By Paul Sambla
As a kid growing up in a small town in Ontario, Denise Benson would have to invent ways for her radio to pick-up CBC’s Brave New Waves. Now she’s the one picking the tunes to spin.
Benson, an RTA graduate, has worked at KLN 88.1 for 10 years. But her new program on Mondays from 11 to 2, Mental Chatter, is her most popular yet.
The show, based on her nights out DJing clubs, sounds like nothing on commercial radio. The CKLN program guide bills it as an “eclectic mix of sounds and thoughts, featuring local independent women artists, to trip-hop and soul jazz groves fresh out of London… from deep underground house to conscious hip-hop and relevant rock.”
“Spun by Dkye DJ Denise Benson.”
Her upfront sexuality might seem surprising to some, but her tenacity is inspiring. Benson chose Ryerson because of CKLN. She read about the station in the Toronto Star in 1985, and felt an immediate need to get there, somehow.
“I grew up just outside of Coburg, and reading about this station, it sounded incredible. I was like, ‘Wow! What I’ve been looking for!’ A station that had politics, all kind of music and sounded open to volunteers.”
In her second year, 1987, Benson did her first show. “I graduated in 1989 ang got hired as development director at CKLN — doing fundraising, grants, the money stuff — then I became program director for a number of years.”
Her first two years as a student at Ryerson saw other developments in Benson’s life.
“Part of the reason I started DJing clubs in the first place was because I came out [as a lesbian], and hanging out at clubs and loving the music, but never totally feeling comfortable. And then I’d go to women’s bars, and hate the music. So I started playing, because I wanted to play so-called alternative music for queer people and our friends. And that’s how it started.”
Her current chill-out club night, Gilde, at the Gypsy Co-Op on Queen St. West suits her perfectly. Here, hidden behind her immaculate tortoise-shell glasses, she fills a new musical niche that is growing stronger as time passes. Although the heady sounds of drum-and-bass and trip-hop have filled Britain for the past few years, commercial stations here shy away from it because of the length and often instrumental nature of the songs. Slowly but surely, however, her audience — and the genres — is growing.
“Doing the show for 10 years, at this point I get more calls every Monday than I’ve ever had, from all people: straight people, queer people, men, women, everyone’s opened up to this sort of music.”
It isn’t rhythmic jungle beats all night long. As the program notes say, she plays all sorts of sounds Monday mornings and Wednesday nights.
“I work pretty hard to make the moods change. When I first came here I was into punk rock and the darker stuff like goth. Gradually, club-wise and on the air, I started incorporating a lot more dance music.”
Despite her obsession for an art form that has been, for her, life-saving, Benson can’t forsee the day she takes her show to a bigger audience — a commercial radio station.
“I’m pretty committed to community radio because being a dyke, and being out as a dyke doesn’t make me that likely a choice for a commercial station.
“What seems like a whole other world.”