Montreal Finally Has a Hip Online Radio Station to Call Its Own

Inspired by Berlin Community Radio and London's NTS, the founders of want to foster community.

Mar 10 2016, 4:50pm

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While there's been an uprise of great internet radio stations across North America in the last year, including Toronto's TRP and New York's The Lot Radio, there's yet to be a Montreal equivalent that offers an eclectic lineup of music and variety shows. All that changed February 21, 2016 though, with the launch of (pronounced "antennas"), based out of indie label Arbutus Records' headquarters.

The brainchild of a handful of Concordia University students, who dreamed up the station last year while playing board games, and were inspired by similar initiatives worldwide. Thanks to Montreal's strong and close-knit music scene—and expat community—the programming is second-to-none with participating collectives like ASL Singles Club, Banko Gotiti, and Summer Cool. Guests so far have included Hunee, Pat Jordache, Project Pablo, and more.

Though their current schedule only features live and pre-recorded shows Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, there's plans to expand content and the site's capacities (like adding an archive section) in the future. THUMP recently sat down with four of the station's founders, Arbutus Records founder Sebastian Cowan, station manager Tam Vu, program director Mason Windels, and programmer Conan Lai (the fifth, lead graphic designer Dylan Bourdeau, was absent), to discuss their ambitious new project.

THUMP: How long have you been planning this?

Tam Vu: The initial inception of it was last September. I'd been listening to a lot of Know Wave in New York, NTS in London, and Berlin Community Radio too. I was sitting there thinking, there isn't something like this in Montreal, and it seems easy to do.

Cowan: Tam, Conan, and Dylan started discussing it amongst themselves, and through Taylor Smith of Braids, who also works at Arbutus as our label manager, that's how I met Tam. Austin Tufts from Braids was also Tam's roommate, and they would play Settlers of Catan together and that's how the ball got rolling.

Vu: We had a splash page, and as a joke we had the timer counting up because at that stage we didn't know when we were going to launch. A lot of people didn't get the joke.

Together, do you guys have everything you need for a station?
Cowan: Pretty much. Everything runs through this audio interface I bought ten years ago. Sometimes you spend money on something that's a totally waste, and sometimes you can't believe how much value you get from it.

Vu: It's not much more than that. The rest is hosting. It's getting equipment together and there you go, you can broadcast live.

Cowan: Sometimes people come in and ask where the radio station is. But what are they looking for, really? Basically the radio station is software in a computer. The physical space (the Arbutus office) sets it apart from other online stations. Here it's more social in the physical world, where you'll have a dozen people hanging out eating snacks. That atmosphere translates into what comes out on the air.

How did you pick the shows?
Vu: We wanted to be aware of different subcultures and try to touch upon everybody. Right from the beginning, you have to setup a groundwork where people feel welcome. Our first week it went from a talk show to 90s rap. Because there's no advertising or quotas, we're able to be pretty open.

Mason Windels: My purpose has been balancing individual DJs or hosts who can create an hour of interesting content, but also reaching out to groups of people who are doing something. We have [Montreal-based] ACTE, an experimental electronic label. We also have Editorial Magazine, which has a program on Sundays. We have the possibility of pre-recorded slots, so we're not limited to just Montreal. We can offer a link to Montreal expats, and there are a lot of them.

What's the reaction been like so far?
Cowan: Sometimes you have to work really hard to get people to care, and sometimes it just fills such a hole that you didn't realize was there. This is the latter.

Vu: There's a lot of goodwill because we're trying to be as inclusionary as possible. We reached out to a lot of different subcultures of Montreal and it's nice to see everyone working with each other. It creates a diverse space.

Sebastian, how does starting this compare to starting a loft venue [Lab Synthèse] or record label?
Cowan: When you start something you often don't know what you're getting into. That's been the case with everything I've done. One thing I enjoy about the radio station is the last couple of years I've been spending a lot of time in the UK and I've noticed what my absence here has brought. What I loved about Lab Synthèse was it brought together different scenes, but without a centralized space and regular gatherings, it's hard to do that. Immediately with the radio station we've seen that take place.

Finally, any thoughts about adding a webcam to the stream?
Lai: It's just about feasibility. It takes up a lot of bandwidth to stream it. Maybe for a launch party? Because you don't need video every day. It also seems hard to stream a party and not have people think it's Boiler Room, because they have the market cornered on it. How about a dog cam instead? radio is on Facebook // Twitter // Mixcloud

Erik Leijon is on Twitter.