Windsor radio legend Rosalie Trombley was “the most powerful woman in popdom”

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Rosalie Trombley in her office at CKLW in Windsor on January 11, 1973. Trombley was one of the few women to hold a broadcast executive position in an industry that was essentially a boys’ club.Jackson

In the Top 40 radio world, Rosalie Trombley was a trailblazer – one of the few women to hold a broadcast leadership position in an industry that was essentially a boys’ club. Gifted with an innate sense of music, she could pick a good song from a bunch of duds and help make it a success, earning her the nickname “the girl with the golden ear”.

Ms. Trombley made her mark as the musical director of the powerful CKLW of Windsor, Ont., Known as the “Big 8,” whose 50,000-watt signal could be heard widely in the United States as well as throughout the country. southwestern Ontario. Equally profound was her influence in choosing which music to play: when she rotated a song, other stations followed suit. The long list of artists who have credited Ms. Trombley for their early successes includes Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Gordon Lightfoot, Kiss, and The Guess Who. Mr. Seger even paid tribute to him with his song from 1973. Rosalie, in which he sang “She’s got the power, she’s got the tower, Rosalie.”

“The most powerful woman in popdom,” as the Detroit Free Press described her in 1971, Ms. Trombley was an outspoken, sporty single mother of three who stood out for her modesty and professional integrity, refusing payola to that time. when corruption of broadcast radio staff was rampant. She also refused to play Mr. Seger’s song – and threatened to quit if anyone at CKLW did – because she believed it would be seen as selfish and selfish.

Ms. Trombley has often been credited with helping black artists such as the O’Jays, Martha Reeves, and Earth, Wind and Fire reach white audiences by selecting their songs for CKLW’s influential playlist. But she also helped Elton John go black market by playing her Bennie and the Jets, leading Detroit stations to follow suit. The song became a hit and Mr. John ended up on TV Soul Train.

In 1979, Ms. Trombley was honored with an invitation to attend the White House Dinner for the Black Music Association, at which she met US President Jimmy Carter. In 2005, Canadian Music Week honored her with its first female ‘pioneer’ award, now known simply as the Rosalie Award, and 11 years later, the Canadian Academy of Arts and Sciences. The recording chose her as the first woman to receive the Walt Grealis Special. Achievement Award.

On a personal level, Ms. Trombley has earned the respect and admiration of friends and colleagues for her persistence and dedication to her family. “At no point did we feel that we weren’t nurtured, loved or considered a priority by her,” said her eldest son, Tim, former vice president of EMI Music Canada and now director of entertainment. at Caesars Windsor. “For all of her professional accomplishments, she was the proudest to have raised three children as a single mother.”

When Ms Trombley passed away on November 23 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease, many remembered a woman who changed the musical landscape. Burton Cummings cited his membership in the Guess Who song Those eyes to change the game for his group. “My life probably would have been very different without Rosalie’s support and without the support of CKLW,” Cummings wrote on Facebook.

Rosalie Trombley, center, with Bob Seger, left and Bruce Springsteen in 1979.Thomas weschler

Denise Donlon, former VP of MuchMusic, President of Sony Music, Director of CBC English Radio and 2010 Rosalie Award recipient, called Ms. Trombley “a true trailblazer and one of the most powerful programmers of all. time “. But, she added, “Women were so rarely recognized for all they had to do to be successful – like Ginger Rogers, who had to do everything that Fred Astaire did, expect the reverse and in high heels. This only makes Rosalie’s accomplishments even more impressive.

Rosalie Helen Gillan was born in Leamington, Ontario. September 18, 1939, the first of four children of Shell, general foreman at Ford Motor Co., and Katherine, switchboard operator at Bell Canada. Rosalie grew up rock ‘n’ roll, listening to CKLW deejay Bud Davies in nearby Windsor spin the Frankie Lymon and Bo Diddley records while doing her homework, and attending socks at the Kingsville bandshell with her girlfriends.

After graduating from Leamington District High School, Rosalie joined her mother at Bell until she met and married claims adjuster Clayton Trombley. The couple moved to Windsor and started a family. In 1962, after the birth of a second son, Todd, Ms. Trombley worked part-time as a receptionist and switchboard operator at CKLW. Her boss noticed her interest in the hits of the day and quickly promoted her to the Music Library, where her job was to keep up with CKLW requests and what was on sale in record stores in the station’s largest market: Detroit.

