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Connecting to musicians and music fans online

Local artist/musician uses experience in journalism and a passion for music for new online radio programs

Brian Tremblay has always been an avid music fan.

In high school, he managed local bands and booked shows.

Promoting bands requires band photographs, so Tremblay took those for them.

Tremblay is now well-known for his photography, as well as for his work in newspapers, magazines, radio and television, including CBC, Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Ottawa Citizen, and The Toronto Star.

When Borderline Radio, a local internet-based radio site, launched in February 2020 after almost two years of planning and preparation, Tremblay saw a possible opportunity to combine his experience and his passions.

It was Tremblay’s own original music that opened the door to that opportunity.

“I’ve known Adrian Vilaca, program director at Borderline Radio, for some time and he’s always been a great supporter of my endeavours,” said Tremblay.

“I bumped into him one day and he told me about The Borderline and that he was playing some music that I had recorded in 2008/09, but I hadn’t done anything with it. He said he loved the songs and invited me to come up and look at the station.”

Tremblay took Vilaca up on his offer and toured The Borderline studio.

“When I went in, it reminded me of when I worked in radio in the late seventies, early eighties at CFYN/CHAS and later as a freelance broadcaster for CBC Radio.”

Tremblay told Vilaca about his past experience and was immediately asked if he wanted to do a show.

“I immediately blurted out, ‘Yes, I would. It’s going to be called Rock N Roll Heaven and I’ll play music and talk about rock bands with a Sault Ste. Marie connection.’ I couldn’t believe I had just said it.”

Vilaca took Tremblay up on his suggestion and the program Rock N Roll Heaven was born.

“What I wanted to do with the program was share my passion for the great local musicians who went on to make their own way … on the Canadian music scene.”

Tremblay has highlighted local musicians like Bob Yeomans, Tim Ryan, Keith McKie, Raymond Gassi and others on his show.

“When you start doing research … you begin to find what a great hot spot we had for music and venues in our city at one time. I had no idea The Everly Brothers, The Searchers, The Dave Clark Five, Heart, The Bee Gees all played the Gardens at one time.”

The concept has gone over well with listeners, as well as with the program director.

Vilaca has said that Tremblay’s show “is as good as any show anywhere.”

For Tremblay, the idea of working with Borderline on a radio program was appealing as he felt radio always had a special magic to it.

“Once upon a time, we used to have our transistor radios that we carried around,” he says.

“Then they added cassette tape players to them so you could have the best of both worlds. Now we have our phones which can do the same except it’s all online.”

Despite changing technologies, Tremblay believes radio has remained relevant in all its forms, be it online or terrestrial, because of its accessibility.

“You can listen to both in your car or you can listen on your mobile device … Internet radio is great because it offers the benefits of both worlds. With The Borderline you have the radio stream which is just like listening to a terrestrial radio station and then you have the on-demand programs which also air on the radio stream, but now you can go back and listen whenever you want in case you missed the airing of the program.”

For Tremblay, the interactive nature of online radio as compared to other forms of media is a “whole new ball game.”

“It’s easy to be interactive with your listeners, especially now with websites and social media. It’s not so much as taking requests, but connecting with folks who listen and like what you’re doing.”

Although not exclusively, Tremblay has tried to keep the program’s focus to bands who have a local connection.

“I want to let the people of the Sault know we have some incredible hidden talent here and some we may not even know about. I found out about Sagen Pearse who lives in Southern Ontario, but is from the Sault, via a press release I received from his publicist. He makes incredible music and I don’t think a lot of people know about him. That’s why it’s important to me.”

Additionally, Tremblay has done a few episodes without that specific local connection.

“[T]hat’s nice just to keep things fresh and share artists I’m excited about … I have truly been blessed to get to talk to some of the artists I’ve spoken to. If you had told me when I was a teenager that I’d get to talk to some of my musical heroes I have said you were crazy.”

Tremblay’s first big interview was with Andy Kim, who is a Canadian pop-rock singer and songwriter known for his chart-topping hits, “Rock Me Gently” and “Sugar, Sugar”.

“He is a sweetheart of a guy. He said some very profound things that were the driving force to get me back into my own original music.”

Another highlight was talking with rocker Sass Jordan, who played the Sault numerous times.

“Sass Jordan and I talked longer than we had scheduled because we were both having a great time. She paid me the nicest compliment, and I have it recorded, telling me it was one of the best interviews she’s ever done.”

One night, Tremblay was pocket dialled by Kim Mitchell after having done an interview with him earlier in the day.

Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s was another memorable interview.

“She’s so nice and I can say I interviewed a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. So many great folks were so gracious to me like Murray McLachlan, Crystal Shawanda, Greg Goddovitz of Goddo and Edmund Pilling of Fludd who I connect with online every once and a while.”

Tremblay sees Borderline Radio as really offering what was a missing component when it comes to supporting the local music scene.

“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get any local, unsigned artist’s music played on regular local radio. They don’t care about local music at all. Their programming is chart-driven, not listener-driven. Local music needs a way to get their music out to as wide an audience as possible and even to let local people know that this is what’s here for them … Telling and recording the stories of some of these great musicians is supremely important. We can’t forget who were are and where we came from musically or we can’t go forward.”

Recently, Tremblay expanded his programming at Borderline by introducing the “This Week at Mister Disc” show, an idea that originated with Vilaca.

“Adrian told me about the show he was planning during a meeting and asked me if I’d like to host the show.”

The concept of the show is based around a Facebook group called the Mister Disc Music Group, created by lifelong music aficionado Todd Gordon, who operated the Mister Disc store in Sault Ste. Marie from October 3, 1988, to July 1, 1999.

Members of the online group select songs that they like based on weekly themes set by Gordon, who has said that the group “was an opportunity to recreate the social element of the physical music store and reconnect with friends and former customers.”

Vilaca, and occasionally Tremblay, select a number of songs posted by the group members that fit in the week’s theme and then build the radio program to bring them to life.

“[He] sends them to me and I start writing the show. I love looking up factoids and adding my own experiences with the artist or music. I think it is great fun and I love all the great tunes that the members post. I’m hoping we can do more fun things with the show in the future.”

In the end, both Tremblay’s programs with Borderline Radio feed his passion for music that started when he was a kid.

“I can still remember listening to my sister’s Beatles albums when I was a kid … We had one of those RCA portable stereos with a record player that folded out and speakers that could be removed. That’s what got me started,” he says.

“My mother used to board Greyhound hockey players and they would have their music that they listened to so I was introduced to some stuff I hadn’t heard before. One time a player stayed with us that had an electric guitar and amp. It was a Gibson SG and he introduced me to BB King. Thanks to him, he got me interested in playing guitar. Now I’m back to writing and recording my own stuff again and I couldn’t be happier.”

Listen to Rock and Roll Heaven and This Week at Mister Disc on Borderline Radio or join Brian Tremblay’s Rock and Roll Heaven Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages to hear about upcoming shows and interviews.