top of page


First started as "My 2 Cents" in 1997, I have written posts numbering into the hundreds. It will take some time to resurrect the older posts, so keep checking back. They will include meet reports, travelogues, and news of interest to Ontario licence plate collectors.

Restored on Radio

When people like me (and possibly you) become interested in old things like licence plates, it’s often because of the visual appeal. I like my old things to have interesting colours, and if they also have block letters and numbers, that pretty much seals the deal for me. It’s a pretty broad description, but it’s also the reason why other things catch my attention, like old highway signs, exit lights, bus rollsigns, or “TELEPHONE” inserts from bygone phone booths, for example.

For me, the appeal doesn’t end with the sights that these relics provide. I think about the eras in which they were created and used, the technology of those times, and the music that played throughout. So here’s where I’m heading off-topic from what this column normally offers: Radio.

I’m not a radio hobbyist. I’ve never owned a ham setup, and I haven't much more than a layman's understanding about how radio works. But listening to radio has had a long-lasting influence on me. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car when I was young, with the dull whine of the AM radio bringing us many of the contemporary Canadian hits of the day, like Gino Vanelli’s “I Just Wanna Stop,” or Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City.” I paid attention to plates back at that young age, and these songs remind me of being in traffic in our VW amongst the Ford LTDs, Dodge Aspens and AMC Gremlins.

My dad was in a band in the late sixties. They had a brass section and were hired to play their repertoire of covers at dances. I found an old recording from one of their shows, and the tape also included an on-air segment from 1050 CHUM in Toronto. It was the outro of some Chicago song, complete with squealing trumpets and weaving trombones. My guess was that they were comparing the their own brass arrangement with that of the professionals. CHUM was still playing music on its AM station when I discovered this recording as a teen. They had switched to an oldies format, and everytime they played Chicago, I was reminded of my dad’s old tape. The crackle, whine and lo-fi sound was exactly the same. I would occasionally listen to CHUM when I was in university. I’d have to wait until nightfall to receive it. AM radio made me think of childhood, and of dad, and I’d feel a little less lonely.

Restoring plates in the garage, 2008.

I started restoring plates regularly almost 20 years ago. On those afternoons and evenings in the garage, I didn’t feel like playing my newest CD. If I was restoring a 1963 plate, I wanted to be enveloped by the sounds that might have been heard when that plate was still in service. So I started listening to CIWW, branded as “Oldies 1310.” CIWW first went on the air in 1922. I liked listening to old music on an old station while painting old plates. Sometimes they played Motown. Sometimes it was the British Invasion. Sometimes it was schmaltzy Paul Anka from the 70s. But it felt right, to be listening to the correct era of music. Occasionally, the music would be pre-empted by a Blue Jays game. At first I found baseball to be a nuisance, but I just let the radio play out. It was through the radio play-by-play of Jerry Howarth that I re-discovered my love for the game.

CIWW switched formats abruptly in 2010 and became an all-news station, leaving Ottawa as the largest radio market with no remaining music on the AM dial. I was bummed, but I knew that playing radio hits of the 40s / 50s / 60s / 70s was probably not a lucrative niche. The silver lining is that I can still get Jays games from 1310 AM on my little garage radio.

Waiting for yet another cloud of atomized primer to waft out the garage door— probably with some AM radio station playing.

My son wanted to make a licence plate, just like Dad.

I turned to online web streaming—which wasn’t yet the norm everywhere—and soon discovered CKOC 1150 AM in Hamilton. I used my Blackberry Playbook tablet to fill my garage with oldies once again. CKOC had the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating radio station in Canada, having signed on in 1922 a few weeks before CIWW. So once again, I was happily painting old plates while listening to old music coming from an old radio station (albeit through a contemporary tablet). The format changed a bit while I was a regular listener of CKOC– they quietly got rid of their 50s music and reduced the 60s content in favour of more 1970s and early 1980s selections. So the Beau-Marks disappeared, as did much of Little Anthony and the Imperials and the Supremes… to be replaced by Chilliwack, BTO, Christopher Cross and Donna Summer. It worked for me. Of course, if there was a ball game on, I’d switch back to CIWW on my garage radio. The great Tom Waits once said that his favourite sound was “a baseball game on an AM radio on a warm summer night.”

But then, after five years of loyal CKOC listenership (except for baseball games), the station switched formats and became a sports radio station. It was part of the Bell family, not Rogers, so there’d be no Blue Jays Baseball. So I had to find a new station.

It didn’t take long. I discovered CKWW 580 AM in Windsor, also owned by Bell. It’s a bit of an anomaly, as stations go. It had picked up many loyal Detroit listeners over the years, and it was still cranking out oldies with no end in sight. The Bell mothership gradually cut a few corners over to save its bottom line, leaving CKWW little in the way of live personalities. But it has been carrying several syndicated shows, like Live from the Sixties with The Real Don Steele and American Top 40: The 70s with Casey Kasem (both assembled from old shows, since both Don and Casey are now deejaying from beyond the pearly gates).

Baseball is on the radio. Not sure if the Jays are winning, though.

CKWW is every bit an oldies station: Their commercial breaks feature pain relief creams, orthopedic shoes, and hearing aids. But the music fits what I’m doing, and the frequent vocal station ID breaks (possibly featuring the iconic Johnny Mann Singers?) is a nice touch.

I received bad news earlier this summer, when it was announced that Bell was laying off over a thousand staff to cut costs, and they were either closing or selling some radio stations effective immediately. CKWW was one of the lucky three stations that were allowed to stay on the air, but it was up for sale. Not long after, it was announced that an as-yet-unnamed buyer would be taking ownership. It's not yet been announced how the change will affect the station’s operation. It’s probably a miracle that CKWW has been playing oldies for as long as it has. As I write, the station is still chugging along. But the radio industry has an itchy trigger finger when it comes to flipping formats and signing-off old stations without warning. There’s no telling exactly when the shot will come.

I like to preserve things. I guess that makes me well-suited to my hobbies. But knowing that the clock is counting down for CKWW, I made some recordings and edited them into a video. I kept the songs mostly out of it, to try and avoid the copyright police.

What’s next for my paint shop if CKWW stops playing oldies? Maybe more oldies from elsewhere. But without a Canadian source, that’ll could be it for Gino, Nick, Randy, Burton, Rik, and Gordo.

60 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page