B.C. Music Insider
Al Reusch passed away in 2000. A few years before, Don and Mabel were able to record historical tid-bits that we feel will be of interest to all who wish to know more about the “early days” of BC music and radio broadcasting.
Al Reusch was born February 1st, 1914 on a farm near Yorkton, SK. His father bought a crystal set in 1922 to which Al listened with earphones. This was the beginning of his intense interest in the novelty of radio. At age eight he was listening to stations in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati on the crystal set and loving every minute.
Al’s dad fooled around with old cars. Al took a couple of car horns, shaped like the body of a cornet; attached them to inner-tubing; then to the earphones of the crystal set. They had the first loudspeakers in the community – all the neighbours came to listen. There was always a radio in the house; Al was hooked! In the early years, Al’s appearances on radio came as a result of his musicianship. He played the banjo and then taught himself to play the saxophone in 1930. He was on the air at 17 (with the band Rhythm Aces) and continued over the years to appear occasionally on radio as a musician – saxophone and clarinet.
In 1940 Al was playing at the Palomar night club in Vancouver. He and his wife, Dorothea, had just had their first child and he felt he needed a more stable job. A few audition tapeswent out to radio stations and he was hired as an announcer at CFJC in Kamloops in 1942. He was able to obtain an agreement that would allow him to keep Friday and Saturday nights free to continue playing with his band. (His starting salary was $135/ month!) Then he advertised for musicians and put together a six piece band….one joining member had played with him earlier at the Commodore in 1938.
The Kamloops radio station was on the second floor of the Masonic Hall. Al rented the main floor and the band began what became more-and-more successful packed-house dances. Some of the proceeds paid the rent on the hall. He was making more dollars doing these regular dances and casual wedding gigs than at the station.
After a year Al moved on to CJCA in Edmonton. Now he was earning $145/month, but still
had his weekends preserved for dance jobs. Many American servicemen were in Edmonton at the time. The Armed Forces provided transcriptions (16″ recorded disks) to put on the air just for American soldiers. The programs were divided between CFRN and CJCA Edmonton. While at CJCA, Al flew over the Alaska Highway to Fairbanks for a baseball game (June 21, 1944). Because there were so many professional baseball players in the Edmonton-based army and in Fairbanks, the station had organized a Midnight Sun ball game. At 11:30pm (broad daylight) the broadcast was carried over CFYR Fairbanks, and carried by land line to CJCA for broadcast around the world on the Armed Forces Network. This was the only sports colour broadcasting that Al ever did (unlike his son, who has been Sports Director for CFCF in Montreal since the ’70’s!).
Al was also CJCA’s librarian, and eventually chief announcer. He set up a library system that was used by all of the Taylor Pearson Carson network in Canada. The transcription disks were shipped from station-to-station…a complicated system that worked. Handling the records of the day could be a problem, so once a month all the staff were commandeered to wash the records with soap and water, rinse, and dry. It worked well, and kept the product listenable.
Al was ready to head to the West Coast.
Bill Rae had started radio station CKNW in New Westminster. Bill’s folks had listened to Al on radio in Edmonton so Bill contacted Al to become his Production Manager and chief announcer, which he became in 1945. Those were very hectic days in radio.
Bill, who thought of radio as just plain fun, had a noon program called “Roundup” and one in the evening called “Ranger’s Cabin”. He never finished his shows on time! The accountant had to sign affidavits that all announcements for the advertisers were on time, yet some of them were a few minutes late. ‘Twas difficult to handle the scheduling and affidavits, indeed (life before computers)!
During this time it was very difficult to quit a job…one had to get permission from the Wartime Committee, who wanted people to stay put and not move around the country unless absolutely necessary. Sandy Desantos of the Palomar Supper Club wanted Al to play sax three nights a week. Al thought he’d like to take on six nights. He approached ‘NW’s accountant and obtained a form to quit his job. When he went to Bill with the form, it was torn up and Al was given a $10/ month raise. This apparently happened more than once.
In 1945, CKMO (became CFUN) hired Al as production manager. Al had been at ‘NW for 7-8 months. The station had a party for him, and Bill Rae had a radio installed in Al’s car. A perfect going-away appreciation.
