Terry DiMonte – Montreal’s favourite morning man
talks about discovering his passion for radio, and his affection for
the people who have helped him along the way

At a very young age, Terry DiMonte knew that he wanted “to be on the radio”. His career in the much-coveted morning man position has taken him from FM to AM radio and a four-year stint in Calgary before returning to Montreal, where his show Mornings Rock is the top-ranked program on CHOM, and one of Montreal’s Bell Media FM stations.

“My parents lived in Verdun, and my Dad worked at ‘The Northern’ on St. Patrick Street. When I was eight, we moved to the West Island because that’s where the houses were affordable. Sources was a dirt road at the time, and it was a great place for kids; we played in the fields and wooded areas that were close to our homes. My Dad found a new job after being laid off at The Northern, and he took the train from Rosemere into town. He’s the kind of man who always put his family first – who always made sure that he provided for us.”

Terry DiMonte

Terry DiMonte has dominated Montreal radio ratings on FM for decades

“My grandfather had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and when I was a kid – I’d make up fake newscasts and he’d record them. When I was 11 or 12, I used to huddle under my bed covers and listen to my transistor radio with an earplug, long after I was supposed to be asleep. By the time I was twelve, I knew that I wanted to be on the radio.”

“I went to John Abbott CEGEP and like a lot of students with new-found freedom: I didn’t do well because I skipped a lot of classes. Instead, I spent a lot of time working at the school’s radio station. I heard about an open audition that CBC was conducting, and I went. Part of the process included a report card on the audition, and while the examiner said that I had a good voice – he concluded that I did not have a future in radio. There was a second note in the report from Sue Saurenson, who said that she recognized my passion for radio, and suggested I apply to CBC Northern Services.”

“I knocked on every door in Montreal, and realized that I’d have to go outside the marketplace. I was working at a company selling ball bearings and decided that I’d take Sue Saurenson’s advice and apply to CBC Northern Services.” Within a short time Terry was on his way to Churchill, Manitoba. “The only way you can get there is by train or plane – there are no roads to Churchill. So one day I was in Montreal, one of Canada’s coolest cities and the next day I was on the shore of Hudson’s Bay. I had been at The Old Munich the night before I left, and within 24 hours I was in a town that had the same population as the Old Munich! I’ve never been so cold in my life!”

Terry was just nineteen and his stint in Churchill was to last six to eight months. “Next up would have been Frobisher Bay, even farther north; and I didn’t think that I could take that. I applied for an overnight job at citi-fm in Winnipeg. I’d finish my shift at 6 am and go across the street for breakfast and a coffee, waiting for the Music Director at the station to arrive around 8am. Then I’d go and hang around his office, learning how he did his job. They were all so passionate about radio – so it was a great chance for me to learn. In hindsight – it was a bit like ‘WKRP’.”

Terry DiMonte

Terry with the Gold Albums from his three years managing bands

Terry eventually became the station’s music director, which put him in contact with people working for record companies, promoting the latest singles and albums of their artists. “I went into the record business, working with Winnipeg bands, Streetheart, Queen City Kids and Kick Axe. I was working as the liaison between the bands and the A & R (Artist & Repertoire) people at the record labels. I was involved in some pretty high level meetings with executives from Capitol Records and CBS Records in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York.” It was heady stuff for a young guy from Montreal’s West Island.

“Our first year was really good – the second year was break-even and in the third year the business went down the drain. I didn’t know it at the time, but those hard-nosed business meetings with the record company executives would prove to be valuable lessons later in my life.”

“I also learned more about myself; that I missed being on the radio. I was a story teller and I’d lost my outlet.” I stopped by citi-fm to visit, and they knew that I needed work. They offered me Saturday and Sunday mornings at $100 a shift. I needed the money – so I took the job. It hit me during my first shift that, Yes – this is what I’m supposed to be doing’.” Terry DiMonte was back “on the radio”.

