Black in Ryerson radio: CKLN’s hip-hop radio show

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By Latoya Powell

The Black community has made many contributions to Ryerson that tend to go unrecognized, such as the first hip-hop radio show in Canada.

Ryerson’s campus radio station CKLN 88.1 FM was the hub of hip-hop music in Toronto in 1983. Although the station lost its license due to non-compliance and infighting, their impact on the Black community will never be forgotten.

“They had provided consistency and accessibility to hip-hop and developmental opportunities to artists in the city so they have been absolutely essential to rolling out and developing the culture,” said Mark Campbell, an an assistant professor at RTA school of media production.

CKLN “lifted” the anti-blackness that blanketed Toronto according to Campbell. “[CKLN] revealed the hidden genius of Black diasporic cultural production.”

Ron Nelson was a first-year RTA student when he was introduced to CKLN in 1983. Within his first few months working at the station, he was fired due to how frequently he played urban music.

“I kept knocking on the doors of the radio station to get back on the air,” said Nelson.

A few months later a CKLN staff member offered him his own radio show, and The Fantastic Voyage was conceived. The show was dedicated to hip-hop and funk music, and received approximately 350,000 listeners, according to Campbell. DJs, MCs, breakdancers, clothing labels, record labels and artists would come to the radio station to show their support.

“CKLN became that meeting place, that special thing that united, bonded, recognized and gave credit to all of these forces that were uniquely Canadian, and needed to be heard, seen and represented”

“The black community—geographically dispersed and generationally fractured—became an imagined whole while listening to the radio, it was as if our lives and our cultures were valued and celebrated,” said Campbell. The Fantastic Voyage quickly became the “umbrella”for the hip-hop community and industry.

“[CKLN] became that meeting place, that special thing that united, bonded, recognized and gave credit to all of these forces that were uniquely Canadian, [and] needed to be heard, seen and represented,” said Nelson.

In 1989 Adrien King, also known as DJ X, launched his show Powermove with the support from Nelson. The two were powerful influences within the Canadian hip-hop world for the following 13 years. “I used to listen to [The Fantastic Voyage] religiously,” said DJ X.

The hip-hop programming at CKLN helped pave the way for many Canadian hip-hop artists like Micro FreshWest and Michie Mee to promote their music. CKLN was also the first to broadcast the Pride march and collaborated with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

“At the time the station was considered to be radical,” said Tien Providence a Jazz programmer at Regent Radio. “It was the only alternative…to pop radio.”The influential impact that DJ Ron Nelson and DJ Xhad on the Black community has only recently been recognized within the Ryerson community.

Campbell, who is also the founding director of the Northside Hip Hop Archive is trying to facilitate this effort. “I’m working with Ryerson archive and Toronto Public Library to make sure that these things are accessible to students. You know, flyers, audio from the actual radio shows. All that’s stuff, I’m in the midst of digitizing with the Ryerson archive.”

Campbell is also working towards integrating Nelson’s work into the RTA curriculum.

“In my curriculum when I teach classes I’m able to use it, but I want all of the professors at Ryerson, and elsewhere, to have access to this material—to get first-hand audio archival of hip-hop’s earliest years in Toronto.”

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