CHUCK AZZARELLO – RADIO WHIZ KID – GONE AT AGE 60

Chuck Azzarello

AUGUST 28, 2009

It is with heavy hearts we inform you that Chuck Azzarello has passed away. Chuck Azzarello was one of “us” – a radio industry guy who helped mold the way sounds would develop in Canada. It is not often we write from a personal point of view but this one is close to the heart and Chuck Azzarello deserves the accolades.

Azzarello had a colourful  career, and those who worked closely with him knew he could be passionate and aggressive in what he wanted the station to become once he had figured out the critical path.

Kathy & SandyKathy & SandyI worked with Chuck in Montreal, in the heyday of CHOM-FM being # 1 in the ratings, the station that we were at was floundering for a place in the ratings – (CJ)FM 96 – one of the many Standard Broadcasting division stations. I was the Music Director and on his first day in the station, he promptly went into our music library (which were records back in the dinosaur age) and he decided to remove all the French artists. Le Temps, Veronique Sanson, Harmonium, Charlebois amongst others were “pulled” and put out of rotation.  We spent a hot-tempered month of arguing over music and Quebec culture, while Azzarello learned that Centre Ville was not a place but downtown, that (Premier) Bourrassa’s first name was Henri not Henry, and he didn’t have to say all three words when giving directions to the Pont Mercier Bridge. Very quietly, the records of the Quebecois artists all reappeared and were put back into high rotation with no comment. Chuck knew when he was wrong, and he went on to embrace the culture of that Province. He gave CHOM-FM a run for it’s money, and to this day people always tell me we had the best music on Montreal airwaves. We battle for the # 1 spot with CHOM-FM and we were # 2 for many years.

My friend and industry colleague, Kathy Hahn, worked in the AM station in  the same building, CJAD, and she headed up their music line-up as well as working the shows with such greats as George  Balcon, Andy Barrie, Dave Stewart and the renowned Paul Reid (voice of the Letter to My Love). Hahn is the daughter of Canada’s own Bob Hahn and knew her stuff better than anyone at a tender age of 20. The three of us became inseparable and spent many hours working, playing and eating huge meals of pasta created by Azzarello.

Kathy and I shared one of those great old duplexes, and although Chuck had his own place (which I still have my doubts as I only saw him at the station and at our place) we seemed to spend all our time together in NDG. Many music people spent time with us there; Shelley Segal (Mushroom Records – Heart) Joe Owens (Quality Records, CPI) Graham County (Bill Hill & Don Graham) Eddy Kaye (Freedom) Dwayne Ford (Bearfoot) George Bowser (Bowser and Blue). We had no idea the memories we were making. With sincere thanks to Kathy Hahn; she still had photos and shared them with Cashbox Canada for this article.

Chuck Azzarello left FM 96 in 1976 to go on to his career at CHEZ FM starting as Program Director, fast becoming General Manager then within a year holding the title of President of CHEZ FM Inc. Chuck had trade secrets for taking over a radio market. At  the top of his strategies list was, “Never program to your advertisers. Always program to your audience. If you can get that right, the advertisers will come.” Another Chuck-ism was - the music - no matter how good - and he always had the best on tap - was still secondary to the tone and attitude of the announcers. Chuck believed listeners would judge a station according to the on-air host. You could get away with playing a more conservative - or alternative music format, only if your on-air talent appealed to the demo you wanted  to attract. Few stations play by these rules. His vision resulted in the creation of a cultural cornerstone, CHEZ-FM, and the fantastic team he built to support it. After a lifetime dedicated to broadcasting I have yet to meet anyone who did not love the guy. I think that’s rare by any standard and any  profession. Chuck brought a human approach to every decision he undertook. He strived to understand people and they appreciated this. He died too young it was too fast for any  of us to catch up to him. He will never be forgotten. He will always be loved and missed by the colleagues, teams and countless friends he made along the way.

As happens in this business, we all went separate ways and after a few years neglected to stay in touch. The news of Chuck passing shocked me and once again made me realize that life is fragile and memories come flooding back when we lose someone who was a major part of our career paths.

“Chuckster”, you were one of a kind, and as the Andrew Gold song says “Thank You For Being a Friend”.

Our sincere condolences go to his parents Salvadore and Kathleen Azzarello, his sister Marie Rose and to his wife Deborah Fleming and step children Ryan and Victoria.

Here is a photo of Chuck Azzarello in his favourite place – The Control Room. CJFM-96.

For more on Chuck Azzarello see below:

This article first appeared in 1979 in Grubstreet and was a candid and informative story that really gave an insight into the inner workings of Chuck Azzarello. This interview was supplied courtesy of Grubstreet. Visit them online at www.grubstreet.ca.
http://www.grubstreet.ca/articles/radiointerviews-old/chuckazzarello2006...

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