Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end: The tale of FLOW 93.5.
This isn’t a diss blog. This isn’t a former employee dishing the goods on what was right and what went wrong. This is a story about a brief period of time at a radio station in Toronto, Canada. If you’ve come here for negativity, you came to the wrong place. Yep, that’s me in the photo above rocking the sweet flow and sideburns. Now on to the story…
T’was Winter in T.O.
It was winter in 2000. I met a lady named Michelle Price. She was the Program Director at Milestone Radio, which was recently awarded a radio license to broadcast in Toronto. Michelle was full of energy. She radiated a ‘boss lady’ presence but was soft and caring at the same time. She had a little twang in her voice, so I figured she was from someplace in the southern U.S., but couldn’t be sure. She said “y’all” a lot, which I loved because how can you not love that? There were some truly amazing people already on board. Aisha Wickham, Nicole Jolly, Keith Davis, Farley Flex. This group was part of the team that campaigned and fought for a radio license for OVER 10 years. They fought and clawed alongside members of the community to build a case for the Urban radio signal. It was a campaign that saw the Milestone group get shut out and passed over, then finally in 2000, get rewarded with the 93.5 signal. When I say it was much more than a radio signal, I hope that gives you some perspective. This wasn’t just a media company acquiring signals, this was the chance for a community to be represented in radio form. I did not understand the fight for this voice before I joined the team, but I quickly understood the scope of importance within the first few minutes of employment. I was very proud to be a part of this team. Some may remember me as ‘the white guy’. Did I even just write that? I did.
FLOW was almost called WHAT?????
How many times in one’s career can you say you launched something new? Especially in radio, where new stations mostly only happen when formats flip. Occasionally there is a new license awarded and I feel a kinship with those people because I know what they’re going through. Picking a logo, a look & feel, a first song, a PR stunt, business cards, letterhead, systems, processes – all new, all for the first time. So when a small group of us (Michelle, Nicole, and Farley) went to TAXI Advertising and Design for a look at some logo suggestions, it was very exciting. We were in a large room with a number of big boards stuck up on a wall. There were four boards and each was covered. One by one, the TAXI folk revealed each board, which were all ideas for a radio station name and logo. The options were: The Beat 93.5. FLOW 93.5. Dancin’ 93.5 and… wait for it… Yo Mamma 93.5. No, I’m not joking. That was an option. A real option. And the tag line that was written right underneath the logo, again wait for it… “You Better Listen To Yo Mamma!” So anyways… It was clear that FLOW was going to be our name. The work TAXI did was outstanding. I’m sure they won awards for it. In my experience that was the measure of success for Ad Agencies: winning awards. Like, why even do any work if some panel of your peers is not going to give you some type of trophy, right? I kid, I kid. Seriously, it was a great logo and a great campaign that accompanied the logo. The vinyl/afro image with Jill Scott’s Love Rain Down into Ludacris’s Southern Hospitality. The middle finger equalizer. Amazing design. Truly amazing.
Radio People Alongside Non Radio People.
This was a theme I noticed right away. There were some people who worked in radio previously, but not many. Some of the talent were radio people and some weren’t. On the talent side, I feel this worked. Michelle (the PD) put teams together. There was a mix of raw talent hosting shows with people who had been hosting radio programs for years. As a guy in the Promotions and Marketing department, I saw this as a huge opportunity. I felt the on air hosts were hungry and just wanted to do cool stuff. There were no rules, no bad habits. Just a desire to be a part of this thing we were building. They were not robots just giving the time and temperature and backselling music. They were part of the DNA of the community that helped get this radio station on the air. Now for a walk down memory lane…
The Morning Rush
Mark and Jem in the morning were incredible. He was always willing to go above and beyond to make things work and she was so graceful and offered an energy that really brought balance to a morning program. I felt that they acted like a married couple, but not just any married couple. The fun couple. The couple who were awesome parents yet still found time to be social with friends. A couple you wanted to know. I felt like I needed to add stuff to the show so people got to know them. I figured people would feel the way I felt about them. I wanted our audience to think of them as part of the family.
Urban Suite with Rich Fagan and Slim.
