Rosalie Trombley

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Rosalie Trombley (born circa 1939) is a Canadian former music director of AM Top 40 powerhouse CKLW - also known as "The Big 8". Her ability to select the songs that would become big hits contributed to the success of CKLW, and earned her much respect in the music industry. At the height of her fame, Kal Rudman, editor of the Friday Morning Quarterback, a music trade publication, referred to her as "the number one music director in the United States." [1] Her influence as a music director later led to an annual award being named after her.

Career at CKLW[edit]

A native of Leamington, Ontario, Canada, Trombley had worked for Bell Canada while in high school, and after she and her then-husband Clayton moved to Windsor, she sought another switchboard job. She was hired on Labour Day weekend 1963 to work as a part-time switchboard operator and receptionist.[2] The more time she spent working at the station, the more familiar she became with how a top 40 station worked; she was given the chance to work in the music library, and in the fall of 1968, she was offered a full-time position as CKLW's music director.,[3] a job she later attributed to "being in the right place at the right time." [1] Her ability to find the songs that listeners liked best helped CKLW's popularity to grow; that ability also made her very influential: her decision to add a song to CKLW's playlist could help it to become a huge success.[2] Known for her "good ears",[4] she was also frequently able to predict when an album track had the potential to become a hit single.[5]

CKLW was a Windsor, Ontario based station, but it programmed for the Detroit market in the USA. In fact, part of its programming strategy was to downplay the fact that its city of license was Windsor, Ontario, and to present itself as an American station.[3] In the late 1960s and early 1970s, CKLW was known as an AM Top 40 powerhouse. With its 50,000 watt signal at 800 kHz on the AM dial, CKLW covered the mid-west states including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, as well as southwestern Ontario. Its signal strength was such that it even showed up in the ratings for Cleveland and Toledo.[4] A ratings leader in the competitive Detroit market, CKLW was at one time a part of the RKO General chain of Top 40 radio stations that used the Bill Drake "Boss Radio" format. In its heyday in the early 1970s, the station was one of the most popular stations (based on cumulative audience) in North America, along with WABC, New York, KHJ, Los Angeles and WLS, Chicago. But when the CRTC mandated that CKLW follow Canadian Content rules and play a certain percentage of Canadian music, the station's American popularity gradually began to fade, although the station remained influential for a few more years.[3] Trombley herself acknowledged in a 1982 Billboard magazine article that her station no longer had the "clout" it once did; but despite that, CKLW continued to play a role in breaking hits.[6]

Throughout the 1970s, Trombley dealt with the CRTC's Canadian content regulations as best she could, by picking the Canadian records she felt stood the best chance of becoming hits for airplay. In some cases, listener response to the Canadian records the station featured was great enough to force an American single release, with the song going on to become a national hit. For example, a 1973 Billboard article notes her role in promoting the Skylark song "Wildflower", playing it for over three months as an album cut before its release as a single.[7] Another example is The Carpenters' 1977 cover of Canadian band Klaatu's "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft".

Trombley served as Music Director of CKLW from 1968–84, through the station's top 40 years and into the era when CKLW changed format to appeal to an older audience. After leaving the station, she worked at WLTI-FM in Detroit and then CKEY in Toronto.[8]

Her Influence[edit]

During her years as a top 40 music director, Trombley was one of the few female music directors in AM top 40,[9] and one of the most respected. Rosalie broke a large number of hit songs, and her decision to give them exposure on CKLW helped many artists to become popular. Recording stars, both established and aspiring, visited her to promote their latest single releases, and the walls of her office were lined with gold records, evidence of her success at picking hits. Among the artists she is credited with helping are Earth, Wind and Fire, Elton John, Ted Nugent, The Guess Who, and Bob Seger.[10] There were numerous hits that CKLW was the first to play, thanks to her. Among them were the Guess Who's "These Eyes," which went on to be a big hit for the band in 1969,[11] and the Main Ingredient's 1972 hit "Everybody Plays the Fool." [12] Among her other achievements, she persuaded Elton John to release "Bennie and the Jets" as a single, because she believed, correctly, that it would be a cross-over hit, appealing to both black and white listeners.[13]

