[HENDERSON, NEVADA] – One of the most exciting times in the history of Canadian–hell, North American!–radio were the Spirit of Radio years, the time when CFNY-FM/Toronto (well, okay…Brampton) was breaking all kinds of new music. Punk, New Wave, and alternative were all new things between 1978 and 1991, and the station was on the forefront of spreading this gospel, first from a broken down little yellow house and then later from a dilapidated strip mall of 83 Kennedy Road South.
If you grew up in the Toronto area, southern Ontario, or Western New York, you may have fond memories of listening to the station back then. And not just for the music, either. The on-air staff–quirky, knowledgeable, and occasionally weird–was an essential part of the programming. It was a pretty wild time for CFNY and its audience.
The station’s slogan at the time was The Spirit of Radio. Hey, Rush even wrote a song about us!
And if you go back to the Permanent Waves album, read the little dedication at the bottom of the lyrics for the song. Oh, and what’s the Anthem Records catalogue number for the album? It’s ANR-1-1021.
CFNY, of course, is still with us and is also very much alive in well as 102.1 The Edge. Hell, I’m still there some 37 years after I walked up the stairs of that strip mall on October 3, 1986.
A group of us (including some CFNY alumni) have long wanted to do a documentary on those Spirit of Radio years because so much happened and so much music was broken in North America by the station. There are stories that need to be told and preserved for all time. And we have begun.
The CFNY Spirit of Radio documentary is now in production. As I write this, I’m in a house in Henderson, Nevada, outside of Las Vegas getting set up for the next round of interviews. This follows a first batch of interviews in Toronto with former staff and local musicians. The US excursion precedes a trip to London, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow next month for some chats with artists from those years who remember the station fondly.
Here’s just a partial who we’ve talked to so far:
- David Marsden
- Ivar Hamilton
- JR (Jim Reid)
- Liz Janik
- Maie Pauts
- Scott Turner
- Earl Jive and Beverly Hills
- Deadly Headley Jones
- All-Night Andre (Andre Tilk)
- Roger Roadshow (Roger Powell)
- Steve Macaulay
- Humble and Fred
- Capt. Phil Evans
- Brother Bill
- Lee Eckley
- Er, me.
- Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo)
- Bruce Cockburn
- Ben Kowalewicz (Billy Talent)
- Ron Hawkins (Lowest of the Low)
- Lol Tolhurst (The Cure)
- Deryck Whibley (Sum 41)
- Darrin Pfeiffer (Goldfinger)
- Merck Mercuriadis (Hipgnosis Song Fund)
- Howie Klein (former president of Reprise Records)
- And many, many behind-the-scenes staffer who have plenty of fun dirt on the place.
Still to come:
- Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee (Rush)
- Peter Hook (Joy Division and New Order)
- Andy McCluskey (OMD)
- Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill (Simple Minds)
- John King (Gang of Four)
- Steven Page (Barenaked Ladies)
- More behind-the-scenes staffers who will have more fun stuff. Believe me, the list has at least 100 people on it.
We’re still in the process of booking artists. And if ANYONE knows the whereabouts of Chris Shepherd, please get in touch. That–Finding Shep–is turning out to be a film in itself.
Sadly, though, we’ve lost Pete Griffin, Martin Streek, Don Berns, Nick Charles, James Scott, a few others who, as Marsden says, “got their wings.”
There are also plans for a “fan day,” where listeners of the station will be invited to a location where we’ll speak to them about their memories of The Spirit of Radio. If you’re one of them, stand by. Meanwhile, this would be a good time to dig out some of your old CFNY memorabilia, t-shirts, and paraphernalia.
We have to finish the first cut by November 3. The goal at this point is to submit a 90-minute version to SXSW to hopefully get a screening there in March 2024. And if all goes well, there should be a teaser video before long. Maybe in time for Canadian Music Week? We’ll see.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Send them to me though [email protected]. And what this space for further updates.