Rosalie Trombley, who chose hits and made stars, dies at 82

Whatever story you have about the culmination of your high school years, Tim Trombley has a better one. Rocker Alice Cooper once picked him up from his school in a limo to take him to lunch.

It was one of the perks of having Rosalie Trombley as a mother.

From 1967 to the early 1980s, Ms. Trombley was the Music Director of CKLW-AM, a radio station based in Windsor, Ont., With a signal so strong it was heard in dozens of states across the United States. United, dominating the Detroit markets. and other cities in the Midwest before the emergence of FM. A 1971 headline in The Detroit Free Press called her “The Most Powerful Woman in Pop Music,” because her tastes were instrumental in determining what aired on the station, which in turn was instrumental in determining what was shown on the station. determine what was being broadcast in the rest of North America.

Sometimes, Mr Trombley said in a phone interview, his mother would bring home demos and he was allowed to play them. She noticed that he played a lot: Mr. Cooper’s “I am eighteen years old.”

“She let the label, Warner Bros., ‘Tim played this song over and over again,’” Mr. Trombley said, and she slipped it into the CKLW rotation. In the late 1970s, it became Mr. Cooper’s hit. And that’s how Mr. Cooper, from Detroit, took young Tim to lunch one day as a thank you.

“I knew mom had a really cool job,” Mr. Trombley said.

Ms Trombley died on November 23 in a long-term care home in Leamington, Ont., Where she had lived for some time. She was 82 years old. Mr Trombley said the cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Mrs. Trombley seemed an unlikely starmaker. She was a single mother of three when she started at CKLW as a part-time switchboard operator. The Free Press once wrote that she “looks like Doris Day’s neighbor.” But she was, as the newspapers often described her, “the lady with the golden ear” who, with her pragmatic attitude, could manage in the male-dominated music industry of the day.

The list of stars who owed him a debt of gratitude was long.

“You came in the morning,” said Keith Radford, a former station reporter, in an interview for “Radio revolution” a 2004 Canadian documentary on CKLW, “and there would be big bouquets of flowers at the reception, from Elton John or the Rolling Stones.”

Ms Trombley would hold a court on Thursday for record promoters hoping to get their new songs on CKLW’s “Big 30” playlist.

“If they really wanted the record, they would bring the act with them,” Johnny Williams, a former DJ, said in the documentary. “So it was not uncommon to see the Four Tops, the Temptations, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr.

One artist who made such a pilgrimage was Tony Orlando, who recalled in “Radio Revolution” that Mrs. Trombley heard him that day and offered him an invitation.

Rosalie said, ‘I’ll tell you what: if your next record is in the rough stage of a trade record, a playable Top 40 record, because you took the time to come here – but only s’ he has the right ones – I “I’ll pay a lot of attention to that,” he said. “And that next record was’ Yellow Ribbon ‘” – that is, Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon’ Round the Ole Oak Tree”, the best-selling record of 1973. “And she was. the first to put it on the air. “

Rosalie Helen Gillan was born September 18, 1939 in Leamington. His father, Shell, was a general foreman at the Ford Motor Company of Canada and his mother, Katherine (Piper) Gillan, was a switchboard operator.

After graduating from high school, she worked at Bell Canada for a while. She married Clayton Trombley in 1958. She took up the position of switchboard operator at CKLW at the end of 1962, working in that capacity for several years and, as the Vancouver Sun put it in a 1973 article about her, ” inadvertently taking over the politics of the music industry simply by learning to deal with the sometimes troublesome record promotion folks who have arrived at the station to handle their wares.

Around 1968, Ms Trombley and her husband separated (they later divorced) and around the same time, she was offered the opportunity to take over from the station librarian, who was going on maternity leave. The station’s program director quickly took note of her ear for hits and appointed her musical director, a job she held, Tim Trombley said, until she was fired in early 1980s in an effort to downsize.

Ms. Trombley didn’t just trust her own tastes; she called the area’s R&B stations to see what they were playing, which led her to give black artists a 50,000-watt CKLW exposure. It has also boosted the careers of Canadian artists like Gordon Lightfoot and The Guess Who, as well as a number of Detroit-area stars, including Bob Seger.

“Seger has never had any problem getting into CKLW,” she told the Detroit Free Press in 2004 when Mr. Seger was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “Look at the songs. Listen to the lyrics. I’m a talkative freak. When someone says something in a song, I can’t be the only person who cares about it.

Well, Mr. Seger almost never had a problem getting up to the station. Some of her new songs came to her in the early 1970s, and she swept them away. He sat down and wrote a song about her called “Rosalie” – a tribute to her importance, but with a sly and disapproving undercurrent that they both laughed at later.

“He was pissed off when he wrote this song about me,” she said. “He told me!”

Payola – offering awards for having a song played – was in the radio business during Ms Trombley’s reign, and her son said it was common knowledge in the industry that she was a single mother, so some promoters would subtly let him know that there was money available.

“She made it known in a less subtle way,” he said, “that if they wanted to continue meeting her every week, it wasn’t something that was going to get their radio record.”

She had her musical favorites, especially Neil Diamond. But that didn’t necessarily save him time on the radio.

“I don’t play its current version,” she told The Sun in 1973, without naming it tactfully, “because it looks like a midrange, and I won’t accept it when I know ahead of time. that it is only a median disk. “

Besides her son Tim, she is survived by another son, Todd; one daughter, Diane Lauzon; and a grandson.

In 2016, Ms. Trombley received a special Juno award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy. Radio Trailblazers, an organization that promotes women on Canadian radio, awards an annual award recognizing women who have “French in new ways on radio”. She received the first one, in 2005, and it’s now called simply the Rosalie Prize.


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