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CFNY
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CFNY

CFNY was a groundbreaking free-format radio station based in the Toronto area. For some time in the 1980s its format was considered unique, and the station garnered wide respect around the world. This rarely translated into profits, and after being "flipped" several times to larger and larger media companies, the format was changed in the late 1980s and eventually turned into a chart-player based on the EDGE format.

CFNY originally started operating in the 1960s, as an FM rebroadcast of an AM radio station, CHIN. The nearby Humber College provided a steady stream of young employees, who were encouraged to play their own selections in the evening. In the mid-1970s the owners decided to give the station a brand of its own, creating CFNY, or CFNY-FM, in 1977.

Things started changing when David Marsden joined as program director in 1978, and started a format that ignored the charts, and played any well-produced alternative music. The station started to sound like a "slick" version of a college radio station. At the time alternative was still very new, but it was also in 1978 that new wave and punk rock took off, and soon the station became known as one of the few commercial stations that played alternative music.

Fans started referring to it as the spirit of radio, which was used as their catchphrase for some time. (This slogan also inspired the Rush song, "The Spirit of Radio".) Fans were loyal but few, and with a measly 850 watts of power, broadcast from a house in Brampton, a suburban town northwest of Toronto, the problems of attracting new listeners were many. In 1979 the original owners were involved in an unrelated court action and forced to sell the station. The new owners started the process of moving the antenna to downtown Toronto, first to the top of the Bank of Montreal building in October 1981, and later to the CN Tower in 1983.

With the Canadian economy in recession, and interest rates high, the new owners sold the station to media conglomerate Selkirk Communications. At first Selkirk did not change the format, and completed the move to the CN Tower. By 1985 the station had reached new highs of popularity, capturing over 5.4% of the Toronto area listeners, and becoming internationally famous for its music mix.

The station was particularly well respected for introducing new acts which other stations wouldn't play because they were too small -- in the early 1980s, Canadian artists such as Martha and the Muffins, Rough Trade, Blue Rodeo, Jane Siberry, 54-40 and Spoons were among the acts championed by CFNY. CFNY also created Canada's first independent music awards, the U-Knows (a pun on Canada's mainstream Juno Awards). In 1986, the station held a listener contest to rename the awards, which were redubbed the CASBY Awards, for "Canadian Artists Selected By You."

In 1988, the station turned its first profit. However, this was not enough for Selkirk, which sought higher ratings. By the summer of 1989 they were playing a considerable amount of "top 40" music. At first there was a listener rebellion. Their phone-in show at noon was an all-request hour, and invariably the requests were for alternative songs. However the management soon put a stop to this, telling them to refuse such calls and only select requests from the top 40. Soon most of the staff resigned, or were fired.

Loyal listeners soon began signing petitions, and filed an intervention with the CRTC opposing the station's 1989 license renewal.

Radio analyst reports suggested that 100,000 new listeners had been gained by the change. However this hid the fact that the market share dropped considerably, to 4.3%. Instead of returning to the old format, management instead decided to continually "tweak" the programming to create a more conventional modern rock station. In the early 1990s, however, the station again became an important outlet for new Canadian music, with acts such as Barenaked Ladies, The Lowest of the Low and Sloan counting CFNY as their first major radio supporter.

In the mid-90s the station dropped its old branding, becoming 102.1 The Edge. Later it became Edge 102 before reverting to 102.1 The Edge. Although CFNY remains the station's official call letters, they are no longer mentioned on-air. CFNY is currently owned by Corus Entertainment.

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