Flow 93.5 ends after more than 20 years, merges with G98.7FM
A switch up on the airwaves this week has left many decrying a significant loss of Black culture in local radio.
The legendary Flow 93.5FM many Torontonians have enjoyed for more than 20 years came to an end and was reborn on 98.7FM as a merger with another well-loved radio station pioneered by the late Fitzroy Gordon focusing primarily on genres like reggae, soca, dancehall and R&B.
G98.7, as of Monday, officially took on its new identity: “All New” Flow 98.7 FM. Meanwhile, 93.5 took on a whole new identity called Today Radio, pegged as adult contemporary. The slogan of the old 93.5 has been slightly changed from “Toronto’s Hip Hop” to — “Toronto’s Hip Hop and R&B” in a bid to connect with G98.7’s prior format.
The change has already led to confusion online among long-time fans of both stations with many looking for their regular programming in the usual spots on the dial and lamenting the change.
“I do think they can exist on the same station, but I don’t think that they necessarily should exist on the same station,” said Keziah Myers, executive director of Advance, Canada’s Black music business collective. “Simply because it relegates (many) Black music genres to one place without the possibility or the recognition of the importance of having a variety of different stations.”
Gary Gunter, general manager of Flow 98.7, explained the brand takeover as more of an expansion.
“We’re continuing with our mission to serve that community. Although we are rebranding the station, we’re getting younger with it. And we’re becoming more diverse as well because listenership over on the old Flow 93.5 was diverse and we understand that.”
But Myers says by taking two stations and turning them into one, “it takes away the voice of the culture across different spaces,” as Black people are not homogenous.
There’s also an issue with signal strength. Myers said she struggles to pick up the 98.7FM frequency where she lives, just outside the downtown core, and she is worried about areas like Brampton and Ajax where there are large populations of Black people being able to tune in.
“The question is, is this really a positive move for the Black community when the majority of the Black community may not be able to tap into the radio frequency?”
Gunter acknowledges challenges with the frequency at 98.7 and said steps are being taken to improve it.
“So now, we just got to get the signal together, which is the next step. We’re working on that in certain areas and pockets, where there’s some fall off, where the old 93.5 was very strong with their coverage map.”
Flow 93.5FM was launched in 2001 after 10 years of work by Denham Jolly and Milestone Radio to become Canada’s pioneering Black-owned station. Its programming was aimed at representing and reflecting the city’s Black communities. In 2011, it was sold to CHUM Radio.
Later in 2011, G98.7 became the city’s second-ever Black-owned station, but after founder Fitzroy Gordon’s death in 2019 it was sold in 2020.
Those sales are where cultural loss resides for Farley Flex, former music director and director of business development of the original Flow.
“For me, the big loss here is there’s no Black-led, Black-run, Black-owned radio to represent our perspective anywhere on the airwaves,” said Flex. “Playing Black music doesn’t make it a Black station.”
Despite that, Flex sees space for everything to exist.
“There’s no reason to separate it and segment it. You can play a Kes song or a Bunji song or whatever it is, right after Jay Z or Drake,” Flex explained.
According to Flex, the only thing that could make things work is research.
He cites how someone like DJ Starting from Scratch was able to draw through lines between genres because he took such an academic and culturally sensitive approach to the music he spun — something Flex thinks is required.
“If they do their research they will know that Afrobeat is a burgeoning new genre, you’ll know that soca, reggae, R&B and hip hop are basically almost indiscernible,” Flex said. “There’s so many collaborations, and all the music is Black music.”
But to N.R.M.N, a local Toronto artist, having both of the stations’ audiences tuning into one is a double-edged sword — more people will be listening to one station, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll stay, especially in the era of unlimited choice.
“You’re gonna have Smiley fans and Buju fans merging in the same breath,” said N.R.M.N. “So now if I simply don’t like that, then guess what? I can simply back out of that station, and I can just put on my phone.”
Another aspect N.R.M.N. is worried about with this move is losing the focus on local talent — one of the hallmarks of Flow’s programming over the years.
For example, when DJ Ricochet recently posted that his time with Flow had come to an end — the “All New” iteration features new personnel — many local artists expressed dismay.
Ricochet’s “Made in Toronto Takeover” show was a platform that helped burgeoning artists establish themselves and gain credibility in the city.
“That move alone changes the process of even how we go about even submitting (music) or knowing who to talk to or when because the personnel has changed,” said N.R.M.N.
There will still be space for local acts, Gunter said.
“I’m a big believer in developing and offering a platform for local independent artists. You know, in every station, every market I’ve been in, I’ve had a show that allows for that, so it won’t be the same show that aired on 93.5. But yeah, we definitely have a space for local artists to be able to shine.”
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