Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Ah, Toronto. Canada’s biggest city is just 100 miles or so from our Rochester headquarters as the crow flies – but you can’t fly a crow to get there from here, and the ferry that briefly sped us across Lake Ontario stopped running years ago. So a visit to Toronto typically means braving traffic that can turn a three-hour drive into four or even five hours, assuming the border’s not too slow. Indeed, on this September 2014 jaunt to Toronto to do some catching up, our frequent partner-in-travel Garrett Wollman flew all the way from Boston and still spent less time traveling than we did.
Travel hassles aside, Toronto on a warm early-autumn day is still a great city to be in. While it’s become almost impossible to drive, and the once-pristine transit system is underfunded and not aging well, downtown Toronto is a great walking city. Luckily for us, in the last few years a bunch of media outlets have all relocated to within an area of just a few blocks in a booming neighborhood that now goes by “Liberty Village.”
One of the newest arrivals here is also one of the newest stations on the Toronto dial. “Indie 88,” CIND (88.1), had just celebrated its first birthday when we dropped by for a visit. Having won out against a big pile of other applicants for the dial space vacated by the license revocation of CKLN in 2012, Barrie-based Rock 95 Broadcasting found a studio site in Toronto for its new station in a two-story brick row building on Hanna Avenue, one of a row of dead-end parallel streets that run south from Liberty Street toward the railroad tracks and elevated Gardner Expressway that separate Liberty Village from the Canadian National Exposition grounds and Lake Ontario.
The Indie 88 space is simple but functional: promotions and sales offices are on the first floor; upstairs, the main air studio sits at one end of the second floor, looking in to a big open-plan area that houses the Indie programming team. There’s a smaller production room and a conference room at the back.
Our next stop, two blocks west, is a bit more elaborate: the “Zoomerplex,” which fills several adjoining buildings on the west side of Jefferson Avenue, is where media impresario Moses Znaimer now hangs his hat in Toronto. Znaimer’s media outlets all target “Zoomers,” his pet name for the audience aged 50-something and up. There’s “Zoomer Magazine” here, “Zoomer TV” – and in the last few years he’s moved his radio stations in here, too. One wing of the Zoomerplex is home to CFZM (740), the latest incarnation of the big 50,000-watt ex-CBC signal that now plays soft AC and standards as a rare musical beacon on the AM dial, as well as CFMZ (96.3) and its classical sister stations CFMX (103.1 Cobourg) and CFMO (102.9 Collingwood). Each has its own studio complex in here looking out to Liberty Street, and these are some nicely spacious and very calm studios indeed.
Znaimer’s big claim to fame, of course, was creating CityTV in the 1970s and Muchmusic in the 1980s. The broadcast facility he built back then helped to revitalize the Queen Street West neighborhood, and we’ll see what’s become of it in our next installment.
One of the things we remember about Znaimer’s days on Queen Street, as late as the 1990s, was that he had plans to build the “MZ Museum of Television,” which got at least as far as a Queen Street storefront before we lost track of it. Now it has its own display space in the Zoomerplex, free and open to the public so long as you sign in at the front desk and wait for a curator to escort you back.
If you’re headed to Toronto, you really should take the time to check out Znaimer’s museum, because it’s an exceptional collection of TV history with a particular focus on the receiving end. Early mechanical sets? They’re here, along with a comprehensive collection of CBS color-wheel sets, the Lucite-encased RCA TV that was the centerpiece of the 1939 World’s Fair display in New York…and, yes, that amazingly straight-outta-1957 German console above at right. (Felix the Cat is there, too, 80 years after RCA used his doll on a turntable to test early TV technology back when the lights were so bright that no human could stand them for very long.)
There’s lots of media to be seen in Liberty Village – if we’d had the time and the contacts, for instance, we could have seen the Sirius XM Canada headquarters off Liberty Street.
We didn’t…but we did make one more Liberty Village stop before getting on a GO train out of town on the final morning of this action-packed visit.
Like the Znaimer stations, CJRT (91.1) is a refugee from closer in to downtown Toronto. “JAZZ.FM 91” is a fascinating station: its early decades as CJRT were spent under the aegis of Ryerson Tech, which left only its initials behind when it exited radio in 1974.
The station went public, going to a nonprofit corporation that received provincial support for more than two decades while establishing a track record as one of North America’s premiere jazz outlets. Since 1996, CJRT has had no government support, surviving on corporate and listener donations and (unlike public stations south of the border) commercial ads, limited to four minutes an hour.
Since 2006, CJRT/JAZZ.FM has made its home here in Liberty Village on Pardee Avenue, a couple of blocks west of the Zoomerplex.
These photos (which you can always enlarge just by clicking on them!) don’t do this fine facility justice. It’s built in a former industrial space, and it makes maximum use of the very high ceilings here. Walk in from Pardee Avenue and you’re in a spacious lobby that has a conference room off to one side and its own bar off to the other side. Why a bar? Because as you walk back into the main part of the station, you’ll find yourself in a big open space that’s frequently used for live on-air performances and for jazz education for students, too.
The main air studio and a news booth are right off to the side of the performance space, with big sliding glass doors setting them off. Turn your back to the stage (with the air studio to your left) and you’ll be looking up at a loft level where many of the station’s on-air and promotions staffers have their offices. Toward the back of the main floor, there are additional production spaces, a tidy rack room along a hallway that leads to them – and what’s that way at the back of the building, behind the stairs leading up to the loft? It’s another theater space with raked seats and a big screen for movies and videos!
(And just to bring this all full circle, after Ryerson gave up the CJRT license, it applied again for a new FM in the early 1980s, which is how the old CKLN 88.1 came to be. After CKLN lost its license, Ryerson applied yet again for a new 88.1 and lost out to what became CIND; now its students hold a permit for a new AM signal on 1280 that should be on the air by next year.)
Thanks to MZ Media’s John van Driel, CIND’s Adam Thompson and CJRT’s Dani Elwell for the tours!
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of Canadian IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: More Toronto, 2014