Bilal's written tribute to the legendary Tootall
Tootall.. what a guy, what a career.. what a retirement party!! Tip of the hat to the many people involved in organizing and executing his big send off without a single hitch at Club Soda on Friday.. you know who you are! While my tenure on-air at CHOM 97 7 approaches only the 15-year mark (my first 4yrs on-air were midnight-5:30am, when our core listenership was asleep!), I've always revelled in hearing stories of the "old days" of CHOM, from the ghost of Greene Ave. and the countless number of superstars that wandered into the station to hangout and often party with the CHOM staff while in town to perform. Then there were the station parties and events, Powder Hounds and other "stunts" that brought the listeners together with their favourite radio voices to share a passion for music and good times in a free-loving, artistic and vibrant city! I still stare at Tootall (or Terry, Randy, Sharon and others) with wide eyes and a full smile as they recall fond memories of these legendary CHOM parties, just wishing I could've been there. While I've been privileged to have been there for some pretty cool bashes (CHOM's 40th, Halloween and Super Bowl parties), this past Friday was one for the ages and felt like a throwback to the glory days of Montreal's Spirit of Rock! Former staff, rock stars of all ages and industry friends who we work together with, but rarely get to see casually along with the amazing feeling of connecting with the passionate Montrealers on the other end of the speakers - putting a face to the names of those who have called, texted and emailed over the years.. YOU, the listeners, who truly are the heart and soul of this radio station - all of us sharing one thing in common.. a love and respect for the one we affectionately call, Tootall!
Over the past few weeks, many of you have covered those shared sentiments of countless nights, weekends or weekdays (depending on what era you were listening in) glued to the radio to hear what piece of new (or rarely-played) music this soft-spoken broadcaster would pull out of the vaults or which new rock stars we'd get to learn more about on an edition of "Made In Canada" or see live at a "CHOM l'Esprit" show.. so, I'll share some of my own personal perspective of the legend behind the mic.
There's just so much to say about this towering man, so kind and loveable that he makes you feel like he's shrunk down to your eye-level when you speak to him. Compassionate, friendly, always willing to share sage advice and never misses an opportunity to crack a clever joke at his own expense to make you laugh! Just.. don't.. walk into his studio when he's about to go on-air.. EVER! Lol
I've seen him stop even the highest level of management at the door with a stern warning, the likes of which could put Gandalf's own commanding "You shall not pass!"-scene in Lord of the Rings to shame! But, not for lack of respect - that's just part of what made Tootall so impactful as a radio host all these years - his dedication to the listeners, the music and preserving the integrity of the broadcast profession. He always remains completely focused on delivering the best radio show he can at all times and let's nothing and no one get in the way of it. A very admirable quality, as it takes a lot of focus and hard work to gather all this information (of which he had more resources and industry tipsters in his Rolodex than anyone I know!), compile it, sort it out, select the best topics for the proper time of day and then the harder part.. turning them into short stories that are told so effortlessly, you can't help but hang on until the end before pulling your key out of the ignition or turning off the radio before leaving the house or office. He often encouraged me to take such chances on music, ideas and stories that I truly believed in because if I didn't, I wouldn't be giving my listeners the very best of me. I always joked that it was, "..easier said than done," for someone who had 40 years of seniority and a lot more clout to get away with it than I did! Perhaps, but he always stayed true to this advice, often with a blank stare, almost as if to say, "..how do you think I made it this far?"