We were going for a ‘just a couple of friends hanging out’ vibe. It sort of worked. Rich was a good dude who was brand new to talking on the radio. Slim was a radio vet. I’m pretty sure Rich and Slim would agree that the dynamic was kind of hit and miss. Slim was actually my favourite DJ to work with. He was such a pro. Whenever we brainstormed things for his show, he just got it. I felt he could accurately transfer the things in my mind to the radio. Rich showed so much promise. I always pictured him in the movies. He worked really hard to learn a brand new craft in a short amount of time.
The Trauma Unit with DJX and J-Wyze
I grew up listening to the Power Movement on CKLN. I used to tape (on cassette) DJX’s mixes and then play them for friends. I discovered a world of hip hop because of that program. I was shocked when I met DJX for the first time. We were practically the same age. So basically, when I was stealing my mom’s cigarettes and skateboarding away from the cops, this kid my age was mastering mixing and showcasing the soundtrack to a culture. I felt really small and like I probably should have paid attention more in school. I kid. J Wyze was pure energy. Like if fire could catch fire and then present a radio show, you’d have Jelani. I remember always thinking that I wish I could bottle his energy and share it with others. Like that scene in the movie Rudy when the coach is yelling at 1st team athletes wishing they had half the heart of Rudy.
Denham had the biggest, strongest hands you ever shook. I mean, they were like rocks on top of boulders. He was pretty intimidating when you first met him, but over time there were cracks in the armor. At the time I was hired, there was another gent named Jason who was hired the same day as me. We were both in the Promo/Marketing depart. He was to focus on events and I was to focus on everything else. Jason did not come from radio and I was shitty at running events, so I thought it was a perfect match. I don’t quite remember how long Jason lasted and I’m sure he went on to bigger and better things, but his first name will always stay with me… because of Denham. You see, Denham did these ‘little’ things, which I think were a series of tests. Tiny, little tests. The very first meeting I had with Denham, um, sorry… Mr. Jolly… he called me Jason. ‘Nice to meet you, Jason’, he said. I corrected him right away. ‘Sir, my name is Jonathan, not Jason.’ We had a 20 minute discussion on the vision I had for the Marketing/Promo Department and at the end he said, “Well, nice chatting with you, Jason.” For the next year, he would call me Jason about one in every 5 interactions. I thought it may be something in his brain that actually thought my name was Jason, so I let it go for the most part. Then, after an entire year and after he calls me Jason for the umpteenth time, I correct him for (what I hope is) the final time. “Denham” I said. “What is it?” he answered. I took a deep breath and said, “You know my name is Jonathan, right?” He paused for what felt like 30 seconds then cracked a little smile, winked at me and said “Yep” then walked away. As he was walking away I said “Nice chatting with you Dylan”. He burst out laughing and then said, “I like you Jonathan. I really like you.”
One of a kind. So generous. Huge heart and the smile to match. I’m glad Farley was in my life and still is in my life. Everyone needs a Farley on their team.
There were so many amazing people when we launched FLOW 93.5 back in the day with the first song: Roots Rock Reggae by Bob Marley. The launch party with Jagged Edge and Farley’s coat – which I believe was chinchilla. I could go on and on with stories and maybe some day I will. I know I am leaving out some very important people and for that I apologize. Now that FLOW 93.5 is no more, with the recent rebrand to 93.5 the MOVE, rest assured that it is in good hands. Newcap know what they are doing. 93.5 the MOVE will hopefully find a place in the hearts of so many, just as FLOW did before them.
There will be critics who will point the finger and call out the Milestone/FLOW team. There are many reasons to call them out, and you can totally do that. I may write some day about that very topic, but today I’m focused on the positive. Reflecting on someone like Aisha Wickham who is an absolute champion and role model to so many. People like Scott Palmateer who worked tirelessly and relentlessly behind the scenes. People like David Marsden, a radio legend who made a cameo. People like Jonathan Shaw (the juiceman to my milkman) who just gave and gave and gave. When I think about the few years I spent with Milestone/FLOW before moving across the street to 102. The Edge, I cannot help but smile. We did some pretty cool things. It was like a baby taking their first steps. Their first words. Their first smile. Their first scraped knee. Their first FLOW BACARDI HALLOWEEN PARTY! LIVE TO AIR ON FLOW 93.5! LADIES FREE BEFORE 11PM! CALL AHEAD FOR BOTTLE SERVICE!
Thanks for reading.