UPDATE: This is a more detailed, extensive look at the career and contributions of local Duff Roman, recent recipient of the Order of Canada
Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Duff Roman is one of 135 new appointees named to the Order of Canada on December 29, 2021.
Born David Mostoway in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Roman can now add the C.M. designation to the end of his name, bestowed upon him for his contributions to the Canadian music industry as a broadcaster and executive, and for his lifelong efforts to promote Canadian talent.
“I was pleasantly shocked to get the news,” Roman says. “I had heard that my name had been put forward to the Governor General’s office. But I wasn’t anticipating this. The importance of this award dawned on me and to be the recipient is quite stunning.”
Roman’s career in radio began as a 17-year-old disc jockey at Medicine Hat’s CHAT radio in 1955, where he went by the name Digger Dave. He spent a year there before moving to Winnipeg’s CKRC. In 1957 he returned to Medicine Hat, this time to work as their first television announcer at CHAT-TV.
“I hosted the Supper Club show. It aired at supper time, and I did interviews and covered local music. And I did all the straight announcing - commercials, station IDs, etcetera. The only two live people there were the news reporter and me.”
In the meantime, Frontier Broadcasting, led by Bill Forst, was granted a licence in 1956 to start CKSW-AM radio in Roman’s hometown Swift Current. In April, 1959 Roman succumbed to overtures from his mother to return home and accepted a position as morning show host and program director at the local station.
“I realized immediately I had made a horrible mistake,” he laughs. “I was now working for the smallest station in Saskatchewan, maybe in Canada, after having worked in major markets. I had been on the upswing of my career. I worked as hard as I could to figure out a way to get out of Swift Current without breaking my mother’s heart.”
In the fall of that same year, he was discovered by Jerry Forbes during one of the CHED radio owner’s drives along the Trans-Canada Highway. He accepted a job at the Edmonton rock and roll station, but didn’t last long there.
Roman sent a tape over to CKEY radio in Toronto, the city’s number 2 station behind CHUM. The tape impressed legendary Canadian businessman Jack Kent Cooke (who later gained renown as the owner of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and what is now known as the NFL’s Washington Football Club), who personally invited him to work at CKEY. Before the end of 1959 his meteoric rise had taken him to Canada’s biggest radio market. It was at Cooke’s urging, by the way, that Digger Dave became Duff Roman.
While at CKEY, Roman opened an after hours club called A Brave New World across the street from the radio station. It was the early days of rock and roll, and the Yorkville section of the city was the music’s epicentre.
One day in 1964 a young man named David “Sonny” Thomsett walked into the club, fresh out of a stint at the Burwash Prison. Thomsett would continue to drop by after his gigs at local high schools and pester Roman to let him get up on stage.
One night a couple members of Roman’s house band were sick, so he invited Thomsett, who had changed his name to David Clayton-Thomas, and his band The Shays to fill in.
“I had never heard anyone sing the way that young kid could sing,” Roman says today. “The best blue-eyed soul singer I had ever heard in my life. The whole club went crazy.”
Roman tried to get local record labels to take an interest in Clayton-Thomas, but when that failed, he booked studio time to cut two songs with the singer and the band. He shopped the record to rival radio station CHUM, and it quickly climbed up the charts.
A new record label, Roman Records was born. He and his brother Dan were major players in the Toronto music scene, recording singles and albums by Clayton Thomas and the Shays, as well as Little Caesar & The Consuls and the Paupers. The label had a string of five consecutive hits on the CHUM charts, the major arbiter of music trends at the time.
Roman Records also worked with Levon and the Hawks, the backing band for Arkansas native and rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins, who had settled in Canada.
“I cut six sides with them,” says Roman. “They were used by Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm as their calling card with the New York office of Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. They became the back-up band to take Dylan from acoustic to electric.”
Of course, they also became successful as a five-piece on their own known as The Band.
