New Commercial Indie Rock FM Station Coming to Toronto

First, full disclosure:  I was part of one of the other 21 groups applying for a license on 88.1 Mhz in Toronto–and one of the groups who were unsuccessful. I just want to get that out of the way.

For the first time in a billion years, Toronto is going to get a new rock station.  The people who own Rock 95 in Barrie, Ontario, were granted the license that was taken away from CKLN for non-compliance. From the looks of their trial website, 88.1 Indie Toronto could be an interesting venture as they go after adults in the 18-49 age group.

From the CRTC’s annoucement;

In the Commission’s view, Rock 95’s innovative proposal for an eclectic, Indie music format FM station focusing on emerging, independent artists from Canada and targeting a core audience of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 will add to the musical diversity of the market. Further, as a new entrant into the market, Rock 95 will enhance the diversity of news voices, while benefitting from synergies with its two stations in Barrie, CFJB-FM and CKMB-FM.

First, the format.  The owners promise station with heavy emphasis on new and emerging talent.  The CanCon level will be 40% (higher than the required 35%) and have promised “emerging Canadian artists per broadcast week” of 60%.  That’s plenty more new (or, as some critics will point out, unfamiliar) music than offered by another other commercial station in the city.

Talk?  Quite a bit when compared to other Toronto stations:  10 minues and 48 minutes.  Of that, 2 hours and 50 minutes will be devoted to news.

Power?  That’s a handicap.  The new station will operated with a transmitter running at 532 watts (no, that’s not a typo) with a maximum radiated power of 875 watts (again, not a typo).  For example, CHFI runs at 44,000, CHUM-FM at 40,000 and the Edge at 35,000.  The station is going to be hard to get outside the borders of Toronto proper.

Benefits?  Just over $2 million over the term of the 7-year license.  The Indie Awards, the Polaris Music PRize, Indie Music Week and North by Northeast are all very happy today.  They also plan a “Performer of the week” initiative on the station’s website that will cost $509,000.

Coolness/Hipster factor?  Potentially very high.  Indie Toronto might have a chance to be to the city what the old CFNY was back in the late 70s and early 80s.  Its transmitter signal was hideous but that didn’t stop people from discovering the station and evangelizing about it.  (See Rush’s “Spirit of Radio,” which was written about the old CFNY.)  

Staff?  See above.  The line to work at the station has already formed.  It’ll be interesting to see what kind of budget they have for talent. 

Financials?  It’ll be a struggle at first, but that’s normal for any new business.  A big part of their success will depend on what they do online. They’ll also need to do a ton of advertising just to let everyone know they exist. Then again, if they can tap into the rabid passions of the indie community, they might strike gold with priceless word of mouth.  

Competition?  The most obvious competitor will be The Edge.  CBC Radio 2 might be impacted somewhat, too.

Sign-on date?  TBA.  There are studios to be built and a staff to be assembled.  I’d expect that take up to eight months.  Maybe more.

My take?  An interesting decision by the CRTC–and that’s coming from someone who was at the hearings back in May and heard the arguments offered by all 22 applicants.  By giving the license to Indie, the Commission looks very good by offering a newcomer a space on the crowded Toronto dial. The Toronto indie scene has been getting bigger and bigger over the last decade and certainly deserves additional exposure.  A radio station home for this music is good for the community.  I wish them all the luck in the world.

Is there a “but?” Not really–but the radio drama in the city isn’t over yet.  BCE has made it known that they will sell Boom 97-3 and The Flow when the Astral purchase goes through.  Given that Rogers, Corus, and Evanov already own the regulatory maximum of FM stations in the market, we’re looking at least one new radio player in Toronto. Or maybe two.

Which companies have pockets deep enough to buy one or both of these established, profitable radio stations? I can think of just two or three.  Who will that be?  Place your bets.

And don’t be fooled by those “Say No to Bell” ads.  The sale will go through but with a whack of additional conditions.



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.

12 thoughts on “New Commercial Indie Rock FM Station Coming to Toronto

  • September 11, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I hope Pattison buys one… BUT I was hoping they'd do modern rock, now there is less need. edge is pretty stale so they better sort their music out or they'll be handing Indie an opportunity to establish.

  • September 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    also… this is just from the sidelines…what do I know, but calling your Indie rock radio station Indie is not very Indie.

  • September 11, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Could you explain the sign on date? I see the site are broadcasting online. I'm not in Toronto right now, but does this mean they AREN'T live to air yet, and the internet feed is something different? Or does sign on date have to do with renewal/extensions?