“Not long after I started back citi-fm, a radio consultant called and asked me if I’d ever thought of being a morning man. He said that CHOM in Montreal was looking and would I speak with the General Manager Rob Braide.” Terry chuckles at the memory… “As if my two shifts a week was going to hold me in Winnipeg. I called, flew to Montreal, met Rob and he hired me. I had the morning show at CHOM and I was just 26!”

“Listening to Terry the other day, I was reflecting on how much I like him.
But, then, I would like him even if I didn’t know him – just as so many Montreal listeners do.”  Terry Mosher (Aislin)

“I could never have succeeded without Rob’s guidance, support and steady hand. If he had been critical of my mistakes; at 26 it would have shattered me. He told me to ‘do what you think a morning show should sound like. And I did. He listened to the show and would tell me that it was great – building my confidence. Then he’d say, ‘You know that thing you did at 7:30? How about trying it like this.’ I’m awash in gratitude for the way that Rob Braide brought me along in the Montreal radio business.”

Rob Braide left CHOM and crossed over to CJAD and Mix 96, both owned by Allan Slaight and his son Gary. “Rob made me an attractive offer, and so I took on the morning show at Mix 96.

“I had been doing the show for several years when Rob called me into his office one morning and asked that I close the door. He asked ‘How would you like to be the new George Balcan?’ CJAD’s legendary George Balcan had decided to retire. Balcan completely dominated the broadcast ratings. “I said ‘no, I can’t replace George’.”

However, Rob enlisted the persuasive powers of Gord Sinclair and Ted Blackman, plus the man himself – George Balcan. “It was all over – I said ‘yes’. They arranged for me to be on-air with George and for him to introduce me as the person who would be taking on the show after he retired; telling his listeners that the show was in good hands with me. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this story, George’s retirement and my appointment as his successor were on the front page of The Gazette.”

Terry DiMonte

Terry with his collection of
original Aislin cartoons

Even with all the preparation for a smooth transition, Terry states that the first six months were difficult. “Some of the calls and letters were vitriolic. I had always followed politics and current events, but you don’t talk about that on FM radio. Political Analyst L. Ian MacDonald was a regular on-air guest, and I enjoyed discussing politics and the issues of the day with him. It gave me a chance to show more of myself. Even my Mom asked where I had learned all that?”

“After that transition period – I was having a ball. I thought that I’d retire from there.”

CJAD and Mix 96 were owned by Standard Broadcasting, a company owned by the Slaight family, father Allan and his son, Gary. They had also purchased CHOM, adding it to their roster of stations in Montreal. To bolster the ratings for the new acquisition, the management team asked Terry to move back to his former position at CHOM’s morning man. “My ego was bruised. I thought that I was doing a good job at CJAD, having worked really hard to get the listeners to accept me into their homes each morning.”

“Gary Slaight came to Montreal and we had lunch the next day. He said they greatly appreciated how I stepped into the morning show on CJAD, but that the company could make more money with me at CHOM. My first thought was that CJAD was in trouble – but Gary assured me that the station was profitable. However, the much greater number of FM radio listeners meant that advertising revenues were greater, much greater; and that the company could make more money with me over at CHOM.” It was a difficult decision to leave his dream job – but Terry agreed to move back to CHOM.

“The Slaight family were terrific employers, always considerate of their employees. Not a lot of people know how good and genuinely kind they were as owners. I wish more people knew that. Gary donated $50 million to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. They gave everyone a generous bonus at Christmas, from the janitor to the ‘star’ on-air personalities. We all got the same. When they sold the company to Astral for a little over $1 billion, there were about a dozen key people across the country who each received a cheque from Gary, because he acknowledged those people had help to build the company’s value.”

Terry soon was the beneficiary of the Slaight consideration. “The day after I agreed to go to CHOM, Gary called and said that he thought it was time that I bought a house and he provided a significant amount in order to make a good-sized down payment. He asked that I promise to stay for five years, which I did and more. We’re sitting in this house today because of Gary Slaight’s thoughtfulness.”

