Radio is becoming a more and more archaic means of consumption every passing year. With the vast majority of music listeners not even having private collections, opting instead for streaming services, most people shuffle a playlist and call it a day. But even if the majority of people only hear the radio when walking around a store, its historical and ongoing significance should not be understated or forgotten. And Toronto artist Bahia Watson has paid homage to the power of radio shows and its connection to storytelling through her recent project Program Sound FM.
Program Sound FM, described as a radio station show, went live July 25th and ran for twelve hours straight. Lead and hosted by Bahia Watson—who some may recognize from her work on Star Trek: Discovery—the full day of programming featured dozens of artists across a vast spectrum of backgrounds. Originally devised by Watson at the start of the pandemic as a means to give theatre creators an avenue for creation, she teamed up with Outside The March Theatre to secure funding and a team and the project was developed over the course of this past year.
Combining music, sound design, talk pieces, and performances, eclecticism radiated from the collected works. Jennah Foster-Catlack’s ‘Covid Tings’ gave snapshots of real and variant lives lived over this past year’s struggle; Colin Doyle and Liza Paul’s ‘Friendshit’ shared candid wisdom of connection with a college-talk-radio style; Roula Said’s ‘About 40 Days’ was an intimate, engrossing piece of storytelling. Much of the music was Canadian and BIPOC focussed-one of the many ways the station was championing progressive values-including Toronto’s Kokophonix and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s cover of Willie Dunn’s iconic ‘I Pity The Country’. It was a quilted tapestry, to say the very least.
With such stark variation of microphone quality and sonic textures from project to project—and even within individual segments—what could come off as unpleasantly disjointed in some contexts feels like a charming and suitable patchwork of sounds and identities from across the country. Program Sound floats somewhere in the space between a pirate radio station and Fringe show, and it is nothing if not endearing.
The bumpers and overall design of Program Sound FM’s own audio are some of the gems of the structure. Designed by TiKA, a Toronto-based multi-disciplinary artist and founder of non-profit organization StereoVisual, it is immediately catchy and captivating and truly elevated the twelve-hour run by giving a particular sonic fingerprint to the shape of the channel.
But without a doubt, the identity of Program Sound FM and its very heartbeat go to creator Bahia Watson. Watson is an outstandingly charismatic host for the forum she has created, bounding between high-energy moments to a relaxing candour. Her passionate delivery hits so many comforting notes as a host and the care that has gone from her into this inventive project is exceedingly clear. Not only is Program Sound FM looking to exist as an avenue for storytellers to share, but it is clear that the connectivity of our national community is a prime goal as well. In referencing the tragic treatment of the homeless encampments in Toronto over the past month, Watson made a stark and truthful comment on the state of the city’s priorities:
“We can fund police attacking poor people. Or we can fund the arts, and be like this.”
Shows like Program Sound FM are as beautiful as they are fleeting. Perhaps even more so than theatre or a live concert, a unique broadcast experience is so individual and so ephemeral. Bahia Watson found a way to capture those glorious aspects of storytelling and weave them together with the contexts of radio in a way that harkens back to a time long past, while still feeling so of the moment. Here’s hoping there are plans to pop up in the static again soon.