Growing up in western New York, like other teens around the globe, I was obsessed with music. In Buffalo there were two stations that I listened to. 97 Rock and 103.3 WPHD. 97 Rock changed to an easy listening format while I was in high school leaving only 103.3. Sure there were others. If I wanted to hear Classic Rock I had a couple of choices. However I had no interest in listening to BTO or the Allman Brothers day after day. There was also Kiss 98.5 which played nothing but top 40 bubble gum pop. Now, while I enjoyed the rock radio that was on in Buffalo, I found myself drawn more to the New Wave that Mtv was pushing through my television set. Van Halen and AC/DC were quickly being replaced by the Psychedelic Furs and the Cure. The problem was though that there was no radio station where I could hear the new wave of music. That all changed when I got into college and a friend turned me onto a station out of Toronto Canada called CFNY. The Spirit of Radio as they were known then gave me exactly what I was looking for and more. I received my fresh doses of new music, but something more came with it. I didn't just hear the music, I experienced it. CFNY was the first station I had listened to that brought themes to its listeners. Eclectic Hours were something I had never heard of. I was used to DJs that simply took over from one another. And what was this? They are telling me about the artist I just listened to? Simply Amazing! I have traveled all over the world in my job. I have been to 44 US States, 3 Canadian Provinces, Great Britain, Mexico, Honduras and more Asian countries than I can count. To date I have yet to come across a radio station that brings about the musical experience the CFNY does. Well I did listen to a station in San Diego that played the most awesome Spanish language alternative I have ever heard, but as I can only speak about a dozen words of Spanish, they still fall short of CFNY. Although if you can find a copy of Just Like Heaven by the Cure in Spanish, pick it up, it is incredible. Damn me and my no Spanish speaking ability, I can't even tell you who covered it so you can get it. But I digress.
CFNY had such an impact on me that once I am within range, my radio is immediately tuned to 102.1 just so I can get that dose of good radio I so desperately need. A few weeks ago I logged onto their site. Actually I should be slapped for that. All these years and I could have been listening all along. Well while I was going through the site, I was pleased to discover the name Alan Cross listed as still being at the station. Alan Cross was always my favorite of the CFNY DJs. I couldn't tell you why, he just brought something extra to the music. I discovered that he was the host of The Ongoing History of New Music, a show I listened to whenever I was in town. I have spent hours over the past couple of weeks catching up on all the old shows. They are available for listening to on their site and if you don't go listen to them while you play the game you are robbing yourself of a truly enlightening musical education. In addition to hosting the show, Mr. Cross is also the program director for CFNY. I am pleased that he has agreed to be interviewed by me for Bloodletting. In addition to his work in radio, Mr. Cross is also a published author having penned several books on modern music to include bios on David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails. I have never met Mr. Cross (Although I would love to), I don't know anyone who works at CFNY past or present. I have also never received any money from anyone in Canada, so I feel no ethical guilt when I say, buy Alan Cross' books and listen to CFNY everyday! Now on to the interview!
Why did you get into radio? My grandmother gave me a transistor radio for my sixth birthday. That got me hooked. All these voices coming from...somewhere was just so cool.
You have been doing this for quite awhile. What keeps you going? It's something I love to do so. It's not so much a job as it is a lifestyle. The downside of that is that radio becomes so integrated into your sense of self that if it's ever take away, it can be, well, rather distressing from an identity point of view.
Of all the artists you have covered, which ones have been your favorite? The artist profiles are fun, but the ones I really like are the explorations into why things are the way they are. These are the topics that point history into perspective for the present and the future.
In the 1990's, radio stations all over the U.S. suddenly adopted the tag "The Edge" and jumped on the Alternative Music bandwagon. Most of those stations have returned to their hard/classic rock format. CFNY was there before, during, and after. I guess I don't really have a question here, I'm looking more for your impression of the sudden interest in Alternative Music in the 90's. Many American radio owners jumped into the alternative scene opportunistically. They saw something happening with grunge, Lollapalooza and the so-called "Alternative Nation" of the early 90s and decided to try and capitalize it. They did well for a while, but when that music went into a slump-which happens every 5-7 years, they bailed rather than ride out the storm. We've remained committed to new music, come hell or high water.
