Ongoing History of New Music

30 years ago today, the first episode of “The Ongoing History of New Music” aired on the radio

I can’t believe it, but it’s been 30 years since my Ongoing History radio show first aired. It was 7pm, Sunday, February 28, 1993, on 102.1 the Edge. If anyone had suggested this would still be my job three decades later, I would have automatically assumed you were insane. Yet here we are. And yeah, it’s insane–but in a good way.

Here’s the backstory.

In late 1992, there was an ownership change (another one!) at the station, marking the official end of the Spirit of Radio era. Frankly, it was time. That approach lasted almost 15 years, an absolute eternity in the radio industry. Music was changing as were audience habits and technology. The new management briefly pondered getting CFNY out of playing alt-rock entirely, but research told them that all that was really necessary was some tweaking.

Calling the station “CFNY” was slowly retired in favour of “The Edge,” in keeping with the industry-wide trend of giving radio stations a nickname inside of using just the official call letters. Another trend was to start using the frequency of the station–in this case, 102.1–to help people find and remember the station on the new-fangled digital radio dial.

The tweaking of the programming also included making the station more inclusive and less cooler-than-thou, an attitude that had become entrenched and was holding back growth. To make things more inclusive, someone in management came up with the idea of creating a weekly documentary that would place alt-rock in context for all the new listeners we hoped to get. At some point, “The Ongoing History of New Music” was written on a whiteboard.

At the time, Canadian FM radio had to operate under a series of rules that ensured it would remain distinct from AM music radio, which was still quite a powerhouse. That included a requirement to air so many hours of “foreground programming” each week. These were long-form (30 minutes to three hours) information-based shows that may or may not involve music. In other words, “Ongoing History” was also created to meet the rules and requirement’s of the station’s license.

But who would host the show? One person approached but declined. Then, for some ungodly reason–maybe because management became aware I had a history degree–the job was assigned to me. I was free to decline, I was told, in which case I would receive a manila envelope containing a separation agreement and a modest severance package. I’d be ushered out the door with well-wishes for my future endeavors.

Complicating matters was should I accept, I would be severed from full-time employment and hired as an independent contractor for doing the show, I’d also be re-hired as a part-timer responsible for weekend shifts from 6a-12n Saturday and Sunday. This was a far, far cry from my cushy 2-6p Monday-Friday shift which I loved so much.

Not ideal.

But I’d just gotten married and bought my first house. I’d been doing radio for over a decade and didn’t really have any portable skills. So I reluctantly accepted.

I remember sitting in my living room in early February 1993 wondering what the hell I was going to do. This was pre-internet, obviously. Alt-rock was still so new that there were precious few books written on the subject. All I had to go on was personal experience (dubious and incomplete), some magazine subscriptions (expensive, especially the British ones), and a couple of filing cabinets filled with official record company press releases. That was it.

“Where am I supposed to start?” I asked management?

“I don’t know. What about making the first program a preview, a trailer for what the show will offer in the weeks ahead?” So that’s what I did.

For the first time ever, that first episode is now available as part of the official Ongoing History podcast archive. That was 980-is episodes, five books, somewhere around a dozen compact disc compilations, one museum exhibit, and countless speaking gigs ago. And even though there was a three-year gap between 2011 and 2014 when Corus and I decided to see other people, there’s no sign that the show will end anytime soon. So yes, 27 years of the show but 30 years since it began.

Life is full of zigs and zags. That’s been my story. Next milestone? Show number 1,000 sometime this fall. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, there’s this article in the Toronto Star. Oh, and then there’s Toronto Mike’s podcast, too.)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38410 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

8 thoughts on “30 years ago today, the first episode of “The Ongoing History of New Music” aired on the radio

  • Absolutely Amazing Alan and congratulations on this milestone. I’ve been with the journey since the early days and always look forward to new shows. Here’s to another 30 years – or whatever you’re willing to do and I will take it!

    Reply
  • OMG! The show was thrust upon you?! That’s crazy… it just always felt like the show you were meant to host.

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  • Bravo! I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been listening but every episode is grand fun.

    Here’s to as more more as you care to make.

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  • 30 years already?? What the heck???

    I wasn’t in YYZ for the original broadcast, and I can’t remember when the show first aired in Vancouver on CFOX, but I know that when I first heard it I was immediately hooked. I would stay up late to listen to it (IIRC, it was aired about 10pm at first), and totally enjoyed every episode.

    I have fallen behind on the streaming playlist, but occasionally I binge it to get caught up. Refinding the show on Spotify has been one of the best parts of the last few years for me.

    Here’s to plenty more years of Alan teaching us about the Ongoing History of New Music!

    Reply
  • Well done Allan!! I’ve been listening since the beginning and look forward to every new episode!
    Cheers 🍻

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  • Congrats to you Alan and to your producer Rob. This is an achievement and the Ongoing History is a culturally-significant body of work. I am a music fan and you have helped guide my fandom. I appreciate you. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Congrats Alan and the On-Going History Team!! WOW! 30 Years is quite an accomplishment!! My wife and I have been with you since the very start and although we’ve floated in and out of the realm of “Regular Listeners” we’ve always found our way back to Alan’s voice and the great content that the whole team puts together. Congrats and Thank you again for 30 years of amazing content!

    Reply
  • I’ve been listening to your show since I heard it on 102.1 The Edge in grade 6 and I loved it. Every time there was a new episode, I would park my ass in front of the radio and listen to it. Congrats and here’s to many more episodes!

    PS. Can you do an episode on The Police?

    Reply

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