There’s something about radio.
Even as streaming appears to eclipse all other listening mediums, for artists, there’s still an undeniable impact to radio play. But for musicians who are more fringe than mainstream, radio can feel out of reach. CBC Music’s latest offering, The Block, addresses this head-on, with a nightly lineup made to amplify underrepresented voices. Specifically, The Block will be making space for Black artists and genres of Black origin.
Starting Feb. 1 at 7 p.m., each weeknight host Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe will guide listeners across genres and eras, playing everything from older deep cuts to newer hits, with a nod to their early influences—all with an emphasis on Blackness. In a press release, CBC called The Block “the home for music of Black origin.”
While this is groundbreaking for Black artists, it’s to be expected that some will question why this is even necessary, as it’s not impossible for Black artists to get radio play.
That’s true: it’s not impossible. In fact, at any given moment, you’re very likely to hear a Black artist or a genre of Black origin on any given pop station. But there are still systemic barriers to getting Black artists and their songs heard (save Drake and The Weeknd).
On a phone call ahead of The Block’s launch, Tetteh-Wayoe explained, “As a commercial radio station, you have to convince advertisers to advertise on your platform. If the majority of the musicians on your platform were Black musicians, you would then run into racism at the point of purchase with businesses who don’t want to have anything to do with Black people.” For stations geared towards Black audiences, she says “that’s just a fact that salespeople have to deal with.”
This came to a head on Toronto airwaves in 2016 when hip-hop station FLOW 93.5 temporarily rebranded as a throwback pop station. They soon added contemporary hip-hop back to their lineup and in 2019, returned to their original branding.
And before G98.7FM went up for sale, it was Toronto’s only Black-owned radio station. Though there were reports of interest, no bids from Black-owned groups were submitted and it was sold at the end of last year. Though the new owner has expressed interest in maintaining the station’s mission to serve Black communities in the GTA, G98.7FM’s future as a Black-focused station remains uncertain.
So while there has long been Black-focused programming on the radio in Canada, it has felt, and been, very revocable; like it can only be enjoyed at the whim of its benefactors.
Though Black artists in Canada have found success in spite of this, with a new home on CBC Music, support feels more tangible.
For Tetteh-Wayoe, it’s overdue. “It shouldn’t be 2021 when Canada gets a Black-focused music program,” she said. “It’s way past due.”
To learn our way around The Block, we caught up with Tetteh-Wayoe a couple of weeks before the show’s launch. The conversation, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, is below.
Why do you think that this is the perfect time to launch The Block?
I would say that the time for it was 20 years ago, but the powers that be didn’t make space for it. So it was a struggle, but I’m not going to completely hate on it because we had stations like FLOW 93.5 in Toronto. And for a flash in the pan, I worked at a radio station called VIBE 98.5, which was rhythmic CHR-focused, also known as urban-focused, playing hip-hop and R&B. But it eventually turned into a pop music station. At that time I could argue that hip-hop and R&B was already making massive inroads into the commercial mainstream pop sphere. But those sounds were very one-dimensional. I wasn’t playing Mobb Deep; I wasn’t playing Wu-Tang Clan. You would have these rap and R&B collaborations and the music director would only play the version without the rap verse. So it just seemed like there wasn’t space for it. That, or the powers that be felt like the market that was interested in it was too small for it to be supported commercially.
What do you think is particularly special about this moment in Canadian music?
I think it’s special because of access. Just the other day, I had popped into an Instagram Live with this cat named David “Click” Cox. For four hours straight, he played banger after banger, all by Black Canadian musicians, specifically from Toronto. All this stuff was made, there was all this magic and all these different styles represented, but there was nowhere for it to go. So it’s not that it hasn’t always been there, it’s that now people have the opportunity to put it out there themselves.
Streaming is great for music discovery but it can homogenize what you hear. The algorithm’s recommendations are based on what you’re already listening to, so it’s special to hear something that’s curated by someone else.
Unfortunately, now we’re living in a world where algorithms are constantly curating a world to serve our desires and we then get even more insulated. And who wants their world to become smaller? This world is huge. I want to travel but can’t right now, so I’m going to go on an adventure in music. I’ll take you to Nigeria and play you some Afropop that just came out from there.
But with so much coming out at such a high volume, a lot of it can sound the same. Do you find that?
Going back to the way radio picks music and how it can begin to sound very homogenized, one particular sound rises above and every track that comes out sounds like that. Or one particular artist rises above and you just have these carbon copies of that artist. When we program (The Block), I really want to be able to highlight the sheer scope of the expressions of Black music. Like in hip-hop, there are all the different styles and varieties that exist outside of trap: there are people who are still doing really great boom bap, still a lot of jazz fusion, spoken word collaborations, interesting music that will never find its way on to mainstream radio.
So there’s a massive shift in thinking and I think that there are a lot of people who are down for the discovery, down for the adventure, and down to really hear a well-curated playlist of music. And down to have somebody who is knowledgeable and passionate be their road dog on that journey. And that’s me.
The Block with host Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe premieres on CBC Music Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. and airs Monday - Friday evenings at 7 p.m.