While all this was happening, Roman finally gave in to CHUM program director Allan Slaight’s attempts to woo him to the competition. Roman accepted Slaight’s offer of a weekend job there, and eventually disbanded the record label as he became more serious about his radio career.
Roman continued on air at CHUM until 1968, when he transitioned into management. He began to work his way through the ranks for more than three decades. Roman became the program director of CHUM-FM in 1974, guiding them through revolutionary format changes. He added the duties of vice-president of industry affairs and digital radio operations for CHUM Limited in the 1990s. With the acquisition of CHUM by CTV in 2007, Duff was appointed Head of the CHUM Radio Network Division, retiring in 2009.
During his time in the executive suite at CHUM, Roman acted as chairman of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) and oversaw Digital Radio Research, a joint venture of the CAB and the CBC to review and develop policy for the development of digital radio in Canada.
He was heavily involved in the CRTC hearings that eventually resulted in the implementation of Canadian Content (Cancon) regulations, and the MAPL (Music, Artist, Production, Lyrics) system of qualification which took effect in radio in 1971. The regulations continue to be a major factor in the promotion and success of Canadian musicians.
As well, in 1982, he was a co-founder and founding president of FACTOR (The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings), an organisation that continues to fund recording projects for Canadian artists today.
“I named FACTOR, he said, along with Earl Rosen,” Roman remembers. “We went from roughly $200,000 collected from radio broadcasters to annually today, a budget of $23 million. I did all the politicking, up to Ottawa to get the government interested, up to Montreal and Quebec City to get the Francophone support for their version, Musicaction.”
The Order of Canada is just the latest honour to be bestowed upon the radio and music industry legend. The 83-year-old is a member of the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and has also been honoured by both the Canadian and Ontario Associations of Broadcasters. At the 2019 Juno Awards in London, Ontario, Roman was named that year’s recipient of the prestigious Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award.
Roman and his wife Sandra moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake about 5 years ago from the Oakville area. He says it was the uniqueness, climate, historical character and the laid back wine culture that drew them to town.
Sandra volunteers with the Shaw Festival while Duff has been an original and active member of SORE (Save Our Randwood Estate), and can be found most summer days on the greens of either the St. Davids or Queenston Golf Club with his regular foursome.
The consummate entreprepreneur is now involved in a venture that is developing a new technology called e-Radio, which re-purposes FM radio waves to remotely activate and deactivate energy sources such as hot water tanks to reduce electricity waste. He has also begun a venture called Roman Records Presents. It’s an effort to restore the works of Ontario-based bands from the 60s and 70s rock eras.
His son Joel is now 50,working as a senior satellite analyst with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Peterborough. Joel and his wife Diana have two daughters, Caroline, 15, and Emily, 13.
His younger son John, 32, is completing his PhD in Philosophy this year at University of Pennsylvania. And John is another young musical artist that his father is proud to have supported through the years. Besides his expertise in philosophy, John Roman is well-known as an electronic musician, remixing tracks by the likes of deadmau5 and Nouveau Yorican, as well as his own original productions.
Asked which current Canadian artists he wishes he could have worked with, Duff names off Robin Thicke, Shawn Mendes, Diana Krall, Michael Buble, and Alessia Cara. And on the subject of the state of radio and the music industry today?
“I’m not sure that any traditional media - radio, TV and newspapers - could have reversed the impact of the internet and digital technologies,” he says, going on to stand up for the continued relevance of the airwaves. “My mantra for radio is local, local and more local, with strong personalities.”
Since the NOTL Local posted news of his appointment to the Order of Canada, tributes and congratulations have been pouring in from across the country. Many of them have come from fans who listened to him in his early days at CKEY, while former colleagues have also been effusive in their praise. Ronnie King of western Canadian band The Stampeders is amongst the musicians also chiming in to thank Roman for his efforts to promote Canadian music.
Roman has opted to receive his Order of Canada directly from Governor General Mary Simon in Ottawa some time later this year. Maybe by the time he’s back on the golf course this spring he will be able to affix his Order of Canada pin to his golf shirt.