Martin Streek and the Death of Toronto Radio

One year after the death of one of Toronto’s most influential radio personalities, Toronto’s music scene is hungry for an advocate, ready for a party.

In the mid-eighties Toronto had emerged from the indulgence of Disco dance parties and the Punk revolution. A lighter side of punk music invaded FM radio, but it was not quite warm and fuzzy enough for the popular radio airwaves. Touted as a slightly more mature college radio station, CFNY sported an ever-increasing loyal fan-base and a huge play list of an alternative form of music known as “New Wave”. Under the direction of Dave Marsden, the station endeavoured to air music you could not hear on other stations. In a previous incarnation, CFNY played entire albums. To this day, fans are fiercely loyal. A site dedicated to CFNY in its Spirit of Radio era still exists. Famous Canadian progressive rock band, Rush, had even written a song dedicated to the station: “The Spirit of Radio”.

Video launched a radio star

In 1984, practically out of high school, Martin Streek began his internship, hired for the new CFNY Video Road Show. He drove the truck, played the videos, and looked after the road crew. An avid fan of The Clash, he often advocated for air time for bands that he felt were not getting enough on mainstream stations. As his career with CFNY progressed, he shaped the airwaves in Toronto and influenced Canadian radio in a way that the public had not seen before. His deep, hypnotizing voice became synonymous with dance parties, hosting The Thursday 30Live-to-air at The Phoenix Concert Theatre and the Velvet Underground. He also hosted a segment called Groundbreakers, a forum of his creation in which he highlighted new, alternative bands emerging in the business.

The death of alternative radio

Streek spent enough years with CFNY to witness a great deal of restructuring. On-air personalities came and went. With his unerring musical knowledge rivaled only by that of Alan Cross’s, his place at CFNY, which eventually morphed into 102.1 The Edge and then Edge 102, seemed cemented. Frustrated by the direction the station had taken, playing a more mainstream set of music, increasing the commercial count and allowing for song repetition, Streek was fairly vocal, as were other personalities at the station.

Radio in Toronto had changed. For a brief time, a station with no on-air personalities took to the airwaves, but did not attract the numbers. The Edge’s morning show had gone through an upheaval, bringing in a new, younger cast to replace the beloved Humble and Fred, who had left to do a morning show at a sister station and eventually to work with other stations. Both Humble Howard Glassman and Fred Patterson were later let go from Mix 99.9.

By 2009, Martin Streek was one of the few remaining “Spirit of Radio” personalities and, some believe, the only new music advocate left at the station.

In May, everything changed. In a two-day period, two Edge on-air personalities were let go, without warning, to either them or their public. Their existence on the Edge website deleted with no explanation. It was as if Barry Taylor and Martin Streek never existed. Taylor was rather outspoken about his firing, posting his take on his MySpace page (quoted here on Taylor’s main insinuation is that The Edge is heading in a Top 40 direction and the singular goal of making money over satisfying listeners.

An ominous Facebook status update

On July 6, 2009, Toronto Mike published in his blog that Martin Streek had taken his own life. With only two months since the only remaining “Spirit of Radio” personality had left the station that its protective listeners revered so, the frustration and shock was immense. Quick to lay blame on what they believed was the responsibility of Corus and Edge 102, the fans lashed out.

Streek’s last words came in a Facebook status update.

So… I guess that’s it…thanks everyone…I’m sorry to those I should be sorry to, I love you to those that I love, and I will see you all again soon (not too soon though)… Let the stories begin.

Many online tributes followed. Current Edge 102 employees echoed the shock of Streek’s fans, some even finding it hard to make it through an on-air shift. Everyone, however, seemed in agreement about one simple fact: Martin Streek had shaped the face of Toronto radio and perhaps Canadian radio for many years to come. He was an advocate for alternative music and he spoke for his fans.

A year later, there is still no substitute in Toronto. Martin Streek, whose love for music goes unchallenged, whose innate ability to make his listeners want to dance, whose desire to champion the band that is perhaps mere airplay away from an explosive, successful career, may very well be impossible to replace.

Originally posted (now defunct) on Jul 9, 2010