I have many warm and vivid memories of my time with CFCN Old Timers. First off, maybe I should tell you a bit of history of the broadcast.
As I mentioned before, the program hit the air in 1924, and of course the musicians changed and the program identity changed, but the broadcast never missed one week in 57 years of broadcasts. Until it went off the air in 1981 it was recognized as the longest continuous radio broadcast in North America.
I feel totally justified in being very personal, and yes, somewhat emotional, writing about my time with CFCN Old Timers. I’m sure from the very first the entertainers were very sincere and dedicated to bringing to their listeners and to their live audience, the type of music that would endure for so many years.
I will not attempt to name all the musicians who were part of the broadcast over the years but I feel inclined to present some of them to you and of course those who were members during my time. I guess proper protocol is Ladies First.
Pianist Nan Tingle was a regular member of the band before it became known as CFCN Old Timers. Nan was delightful, always happy and positive and her father, Tom Smith, played violin in the band for some time.
George Fitzsimmons, violinist— I go to George next as he was a member of the group(s) who played before Tony became the leader. George was a very well educated violinist who read music very well but also had a trained ear for playing without music. If my information is correct, George played on that program more years than any other musician. George was always eager to perform — more about George later.
Tony Niedermayer was the accordionist leader and arranger of the CFCN Old Timers band. Tony arrived in Calgary in early 1940 from Lethbridge, where he had given accordion lessons to a well known accordion player, Joe Horhozer, whom a lot of people remember and whom I enjoyed playing with on many occasions.
When Tony arrived at CFCN Radio and shortly thereafter, he had written arrangements for well over 500 musical numbers. For every broadcast each musician had a written arrangement for the instrument he or she played. And each member of the band knew that if you wanted to play his music, you played it the way it was written. The name of the band was officially called CFCN Old Timers or Tony and the Old Timers.
Len Taylor played the bass fiddle and was about six foot four inches tall. It seemed like we were always “looking up to him.” Len was a good guy — very quiet, was very capable at doing what he did. There were a few occasions when he was unable to make the broadcast at which time we could count on previous members, Lint Ladler or Pete Loewen to fill in for him. On a couple of occasions I recall Louis Ogaad filled in. Louis was the number one bass violin player for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. What a thrill when he drew that bow across those strings with great authority.
I want to mention here, Ernie Yardley, who played banjo on the broadcast for over 30 years. Because he left the band, I was asked by Tony to become guitarist and the band’s first full-time vocalist.
So after a couple of rehearsals with Tony at his house, I was invited to join the Old Timers. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, I was thrilled!
My previous radio experience helped me to realize how fortunate I was. Some of Tony’s musical arrangements were very foreign to me and had some very difficult chord structures, but Tony was very patient and helpful.
Our broadcasts were always situated so that we could accommodate a live audience. This was extremely gratifying during Calgary Stampede week as we would entertain visitors from numerous provinces and the United States, as well as foreign places. And of course during Stampede week we would supply music for many street dances. I recall a couple of dinner parties at the Palliser Hotel where the special guests to the Stampede were Duncan Renaldo, the original “Cisco Kid”, and Gene Barry, who was “Bat Masterson” on TV. I composed a short musical selection about Bat Masterson for the occasion.
During my time with the Old Timers, I was employed full-time in the office of the Royalite Oil Company but every Friday night I would pack up my trusty Gibson Jumbo S45 guitar and perform for three hours, live on CFCN radio.
But I recall always wanting to do more musically, so I formed my own small group called “The Tune Toppers” and we played pretty well every Saturday night for weddings, parties and anniversaries etc. I want to mention briefly the members as one of them was George Fitzsimmons from the CFCN Old Timers. He doubled on drums and violin and his brother-in-law Freddie Longacre who played saxophone and Bob Nicholson who doubled on the piano and accordion and me. The group was very talented and versatile and we all enjoyed each other’s musical contributions.
It was during this time that our family was actually doubled. James Rion came into our lives in the early 1950’s and so their loving faithful mother Eileen had two boys to look after. I had almost guaranteed a pretty baby daughter, but no.
Many times while performing with the Old Timers I wondered why there had never been any official recordings. So I discussed it with the other members and with our regular announcer MC. and after some discussion and I must say, perseverance on my part, we finally recorded the first two long-play vinyl albums.
These were done in our regular broadcasting studio with two microphones and one recording engineer. The Old Timers went on to record several more LPs but I was no longer a member at that time.
Don Thomas and Frank Brand the announcer and MCs, two real gentlemen and others before them, of radio who deserve to get credit for making the Old Timers broadcast what it really was. Not just a radio broadcast, but a night of family entertainment in the home. We had letters from many locations of just such a response and enjoyment from faithful listeners. I recall I believe, almost exactly the words of our M.C. as Tony and the Old Timers played our closing theme song “Home on the Range” every Friday night at midnight.
“And so friends wherever you are between the mountains and the prairies, the boundary and the bush, we bid you goodnight from CFCN radio in Calgary, Alberta, on behalf of (the M.C. would give his name) and all the Old Timers, until we meet again.”
To appreciate the complexity of some of our music you would really need to look at the music, which of course would be almost impossible at this time. I have, however, captured and preserved some of the music on a DVD entitled, “FLOYD SILLITO; Preserving our Musical Heritage”.
If you will follow me on my website at www.floydsillito.com, I will make it known when this DVD will be available.
As I mentioned before, my years and experience with the Old Timers and various other musicians and acquaintances during these years gave me great satisfaction and confidence in pursuing my musical years.
To those kind people who send comments to my previous chapters, we must apologize as the computer ate up the file. Please fell free to do so again and I will receive your comments and you will, for sure hear from me.