  • September 11, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    The promise is good, The expectation: beyond high, The indie artists…LEGION… The fan base:…waiting, The competition……well who else cares about Indie artists these days and actually plays them…a choice few and the spots..sparse! Mostly we (indies) are limited to mentions on blogs if you are lucky and that is as close as most may get but truly there are a few great champions of emerging artist..think Candice Khnitiski at the Q for one but again limited severely by play dictation so: blog-o-sphere status doesn't count as spins. Please don't discount or slag CBC who as a purveyor of many fine indie acts can be counted truly as a tireless a promoter/ supporter as you'll ever find, so to me, still a National Treasure, tried and true, but again it's a broad country and they do provide a vast scope. The artistic spirt of Toronto's burgeoning music scene is volcanically vibrant and flush as a talent pool let's hope & convey success to Indie 88.1. indeed count this as perhaps heralding a modicum of change sorely needed… KUDOS to the CRTC you finally are stepping up to the plate be it ever so humble re: The Wattage.. well as a last comment re: the wattage….who cares, if it becomes successful ..the internet will stream it on….the future is choice

    as is The League of Notions Mantra: Good Luck, Have Fun …BE GREAT.

    Phil 'Chill' Hill
    The League of Notions

    Toronto,Ontario Canada

  • September 12, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Oooo, I'm looking forward to seeing what they're like. I've been at a loss since CFNY went downhill, and CBC Radio 2 is a little too minor-key country-rock and folk-rock oriented for my tastes (points to them for trying, though).

  • September 12, 2012 at 3:43 am

    Hey Alan, Not sure what would happen to 97.3, but what's to stop Evanov Group from buying flow and shutting down (giving up) 103.9?

  • September 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm


    From my perspective you may have overlooked one key ingredient in Rock Radio in Toronto.

    Interesting thing is that 94-9 The Rock is the newest player in the Toronto marketplace now with their massive monstrous signal that cover the entire GTA playing mainstream Rock and doing it right.

    And they have the cool/hip factor of the "Old Spirit" with Marsden and Lee Beef and the music and programming bang on, this is the real deal.

    I've already given up on the Edge and replaced it with The Rock a few months ago.

  • September 12, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    RIP – CKLN 88.1FM. While there is a lot of story behind why CKLN fell from grace, it is unfortunate that Toronto no longer has a flagship campus and community radio station on the FM dial.

    “Even in the age of digital media, Canadian artists who do not have major-label support face a tough road to success,” says Leonard Katz, the CRTC’s vice-chairman of telecommunications and chair of the hearing panel. “Rock 95’s station will give much-needed exposure to those artists and listeners will have the opportunity to discover new talent.”

    This quote from the CRTC as found in the Toronto Star is ironic as there was a time that CKLN was THAT radio station.

    To everyone across Canada and the US and around the world, please continue to support campus and community radio. CJSW in Calgary. CiTR in Vancouver. Two great stations in Winnipeg. CKDU in Halifax. CKUT in Montreal. Check out for a list of countless great stations near you.

  • September 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    My money is on Newcap buying Boom or Flow and introducing a triple AAA format.

    @Mitch interesting Evanov angle. They complained about their signal at the CRTC hearings and just read an article about them in the Star. Seems like a lot of posturing going on…

    I presume they would give up 103.9 and return it to the CRTC after purchasing Flow.

  • September 12, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    @Chad Saunders:

    While I definitely respect what you did at CJSW in Calgary, what was happening there (college radio) is the exception not the norm. Too much college radio is an incestuous little circle of programmers who develop radio solely for their own ego not for the audience. The programmers of these stations tend to completely ignore the student body & the community around them. They adopt the "too cool for skool" attitude where any band that has the capacity to fill more than medium sized pub has "sold out" and is no longer cool. Hipster radio at it's finest.

    Toronto has the capacity to support an "indie" music station & I truly believe it's in the stations best interest that it's lower powered. A 1 share on this station will be seen as success & may potentially lead to bigger & better things for the format.

    Corporate radio should be pleased with this announcement because corporate radio NEEDS this. The alternative rock format is burned to a crisp. It's tired, boring and focuses too much playing 90's crap & new releases from 90's bands. The Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Pearl Jam & all their clones are done. Bring on the new delicious music & hopefully it won't be pigeonholed in that "white wool cap hipster" universe.

  • September 12, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    "10 minues and 48 minutes"….is proofreading really that difficult?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.