In addition, Bob Seger immortalized Rosalie Trombley in his 1973 song "Rosalie" from his Back in '72 album ("She's got the tower, she's got the power / Rosalie").[14] The song was later covered by Irish band Thin Lizzy, on their 1975 album Fighting and again on their 1978 album Live and Dangerous. While often described as a tribute to her, Seger actually wrote it in frustration about not being able to get his songs played on CKLW at that time.[15] Sources differ as to Trombley's opinion of the tune. Some claim she hated it and even threatened to quit if the station added it to their playlist; others insist that the programmer actually was flattered by it, but was worried about potential conflict-of-interest charges. Either way, CKLW never played "Rosalie", although the song did receive airplay on other Detroit stations, as well as other top-40 outlets as far away as Idaho.[16]


Despite her acclaim and success in the record industry, Rosalie Trombley is also known for her shyness and her desire for privacy; she has granted interviews only occasionally, including, for the 1971 WDRQ documentary The History of Detroit Radio and for the 2004 documentary Radio Revolution: The Rise and Fall of the Big 8, produced by Toronto-based Markham Films. Much of the documentary's focus was on the contributions and influence of Rosalie Trombley. The film's co-producer Eugene McNamara noted that unlike others who worked at CKLW, she did not go on to additional successes after her years at the Big 8. "I think it was because she was a woman in a male-dominated environment," McNamara stated.[17]

In April 1992, Rosalie was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the first annual Motor City Music Awards, held in Detroit.[18]

The "Rosalie Trombley Award" honours women who have made their mark in broadcasting, and is presented during Canadian Music Week.

Trombley was inducted into the Motor City (Detroit) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Week Broadcaster's Hall of Fame.[citation needed] She is now retired and living in Windsor, Ontario.

On June 14, 2011, a scholarship in Trombley's name was announced by St Clair College, for their Music Theatre Performance program.[10] On June 16, Rosalie received an honorary diploma from the Music Theatre Performance program.


  1. ^ a b Robert Martin. "Super-Monster Rosalie Trombley is Queen of the Top 40 Charts." Toronto Globe & Mail, January 13, 1973, p. 25.
  2. ^ a b Ted Shaw. "Big 8 Legend Rosalie Feted in Style." Windsor Star, June 15, 2011, p. A3.
  3. ^ a b c Ron Base. "What Rosalie Likes, Almost Everybody Likes." Toronto Globe & Mail, May 26, 1973, p. A7.
  4. ^ a b "An Audio Odyssey: Coast to Coast and Back in Top-40 Radio." Broadcasting, January 29, 1973, p. 52.
  5. ^ "Diehl: Top 40 Success Keyed on Impending Music Polarity." Billboard, May 12, 1973, p. 52.
  6. ^ "Rosalie Trombley: Record Breaker, Hit Maker." Billboard, August 7, 1982, p. CKLW-2.
  7. ^ Freedland, Nat (September 15, 1973). "Skylark flying on 'Flower" Power". Billboard (magazine). p. 17. Retrieved December 8, 2009. 
  8. ^ Harry Van Vugt. "CBE Radio's Les Mather Suspended." Windsor Star, December 16, 1988, p. C8.
  9. ^ Anastasia Pantsios. "Women in Rock." Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 28, 1977, p. F2.
  10. ^ a b "Rosalie Trombley, Hall of Fame Contender." Windsor Star, June 23, 2011, p. A1.
  11. ^ Ted Shaw. "Radio's Glory Days: Filmmakers Revisit Heyday of CKLW-AM." Windsor Star, March 25, 2004, p. B6.
  12. ^ "Cuba Gooding Sr. Has Renewed Success." Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette, June 23, 1998, p. 3C.
  13. ^ Joe Fox. "Motown and Murder a Potent Mix for the Big 8." Toronto Star, December 17, 2005, p. H9.
  14. ^ "Bob Seger - Rosalie Lyrics". 1937-07-18. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  15. ^ Bill Gray. "Seger's On the Verge of Breakthrough." Detroit News, December 13, 2006.
  16. ^ "KRLC 1350 Lewiston Survey 04/09/73". 2011-04-08. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  17. ^ Ted Shaw. "Radio's Glory Days: Filmmakers Revisit Heyday of CKLW-AM." Windsor Star, March 25, 2004, p. B6.
  18. ^ "Radi-O-Rama." Gavin Report, April 17, 1992, p. 7.

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