The Ballad of Martin Streek and Me

NewspaperOver the past week or so, I've been communicating with Bert Archer who's been writing an article for the Globe and Mail on CFNY / Edge 102. Bert and I had a nice phone conversation and exchanged several emails and Gtalk messages. He was interested in where CFNY was going following the dismissal and subsequent death of Martin Streek.

I got involved because I broke both Martin's firing and his suicide. CFNY is also one of my favourite blog topics, as it's been my go-to radio station for over 20 years. Even today, as I analyze their song repetition habits and question their playlist, it's the closest match to my musical tastes on Toronto terrestrial radio.

Today, Bert's article about CFNY and Martin Streek was published. You can read it online on the Globe site, or peruse it below. As you'll read, I'm mentioned several times and even quoted.

The Ballad of Martin Streek by Bert Archer, Special to The Globe and Mail

The night 102.1 The Edge fired DJ Martin Streek, he showed up for a birthday party at Andy Poolhall on College Street. Amid a swarm of guests, he bumped into David Marsden, the Toronto radio veteran who'd hired him almost exactly 25 years earlier when he ran the station known as CFNY. According to his former boss, Mr. Streek came over and hugged him, whispering in his ear, "I've just been fired."

Outside the world of sports, personnel decisions rarely make the news. And it's very likely that program director Ross Winters's decision on May 12 and 13 to fire two disgruntled DJs, Mr. Streek and Barry Taylor, wouldn't have either.

Though several Facebook groups sprang up in support of the jockeys - one of them reaching a membership as high as 950 - news of the firings did not go mainstream until July 6. That's when the stunning news of Mr. Streek's death broke in the form of a comment from a friend of Mr. Streek's on torontomike.com. Its proprietor, long-time Edge fan Mike Boon, also added that that Mr. Streek had killed himself.

Soon, the news and comments started popping up on other sites, often in the form of direct attacks on the station whose call letters Mr. Streek had tattooed on his right glute. "The Edge killed Martin," said one torontomike.com commenter.

The Edge is hardly the only radio station in flux, but Mr. Streek's unrelenting enthusiasm for new music made him a symbol of the old, raucous days of radio, a channel of nostalgia unto himself.

"There's something about the 'Spirit of Radio' and what it once was," says Mr. Boon, referring to the old CFNY tagline that inspired a Rush song, "and there's a collective sadness about how radio's devolving in recent years. Martin was a guy who was always there, always solid, extremely likable. When he was let go a couple of months ago, it seemed like a final nail in the coffin."

Yet as Alan Cross sees it, habits have changed as well as taste. A renowned alternative-music historian who preceded Mr. Winters as program director at The Edge, he says, "It was just easier to leave the dial on your favourite station. Now you've got 24 pre-sets."

Mr. Cross, who still works for Edge's owners, Corus Entertainment, was a long-time friend of Mr. Streek's, but rather than casting him as a martyr, he sees the dismissal in practical terms. "A radio station is a business like any other," he says. "People get hired, and sometimes people are let go."

Adapt or die: That's the bitter, and, in Mr. Streek's case, chillingly literal truth. "Our vision is to serve the young adult audience of the GTA," Mr. Winters said in a recent interview, his first since Mr. Streek's death. "We target 18-to-40-year-olds, though mostly the 18-to-34s, and we lean that towards the men."

Though he refuses to comment on the dismissals, he does say that Mr. Cross "had put together a great radio station, but it had its challenges. And when I say challenges, I mean ratings problems."

According to broadcast research company BBM, The Edge is seventh in the Toronto market by number of listeners, with 507,500 people who tune in for at least 15 minutes a week. That's roughly half CHUM-FM's numbers, and 180,000 fewer than its classic-rock brother station, Q107.

Though The Edge might lack listeners, it still enjoys a mythological aura. Originally run out of a little yellow brick house on Main Street in Brampton, the rebellious clarion of alternative music had such a weak signal that fans in Toronto often had to improvise coat-hanger antennas to be able to pick it up. It's the sort of image only a serious lack of money can buy.

