The lineup to get into the Phoenix Nightclub stretched for three blocks Friday June 9th as the faithful gathered to wish Toronto classic rock radio station, Q-107 a happy 40th birthday. Cynics may point out that the music currently being played on The Q is as old as the station itself but long time station personality, Andy Frost isn’t about to apologize for the station’s steady diet of mainstream rock tracks.
“We play what our demographic wants to hear,” announced the veteran host of the station’s Psychedelic Sunday and overnight shifts who has been at the station since 1985, barring a one-year absence in 1989. “Yes, there’s a steady diet of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Stones etc, but that ‘s the music our demographic has grown up on over the past three or four decades. They still want to hear the oldies and their kids and grand kids are also discovering classic rock”.
“I went into my garage on the weekend and my son Morgan was in there playing The Who records with his friends.” explained Frost. “I thought that was cool because when I was a kid growing up in Winnipeg I would be in the garage playing Who tracks with my friends to. So if this demographic wants to listen to, say, Pink Floyd, they know which station to tune into to.”
Of course, when Q-107 officially signed on at 9 a.m. on May 22nd 1977, ( first track played; Murray McLauchlan’s “Hard Rock Town”) the station’s current playlist was then considered prime time classic rock. Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, the Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, The Eagles etc. were all at the peak of their popularity at that time and due to Canada’s CRTC rules which forced radio stations to play at least 30% Canadian content, domestic talent like Rush, Triumph, April Wine, Trooper, Max Webster, Loverboy and Bryan Adams all enjoyed strong airtime on Toronto’s Best Rock.
Owned by CFGM Broadcasting, which was a division of Allan Slaight’s Slaight Communications, the station was driven by Slaight’s son Gary who as the station’s creative program director, quickly capitalized on the corporate strength of classic rock to totally usurp the image of former radio powerhouse CHUM-FM. Not only did The Mighty Q focus on current standards but they also championed new talent with their annual Homegrown contest which not only guaranteed finalists a spot on an album, distributed by Attic Records but also provided precious airplay which attracted interest from major record labels.
As a direct result of such exposure, bands like Honeymoon Suite, The Partland Brothers, Rick Santers and The Jitters all secured major recording contracts.
With a cast of colourful characters like Brother Jake Edwards, Jesse Dylan and Gene Valaitis, Scruff Connors, Bob The Iceman Segarini, Steve Anthony, Steve Warden, Joey Vendetta and currently, Al Joynes, John Derringer, Jennnifer Valentyne, Maureen Holloway, Andy Frost and even classic rock veterans, Kim Mitchell and Alice Cooper, Q not only presented itself as Toronto’s Best Rock, but through their Rock Radio Network, were able to syndicate programming via a network of similar classic rock stations across Canada.
“ RRN established Q-107 nationwide,” noted Frost. “I was doing an overnight show that was syndicated across the country so I’d be talking to listeners from Vancouver to the Maritimes, finding out what they were into and what bands and artists were popular in their area. It was a great time for radio in this country.”
Q also survived a few missteps along the way. The time when Toronto’s Best Rock became North York’s Best Rock when the station moved from it’s downtown Hudson Bay Centre location to Yonge Street close to Finch. And then there was that strange period from September 1997 to November 2001 when Howard Stern’s controversial New York syndicated show took over morning’s at the Q.
By this time, Slaight had taken over his father’s Slaight Communications and had bought Standard Broadcasting, forcing him to sell the station to Western International Communications in 1985 which in turn sold Q to Corus Entertainment in 2000 when WIC’ assets were divided up between Corus and Canwest Global. All of these corporate manoeuvres made Q-107’s playlist more corporate with a virtual total reliance on formatted programming. Ironically, one of Q-107’s strongest station competitors from the early 1970’s, Brampton’s CFNY, later branded as The Edge, are now also owned by Corus and also broadcast from the same radio complex at Queen’s Quay.
“There’s no doubt that things change and become more corporate, it’s the way of the world,” shrugged Frost, probably known equally for his stint at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ official announcer from 1999 to 2016. “But I still love the idea of playing music for people. In my younger days at the University of Manitoba, when I went with friends to a house party, as they were dropping their beers off in the fridge, I’d head over to the stereo to see what I had to work with. Some people got into the radio business to be “Radio Station Personalities”, but for me it always has been and always will be about playing music for people”
So as a packed crowd at The Phoenix last Friday, danced to the music of Dwayne Gretzky and fought for (literally) who would take home $10,000 in prize money, Frost pondered how he envisioned Q-107’s existence in the next 40 years.
“The station isn’t going anywhere, there’s always going to be an audience for classic rock,” Frost reflects. “Q just has to continually grown with it’s audience and play what they want to hear. It’s a pretty straightforward format.”