A broadcasting couple from CHOM FM’s early days died in a car crash in Mexico on Monday.
Leslie Sole and Terri Michael were killed in a head-on collision in Cabo San Lucas, where they had retired.
The pair met at CHOM in 1975, where he served as program director and she was the first solo female host of Canadian morning and afternoon shows.
They moved on to Toronto a few years later. Sole worked his way up to CEO of Rogers Television, and Michael had a successful career in radio and television. (Michael continued to host the show Total Recall: 40 Years of Rock, on CaboMil 96.3 in Cabo San Lucas.) They celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary in October.
Reached Friday, former CHOM personalities shared their memories of the couple.
“When Leslie arrived from CJOM, CHOM’s sister station in Windsor, he brought a great sense of directed spirit,” said former CHOM DJ Andrew Forsyth, from his home in Dundas, Ont. “It was still very free-form when I arrived there in ’75. Leslie allowed us to do a lot of things, but he got us to do it with consciousness, with spirit. He really made it much more of a mainstream, accessible radio station for Montreal.”
One of Sole’s initiatives was to make CHOM’s broadcasting bilingual. The idea was a hit with Montrealers until rival stations became unhappy and took legal action, forcing the station to become English only.
“When we ran French advertising, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Forsyth said. “Competing stations were very upset with that. They went to the CRTC, which told us to stop, cease and desist.
“Les was very supportive of the fact that we would speak the language of the street. We would say, ‘Vous écoutez CHOM 97.7, and here’s some Led Zeppelin.’ Because that’s the way our audience spoke, and Les was the guy that really supported us doing that.”
That linguistic openness carried over into the musical selection, as CHOM reflected the cultural cross-pollination infusing the Quebec music scene at the time.
“It truly was the spirit of Montreal, under Leslie,” Forsyth said. “The (French) music was easy to play — Harmonium, Beau Dommage, Robert Charlebois — all great Québécois artists who worked with what we were playing elsewise.”
Forsyth crossed paths with Sole from time to time in Toronto over the ensuing decades, and was always struck by his former boss’s enhanced sense of what was possible.
“He’s one of the very few people I’ve run into in my lifetime, where you know this person just has got this bigger vision of what is going on,” he said. “He took that ability and talent and directed a great radio station.
“Les was very good at interpreting what Geoff (Stirling, CHOM’s original owner) wanted, taking his very philosophical ideas and putting them into practical application.”
Rob Braide started at CHOM on the overnight shift in 1977, just after Sole and Michael’s departure. The couple’s relationship had become a point of contention with Stirling, Braide recounts.
“A lot of people said Geoff Stirling was a great guy and a visionary, (but) Les lost his job at CHOM unceremoniously when Jeff decided there were no relationships among employees,” said Braide, who went on to be program director at CHOM and CKGM, and, later, manager and vice president of CHOM, CJAD and Mix 96.
As Braide moved up the broadcasting ranks, he and Sole developed a friendship through mutual friend Gary Slaight.
“He was always a good person to have at a party,” he said, “a great guy with lots of energy and spirit.”
Braide remembers Michael as “bubbly, outgoing, very beautiful — a fashionista. She was on top of pop culture, had a beautiful voice and a quick smile; everybody really liked her.”
Though he wasn’t at CHOM yet, Braide was familiar with the story of how Michael landed her job at the station, through her friendship with CHOM announcer Live Earl Jive’s future wife Beverly (also known as Inga).
“They’d hang around the studio while Earl Jive was on,” Braide said. “One of the senior guys heard Terri’s voice and said, ‘We’ve got to get her on air.’”
Earl Jive, now based in L.A., told that story in his own words on social media, Tuesday, following an earlier post in which he shared news of the couple’s passing.
“This is the saddest posting of my Facebook life,” he said. “Last night, Bev’s best friend since childhood, broadcaster Terri Michael, and her husband (my PD at CHOM) Les Sole, were killed in a head-on collision. They are survived by their son Johnny.
We are devastated. RIP Terri & Les.”
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