Alan Cross is a legend on Canadian airwaves. As the host of The Ongoing History of New Music — the country’s longest running radio documentary — and a respected musicologist, the Toronto-based radio broadcaster has been providing listeners with his rock and roll expertise for more than 20 years.
It all began with a transistor radio and some old 45s — a sixth birthday present from his grandmother and a box of cast-offs from an uncle who worked as a jukebox repairman, respectively. For Cross, they were the gateway to a whole new world. “As somebody who was not very popular in school, I found my niche,” he says. Cross became the “music guy,” educating himself on the ins and outs of the industry and of the bands that comprised it. “I wanted to know about the record labels, I wanted to know about how songs ended up on the radio, I wanted to know how the charts worked, and I wanted to have this complete collection, or as complete as I could possibly make it, of all the songs that were on the radio so I could tell my friends something about the music they loved that they didn’t know.”
Cross started working at Toronto radio station The Edge in 1986 and, in 1993, was asked to host a new program called The Ongoing History of New Music. With a history degree under his belt, along with his encyclopedic music knowledge, Cross was perfect for the job — but he, himself, wasn’t quite sold on the idea. “I said, ‘it’s a terrible name, it’s a stupid idea, and I don’t want to do it,’” he laughs. “And they said, ‘well, if you don’t do it, you’re gone, that’s it.’” That, plus a new marriage and a new mortgage, helped to change his tune.
Like its name suggests, the show, which is syndicated across Canada, explores the history of rock and roll, with profiles of important musicians and obscure tidbits along the way. When it comes to choosing topics, Cross maintains that he just is “always looking for stuff to keep me amused and, more importantly, [keep] the audience amused.”
Keeping the audience in mind is something Cross does once again by lending his support to DETOUR — a brand new music program developed by AIR MILES that brings a large-scale recording artist to perform in one of five small Canadian towns. For this inaugural edition, a concert by Grammy Award-winning pop star Meghan Trainor is up for grabs.
“They [AIR MILES] asked me if I wanted to be a part of it because I do come from a small town and they thought that I might appreciate this,” Cross, who was raised in Stonewall, Manitoba, explains. “I certainly do and I know what they’re trying to accomplish with this and I think it’s really, really great because let’s think of the kids in these towns. They’ve only seen or heard the big league stuff on the radio or on television, and to have it magically transported to their town, to their arena, their fairgrounds, or wherever the show’s going to be, all of a sudden it brings the outside world so much closer to them and it makes it real and it’s an opportunity to inspire a bunch of people who thought that they might not be able be part of this larger world by bringing the larger world to them.”
AIR MILES collectors can go online to vote for which town they want to see host, choosing between Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; Morin-Heights, Quebec; Murmur, Ontario; Nelson, B.C., and Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. Each community has a rich musical history of its own (Morin-Heights, for example, was once home to Le Studio — a historic recording space used by David Bowie and the Bee Gees), as well as an active music culture.
To top it off, the contest is also looking for an independent Canadian band to open the show. Titled Big Break, this portion of DETOUR encourages local musicians to submit a video of themselves performing an original song in an unusual location.
And, as always, Cross is putting the people first. “They’ll get to play in front of a large audience, maybe the largest audience they’ve ever played in front of in their life, and that’ll give them a really big booster in their career — at least that’s the plan.”
Voting ends on May 31 and the winning community will be announced later in the summer. Register online.