The Toronto Radio Project is providing a platform for local musicians and marginalized communities to be heard.
When Frazer Lavender moved from the UK to Toronto a few years ago, he noticed a lack of support for the city's growing DJ and production scene. Although there were plenty of artists around, there was no real outlet through which these voices could be heard. With this in mind, Lavender took on the task of launching TRP, an independent, free-form internet radio station that aims to support local talent, push boundaries and foster a sense of creative community within the city. The station is licensed by SOCAN, which means they're free to broadcast copyrighted material while ensuring that royalties are fully paid.
Since the station's launch in November of 2014, TRP has grown to offer a variety of programming provided by the station's volunteer residents and guests, ranging from discussions about dance music's relevance to gender, race, and politics, to bi-weekly future soul sets and electronic showcases.
We're not necessarily looking for what will get the most listeners or the biggest audience. It's more about pushing boundaries and doing something different.
The broadcast will be mainly curated by TRP's resident hosts, each putting their own twist on their usual program. You can expect to hear from Grime After Grime, an (obviously) UK grime themed set, Hypnotic Mindscapes, a show focusing on house, techno, and dub music, and a live set from electronic duo CHOBO, to name a few. Deep house/jazz DJ Jesse Futerman will also make an appearance, as well as techno enthusiast Nautiluss. A few of the hosts will even be doing back-to-back collaborative sets with their fellow curators. You can check out the full lineup here.
Chart Attack spoke with Frazer Lavender, the founder of TRP, about the upcoming TRP30 fundraiser, as well as the station's current programming and plans for the future.
Chart Attack: Why don't we start with a background on Toronto Radio Project. What got the whole thing started?
Frazer Lavender: It started in November of 2014. I'm originally from the UK, and I'm a huge fan of similar projects in Europe, which I follow. When I moved here, I noticed that there were none happening, but there were lots of creative people and musical people. Through meeting with people, we felt there was a space for it, so we just kind of started slowly in a small basement with a little bit of gear to see what kind of traction we could get. There was a really good response. But the inspiration came from there not being a similar outlet in the city, or even in Canada really.
Would you say there was a lack of resources available for Toronto artists when you moved here?
Frazer Lavender: Yeah, and just a station that has more creative freedom than sponsor stipulations or CRTC stipulations. The way we operate, being online only, means that we don't fall into the CRTC guidelines for CanCon. The fact that we operate on a shoestring budget fuelled by volunteers means that there's no-one other than the people doing the shows themselves to answer to. We decide what's covered, what's played, the kind of ethos of the station. As a result, the subject matters, or themes of the shows, are what makes it really unique. Because, you know, we can touch on subjects that other people might not want to because it might upset the sponsor or it might not fit in with the audience profile, you know? We have this real creative freedom. I think that's what people like.
Can you think of an example of a topic that you might not be able to cover if you didn't have that freedom?
Frazer Lavender: Well, the actual content is one. We don't have any rules to follow. But, you know, lots of our shows focus on marginalized communities and different niches, maybe within music, you know? Like, maybe within dance music. That kind of thing. Just focusing and highlighting on subjects like that, but in a way that our audience likes, within DJ culture and with a show that is put together with that in mind. Mixing and good track selections. It's real creative radio, whereby you're dealing with a subject and a theme from the show.
You mentioned that you have volunteers that are doing your programming. How do you go about getting people onto the show? Are you reaching out, or are people coming to you?
Frazer Lavender: I think there was about 15 people when started. We instantly got good coverage and good traction, and it switched into more people wanting to come onboard. It's just a balancing act. We want it to represent everyone. We're becoming a destination for people who are in the city, just passing through, who want to leave their mark on the station. We have lots of daily emails from people wanting to come on, so it's amazing.
And how do you determine who you're going to take on the air? What does somebody have to bring to TRP?
Frazer Lavender: I just kind of think about the ethos, and about whether anyone else is doing that. We just always want to keep pushing boundaries and trying new things. We're not necessarily looking for what will get the most listeners or the biggest audience. It's more about pushing boundaries and doing something different. The team is now kind of more and more on the other side, the production side, so there's lots of people giving their input, but always with a common goal of carrying forward. It started out with just me and Michael Newton. We started it, and now the team's up to about seven people. They're all kind of balancing their other jobs and studies while managing the studio and the station.
Let's talk about the fundraiser. I guess this is a late anniversary celebration, seeing as your one-year anniversary was in November?
Frazer Lavender: Yeah, around November or December. It kind of just came about. We were thinking of all the different things that we could do and we thought to do a 30-hour non-stop broadcast and live-video stream it. We thought, let's get 30 different shows, and we'll offer a donate button. I think the key to it is utilizing what we already have and seeing what we could do. We're doing it from our studio, and we're using almost exclusively our own radio hosts. Everyone's really excited about us doing something. We're just offering a chance for our listeners to donate. Every little bit helps, because, you know, we don't make a lot of money. We thought it would be fun to get everyone collaborating on a single project to do something different from our regular show and add the video element to it, which is a new area for us to move into.
What else can people expect from the 30-hour broadcast that's different from your regular programming?
Frazer Lavender: Well, it's mainly made up of our regular hosts. They all kind of have a theme and a subject that they deal with in their shows. For example, the first show will be at 2pm Friday [April 29th], and that's Andrew Ross who normally does a two-hour show with slow, heavy, throbbing dance music. For this one he's going back-to-back with a DJ in town called Luca Luzano from Berlin. It'll be totally different from what he does on the show. But yeah, I mean, everyone's been encouraged to do something that they wouldn't normally do on their show. I'm not even 100% sure what all of them are, but I think it'll be fun.
Now that you've passed the one-year mark, can you reflect on the experience of a volunteer-driven station afloat?
Frazer Lavender: Yeah, it's been challenging. Now that we're kind of established, we're kind of at a point now where we're starting to make money by working with the Arts Council and that kind of thing. I think projects like this are always mostly volunteer driven, and by their very nature you get lots of people who want to be involved. Really solid experiences have been had by coming on and getting involved in the studio. It's great networking, you can meet really cool people who are doing stuff. Getting people together in a room who have similar interests just fosters creativity, especially with the physical space. So, yeah, there's lots of people who want to get involved. We're really blessed with that and with all the help that we get. I couldn't ever see that changing. Now, after having a bit of success, we can work with people without sacrificing what the station is about to bring a bit of revenue in.
What are the TRP's plans going forward into the future?
Frazer Lavender: We'll be announcing for May a project that we're working on in collaboration with the Toronto Arts Council. The great thing about this project is that a lot of them fit in with what we're doing. If we can work with them to make any kind of social event, all the better.
Do you have any other aspirations for TRP outside of internet radio?
Frazer Lavender: Well, I think that the radio itself is what it's all about, keeping it online and away from traditional radio means that we can keep the costs low and keep the creativity as high as it is. We don't ever want to change from internet radio. I think that's the future, anyway. There's no need to look at FM radio or anything like that. Our audience is more online, too. But the future is about events and collaborations that fit with what we're doing and what we're about. There's lots of things in the pipeline.
And I'm sure people really appreciate having a station like this in Toronto.
Frazer Lavender: Yeah, totally. It's only just over a year old, and it's kind of established itself because there was nothing else like us. We moved into a space that compliments a lot of other spaces.