When I first began at CHOM, I had just released an EP with my band at the time. I brought him a CD and asked only for his opinion and advice on the music, and if he felt it was good enough to share with listeners, it would be an honour to simply be mentioned on his show. However, I made it clear that I couldn't rightfully accept any "free publicity" just because I was part of the CHOM staff. I told the guys in the band, "..if Tootall likes it, we MUST pursue this and at least spend the summer in Los Angeles, crammed in a seedy motel room, soliciting record labels and playing on street corners to give this music career a shot! To my surprise, I got a call from Tootall later that week.. he liked it and wanted to give our band (mindDRIVE) a 30-min feature on "Made In Canada".. I was speechless, honoured, flabbergasted and nervous as hell! The experience of being a band, interviewed by Tootall in the CHOM studio was absolutely surreal and still one of my fondest memories! While a shift in career prospects for a couple of band mates saw the "L.A.-dream" fall apart not long after, I decided to continue making music on my own and shift my career focus to my other life-goal of becoming a broadcaster. Lucky for me, I had some of the best in the business to learn from at arms reach! Looking at myself from the outside, I notice that I've carved little pieces from these mentors of mine, constantly learning from them to perfect my own style.. Terry's incredible interview skills and sense of community, Sharon's "best friend" connection with listeners, Pete's wild side and clever wit, Randy's passion for the technical side of music and "theatre of the mind" broadcasting (which I've loved since childhood!) and of course the biggest one of all.. Tootall's passion for bringing great music to the forefront, giving otherwise unknown musicians a spotlight and a fighting-chance at following their dreams! My continued efforts to uncover new music, inform the public of what's happening in the "underground" music scene (here in Montreal and around the world) and bring them closer to the bands they love and hopefully introduce them to new bands they'll follow for years to come.. all stems from Tootall. You'll always see/hear it from me on-air, on social media and on the streets. For as long as I can remember, I would occasionally offer Tootall my time (as much as he'd allow!) to come over with some scotch, cigars (his favourite!) and my laptop, to sit there and type up his memoir while he dictated it to me between puffs - incredible stories with a perspective on the music, players and producers of rock's heyday that I think the whole world would love to hear! He still hasn't accepted the offer, but it still stands my friend.. any place, any time. :)
Thank you Tootall, for being an inspiration, a guiding light for a young ambitious broadcaster who'd be happier to spend an hour a day in your basement, getting a lesson on music from your record collection than winning the lottery! Thanks for instilling in me a deeper passion for music and the craft, along with some of the "old-school" broadcasting etiquettes, even though I wasn't always the best at upholding them, but I've been working on it. ;) Thanks for keeping my head cool when it was more appropriate to do so and for teaching me that sometimes you have to take a chance on something you believe in and stand up for the music and above-all, the listeners.. of which CHOM has the most unique, passionate and dedicated group of "die-hards" of any radio station I've ever been to, heard of or read about!
Tootall, you'll be deeply missed, but never forgotten! I'm sure everyone else is as eager as I am to hear what special programming you'll have in store for your triumphant return as a contributor to CHOM's airwaves post-retirement. But, for now.. you deserve a break and some time for yourself and your lovely wife Margo - listen to records, enjoy some hoppy beer, a Cuban cigar and heaps of Dutch herring and Gouda, travel the world and enjoy life the way you want to! I hope we'll remain friends and keep in touch. You'll always be in my heart and I want you to know that what you said about me in your retirement speech was just perfect, brought a tear to my eye, a lump in my throat and is something I'll never forget and hold close to my heart forever. Have fun my friend.. enjoy your retirement and congratulations on 40 years at CHOM and your upcoming induction into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame - an honour that few get to bask in, but that you have flawlessly earned and deserve!
As I walk into the office and sit at the computer outside the studio today, I'll surely miss looking through the glass and see you bopping your head to the music or playing air guitar to your favourite songs, like you're still a teenage boy rockin' out alone in his bedroom! Still, you leave us in good hands and I'm honoured to have had the chance to follow you on the air for the last 7+ years on the drive and will always think of you when I step into that legendary studio. Your own legend is now permanently engraved on CHOM's radio soul and in the hearts of your hundreds of thousands of listeners around the world! I wish you a long and peaceful retirement filled with love, health, adventure and happiness my friend. Merci gros le grand.. it's time to get the "Load Out" - although we all wish you'd "Stay" just a little bit longer - I'm sure we'll hear from you again soon.. enjoy the ride Toots!! ️