Jaimie as King George
Following  11 years as the sole live-to-air freestyle radio program on Canadian terrestrial radio, ‘Marsden Theatre’ aired its last show on 94.9 The Rock in Oshawa, Ontario this past weekend.

‘Marsden Theatre’ was a two-day-a-week culmination of playlists and psychotropic banter made fun and participatory by the always irreverent (and occasionally annoying) David Marsden.

David is one of three Canadian DJs in the Disc Jockey Hall of Fame [the others are Red Robinson and Jay Nelson]. The crux of the show is a blend of late ‘70s and full-on 1980s pre-ironic Alternative Music as Marsden used to pitch on legendary CFNY-FM (a station that now, post-ironically, plays Hipster music).


(Marsden (L) with Klaatu’s Dee Long)

Marsden also has his finger on the pulse of new alternative independent music. Only in a freeform music format could you hear solo music by members of Klaatu and ME on a prime-time Saturday evening time slot! Yes, David’s been spinning a track of mine since 2006 called “Rest In Peace”. And before you think this is the inspiration for my rant, it’s not. My song wasn’t making or breaking the listenership of his shows.

The station didn’t pull Marsden’s showcase because of low ratings. The die-hard listener ship has continued to grow as the Greater Toronto Area radio landscape continues to narrow and become ubiquitous. No, they pulled it because they’re revamping the format of the station as per the myopic trend-Q107in-a-box consultants who decide such things. Earlier this year Q107 in Toronto ditched its 14 year run as the premiere Classic Rock station to become what they were in the ‘80s – Toronto’s Rock. This meant doing nothing except expanding their definition of Rock by adding ‘90s grunge and peppering the playlist with modern tracks by the likes of The Black Keys, The Trews, Monster Truck, The Sheepdogs and Big Wreck. If you want Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” or Creedence Clearwater’s “Willie & The Poorboys” then you’ll have to dial into their long-running 12 hour Psychedelic Psundays show each week with Andy Frost.

Despite the ballyhoo from irate long-time listeners – which Q107 has gleefully mocked on air by running telephone messages of the haters as part of their rebranding efforts – the station is thriving. It was a major franchise risk (other stations in the chain have done the same in several major Canadian cities).

The Rock

To that end, 94.9 The Rock has been feeling the pinch and the drain of listeners from their little-station-that-could which broadcasts from an airport tower in Oshawa. Marsden’s show was the first casualty. But what of the format shift? Q107 was reacting to the solid fan base of Hamilton’s Y108 – also a rock station and St. Catharines’ HTZ-FM which is a heavier rock station. If 94.9 The Rock follows suit we will have four stations playing various degrees of the same formulaic rock to a population base exceeding 4 or 5 million people. To the victor go the spoils.

So Toronto will soon have a competing Rock market in one corner and a competing R & B/Rap/Pop/WTF market in the other with one lone station, BOOMBOOM 97.3, playing 1980s chart-toppers – some of which occasionally found a home on Marsden’s old CFNY playlists (like Pete Shelley’s “Homosapien”).  But that’s not their entire mode of operations.  BOOM prides itself as the ‘Best of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s’ which means you will hear Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” squashed between Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” and Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” (apparently BOOM’s music director thinks a song from 1968 qualifies as a 1970s staple).  In the heyday of terrestrial radio a playlist like this would have been standard fair if we were talking about a fast-breaking Top40 format. But it’s not Top40 radio. It’s jukebox oldies radio. And the jukebox is repetitively dull. NOTE: To their credit they had a campaign where guest artists performed hit songs in the station’s elevator. Very clever and effective.

99 Red BalloonsIn Marsden’s world he would have spun the 12” German language dance mix of “99 Luftballons”. He would have played the Kim Wilde version of “Born To Be Wild” and he would have made lewd comments about Bon Jovi’s tight trousers. Instead, BOOM trots out these non-sequitorial playlists with a skip and a hop and bright-shiny smiles and soccer Moms and daycare workers and bank tellers rejoice. It’s where music has gone to die on an endless digital loop.

And this is the sad state of terrestrial radio right now. I thought it was bad 5 years ago and now I realize that they’ve sunk the ship even further. I will now Radio Tattoohazard a guess that there’s probably a point in which it will get so bad that they’ll be bribing listeners to come on board and not just with cash prize contests and 5-day/4-night trips to The Guantanamo Bay Beach Resort. I expect there will be branding stings between songs saying “Please, please, please don’t change the channel. We’ll wash your car. We’ll take your kids to school. We’ll service your husband.” Newcap’s recent stunt this year to only play portions of songs was met with universal scorn. Don’t piss off the audience. Or the artists. Here’s another one that not only failed, but was racist as well:

The rallying cry for a few years from the disenfranchised is that we should mosey on over to Satellite radio.


Sorry, kids. The peanut-farming, bean-counting consultants are way ahead of you and driven that outlet into the ground as well. 215 channels of narrow-casting sameness. They’ve got an Elvis Channel, a Beatles Channel, a Dylan Channel, and a Grateful Dead Channel among other formats. Which is great for die-hards but why, when I switch to their 1950s Channel, am I still hearing the exact same Elvis tunes? Or hearing Dylan on the Folk Channel, the 1960s Channel, the Americana Channel and the 1970s Channel? They had a universe to build from the ground up and in less than a decade they’ve moved the failings of terrestrial radio over to Sirius XM.  Don’t believe me? Look here:

MarsbarWhat radio doesn’t seem to grasp (or any corporation as its endemic to all corporate mentality) is that David Marsden is the brand. He will out-live the radio fads, the stations and the people who are programming them. He always does. He started on terrestrial in the 1960s and became a pioneer for rock radio under the name Dave Mickie at a modest little station called CFCO in Chatham, Ontario in 1963. That’s 51 years. He created his own radio format – one that stations no longer recognize…including CHUM, whom he once worked for, and CFNY…a station he helped build. He has taken his audience with him. You’d think that a smart radio programmer would realize this. He’s the house band. He’s the reason people are tuning in.

There’s a reason everyone loved Alan Freed, John Peel, Murray The K, Wolfman Jack, Jungle Jay Nelson, Casey Kasem and Bob ‘The Iceman’ Segarini. They were the conduit to all the great music. Like the cool uncle that snuck you that first beer when you were under age or let you smoke pot at the family BBQ when no one was looking. They were the direct line to the cool, to the hip, to the awesome music that your parents either hated or didn’t understand. Generals in the rebellion against conformity and sheepishness.  Radio has killed all the generals and it’s now being run by the guys on KP duty who missed the helicopter evacuation when the North Vietnamese over-ran Saigon in 1975.

The only salvation, it seems, is internet radio and finding the internet stations that are mixing it up, that are driving music formats to the edge of sanity and back. Marsden’s been there for awhile now. He’s been running simultaneously on both 94.9 The Rock and online. Now he’s put down anchor permanently on the web. Long live the King of Freeform Radio:  http://www.marsdenglobal.com/



Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com 


  1. I’d take Craig Venn and Lucky over Marsden any day. The 70’s are over. It’s time to move along.

  2. Thank you Jamie!!! Not sure where Mikey gets the 70’s reference from. Alas – that’s why there are different offerings. 🙂

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