In the winter of 2021, I was given the daunting assignment of bringing order to Trent Radio’s massive collection of vinyl records, which had grown to include more than 8,000 pieces of wax over the decades-long history of the broadcast facility. Lead archivist Alex Campagnolo and I spent months sorting and labeling vinyl to create a more manageable and user-friendly collection for radio programmers to access.
In the end, we whittled the collection down to about a third of its original size, choosing 2,971 records to showcase in Trent Radio’s main archive room. How did we decide what was worth keeping? We prioritized anything that was Canadian, anything that wasn’t “popular music,” anything that wasn’t available to stream on the internet, and anything that was deemed rare by music nerds.
“There’s a joy of discovery to browsing through a physical archive that really has no substitute in the digital realm,” explains Trent Radio’s director of operations, Rob Hailman.
When I asked Rob what the best record in the collection was, his response was a beautiful reminder of the power of this archive. “My favourite is not some great rarity or major musical landmark, but something personally significant,” he said. “The Harvey Silver Dixieland Band, in the jazz collection.”
“Harvey was my piano teacher when I was very young. I remember him as a very kind and patient old man who, I think, realized he’d never turn me into a pianist but could maybe sow the seeds for a love of music.” It obviously worked, as Rob is not only a great musician in his own right, but a supporter of local radio and instrumental in flooding Peterborough’s airwaves with unique and local music.
The beauty of radio — especially as it’s practiced at Trent Radio — is its ephemeral nature. You go to the archive, look for music to play, pick something on a whim, and then play it for whoever might be listening.
In a world that seems hellbent on pushing streaming platforms of every media type, having an actual archive of physical media is rare in and of itself. And it’s true; it can take hours to find a movie to stream but there is little joy derived out of the process of looking. Not so when you’re searching through a physical space.
“Walking through the stacks in a library, digging through the racks at a clothing store, or leafing through a record collection,” Hailman says. “The immediacy and serendipity fits really well with the experience of making radio!”
It’s very possible your favourite record is in this archive but you’ve never heard it. It’s even possible there is a record by a family friend, a distant relative or even a piano teacher. It’s possible as well some of these records may never be played again.
For me, going through the archive was one of the more magical experiences of my life. I made friends, learned about music, and was inspired more than ever to produce radio highlighting rare and unheard masterpieces. It is with great privilege that I share with you some of the most unique gems in the archive.
Interpretations: Chapter One
By Idiom Colleagues
Only 1,000 copies of this record exist and Trent Radio has one of them! The Invisible Cities label unearthed a few deadstock (original and unopened copies) a few years back that were selling for 65 euros on their website. Naturally they sold out immediately. For fans of krautrock, ambient and abstract music.
Canadian Electronic Ensemble
By Canadian Electronic Ensemble
Long out of print (but recently reissued by Artoffact Records) and one of the first albums of its kind in North America. It was originally released by Music Gallery Editions, once called “the strangest record company in the country” by the Toronto Star. This was one of only 27 albums to be released on the label, and perhaps its most well known. The music was made mostly on synthesizers — excluding “trumpet” and “ping-pong balls” — including a home made synth called the “Dyna-Saur.” Absolutely essential and one the first electronic music albums in Canada. If you are in Toronto you can listen at the Reference Library or at York University’s archives.
Fenelon Falls Secondary School Music Night
By Fenelon Falls Secondary School students
Pressed by Lee Smith Recordings out of Toronto, the title says it all. The music directors for the evening were Mr. Nicholson and Miss Saigeon with accompaniment by Mr. Fletcher (so formal!). There are multiple sticky notes affixed to the cover, one of which reads that the A Minor Suite has some “squeaky clarinets”. Another sticky note claims that the track ‘Watermelon Man’ is “60’s psych rock”. How cool were these kids during high school to get on stage and play some crunchy grooves in front of their classmates?
By Stuart Broomer and John Mars
Recorded in concert at the Lynnwood Arts Centre in Simcoe during the summer of 1983, this originally came out with a holographic photo glued on to the front cover. Unfortunately, Trent Radio’s copy is missing the picture. I wasn’t able to listen to this one, so I emailed John Mars directly to learn more about his music. “At some point, my webmaster will be making a lot of my music into free, streaming, full-length clips on the web site,” he wrote back to me. “People will be welcome to do what that they wish with regard to listening, making copies or whatev,” he wrote. So, while I haven’t heard this record yet, hopefully I’ll be able to soon!
You and I are Marked by the Good and the Bad
By East Avenue Energy
Another mystery; no MP3s or YouTube videos on the web. Released independently, this copy is number 244 of 992. Why stop 8 short of one thousand? No clue; only adds to the mystery. There are 10 different musicians on the album, and Discogs lists the genre as folk/country. Recorded at the Princess Theatre, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, June 1, 1986.
Premonition of Reality
Another private press of spacey electronics, limited to only 500 copies, this time out of New Jersey. Not much is known about this duo, made of Wayne Smith and Jeffery Sontag. There are not many bands with an ellipsis in their name, and there are fewer that are in ALL CAPS…perhaps none? The second side of this is a whole suite about the novel Dune.
Heads in the Sky
By Heads in the Sky
One of four releases on the Illuminated Records Label (Box 81, Lake Wilcox, Ontario, Canada, L0G 1X0), what struck me most about this album was the excellent cover. Very prog, very reminiscent of the “get schwifty” episode of Rick and Morty. Also, what better way to myth-make than to name not only the album after your band, but also the best cut on the record? A great slice of Canadian psych rock that sounds like a long lost Pink Floyd album.
The Absence of a Canary
By Ceramic Hello
After leaving popular new wave and Can-rock mainstay Spoons (“Nova Heart”, “Old Emotions”) in 1980, Brett Wickens went on to form Ceramic Hello, an experimental electronic band that was way ahead of its time. Championed by Damian Abraham of Fucked Up, re-issued on Suction Records, and included on Fact Magazine’s top Minimal Wave albums of all time, this is an underrated Canadian classic.
Not to be confused by the Beatles-Beastie Boys mashup album (remember those?), this is a novelty record that is made up of mostly animal sounds, although the guitar is by former Lighthouse member Grant Fullerton (!!!). Covers include Ma Moo Moo Moo (Ba Baa Baa Baa) to the tune of De Do Do Do by the Police and Let’s Dance by David Bowie. Their version of Happy Birthday is available on Youtube.
The back cover of this album reads: “In Devil’s Music, fragments of radio broadcasts are digitally sampled, looped, re-triggered and occasionally reversed or de-tuned. All the material is taken from FM and AM transmissions occurring at the time of the performance.” Absolutely brilliant, and perfectly Trent Radio.
Freedom Through Mobility
This is a three disc set put out by the Society of Automobile Engineers for their 1980 Diamond Jubilee Celebration. Featuring three discs of rather existentialist dilemmas such as “what is the evidence that proves individual engineers and corporate employers do have a social conscience?” Aircraft noise and emissions as well as electric motors are touched on.