DJ takes part in new ‘democratic’ approach to radio

Dave Bookman

Getting back on the Toronto airwaves this fall after an eight-month hiatus was like riding a bike, said radio veteran Dave Bookman, who has been part of the Toronto rock radio scene since 1991.

After 21 years at 102.1 the Edge, Bookman – or Bookie, as he’s known on the radio – was ready for a change. He knew a new radio station, Indie88, would be starting up this summer, and he wanted to be a part of it, so he stepped down from his position at the Edge last December.

“Without getting too technical, the Edge and all stations have a lot of restriction on what they can play and when they can play it, and then you have the whole business of broadcasting. All these factors come into what makes a playlist,” he said.

Being part of a brand new station meant he could help build something new, he said. “It’s an opportunity to really stretch my legs and open up my record collection and play a wide variety of types of music.”

Indie88, broadcasting on 88.1, has emphasized its “democratic” approach to radio, with the listeners voting on what the station should play. Someone listening to the online live stream can upvote or downvote each song that comes on, and the station regularly sends out surveys to determine what audiences want to hear.

Bookman called it an exciting new approach that has helped resolve some of the frustration he’s felt with the radio industry in the past.

“The audience wasn’t given enough intelligence,” he said. “The way it’s set up [at Indie88] is, we’re trusting each other. If we go somewhere, they’re going to come with us and we’re all going to figure it out together.”

Bookman said he has dreamed about being on radio ever since he was a little kid in Ottawa listening to the radio at night.

“I love the fact you could lie there and listen and put the pictures in your mind,” he said, describing it as a magical platform for storytelling.

That magic still comes through today. Even though the technology has evolved to the point where everyone can be his or her own personal DJ, there’s still something special about listening to the radio, Bookman said.

“I think it’s a little bit of wonderment. I believe people like the fact that there’s somebody else creating something for them. They want to laugh and have a good time and want to discover things.”

It can be hard to find good bands out of the plethora of music releases today, he said. There have never been so many bands to choose from, but with lots of bands come lots of bad music.

“The one thing about today is, it’s not as hard to create something, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” he said.

Just 10 or 15 years ago, musicians had to give up everything for the chance to put their music out there. “So, when someone did something, you knew there was a certain level of dedication to their craft,” he said.

Not so today. Any kid with a computer can make music, he said, and only with time will we see the fallout from technology.

Even after so many years in the industry, Bookman said it’s still an exhilarating and thrilling job, but he has other ideas he hopes to try as well. He hesitated to speak about some of the projects he worked on during his eight-month hiatus, but he mentioned an online venture called “Breakfast with Bookie,” where he interviews people over a coffee or meal setting.

He’s also continuing his weekly Nu Music Nites at the Horseshoe Tavern, which feature up-and-coming rock bands, showcasing 30 minutes of material each – about the length of his own attention span, Bookman joked. The idea is, if you don’t like the band, just wait 30 minutes and something new will come up.

No matter what medium Bookman ends up in, he hopes to continue to deliver new music and make his mark on Toronto’s music journalism scene.

Dave Bookman is on the air Sunday nights from 6 to 10 p.m. on Indie88.