Around 1968, Ms Trombley and her husband separated (they later divorced) and around the same time, she was offered the opportunity to take over from the station librarian, who was going on maternity leave. The station’s program director quickly took note of her ear for hits and appointed her musical director, a job she held, Tim Trombley said, until she was fired in in the early 1980s in an effort to downsize.
Ms. Trombley didn’t just trust her own tastes; she called the area’s R&B stations to see what they were playing, which prompted her to give black artists a 50,000-watt CKLW exposure. It has also 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 has never had any problem getting into CKLW,” she told the Detroit Free Press in 2004 when Mr. Seger was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “Look at the songs. Listen to the lyrics. I am a fan of words. When someone says something in a song, I can’t be the only person who cares about it.
Well, Mr. Seger almost never had a problem getting up to the station. Some of her new songs came to her in the early 1970s, and she swept them away. He sat down and wrote a song about her, called “Rosalie,” which had a sarcastic wink.
“He was pissed off when he wrote this song about me,” she said. “He told me!”
Payola – offering awards for having a song played – was part of the radio business during Ms Trombley’s reign, and her son said it was common knowledge in the industry that she was a single mother, so some promoters would subtly let him know that there was money available.
“She made it known in a less subtle way,” he said, “that if they wanted to continue meeting her every week, it wasn’t something that was going to get their radio record.”