But by 1992, star DJs Chris Sheppard, Lee Carter, and Dani Elwell all resigned - Ms. Elwell read out her résumé on air in lieu of notice - because the new program director, Stewart Meyers, was reducing the play lists. But it was still different enough from the rest to attract the current generation of Edge purists, including both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Boon, who only started listening to it after the shift.

Mr. Streek had started out in his last year at high school lugging equipment for the CFNY Road Show - essentially an off-air roving party DJ gig. The '92 shakeup was his big break: he got Mr. Sheppard's old job. From there, he went through a variety of shows, outlasting Mr. Marsden, Steve Anthony, Dan Duran, Live Earl Jive, Kim Hughes, Humble and Fred and Mr. Cross to become the only staff link the station had to its CFNY days.

But as soon as Mr. Winters took over from Mr. Cross last September, Mr. Taylor says both he and Mr. Streek started feeling marginalized.

"Originally, when Alan was program director, Martin and I were participants in the music meetings," he says. "When Ross came in, he just sort of switched the time of the music meetings and made it closed door and didn't let Martin or I know."

The tenor of those meetings had changed, too. According to Mr. Winters, "Our music is not picked by the disc jockeys, it's not picked by me." It's picked by listeners. The station now does three types of audience research every two weeks, and bases its play lists on the results. "If the 18-to-40-year-olds want to hear Foo Fighters and Guns n' Roses, then that's what we'll play."

Mr. Taylor says that he and Mr. Streek made it clear around the office and on the air that they were not happy with the decreasing diversity of the music they were being asked to play. It was a long way from the mid-eighties, when, under Mr. Marsden, listeners were promised $1,002 if they noticed the same song being played more than once in 24 hours. The official limit now is 7 times in 24 hours.

"Martin and I, we both had opinions and would share them on the radio," said Mr. Taylor. "I was told never to talk about anything to do with politics, and that I talked too much about the music." Ditto, he says, for Mr. Streek.

In the last couple of months before they were fired, according to Mr. Taylor, rumours started that the two were on the chopping block. Mr. Streek's own burden got heavier when his long-time romantic relationship dissolved. (Sources would divulge neither her name nor the circumstances of the breakup.)

Then, on May 12, Mr. Taylor got called into a meeting just before his shift. "Ross had an envelope, and he said, 'Ratings at The Edge aren't doing well,' " Mr. Taylor recalls, " 'so we're going to have to make some changes,' and he gave me the envelope, and that was it." The envelope contained his letter of dismissal. According to Mr. Taylor, Mr. Streek was called in for a similar meeting the next day, when he got his own envelope. The last link to the Spirit of Radio days had been severed.

It was that night Mr. Streek showed up to the party on College Street and ran into Mr. Marsden. After a couple of pleasantries, Mr. Streek, who had turned 45 three weeks earlier, leaned in to Mr. Marsden. "You're the only person who ever interviewed me for a job," he said. "I don't know how to interview for a job."

This was not unfamiliar territory for Mr. Marsden, who'd been through several firings, a name change, and now works a 10-hours-a-week jockey gig at Oshawa's 94.9 The Rock. "What we are on the radio is what we is," Mr. Marsden says, remembering the last time he saw his old protégé. "When your job disappears, you ask, 'Who am I,' and too often the answer comes back, 'Nobody.' "

It's a good article that answers some questions we've had these past few weeks. In my quote, I suggested the firing of Martin Streek was the final nail in the spirit of radio's coffin. In actuality, the final nail might be this disturbing fact from the above article.

According to Mr. Winters, "Our music is not picked by the disc jockeys, it's not picked by me." It's picked by listeners. The station now does three types of audience research every two weeks, and bases its play lists on the results. "If the 18-to-40-year-olds want to hear Foo Fighters and Guns n' Roses, then that's what we'll play."

Determining CFNY's playlist is simply too important to be left to the masses.


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Comments (47 - click here to join in!)