Mr. Seger even paid tribute to Trombley with his 1973 song Rosalie.Courtesy of Markham Street Films

Ms Trombley and her husband separated in 1967 – the same week she was promoted to Music Director of CKLW. From that point on, she played a direct role in choosing which songs to play. “CKLW had a signal that bounced off Lake Erie at night and could be heard along the eastern seaboard of the United States, from Manhattan to Miami, reaching about 40 million listeners each night,” says Michael McNamara, director of the price. winning documentary Radio revolution: The rise and fall of the Big 8. “So if a song were to air on CKLW it would be sure to become a hit and be picked up by hundreds of other radio stations for airing – that became the Rosalie ‘power’ that Seger sang on. “

Along with impeccable record research, Ms. Trombley also relied on her own instincts to determine which songs had potential for success, listening to 150 releases each week and selecting up to five new tracks to air on the air. A few of his now famous picks include Mr. Lightfoot’s If you could read my mind, Stevie Wonder Superstition, Paul McCartney and Wings’ NS, Chicago Does anyone really know what time it is? and the main ingredient Everyone is playing the fool.

Son Tim remembers how he played Alice Cooper I’m 18 years old again and again in his room. Her mom noticed and added the song to CKLW’s playlist. Mr. Cooper’s producer Bob Ezrin credits Ms. Trombley with performing the song before everyone else, making it his client’s groundbreaking success. Mr. Cooper simply says, “We owe him everything.”

Part of Ms Trombley’s job was to organize weekly meetings with artists and record promoters who were hoping to get their latest songs to air on the radio. “It is during these sessions that the other part of the Rosalie Trombley legend emerges,” wrote Windsor Star columnist Ron Base in 1973, “that of a broad hard and sane who has, in the occasion, tells important recording artists that their latest recording is so crap. Mrs. Trombley could not be bought. “Promoters and record companies know better than giving me payola,” she once said. “They also know not to give me a joint – I’m too square, too straight for that sort of thing.”

Ms. Trombley supported Canadian artists but didn’t hesitate to be brutally honest with them about their songs. She once told Randy Bachman that Bachman Turner Overdrive Take care of business was too long and needed more piano and less guitar. Mr. Bachman left and made the suggested changes. Ms. Trombley added the revised song to CKLW’s playlist and it became BTO’s biggest hit.

As down to earth as she was, Mrs. Trombley was not your typical mother. Her daughter, Diane Lauzon, remembers a glamorous woman for whom limousines frequently came to transport her and her children across the border to attend concerts at Cobo Hall or at Detroit Olympia Stadium. . Ms. Lauzon, who ended up working for record companies and radio stations herself: “On Halloween, she was handing out 45s (7 inches, 45s) to kids who came to our door, just because I didn’t. don’t have time to go out and buy candy.

People who worked with Ms. Trombley at CKLW, like disc jockey Pat Holiday, remember a funny woman with a loud, loud laugh who loved her estate of dachshunds, all named Fritz. But there was also a hint of melancholy there, the result of a divorce. “You never get over a thing like this,” Ms. Trombley once told Robert Martin of The Globe and Mail. She never remarried and Ms. Lauzon feels her mother’s sadness was reflected in the ballads she loved and chose to play on the air, like Those eyes Where What becomes of the broken heart. “They were autobiographical to her.”

Ms. Trombley left CKLW in 1987, following her longtime friend Mr. Holiday to Detroit’s Hot AC station WLTI-FM. She then joined Key 590 of CKEY, a Toronto radio station, before retiring to Windsor. Her last public appearance was in June 2011, when she received an honorary degree from St. Clair College and attended a gala dinner hosted by singer Tony Orlando. Six years ago, she moved to a long-term care facility in her hometown of Leamington.

With the news of her death, Indie 88’s radio station Lana Gay, herself from Leamington, paid tribute to Mrs Trombley, saying “Godspeed Rosalie and thank you for all you have done for the music and open the way for women in this crazy industry. Then Ms. Gay played Bennie and the Jets.

Ms Trombley, who was 82, was predeceased by her siblings, Carl, Judy and Linda. She leaves behind her children, Tim, Todd, Diane and her grandson, Robert.

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