Being in the military, I have traveled all over the US and one thing I have noticed is that there seems to be a direct link between a cities progress and the type of rock stations you can find there. My hometown radio stations were cool in 1978 because you could turn them on and hear Van Halen and Ozzy. My city and radio stations are both in a slump and I attribute that to the fact that in 2008 you can turn on the radio there and hear Van Halen and Ozzy. How have you kept CFNY from falling into the "classic" music trap? Two reasons. First of all, our brother station is Q107 and they're clearly the Ozzy/Van Halen station in Toronto. Secondly, we've managed to convince everyone from our owners to our advertisers that Toronto is one of the most musically exciting cities in the world. Wouldn't it be a shame if the local new music scene didn't have the kind of support we provide?
You could easily have implemented a late 80s music format and I'm sure you would continue to have a large listening audience. Instead you kept growing and evolving. Why is it that other stations in the US and Canada have not followed your lead? Probably because Toronto is just a unique beast. There's just so much high-quality music-and such a big demand for it-that it would be silly to abrogate our position as a station that champions the new and the cool. And the appetite isn't just for the home-grown stuff. People have come to look to us for some guidance on where music is headed. We can't possibly play everything-there were 750,000 CDs released worldwide last year-but we can at least say "Okay, here's where you can at least start exploring music."
The Ongoing History of New Music debuted in February 1993 according to the CFNY website. I left the Western NY area in Feb 1991. I could swear I remember it being around before I left. Am I losing my mind? Could be. The first show was February 28, 1993.
Of all the DJs I have listened to over the years, you and a guy named Weasel at 94.7 In Washington DC are the only ones that have taught me anything about the music I love. That's not to say there aren't others. I think this can be attributed to the fact that you guys just truly love music and what you do. It almost reminds me of DJs back in the 1950's who were more than just record spinners. They were involved in so many aspects of the music business. Do you think today's DJs are more about the music or more about the paycheck? 99% of the people who get into the DJ/announcer business do it because of the music. I can tell you with 100% certainty that's why everyone works at the Edge. But it's not the same at other stations. It's tough to get super-passionate about playing Celine Dion, you know? However, the people that work at those stations may be radio fans instead of music fans. There's a great distinction to be made between the two.
Who do you listen to when you are not at the station? I try to listen to things that will give me new and interesting ideas for both the Edge and other things in which I'm involved. This includes tech-related podcasts (I listen to them when I go jogging) and 6 Music, which is a digital station run by the BBC.
Being a DJ you have probably had the opportunity to see nearly every artist you have ever wanted to. Which ones do you remember the most? Which ones (if you want to answer) would you like to forget? Bono and David Bowie are easily the most charismatic people on the planet. I'd still like a chance to talk to Mick or Keith from the Stones, but that opportunity hasn't presented itself. Yet. The worst interview? A drunken, surly Beautiful South. They had just come off a plane from the UK and they were pissed at missing some kind of UFEA soccer match. Awful.
Is there anyone you have not had a chance to see live? I regret not seeing Nirvana at Lee's Palace in 1991. Duh. Beyond that, though, I think I've seen just about everyone I've ever wanted to see.
Which biographies have been the most interesting to write?
Bowie and Trent Reznor. They're two of my all-time favourite performers.
Here's a question I have always wanted to ask a DJ. Why do some DJs talk over the intro to songs? That has got to be the biggest pet peeve I have when it comes to radio.
They may not have a choice. It could be mandated by their program director as part of the way the station is designed to be presented. They're just following orders.
How big an impact has satellite radio had on the listenership of mainstream radio?
Satellite radio? Zero. It's been a massive failure so far. The two companies have lost so many hundreds of millions of dollars that they're being forced to merge. The Internet and things like wifi clouds and new handheld devices that can access the 'net from anywhere are much, much more threatening to traditional radio than satellite radio.
Where can we purchase your books in the States?
Amazon.com has most of them. Try www.amazon.ca for my audio books.
How do you feel about the future of Modern Music?
Optimistic. There was never, every been the kind of appetite for or the volume of new music that we're seeing today. The trick is to know where to look to find what's right for you.
One final question. Because we are posting this on a Role Playing game site and our player swill want to know. If they were to cross paths with you in the game, would you be a Vampire, Slayer, Witch, Werewolf, or Angel. (To my surprise, Johnette Napolitano said Angel. I thought for sure she would say Vampire)
I'd have to side with Johnette. I've met her and believe me, I'd always want to be on her side.