Andrew

Great article... nice to see Barry's side of the story. When I read that article I cringe. I remember when I worked for Live Earl in the music department that the weekley music meetings were important. Everyone wanted to know what was coming in that week and wanted their imput known and valued.

When I read that quote above about the music being picked by the listeners a little bit of my heart stops. Mr. Winters reminds of the guy that Mama Carlson hired on WKRP to 'fix' the station.

Cheers,
Andrew

July 25, 2009 @ 11:13 PM

andrew

TIME TO GIVE GET OVER IT - Martin took his own life for his "future". Radio was his life & he was devastated with his departure.

Anymore entries with Martin Streek, I'm going to PUKE.

He was a great DJ but he could have surfaced elsewhere & didn't decide to. His choice.

July 25, 2009 @ 11:16 PM

ottawasteph

Bert only mentions Marty's suicide once. Didn't exploit it. Very classy!

July 25, 2009 @ 11:23 PM

Toronto Mike

Small "a" andrew: This entry isn't about Martin, it's about a fresh and very interesting article about Martin, that just so happens to include a quote from me and a quote from this very blog. If you're offended by yet another Martin entry, you don't have to read.

Big "A" Andrew (who's a different Andrew than the regular one who lent me The Wire on DVD): That's great insight.

One additional note... There's a quote in the article that says they cap a song's repetition at 7 times a day. That's bullshit. In January, during one 12-hour random spot check, a song had already been played 6 times: http://www.torontomike.com/2009/01/revisiting_the_1021_the_edge_p.html

July 25, 2009 @ 11:24 PM

Toronto Mike

@ottawasteph I think it's a fair article - it reminds us radio's a business, gives great insight from Barry Taylor, validates some of the things we suspected about the current PD and stays classy.

I'd love to hear what others think of the article.

July 25, 2009 @ 11:26 PM

elvis

I think there are a lot more interesting and important things to concern ourselves with than a radio station.

July 25, 2009 @ 11:35 PM

Toronto Mike

@elvis Like soccer? :-)

July 25, 2009 @ 11:36 PM

elvis

You asked for comments. I gave you a comment.

July 25, 2009 @ 11:47 PM

bkblades

Well, considering the blog is TorontoMike and CFNY was an important cultural/entertainment tie to Toronto, an article about this particular radio station is quite "important", no? It's informative and gives insight to the changing industry as a whole. Print and radio media are on a downward trend, which is what the article also alludes to in amidst Martin Streek and Barry Taylor's firings.

July 26, 2009 @ 12:18 AM

brad

he used my quote !!

"I was told never to talk about anything to do with politics, and that I talked too much about the music."

that bt quote makes me sick to my stomach - winters must pay

July 26, 2009 @ 12:28 AM

J9

Interesting article - thanks for posting. What is so wrong with the Edge listeners having a say in what is played? As a member of the Edge listener panel - and not in the demographic that they target (ie. not male, and on the other side of the 18-40 age bracket) I hope that my votes are heard. And no, I'm not voting for G&R on this radio station - keep the new music coming, introduce me to new bands, don't keep playing the same old tunes. I can hear that on other stations in this market.

July 26, 2009 @ 8:31 AM

Jason

Toronto Mike said, "determining CFNY's playlist is simply too important to be left to the masses."

Feel free to stop contradicting yourself over and over at any time.

July 26, 2009 @ 8:54 AM

Mary

Are you kidding? Who else should determine a play list? If not left to the masses the DJ's would be playing for themselves. Then, let's see how profitable the radio station does? Nothing, but nothing is not determined by the masses in society.CFNY is no exception.

