Whose Flow Is It Anyway? How Can Canada Defeat Americanization If We Keep Overlooking Canadian Content?
Published Mar 30, 2020The true north strong and free — a country so enthused by its apparent mosaic populous and free health care that it fears losing even a hint of its greatness to the dreadful melting pot south of the border.
But when it comes to Canadian media, the threat of an "American takeover" is not quite a threat at all, but rather grossly welcomed, despite who suffers and at what costs.
Recently, Toronto radio station Flow 93.5 — Canada's first "urban contemporary" radio station when it launched in 2001 — announced plans to fill their morning airtime with "The World's Most Dangerous Morning Show," The Breakfast Club, which originations from Power 105.1 in New York City, and like their response to most changes Flow makes, Torontonians were understandably not impressed. After all, promises made have not always been promises kept — after a high profile launch at the turn of the millennium, Flow changed its name to Move and rebranded as a retro throwback station before returning to its contemporary hip-hop roots last year.
Likewise, as a Torontonian creative, I can't help but question why our media outlets consistently prioritize outside content over art that is created by Canadians that is primarily for Canadians. Despite the rest of the world naively thinking we've reached the pinnacles of multiculturalism, African-Canadian art is incredibly overlooked and underfunded, not to mention the underrepresentation of diversity in people and perspectives due to an impermeable gatekeeping in entertainment spaces.
With that, the irony lies in Flow 93.5 being Canada's first Black-owned radio station — and the most prominent radio station dedicated to hip-hop and R&B music in the city of Toronto — yet still deciding to play a part in the erasure of Black voices, only to increase the availability of an already world-renowned syndicated African-American radio show that Canadians can readily access through satellite radio and YouTube.
The morning show switch may seem like a probable next step, considering The Breakfast Club already airs during the weekends. But to do so, Flow moved its original morning show with Blake Carter and Peter Kash to afternoons, let go of the midday show and host Alicia "Ace" West, along with radio veteran DJ Mastermind's evening show, to essentially usher in acclaimed radio personalities DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlemagne Tha God.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy The Breakfast Club just as much as the next woman, but I also recognize talent from this city that falls to the wayside time and time again as a result of our conservative media and the lack of infrastructure set in place to create additional diverse media and artist opportunities.
A widespread critique amongst Canadian creatives is that several homegrown shows have been taken off the air, like MuchMusic's Live at Much or Rap City, and that that there are no longer any major music platforms that break Canadian musicians or hosts. Canadian rap and R&B acts like Drake, the Weeknd and PARTYNEXTDOOR — who are credited for shaping the urban music sound worldwide over the last decade — were amongst the pioneers who gained credibility and crossover success in the U.S. before Canada. These successes are not a result of an absence of talent that miraculously appeared once they left Toronto, but by an embrace and co-sign by other American artists, radio stations and music publications alike that valued their artistry.
General Manager of Stingray Radio Group and owner of 93.5, Steve Parsons claims that The Breakfast Club is synonymous with the best in hip-hop and thus, merging the two will naturally serve the interests of Toronto's hip-hop community. Even if The Breakfast Club reports on hip-hop culture and its American celebrities — which happen to also be news that persistently breaks headlines around the world — Canadian artists suffer by way of exposure and local support.
Today, new urban acts out of the Greater Toronto area — Sean Leon, TOBi, Friyie, Haviah Mighty — have no choice but to rely on the power of social media and streaming platforms that curate "Canadian playlists" at a chance to be showcased at a global scale, or must constantly knock at the door of America for a bleak chance of being "discovered." The Breakfast Club may speak to hip-hop at large, but when it comes to talents of Toronto — that speak to our unique culture and sound — we deserve an equally niche platform to hone and honour our contributions.
Flow has made strides within the last year to showcase Toronto's rap and R&B acts with segments like "Made in Toronto," playing music by local artists from Sunday to Thursday at 11 p.m., but the majority of music that plays on Flow is by American artists, at least as much the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will allow.
Amid the pandemic, Flow has postponed The Breakfast Club debut, which Stingray's GM explains as an action "to be local during this period" and not at all a response to backlash.
Someone tell Steve Parsons that a morning show that plays up-and-coming Toronto urban contemporary artists, or better yet interviews artists in a way that's similar to shows like — oh, I don't know — The Breakfast Club, would truly serve the people of Toronto, in the wake of a pandemic or not. Failing to acknowledge the dire need for diverse Canadian media outlets, Black publications and programming will only lead to the "American takeover" one way or another. Either all our top programming will be imported from elsewhere or creatives will continue to leave Toronto to begin careers elsewhere.