In 2005, Terry’s career path changed drastically. For the first time he was confronted with a difficult person as his boss. “By this time I knew a lot about the music business and the radio business. I had listened to millions of hours of tape, always working to improve my on-air performances. Like everyone, I have a boiling point. One day my boss tried to bully me, and I just got up and walked out of his office.  This strained relationship went on for the next 18 months.”

“I began to withdraw, to drink more and put on more weight. Ted Bird was working on-air with me, and they allowed our contracts to lapse. One day we were both called into his office and he slid brown envelopes across his desk to each of us. We left and when I got home and opened mine, I didn’t read farther than partway down the first page.  My boss was dictating my hours of arrival and departure for the first time in my career. I was to arrive no later than 4:45am and not depart before 11, even though we finished at 10am. For a lot of jobs, this would seem reasonable. For radio people who get up in the middle of the night so that they arrive on time for their 5:30am start, this was just plain mean-spirited. Neither of us signed and we continued to work.”

Out of the blue, Terry received a call from Gary MacKenzie, General Manager of the CORUS radio stations in Calgary. He wanted to know if Terry would be interested in speaking with them. Terry picked up his plane ticket at the airport and the two had lunch in Toronto. The conversation went very well, and concluded with Gary saying; “I think we’re going to offer you a job.” Terry returned to Montreal and was behind his CHOM microphone the next morning… still without a contract.

The next step saw CORUS fly Terry to Calgary for a weekend. “They took me to their studios, toured around the city and treated me to a fine time. Calgary is a very competitive radio market, and they told me that they were looking for someone special, and that someone was me. It was wonderful and terrible at the same time. I was about to turn 50, and they offered me a five-year contract and a six figure signing bonus. Compared to the stress and unhappiness in my employment situation, I was flattered with their enthusiasm and the offer.”

“I put my resignation letter into the same brown envelope that contained my still unsigned contract. I walked into my bosses office, and thinking that I’d knuckled under and signed – he gave me one of those ‘I gotcha’ smirks. I told him that my letter of resignation was in the envelope and left.”

“I worked hard to learn about Calgary, the people and its neighbourhoods. I drove the city taking photos of places that hosted charity events and concert venues. I loved the mountains, and had a great run there. I arrived in 2007 and the recession hit in 2008, and the city’s economy took a hit. Advertising revenues were not what they were.”

Terry DiMonte

Terry DiMonte is home

While in Montreal, Terry had hired Martin Spaulding as an assistant. During Terry’s time in Calgary, Martin was now running CHOM. “Martin called and said that he was going to be visiting Calgary, and would I join him for dinner. We agreed on a restaurant and when we sat down, I asked if he was in Calgary for a conference. He replied that that no – he was here to talk to me… Aha! The light went on.”

Martin told Terry that the 22 – 23 per cent audience ratings share that Terry had earned for the station had fallen to 19%, and they just couldn’t re-capture that lost market share. The lower ratings meant lower advertising revenues. “Martin said; ‘Terry, we want you to come home, that’s why I’m here.’ I was dumbstruck!” Terry was in the fourth year of a five year contract, and the Calgary station’s ad revenues were down considerably because of the recession. “It didn’t take long for me to decide. I had been away long enough to appreciate that Montreal is my home – where I belong. CHOM launched a massive media campaign to announce that Terry DiMonte was returning to Montreal. Terry was back behind the CHOM microphone for his Montreal Rocks show at 5:30am on January 9, 2012.

It’s been smooth sailing since, with his on-air sidekick Heather B, producer Esteban Vargas and a cast of regular on-air contributors that include; Maureen Holloway, daily visits with Pierre Houde, Gazette restaurant writer Lesley Chesterman, CTV News Anchor Mitsumi Takahashi, and evenko updates with Sandra Rinaldi every Friday. Terry DiMonte’s weekday Montreal Rocks show is on CHOM 97.7FM weekdays from 5:30am to 10am. Bravo Terry!

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