July 26, 2009 @ 9:14 AM

Buffaloboymike

Mary, no I don't think it should me left exclusively to the DJs, but lets face it this radio station is no better than any other "edge" station now in North America, there is nothing to set it apart other than Sunday Nights at Velvet Underground which essentially is the only time I listen. Its the only time you can get a sliver what it used to be.
Playing songs 6 times in 12 hours is not what this station was meant to be, it was meant to be the cutting edge stuff NO ONE heard before CFNY played it. Stuff you could only hear there, now its joined the masses. Granted its commercial now and when it went big time, there was no going back, but there has got to be a fine line, there has got to be a balance. I actually think 103.3 here in Buffalo is better musically because at least they mix it up a little more lately. Why can't a playlist just be songs that pertain to that stations illustrious history as well as its illustrious future, no song should be off limits, if a DJ wants to play...Streetband's Toast because it was a fan favorite back in the day they should be able to, yet if a fan calls in and wants to hear Tokyo Police Club then play that, why does it have to be force fed to us 7+ times a day? sometimes multiple times within a few hours. I like diversity in radio I like the personalities that give it to us too, I like personalities that can talk up the music and Mr. Streek and Barry Taylor both could do that.

July 26, 2009 @ 10:06 AM

Toronto Mike

@Jason - Welcome back, OJ Boy. I knew you couldn't stay away. You just proved that I didn't block your IP address.

You may have dropped the "OJ" from your tagline, and you even used a different hotmail account, but you left your dna all over that comment. There's no contradiction.

July 26, 2009 @ 10:17 AM

elbatoast

This article is well written. Thanks for posting, although I have a stylistic question: why bold the Toronto Mike parts? We know that you're quoted in it (you say so in the intro). I find the bolding distracting.

July 26, 2009 @ 10:24 AM

Andrew

Buffaloboymike:

You hit it on the head. For me radio is more about the personalities than the music. Especially in this day and age of instant access for all things, listening to radio for me is about the people. I want to know why they care about this band or that song. If I just want to listen to a song for the sake of listening to that song I'll go and find it.

To this day, radio is still theatre of the mind for me. I listen and create that image, that visual of what it is I'm listening to. I can remember listening to Dani's voice in the evening and just smiling - thinking I was at the cottage chilling on a dock... or listening to Shep on a Saturday and thinking that a massive party was going on at 83 Kennedy Road South.

I enjoyed listening to Barry a lot. I got his humour. I got his sense of music importance. I got it that 'he' got it. The same with Martin.

I don't get that now - except for maybe Bookie - but I'm never home to listen to the drive time slot.

I'd love to see a 12 or 24 hour playlist comparison for all the 'so-called' alternative stations in the country that are owned by Corus to see how much diversity there is in the playlists. That would tell us a lot.

July 26, 2009 @ 10:28 AM

Toronto Mike

@elbatoast - I see your point.

I've removed a couple of the boldings... but I'm keeping my quote bold... just for a bit longer.

July 26, 2009 @ 10:34 AM

Kelly

Thank you for posting this article. It's less about Martin Streek and his tragic death and more about a shift in the culture of The Edge. If listeners want to put together THEIR playlist, they can do so in this age of digitally accessible music. I listen to the Edge in the hopes of hearing something new, something inspiring.

I don't want radio personalities to be a reflection of what a certain demographic wants to hear. I want their thoughts, their opionions and their insights. They should be the professionals with their ear to the ground so-to-speak. Give me something new, something exciting that I wouldn't normally pick up by myself. Most of all, give me passion!

We constantly hear how radio media is on a downward trend. It's not surprising if their reaction to that downward trend is to play even more of what I already like and can already download myself. How boring, how predictable and frankly, how sad.

July 26, 2009 @ 11:29 AM

James Edgar

Kelly very well said. Passion and excitment is what we want all of us. BT nad Martin both had that. The new PD apparently does not. The edge is dead. To me anyway.

July 26, 2009 @ 11:54 AM

J9

Kudos Kelly

July 26, 2009 @ 12:30 PM

Toronto Mike

@Kelly - you hit the nail on the head. It's about a shift in culture at the Edge. Martin's dismissal was simply part of that shift.

July 26, 2009 @ 12:33 PM

Fredericton Steve

There is one reason you can't allow the masses to program a radio station - People like familiarity and given the choice they will never switch.

But, what people forget is that even their favorite song was at some point in their life a song by a band they had never heard of.

