Mississauga businessman Denham Jolly, who spent 11 years fighting to get the licence for Toronto's first commercial black radio station, has sold the station to CTV.
Denham Jolly, who headed Milestone Inc. which owned The New Flow 93.5 FM, sold the station to CTV this week for $27 million, with the proviso that it retain the station's name and urban music orientation.
Jolly is the long-time owner of the Tyndall Nursing Home on Eglinton Ave. E.
The former community newspaper publisher was turned down twice by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in his bid to establish the station that was only approved after the African-Canadian community launched a politically charged campaign for the Greater Toronto Area's first commercial black radio station.
The president of The New Flow had difficulty defining exactly what types of music the station will play.
"It's kind of hard to say, ‘What's urban?' and ‘What's rhythmic?' and ‘What's hip-hop? Dance? What's crossover?'" said CHUM Radio president Chris Gordon, who will oversee operations. "All I can tell you is that we're committed to being a very rhythmic radio station."
The CRTC's approval of the sale binds CTV through 2017 to the terms of Flow's initial licence, which dictates an urban music format without specifics.
The deal brings to a close Jolly's run as the first black person in Canada to receive a radio licence. He spent 11 years, $400,000 and gathered 12,000 signatures to win approval from the federal broadcast regulator. But it's been an uneasy tenure.
While the station made respectable gains, eventually becoming profitable, it raised the ire of members of the black community who supported Jolly's bid.
Within three months of its launch on Feb. 9, 2001, some listeners were calling for a Flow boycott over its predominantly hip-hop playlist. They wanted programmers to adhere to Milestone's promise of a "modern-day reflection of the rich musical traditions of black musicians and black-influenced music over at least the past century" with a broader mix of reggae, soca, jazz and R&B.
"Flow catered more to the below 30, the hip-hop kind of North American vibe, so it alienated a lot of us," said Brampton-based Allan Jones, who supported a rival black bid for the frequency. "People felt it sold out a long time ago, so the sale of Flow means nothing really. What was missing then is still missing now."
"What you do to get a licence and what you do with a licence are two different things," said radio consultant David Bray of Flow's slide "from world music or urban music, to a more CHR (contemporary hit radio) format.
"They had to move more in that direction because you've got to get enough ad base to be able to get enough revenue. That is the reality of radio in Canada. It's always a balancing act, making sure that your conditions of licence are fulfilled, while at the same time becoming sufficiently commercial that you can actually make some money."
The station maintained a strong community mandate, supporting organizations such as the Jamaican Canadian Association and the Black Business and Professional Association, as well as a minority-focused scholarship at Ryerson University. Its efforts also boosted the careers of local black talent such as singers Jully Black and Divine Brown, and former Canadian Idol judge Farley Flex.