My Music Discovery Part 2 – The Spirit of Radio

Rush had a hit single from its Permanent Waves album titled “The Spirit of Radio.” I was a huge Rush fan. (Neil Peart’s last name is pronounced ‘Peert’, not ‘Pert’.) I loved their stuff which satisfied my need for rock music that had just a bit more than the typical verse-chorus arrangements that were so common on commercial radio. Luckily, Detroit radio didn’t totally abstain from playing more time-demanding pieces such as Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand” (10:26) or even Rush’s “Cygnus X-1 Book II – Hemispheres” (18:04) or Yes’ full version of “Roundabout.” I had a bit of a taste for the eclectic.

After some digging, I found out that The Spirit of Radio was about a Toronto radio station with the call letters CFNY. At 102.1 on the dial was a radio station like no other. I was fortunate enough to have moved to within signal reach of CFNY for a few years. My musical listening repertoire went from the equivalent of a backyard swing set to Disneyworld. CFNY played everything. It was a station with no format. I got to hear the original blues songs that Led Zeppelin got its inspiration from – and the re-interpretation of great pop classics made supper-hip such as Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In the Sky.” I heard Broadway re-interpreted as punk and pop re-done as synthesizer new wave. The categorical lines that defined music such as rock, disco, jazz and even big band were blurred. It was easy to understand the station’s now official call by-line “the spirit of radio.” It was music heaven. Every day was fresh; an opportunity to be exposed to something totally new and wonderful. When I visited home for weekends, I bemoaned having to put up with the redundancy of yet another super-set of Bob Seger (all due respect). CFNY wasn’t totally immune from the forces that create corporate formulae. Commercial interests began having an influence on the station which slowly began to become more mainstream while the rest of the world created a new category: alternative music.

Alternative music began to creep onto Detroit’s horribly myopic airwaves via the market’s Windsor stations. Canadian content rules saved the area from total mediocrity. Alternative music eventually became mainstream and ironically not so alternative. I moved back to Windsor. Music was boring again and I stopped listening to it for a detour to talk radio. A short but wonderful oasis on the radio landscape appeared on Wayne State University’s NPR affiliate WDET, which had music segments hosted by Martin BanDyke and Judy Adams. They were free to play anything they wanted and there was no question these two loved music. For a few hours every day, I was taken back to the best of even what Toronto had to offer. A new station manager took over in 2006 and terminated the stations music shows along with their hosts.

Today, thanks to nostalgia and many competing interests for my attention, there is a reasonable selection on the radio but it is nothing like the best days of CFNY or WDET. There are some new supposedly non-format stations that are briefly interesting but if you listen to them for a few days, you get the full panorama of their rotation. Move on, there is nothing left to see here.

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