Toronto Mike

The Ballad of Martin Streek and Me


Over 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 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 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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