Save JAZZ.FM91 May Just Do It!
Major changes at Toronto's jazz station are sparking optimism about a brighter future for the publicly funded FM. Here are some reminiscences and the fascinating story behind the station's creation. Pictured: Joe Sealy and Jay McShann
By Bill King
"No music should be weaponized and used as an implement to settle scores, bully, intimidate, and worn as a puffy suit to inflate one’s ego! Music floats about the cosmos in and past our ears. Try grabbing, harnessing and taking ownership. Only a fool would attempt to do so.”
I posted this on the Save JAZZ.FM91 Facebook page and it seemed to reflect a sentiment all of us feel at this moment.
I have deep feelings dating back to my time at the jazz station in transition when it was CJRT-FM and under the leadership of Chuck Camroux.
The day I walked in the front door of then Sherbourne Street studios, I felt at ease and someone who had earned a voice at the table and behind the microphone. Chuck was affable and in design mode; that being looking ahead to the day CJRT-FM would be branded JAZZ.FM. The sketches were laid before me and vision in place.
While those changes were being made and groundwork prepared Chuck allowed me air-time to create distinct programming: The creation of Joe Sealy’s Duets, the Blues Piano Big Jam - five great pianist trading licks, live on air – The Divas in Song – five settled and accomplished local singers and a couple of newcomers, Sophie Milman and Emilie-Claire Barlow, in the mix.
What stood out about Chuck was his love for the musicians. Every time Joe and I would tape an episode, Chuck was in the room with the players for a handshake, a back slap, and photo.
When Chuck departed, and new regime moved in, all spontaneity and comfort were drained. There would be no more interviewing by on-air personalities, no more independent specials – everything was centralized – capped and filtered through one body. In one short phrase – the joy was gone, as was I.
The recent spat between remaining on on-air personalities, many who stayed over the decade-plus and lost their gigs, were vindicated in their recent “push-back” campaign against (alleged) workplace bullying, intimidation and threats, as donor and businessman Brian Hemming challenged to have the board overturned by “blue proxy” vote. That nine-vote margin may be exactly what saves the day. What Brian and his dedicated legal team and aspiring board of directors were able to do is remarkable.
There is great passion for the station’s survival, and I feel certain, much like Soulpepper Theatre; with new faces, workplace codes, and vision, a situation better suited and inclusive will rise from the near ashes.
There have been many postings on Save JAZZ.FM91 Facebook Pages. Below is a bit of back history on how the station and branding came about from then head Chuck Camroux, and from Broadcast Dialogue.
Chuck Camroux: This is how we got the JAZZ.FM domain name. I was determined, especially after the many focus groups that we held, with our listeners and those that were/are jazz fans and listened to Ted O’Reilly’s daily and evening jazz feature. But I digress.
I am a marketing-based programmer who happens to have risen to higher management, but my roots were always active in promotion and programming. Plus, I am a serial entrepreneur (to this day). Anyway, I decided that if/when I convinced the then “Board” to make the switch, which wasn't going to be easy as the station had a long history of classical music between college lectures (long before the Internet) sprinkled with some featurette music programs as I call them.
But I felt it was going to be very important that we make a positive splash when we change format. Enough that the free publicity was louder and more positive than what was sure to be the negative publicity. This had to start with a new look, name, and attitude. Many today, especially radio only people, don't realize that there was another issue, we had a whole division called “Open College” and many people worked in that division. I knew that would probably be the biggest obstacle in the change.
I gathered much of the things I learned from working with Ted Rogers and Keith Dancy for ten years. That was both a corporate and entrepreneurial organization. I made a list of the significant issues, from branding, to how do I get rid of “Open College” and not have issues, with the classical fans of which there were many, etc. And I went after each item on my list beginning a few months before I had to convince the powers that be.
I had been on the Internet since 1993, and this was very early into 2000, I knew that the net was heading into the learning territory, so I suggested to Ryerson that they needed to take “Open College” and move everything where it made the most sense, the net. But to back up my plan, I went to York U who were moving strongly into the net and suggested they buy “Open College” from us. It didn't take long for Ryerson to hear of my discussions with York, and they immediately made a plan to take OC off our plate.
Next, I needed to rebrand CJRT-FM Inc. I don't know why jazz logo-ing didn't hit me right away, but it didn't. Remember, nobody knew what we were planning except my trusty assistant Susan. Anita and I were at our daughter Dale's home in St. Catharines for dinner one evening and along with co-owning a restaurant with her husband, she was creating websites for people (a couple of large Canadian corporations) and we were talking about what she was doing and how they were creating some online brands etc.
In the middle of that discussion, it hit me, we have to get JAZZ.com. That night at home back in Toronto, I stayed up late on the computer to find a domain name. All the JAZZ domains were taken. There weren't as many extensions as there are now, so I looked at the ownership of all the taken JAZZ domains. One looked less corporate and actually wasn't active on the net. By morning, I had the telephone number in Florida and name and went to the station and called him.
His first reaction was, not interested. He said he was a jazz fan and thought that someday he'd do something with the domain. I'm a talker, so I decided to engage him in a lengthy discussion, because the longer I can have a positive conversation with him, the better my chances of convincing him to give up the domain name. In the conversation he says that he's an ex-Torontonian and asks if the various jazz clubs are still going, like the Senator. We get friendlier and I finally tell him why I want the domain. He says, "you mean the old Ryerson station, is it still operating?" I tell him barely, and that's why we need to change, but we can't go rock, top 40, country or some other mainstream format because the CRTC probably wouldn't allow it.
After another 10 or 15 minutes, he says "Hell, I'll sell it to you, but only for that purpose." Now comes price negotiating time. I said we are a member; we're a non-profit without a bankroll. He gives me a number; I said how about half, pause - and an OK. I told him I'd send a bank draft by messenger later that day and he gives me the address - his law firm. Good thing I found out that at the end because I would have been more cautious and probably intimidated throughout the conversion.
I sent the draft, he transferred the domain to CJRT-FM, and I got an agency in Toronto to design the logo. I just said, make it bold. Then I moved on to the next issue on my list. But that's how JAZZ.FM came to be in Toronto.
The Incoming JAZZ.FM board includes former Astral, Newcap management
“The new board members include communications consultant Brian Hemming, who has been the face of the Save JAZZ.FM effort; Rohit Bhardwaj, CFO of Chemtrade Logistics Income Fund; Christopher Churchill, former president of Churchill Cellars; Dave Cole, founder of Specialty Data Systems (SDS); Pat Holiday, former VP of Programming for Astral Media; Noëlle Jenkinson, an agent and manager at AMI – Artist Management Inc.; former JAZZFM board member Joseph Manzoli, founder of Colourfast Corp Inc., who resigned in early 2018 over governance concerns; Catherine Mitro, a professor in the Humber College Music Department; Lorie Russell, former GM of Newcap Radio’s Toronto stations, who is now self-employed as a consultant; educator and noted Canadian guitarist, Lorne Lofsky, and Bryan Snelson, Vice-president, Associate Portfolio Manager with RBC Dominion Securities. Snelson is a former station fundraiser and on-air financial commentator. Each of the incoming board members is a station supporter, long-time donor member and/or shares connections to the jazz community. Friday’s vote was the latest chapter in a saga that began last March when a group of a dozen current and former employees made a series of complaints against station CEO Ross Porter and other senior staffers, alleging sexual harassment and perpetuation of a toxic workplace culture rooted in bullying and belittling.