Post by Matthew Kruk
As music director for CKLW, a major radio station in the Detroit market, she
furthered the careers of Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, the Temptations and many
Rosalie Trombley, Who Picked Hits and Made Stars, Dies at 82
By Neil Genzlinger, Dec. 17, 2021, New York Times
Whatever story you have about the high point of your junior
high school years, Tim Trombley has a better one. The rocker
Alice Cooper once picked him up at his school in a limousine
to take him to lunch. That was one of the perks of having
Rosalie Trombley for a mother.
From 1967 into the early 80s, Trombley was the music director
for CKLW-AM, a radio station based in Windsor, Ontario, with
a signal so powerful that it was heard in dozens of states in
the U.S., dominating the markets of Detroit & other Midwestern
cities in the days before the emergence of FM. A 1971 headline
in The Detroit Free Press called her “The Most Powerful Lady
in Pop Music,” because her tastes went a long way toward
determining what was played on the station, which in turn went
a long way toward determining what was played in the rest of
Sometimes, Mr. Trombley related in a phone interview, his
mother would bring demo records home, and he'd be allowed to
play them. She noticed that he was playing one quite a lot:
Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen.”
“She made it known to the label, to Warner Bros., ‘Tim has
been playing this song over and over,’” Mr. Trombley said,
and she slipped it into CKLW’s rotation. In late 1970 it
became Mr. Cooper’s breakout hit. And so Cooper, a Detroit
native, took young Tim to lunch one day as a thank-you.
“I knew that mom had a really cool job,” Mr. Trombley said.
Trombley died on Nov. 23 at a long-term care center in
Leamington, Ontario, where she had been living for some time.
She was 82. Mr. Trombley said the cause was complications
of Alzheimer’s disease.
Trombley seemed an unlikely starmaker. She was a single mother
of 3 when she started at CKLW as a part-time switchboard
operator. The Free Press once wrote that she “looks like
Doris Day’s next-door neighbor.” But she was, as newspapers
often described her, “the lady with the golden ear” who, with
her no-nonsense demeanor, could hold her own in the male-
dominated music business of the day.
The list of stars who owed her a debt of gratitude was long.
“You’d come in in the morning,” Keith Radford, a former newsman
at the station, said in an interview for “Radio Revolution,” a
2004 Canadian documentary feature about CKLW, “and there’d be
big bouquets of flowers at the front desk, from Elton John or
the Rolling Stones.”
Trombley would hold court on Thursdays for record promoters
who hoped to get their new songs onto CKLW’s “Big 30” playlist.
“If they wanted the record really bad, they would bring the
act with them,” Johnny Williams, a former D.J., said in the
documentary. “So it wasn’t unusual every Thursday to see the
Four Tops, the Temptations, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder,
Sammy Davis Jr.”
One artist who made such a pilgrimage was Tony Orlando, who
recalled in “Radio Revolution” that Trombley had heard him
out that day and offered him an invitation.
“Rosalie said, ‘I’ll tell you what: If your next record comes
within the ballpark of a commercial record, a playable Top 40
record, because you took the time to come here — but only if
it has the goods — I’ll give it consideration big time,’” he
said. “And that next record was ‘Yellow Ribbon’” — that is,
Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’Round the
Ole Oak Tree,” the top-selling record of 1973. “And she was
the first to put it on the air.”
Rosalie Helen Gillan was born on Sept. 18, 1939, in Leamington.
Her father, Shell, was a general foreman at the Ford Motor Co.
of Canada, and her mother, Katherine (Piper) Gillan, was a
After graduating from high school, she worked at Bell Canada
for a time. She married Clayton Trombley in 1958. She took
the switchboard job at CKLW in late 1962, working in that
capacity for several years and, as The Vancouver Sun put it
in a 1973 article about her, “inadvertently picking up the
politics of the music business simply by learning to handle
sometimes troublesome record-promotion people who arrived at
the station to ply their wares.”
Around 1968, Trombley and her husband separated (they later
divorced), and at about the same time she was offered the
chance to take over for the station’s record librarian, who
was going on maternity leave. The station’s program director
soon took note of her ear for hits and made her music director,
a job she held, Tim Trombley said, until she was laid off in
the early 80s in a downsizing effort.
Trombley didn’t rely only on her own tastes; she'd call R&B
stations in the area to see what they were playing, which
led her to give CKLW’s 50,000 watts of exposure to Black
artists. She similarly boosted the careers of Canadian artists
like Gordon Lightfoot and the Guess Who, as well as a number
of Detroit-area stars, including Bob Seger.
“Seger never had any problem getting on CKLW,” she told The
Detroit Free Press in 2004 when Seger was inducted into the
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “Look at the songs. Listen to the
lyrics. I’m a lyric freak. When someone is saying something
in a song, I can’t be the only person interested in it.”
Well, Seger almost never had any problem getting on the
station. Some of his new material came her way in the early
70s, and she panned it. He sat down and wrote a song about
her called “Rosalie” — a tribute to her importance, but with
a sly, reproving undercurrent that they both laughed about later.
“He was pissed off when he wrote that song about me,”
she said. “He told me!”
Payola — offering payoffs to get a song played — was part of
the radio business during Trombley’s reign, and her son said
it was common knowledge in the industry that she was a single
mother, so some promoters would make it subtly known to her
that there was money available.
“She made it less subtly known,” he said, “that if they
wanted to continue to meet with her every week, that wasn't
something that was gonna get their record on the radio.”
She had her musical favorites, esp. Neil Diamond. But that
didn’t necessarily win him radio time.
“I’m not playing his current release,” she told The Sun in
1973, tactfully not naming it, “because it looks like a
midchart record, and I won’t go with it when I know out front
that it’s only midchart.”
In addition to her son Tim, she's survived by another son,
Todd; a daughter, Diane Lauzon; and a grandson.
In 2016 Ms. Trombley received a special Juno Award, the
Canadian equivalent of a Grammy. Radio Trailblazers, an org
promoting women in Canadian radio, has an annual award
recognizing women who have “blazed new trails in radio.”
She received the first, in 2005, and it's now called simply
the Rosalie Award.