didn't just play the hits, it made the hits and the rest of the world followed" -- but only a bit.

Sam Sniderman, who founded the Sam the Record Man retail chain (and one of those who argued that rock was a passing fad), recalls the impact CHUM brought to his store.

"We bought according to the chart and the customers bought according to the chart," he said, recalling how teens thronged his store the day the charts would come out, to see what was hot.

The influence of the station, pumping out 50,000 watts of power, spread well beyond Toronto, too. Those who couldn't hear it talked to others who did and tried to get their hands on the charts.

"DJs right across the country were using the chart as a barometer about what they should be playing," said Jennings.

So potent was the CHUM formula that before long it was copied by CHOM in Montreal, CHED in Edmonton, CKRC in Winnipeg, and countless others across the country.

It's hard to overestimate CHUM's popularity during the sixties, when there were fewer radio stations and audiences had fewer entertainment options.

Consider a single audience survey from December, 1969, when the station had nearly 1.2-million listeners (second to Toronto's mighty but stodgy CFRB).

If that isn't impressive enough, consider that it had 328,300 listeners between 15 and 19 -- 75,000 more than all the other Toronto stations combined.

"It was MuchMusic without the pictures," said Roman. "It was where kids wanted to hang out."

Talk to anyone who grew up in the Toronto area at the time and you get a torrent of nostalgia. Loyalty doesn't explain it; this was something of a cult.

CHUMbugs, CHUMdingers, CHUMchicks, the CHUM trailer at the Canadian National Exhibition -- this is just the start of it. The DJs -- Bob McAdorey, Jungle Jay Nelson, Al Boliska -- come back easily through the ether to Torontonians of a certain age.

Then, too, there was the silliness -- the contests and the outrageous stunts.

If it had the potential for a laugh, it was done. One promo in 1959 backfired when 10,000 people flooded the downtown intersection of Queen and Yonge streets for a chance to greet the mystery Walking Man and earn $250.

Those were the days before consultants hung out their shingles and radio became more anal-retentive.

"There was more show in show business then," said Laine. "There's more business in show business now."

CHUM brought Elvis and the Beatles to Toronto -- it also created a mock group called the Cheatles -- and it rode the British invasion hard. This infatuation may explain the station's willingness to play The Unicorn, a ditty by the Irish Rovers.

Regardless, thanks to the airplay it received on CHUM, the record sold more than 140,000 copies in Canada and a million in the United States, plus 400,000 long-playing records with the The Unicorn as its title song.

The station's programmers could be idiosyncratic, however. For a time, they refused to play Rolling Stones records because they claimed to be offended by Mick Jagger's admission that he didn't bathe. (They eventually relented when it became clear that the Stones were not a passing fancy and couldn't be ignored. They weren't the Archies, after all.)

CHUM also irritated many in the fledgling Canadian music industry by being somewhat indifferent to this country's talent. Jennings said that Randy Bachman is still annoyed that CHUM turned a cold shoulder to These Eyes, an early hit song by Guess Who.

The station's aura and influence faded in the 1970s, particularly when its sister station, CHUM-FM, dropped classical music in favour of rock music drawn from albums.

In 1986, the current-hits format was abandoned altogether in favour of a yesterday's-hit playlist. In 1989, CHUM stopped playing anything but the hits of the 1960s and in recent years it added, improbably enough, broadcasts of Toronto Blue Jays games.

There were still fierce loyalists who cruised the city reliving the old days, but there weren't enough of them.

Part of the problem was the declining fortunes of the monaural AM format. A new generation wanted to hear music in stereo on FM, and stations like CHUM were left high and dry. Many stations in the past 15 years recognized the limitation of the frequency and switched to a talk format. CHUM resisted but in its last days it attracted just 400,000 listeners on a weekly basis and just 3 per cent of the audience 12 years of age and older.

More importantly, advertisers have been saying they want to tap into the lucrative young male market and don't much care for aging CHUMbugs. Like the other 13 AM stations in the CHUM Group of 28 stations, it is struggling financially.

"This is difficult but it was inevitable," said Jim Waters, CHUM Group president and its founder's son. "We had to do something to turn the tide."

Laine, now 62, laughs about how long ago the golden days were. When it's suggested that the women who recorded the signature "1050 CHUM" promo are probably retired now, he snorts. It turns out that it was indeed recorded years ago by the Johnny Mann Singers, and that not long ago he encountered Mann -- in a California retirement community. It's been something of an orgy of self-indulgence at CHUM for weeks. DJs from the past have dropped in to visit and some of their on-air work has been replayed. Listeners, both famous and unknown, have recorded their fond memories of charts, contests and the other glories of adolescence when, for most people, music is more important than it ever is again.

This past weekend, the station played nothing but the songs that occupied the storied No. 1 position on the charts. Today, Laine and Roman will orchestrate a five-hour parade of guests through Studio B, the much-updated studio where both worked decades ago.

Chat groups have been busy trying to predict which song will end things. One contingent sides with 1971's American Pie by Don McLean as a homage to "the day the music died," although the dark-horse candidate is The Last Song by the Canadian band Edward Bear. The men are coy about their choice.

"The last song will be the same as the first song," said Laine.

"What was the first song?" he is asked.

"The first song is the same as the last song." The hit parade The weekly CHUM chart of the top 50 songs was a legend in its time. Teens flocked to record stores to find out what they needed to buy. Record stores treated it as the 50 Commandments. DJs in Canada and the United States scrutinized it carefully.

The chart was compiled by CHUM staff -- initially under the guidance of Allan Slaight, now executive chairman of Standard Broadcasting Corp. Ltd. It drew from three sources: U.S. industry magazines and radio stations, sales at local record shops and, as some DJs from that era allege, pure guesswork. The first song to occupy the No. 1 spot, on May 27, 1957, was All Shook Up by Elvis Presley.

The pocket-size chart was replaced in 1977 with a large-format product designed for record-store walls. This was scrapped on June 7, 1986. The last No. 1 song was Live to Tell by Madonna. There were 1,512 issues of the chart and 694 different songs occupied the coveted No. 1 spot. When it all started
CHUM's first top ten from the week of May 27, 1957:

  Title                             Artist
1.  All Shook Up                      Elvis Presley
2.  Love Letters in The Sand          Pat Boone
3.  I Like Your Kind of Love          Andy Williams
4.  Bye Bye Love                      Everly Brothers
5.  Start Movin' (In My Direction)    Sal Mineo
6.  Dark Moon                         Gale Storm
7.  A White Sport Coat                Marty Robbins
8.  Fabulous                          Charlie Gracie
9.  Girl With The Golden Braids       Perry Como
10. Yes Tonight, Josephine            Johnnie Ray
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