July 26, 2009 @ 1:13 PM

Ryan

I have been along for this shitty ride since Martin's death was revealed by my brother that awful night.

I have read every comment and have posted a few myself.

I have the following comments:

1. Anyone who blames CFNY for his death is ignorant

2. Anyone who is angry at Martin is just as ignorant. He wanted to go.

3. I am no longer sad. I am celebrating what he gave us. He was the voice of radio for many of us growing up with CFNY such as me.

4. The masses do choose what is played on the radio. It is a fundamental economic principle and will always win in the end. I hate to say it but is it not possible that those chiming in on Martin streak are not the "MOB" that CNFY is trying to target? Radio is a dying medium that will be irrelevant soon. Is management grasping at straws and trying new tactics? Of course they are!!!

5. As an ex-every Saturday Pheonix attendee I am proud to be one of thousands who he has met and touched. I will miss his style. I will miss his voice. But most of all, I will respect the fact that he was done and it was time for him to move on.... to whatever the hell awaits a man who could talk about a song and make it sound like a life changing fundamental movement.

Thanks Mike for covering this and allowing me to remember Martin...because it is clear to me that others feel the same... and how would i have known that without this site (that I often forget exists for months on end...)

July 26, 2009 @ 2:14 PM

andrew

Ryan, your 2nd comment is what I totally agree with. Martin could & would have surfaced elsewhere but MARTIN made his FINAL decision.
TIME TO MOVE ON.

July 26, 2009 @ 3:42 PM

R Manter

FFS MOVE ON! Get over it!!!!!! Your blog is getting very boring!

July 26, 2009 @ 4:40 PM

Race_Coach

Ditto, what Kelly said.
Re: Martin - time to move on.
I can hardly believe that a “listener” is someone who tunes in for just 15 minutes a week. And the station wants to let these people decide what is played? Yikes. I used to listen for many hours a day. Now, I can take maybe an hour a day. In both cases I am one “listener”. Hmmmm, I wander what kind of listener the advertisers would prefer….
There was once a time when CFNY was a resource. We knew CFNY would play the latest/best new music, and keep us on the “EDGE” of new music. We were entertained, educated and our musical horizons were expanded. We could listen all day long without being blasted with the same repetitious mainstream play lists. The current tag line “THE EDGE” is pathetic; as the station does not keep listeners anywhere near the edge of new music. THE EDGE is now run by a board room full of suits and ties, who have a responsibility to make a profit for their share holders. Sadly, in this new corporate environment the true connection with the listener is gone, along with the “SPIRIT” of CFNY. But, that’s the corporate world. Like it or not, whereas CFNY as about music, Corus is about making money.

July 26, 2009 @ 5:35 PM

andrew

R Manter - agree 100%. This is becoming very boring with every other post with Martin, Give it up - HE MADE THE DECISION.

July 26, 2009 @ 5:45 PM

Toronto Mike

1. This entry wasn't about Martin, it was about the Globe article about Martin and CFNY. Kelly nails it above.

2. It's my blog. I'll write what I want to write. You don't have to visit.

July 26, 2009 @ 7:13 PM

andrew

It seems you're waiting for Martin to respond. I don't think he will.

July 26, 2009 @ 8:15 PM

Andrew

wow... that was classless...

and yes, the article was more about the state of the station as opposed to Martin.

well said Mike... it's yours. you're not owned by anyone.... are you?? ;)

July 26, 2009 @ 9:46 PM

R Manter

>>I'll write what I want to write. You don't have to visit.

Yes you seem to be content enough with your mostly sycophantic 6 or 7 readers... guess you don't want anymore

July 26, 2009 @ 10:41 PM

James Edgar

R Manter Start your own blog if you don't like mikes.
WTF is with people? You don't f$%king pay for it get lost if you don't like it.

July 27, 2009 @ 8:36 AM

Argie

Amen to andrew and elvis' comments.

Move on, Mike!!!

July 27, 2009 @ 10:20 AM

Toronto Mike

Find me a blogger who doesn't write about the MSM article quoting him... such an animal doesn't exist.

