Let's be honest—when it comes to radio options for Toronto electronic and dance music fans, whether it be on-the-dial or on the internet, we're sorely lacking in choices. Save a handful of college radio shows and the occasional big room EDM anthem on Top 40 commercial stations, despite being North America's fourth largest city, there's nowhere to hear more left field and underrepresented genres.
Perhaps that's why discerning listeners have been drawn to Toronto Radio Project, an independent free-form online radio station, which features programming from artists and tastemakers including local crew Bedroomer, Berlin transplant Bwana, DJ and producer Nautiluss, rapper Rollie Pemberton (aka Cadence Weapon), and more. Started by Frazer Lavender in November 2014, TRP's since grown to "between 70 and 80 shows" five days a week, and graduated to a bricks-and-mortar storefront on College Street (which they share with City Beat Records).
While it's very much still a labour of love for Lavender, who moved to Toronto from the UK two years ago and funds the station almost entirely out-of-pocket (he has a day job in advertising), TRP is licensed to play by Canadian non-profit arts organization SOCAN (which means they broadcast copyrighted material legally and artists are paid royalties) and offers a range of diverse music unlike other stations across the country. They've also attracted plenty of one-off shows from guest DJs, including San Francisco's Honey Soundsystem, Volvox from New York City techno collective Discwoman, and various artists on Vancouver-based label 1080p.
"There wasn't a huge moment where I said, 'I should do this,'" says Lavender, who admits that while having studied journalism, he has no formal radio background. "People have been shifting towards things like Spotify and streaming services where you have every single song ever made available at your fingertips, but there's no real sense of curation, no theme, no thought."
We sat down for coffee recently with the founder to talk about the station's beginnings, what he's learned in the past year, and why TRP's winning cross-country and international accolades.
THUMP: First off, congratulations on passing 1,000 episodes. When you first started TRP a year ago, did you imagine it would be this successful?
Frazer Lavender: When we started, it wasn't anything. There was no reputation, there was no reason for people to check it out, first we just met people who became friends and got them to spin some records. As we started to gain traction and momentum, we went from reaching out to people to them reaching out to us, and an influx of people who wanted to do shows. The next step was sitting down and thinking about how you fine tune this, where do we want to take it. We don't ever just want to be a deep house station.
I run the project and we have a guy named Michael [Newton], who's the station manager. He's the guy who knows all the day-to-day stuff and scheduling. This is recent as well. Most people are volunteering on this, and we have four interns, people who just want to gain some experience and exposure. There's at least one hundred people who are involved in the actual shows so it's a big undertaking.
You're originally from the UK, did you do any prior research into the history of radio of Toronto? Why do you think nobody else was doing this?
I didn't do hours upon hours of research. I did notice there wasn't much going on. As for why, it's difficult to say as I haven't been here that long, but looking at projects that mirror this elsewhere, Toronto's not as established as in other cities when it comes to online radio stations. The idea of that culture in cities like London is more ingrained. It's difficult for people to find physical spaces to host, there's lots of barriers. I know there have been other projects, like StudioFeed.
One of the things that stands out for me about TRP is that you have several shows that address gender imbalance and identity politics in dance music. Why was that important to you?
That's an opportunity that we have. No one can tell us what our content should be or where we should focus, so we want to highlight these areas which are underrepresented. It's a conscious decision because when you have an audience and a community, if you can make a social impact, then you should.
Give me an example of one program that you really feel exemplifies what you set out to do with TRP?
There's a show called Sisters, I Don't Know What This World Is Coming To by Brendan Arnott, I always use it as an example, but it's exactly the kind of show we want to be known for. It's smart, it's focused on gender in dance music, which is a subject that's spoken about a lot within a small community. It's also produced in a modern and engaging way for the audience with interviews, soundbites, and mixing tracks together.
Tell us about being named the "Best Radio Station USA & Canada" at this year's International Radio Festival.
It was an initial vote by the listeners and then it went to judges, which is why it's quite good. The judges were made up of radio people, like the Mixcloud founder, the guy who started [London-based online station] NTS, the guy who curates BBC Radio 1's Essential Mix. People who have been in radio for a long time and get it and look into what you're doing.
We were shortlisted for the USA and Canada award, which we knew about, but we were up against one of the stations that's a huge influence on us [Los Angeles' Dublab]. Winning was a surprise but it's good because it puts us on the same level as these different stations.
Ultimately, what would you like to accomplish with the station?
We want it to have a cultural impact on the city, we want it to be a destination for people, we want people in town to come and work with us. It's kind of starting to be where we want to be. Initially we would speak to artists' managers, we've had some great people in, but now it's getting to the point where they'll either reach out or someone in Toronto they know or someone they're playing with.
The shows aren't just in Toronto now, we have Pacific Rhythm out on the West Coast, they recognize it's good for Canada as well.The team's continuing to grow so we're going to look into expanding it but we're not going to rush into it. There's lots of things in the pipeline.
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