An ode to Montreal anglo radio
I’ve always been drawn to the radio. As a child, I sat there, twisting the dial in search of programs that suited my nocturnal needs for slipping into slumber, fascinated by the tiny outposts in the sea of static.
When the imminent demise of TSN Radio 990 was announced last week, I took the news to heart, the way I often do when it’s announced that English-speaking Montreal has lost another radio outlet (and as it turns out, I wasn’t alone). Once again reminded of the fickle nature of AM English-language radio in Montreal, I found myself thinking back to how I’ve always connected to the medium.
My mother used radio as an overnight surrogate during the first few years of my life. Being a rather peculiar child, I’d often rise during the night and bother her and my father as they were getting ready for bed.
Her solution was rather simple — talk radio would distract me enough to fall back asleep and thus she could retire to bed without incident. She’d flip the “on” switch and invite me to climb back into my bed, and soon enough all would be well. In the morning, we would often discuss Peter Anthony Holder’s broadcast the previous night, and she would dutifully inform me of what I had missed when my eyelids had finally grown too heavy. Her voice was tinged with a certain kind of giddy and contagious joy, excited to complete the story started the night before.
One warm June night in 1993, I surreptitiously stayed awake in bed listening to Dick Irvin, Jr. call Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. Since it was a school night, my parents had forbidden me from staying up to watch it on TV. Instead, I feigned sleep and lay awake in the dark, secretly listening to the game in real time and wondering how many other kids in Montreal were doing the exact same thing.
Listening to sports broadcasts afforded me a sense of belonging — as if I were part of a larger movement beyond myself. It was also the foundation of some of my most precious family memories.
Expos games on CIQC became a ritual for my dad and me. Whenever we’d spend hours running errands with the car, we’d often take longer than necessary just to enjoy the baseball game on the air. But the broadcast would cut out as soon as we headed off-island, and so I’d anxiously await the trip back over the bridge to hear Dave Van Horne’s voice calling the rest of the baseball game.
That thousands of Montrealers were doing the same thing as us at the same time, following every call with mounting anticipation, spoke nothing of the bonds formed with my father in those formative years.
My parents’ cars never had FM radio, so we’d often alternate between CIQC, CJAD and Oldies 990. Many weekend grocery runs had me riding shotgun, flipping the dial until I found a suitable topic of discussion or a particular song I enjoyed. My dad would hum along, banging his hand on the roof of the car in time.
I mourned every station closure over the years, even recording 940 News’s farewell message a few years back and turning it into a piece called Radio Eulogy as a way to process the powering down of the transmitter.
Radio has been a constant in my life ever since I can remember. I can recall specific moments just by hearing a voice or song, and the conversations the medium conjured allowed me to connect with my parents. Even my own voice can be heard on the AM dial now, and so, although I only listened to TSN Radio 990 a few hours a week, a tinge of sadness swept across me when the crew received their proverbial pink slips. Another outlet may very well be shuttered in the coming months, continuing a sad pattern for the English-language radio in Montreal.
For more on the TSN Radio 990 saga and attempts to save its place on the AM dial, read Steve Faguy’s story in the Montreal Gazette here. ■