For those wanting me to move on, fear not... a review of Zack and Miri Make a Porno is imminent.

July 27, 2009 @ 10:25 AM

Andrew (needs a more distinct name)

I am late to this but I think it is a great article. It highlights why the choice was made..if you agree with it or not.

I think it also shows why CFNY is becoming a worse station. A listener panel?

I am curious to see where CFNY ends up. I remember a long time ago when CFNY tried to play Vanilla Ice. I can't remember who the DJ was but he said, "I'll play it, but it doesn't mean I have to like it."

July 27, 2009 @ 11:51 AM

Hector

A good article that brings a little more information out into the open. It sounds like Ross has no idea what he is doing and is relying on a listener panel to tell him what to do.

Listener panels are a good source of information, but a business should not run itself based on it. That is very dangerous. CFNY just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. Why did the take
Alan Cross out?

July 27, 2009 @ 1:18 PM

CQ

Let's not rewrite history by now asserting how great edge radio has been over the past half decade. Those tired old complaints of too much talking and the lateness of added new music have been present for quite a while.

July 27, 2009 @ 2:16 PM

Andrew (needs a more distinct name)

I am not giving Alan Cross a pass on his job. I think Alan did some harm to CFNY. I like Alan as a radio personality and his insight into music but he job as a PD was suspect at best.

He was good at returning e-mail though.

July 27, 2009 @ 3:35 PM

Sammi

Alan Cross, Ross Winters.....does it really matter who the Program Director is anymore?? Does any radio station really need one?? They are all programmed the same way....same cycles....same repetition factor....etc etc etc etc etc.

Complete GARBAGE!

Toronto has to have the worst radio station anywhere. So corporate and safe.

July 27, 2009 @ 4:12 PM

Andrew

Sammi:

That's exactly what I said in the the very first post of these comments. He's the guy Mama Carlson hired to 'fix' WKRP... Even Dr. Johnny Fever figured that one out!!!

Cheers!

July 27, 2009 @ 4:16 PM

Sammi

Hey Andrew....

He even looks like the guy Mama Carlson hired. :)

July 27, 2009 @ 7:02 PM

Andrew

YIKES!!! That's a scary thought ;)

There are only a couple of people that work there now when I was working there - and most of them are behind the scenes. I can't listen to the station anymore - for so many reasons.

July 27, 2009 @ 10:04 PM

Peter

If Mr. Winters rely's on a handful of listeners to pick the music....why is he even there?

The station has never sounded as bad as it does now. In a 3 hour period the repeats were nauseating. I can't listen anymore.

July 28, 2009 @ 8:47 AM

London Romy

Good Stuff Mike -

It has been a few years since I lived there, but on visits home and certainly before I left T.O., Toronto radio was the audio equivalent of a lukewarm bucket of stagnant water - not much going on and if you chose to dip into it you just got covered in slime. As for M.S.'s suicide, just another example companies not giving a shit about the people who work for them.

July 29, 2009 @ 4:16 AM

jason | Getyouroj.com

Hey Wonderbread,

You're actually full of contradictions, like the one above. When I stopped posting, you said you doubted I'd come back. Now that I dropped one comment, you say you figured I couldn't stay away.

Also, I wasn't hiding. If I'd wanted to hide, I would easily obtain an alternate I.P.

The only reason I did come back was to read other people's comments and memories about Martin Streek, not yours. We all know you'll defend The Edge to the death.

For the record that's at least 2 contraditions. Nice try though.

See you in another few months.

July 29, 2009 @ 7:03 PM

Pam

Hey guys. This is Mike's blog, about Mike's world. If you don't like mentions of Martin Streek, then go elsewhere.

As for the guy who fired Streek and Taylor, I'm sure he doesn't lose any sleep. He's just justified it s "business"...

Ryan: "the masses chose what's heard on the radio" - you couldn't be more wrong. Winters is telling them what to listen to and they are following like lemmings over a cliff.


"People will think what I tell them to think" - "Citizen Kane"

July 31, 2009 @ 1:44 PM

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