CKMO was run by a former CFAC manager. Al filled the dual role of announcer and production manager. He started a request program. The first couple of program days, not enough requests came in to fill the time. By the end of the first week the phone lines were jammed by all kinds of people: patients in St. Paul’s Hospital were requesting for other people in the hospital…there were many requests from young people too. So, Al began asking for written requests to give relief to the phone lines. Some of the requests were rather bizarre (though many were just “meet me under the Birks Clock at 7:00 Saturday”), so he then asked people to use only fictitious names with their requests. The request program was a major hit!
A fan club was started for those fictitious people and 15,000 cards were issued in the first year for such names as “the Joker,” “Serenade in Blue,” and “Miss Pink Fur Mitts” Al began to play dances for these fans. The program’s time slot spread from a half-hour program to three hours. During the last year of the program the entire sponsorship was bought by the Hudson’s Bay Company, The Rollerbowl on Hornby Street became the place for young people to gather – they didn’t even use their correct names at these dances. Now Al was about to have the top rated radio show in Vancouver, from the Rollerbowl, on Saturdays, sponsored by The Bay.
In 1946 Al hired Jack Cullen as an all-night announcer ($12/ wk). Jack worked midnight to 6:00am, and was allowed to sell his own sponsors. He collected a 50 cent surcharge. Al could also achieve a surcharge from advertisements. The station’s owners disapproved the surcharges and disallowed him holidays because of one week’s sick leave. Al left and joined the staff of CKWX, along with his fans and accounts.
That year he partnered with Pete Peverley, Rae Peverley, and Reo Thompson to form a recording business. Al was still at CKMO, Reo was at CKWX, the chief engineer at CBC, Tony Galuch was to be in partnership too. They contributed $850 each to buy one cutting turntable, a playback turntable, and to have a console control board made…and to cover a couple of month’s rent! Rae had started to drum up business. The studio was a public studio where people could record messages and songs to send to relatives; election speeches and advertising jingles were recorded as well.
reclabelThe name of the studio was chosen to appear early in the phone book. Several choices beginning with “A” were submitted to a graphic artist to see which would look the best on a record label: ARAGON was the chosen name, and continued to be the name for well over three decades of studio business.
Rae Peverley ran the studio until 1948, when he decided to sell out his share and relocate to Dawson Creek to lease heavy equipment to the Highways Department. Al, who was still an announcer for ‘WX opted to quit to run the studio during the day and continue to play six nights a week at the Embassy Ballroom. Al also returned to CKMO on a freelance basis for a weekend show called “Compare The Hits.” CKMO later was re-named CFUN in 1950. The last broadcasting Al did was with CFUN in 1957, when the station went to a rock & roll format. He occasionally appeared as a guest on Bob Smith’s “Hot Jazz” CBC Radio program.
Al arranged to take over sole control of Aragon Enterprises Ltd. in 1954. The first two discs the company recorded were instructions for Highland Dancing; then three 78’s for William Barrie. The records were pressed in Oakland, California (less expensive than production in Canada) and were sold all over the world. Partly due to an agent that published a Scottish magazine, these records were well advertised and were still selling well into the 1960’s. Then came recordings of the Powel River Pipe Band (released by London Records under the Aragon label). A new label called ARA-MAC was formed after the Powell River success. This was followed by three albums by Donald McCleod, who was the private piper to King George VI. Al had played for 6-1/2 years in the Ballroom of the Vancouver Hotel, where Dal Richards had the music contract. Al produced Dal’s first album for the Aragon label during that time and worked with him on subsequent albums over the years.
In the ’60’s Al decided it was time to develop a more “state of the art” studio. He purchased a property on 6th Avenue in Vancouver and built a new studio from the ground up. At the time it was considered quite advanced with 4-track recording equipment, echo chambers, and ample room for a small chamber orchestra. Yet another label was formed, SIXTH AVENUE, to handle the day’s pop material.
Eventually Aragon was sold, and at one point existed under the name of MUSHROOM. Equipment may have changed over the years, but the studio was still considered to be one of the very best.