The 12 Things You Never Knew About Ted Rogers

He was the man with the plan and the ability to get it carried out, despite naysayers who told him he’d go broke. The fact that time after time he almost did and then somehow pulled it off anyway, shows what a risk taker and entrepreneur he was.

Here are just a few of the things you may never have known about the late Ted Rogers.

1) He came by his legendary agressiveness honestly. His father, Edward S. Rogers, created the world’s first batteryless radio in an era where the medium was king but considered a piece of static furniture. His dad also received a licence for an experimental TV station – way back in 1931! TV as we know it in this part of the world didn’t really start here until the debut of Buffalo’s WBEN in May 1948.

He lost his dad at the age of five and was never happy about how his family’s budding legacy was divided up. It sparked a desire to succeed that never ended.

2) His family remains immortalized in Canadian radio as the “RB” in radio station CFRB, which stands for Canada’s First Rogers Batteryless, arguably for a generation this country’s most famous station. When he couldn’t buy back the entity that bore his family’s imprint, he decided to beat them at their own game. It took years, but he eventually saw that dream come true.

3) He was never a well man, having suffered the loss of some of the sight in his right eye due to an ailment in infancy. Later in life, he also survived digestive tract troubles, an aneurysm, cancer and a heart condition. Knowing his time may have been short helped to spur him on to succeed in a hurry and take chances, realizing the bigger the risk, the better the return.

4) He bought his first radio station when he was still at Osgoode Hall Law School, scraping together $85,000 to buy CHFI, an FM station, at a time when very few people even had an FM radio. Despite an audience share of just 3 per cent, he built that one outlet into a media empire, eventually adding an AM counterpart.

When the latter moved from 1540 on the dial to 680 and changed from CHFI AM to CFTR (the “TR” stood for “Ted Rogers”) and became a dominant Top 40 radio station, his broadcasting empire had begun.

5) It was CHFI that spurred his interest in cable. In the mid-60s, he wanted the few existing cable operators to carry the station on a spare channel. But the more he looked at the business, the more he realized what it might become and he was awarded his first licenses for Toronto, Brampton and Leamington.

It was a daring move, because Canadians – especially those in Toronto – were able to receive all their signals off an antenna. This was in the day when there were no specialty cable channels and laying the wire was expensive. Who thought anyone would ever pay for it?

But Rogers laid the infrastructure to make it one of the biggest and most successful franchises in the world. As a result of his foresight, Canada remains one of the most heavily cabled countries on earth.

6) He was considered the wealthiest man in Canada, worth $7 billion, and came in at #173 on the Forbes list of the world’s richest men. Considering where he started from, it was quite a remarkable achievement.

7) Rogers gave a host of now legendary people their shot at the big time. Among them: John Tory, who was hired to work for the company’s radio stations as a journalist in the early 70s. He went on to law school and politics and is now the leader of the Ontario Conservatives.

“I can personally attest to the fact that he was there on the good days, but more importantly he was there on the difficult days, too,” Tory recalls in a statement.

8) He flirted with bankruptcy many times to invest in businesses or ideas he believed in. When CFTR switched to an all news format from playing Top 40 music, one of his executives told the Rogers board that he was planning to take a profitable station and turn it into one losing $11 million a year.

Rogers laughed and approved the change, and sure enough, the losses mounted. But 680 News is now one of the most profitable and listened to stations in Canada and has spawned imitators around the country.

9) He was the man who never seemed to sleep. Executives often recall their phone ringing at 3am with a reminder of some important work or hearing “Ted” excited over some new business prospect. It was not unusual for them to arrive at the office before dawn, only to see Rogers already there – or just leaving from the previous day.

10) He was a compulsive list maker and always had seemingly hundreds of things to do on them. The amazing part is that he got most of them done.

11) While driven and sometimes cantankerous, facing the pressures of running an empire, Rogers could also be quite personable. Many of his 30,000 employees recall meeting the man who would offer them a joke or a firm handshake, far from the high and mighty executive they were expecting.

12) He never wanted to retire. Rogers, although ailing at 75, was insistent that stopping work was never on his agenda. He was true to his word to the end. While he reluctantly turned over stewardship of his empire to trusted executives when his final heart ailment struck in October, he was in charge in the boardroom right up until the end of his life. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“If there was anyone who would have chosen to live another 75 years if he could, it would have been Ted Rogers,:” notes John Tory. “Because he still had so much he wanted to do.”

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