An update on the progress of the CFNY Spirit of Radio documentary

[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:

  • Geets
  • 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.

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 38293 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

19 thoughts on “An update on the progress of the CFNY Spirit of Radio documentary

  • Looking forward to it, CFNY was the soundtrack to my life growing up.

  • CFNY was one of the best jobs I ever had – from the dumpy strip mall to the Eaton Centre location. If Hal Blackadar is available he would be an amazing guest Alan. I still have a poster from the Brampton location when we moved – Robert Palmer with Deadly Headly tiny heads all over it 🙂 Thank you for putting this together – amazing! Mari-K

  • Was a HUGE fan of CFNY from the late 80’s until 2000, when I moved out of the area. If I had a nickel for every time I shushed somebody in my car when Alan Cross was talking about something awesome back in those days… I’d have a couple hundred bucks.

    Can’t wait to see this doc!

  • Why is Josie Dye missing from this list?

    • She was from the post-1991 era. The doc only covers the period 1978-1991.

  • Still crazy to think I met Robert Smith and Sugercubes-era Bjork in…Brampton.

    • Used to love crawling into bed on a Sunday night, putting on the headphones and taking the journey with Brad McNally and the Eclectic Spirit. Sadly I see Brad passed away a couple of years back from cancer. This was real radio! Thanks NY for getting through my teenage years!

  • No Lee carter? I loved Live from London

  • Let’s also not forget about
    Ron bruchal
    Eddy valiteete

  • I’ve never understood why a radio station isn’t cradle to grave for its listeners. We grew up on CFNY, but Chorus et al. have successfully driven away their customers, the demographic that they cultured and built. That kinda blows my mind. Whatevs Chorus – you do you!

  • Mary Ellen Benninger (sp?) too! I remember listening to Brother Bill, too (or was he after 1991?). Anyway, I cannot wait to see this documentary! Humble and Fred did their show live one day in downtown Buffalo. I got up early to go down and see them.

  • I AM SO LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS… (and yes the caps were meant)….

  • All Night Andre. My into to CFNY. Awesome.

  • This sounds like it will be incredible. Cant wait!

  • I honestly had no idea there was a legit connection between Rush’s song, and the old slogan. I thought I’d just made it up in my own head. And that little tid bit there is exactly the kind of thing that makes me love AC, and of course CFNY. I’ve been looking forward to this little doc for a long time. Can’t wait!

  • CFNY was a huge part of my life in the 80’s & 90’s. I still listen to the Edge online when I ‘m in my home office. I worked night shift at Food City in Brampton through high school & university. We always listened to Humble & Fred when they’d start in the morning and would call in all the time. They started referring to us as the “Food City guys”. One morning we offered to bring them in a bunch of the new Our Compliments products (chips, cookies, ice cream) and they invited us into the studio and watch them do their thing for a couple of hours. It was a really cool experience.

  • Larry Bates (RIP) a good friend and founder of “Stop the Agony of Repeats” turned me on to CFNY back in the day…He always said if you don’t like the tune its just 3-7 minutes out of your life and another great tune is coming up which got me listening all day and night. I was with him and other friends when we picketed the YUNO’s even though I wasn’t really sure we could create change or if I cared as much as Larry did. Sas Jordan approached us that night to ask why we were picketing and when Larry told her she said “if its my song in rotation what do I care?” and Larry answered “if they were playing only hits when you were coming up you might not be here tonight” and she agreed. I was also at the Canada Day festivities in Molson Park Barrie when Larry proudly hired a plane to circle the park with a banner stating “Bring Back The Spirit Of Radio”. Larry and I were handing out Bring Back The Spirit Of Radio buttons up close to the stage and he was chuckling at me because we were asking for $1 donations for a button but every time a cute girl asked for one I paid her loonie. Edge 102 is not the spirit of radio but I think Larry stopped it from becoming just another top 30 station that you switch to during commercials. I am still a big fan of CFNY so much so that when I moved north of Barrie (have you listened to Barrie radio?) during covid I put up an antenna on a pole to bring 102.1 into my back yard live. Looking forward to the documentary…thanks for all you do for new music and its history AC!

  • Hey.. as a college DJ in the heyday of college radio in the 80s and an avid CFNY fan i have been advocating for CFNY and doing a documentary for years.

    WLIR on Long Island and KROQ in LA have long claimed to be the first alternative radio stations in North America, but i believe CFNY pre-dates both of them. Many UK based alternative bands broke in Toronto before they did in the U.S. thanks to CFNY. Toronto became a base to launch many North American concert tours thanks to CFNY.

    The story that should be told is the small underdog that helped change the musical landscape in the Americas.

    You should make a better or at least one on par with the documentary “Dare to Be Different” made by VH1 in 2017 about WLIR that is available on Amazon. WLIR started to broadcast in only 1982.. CFNY was 4 years before WLIR.. CFNY has a much bigger story to tell.l


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