n10.as radio booth

Montreal’s n10.as radio marks five years of doing things differently

The online station’s founders spoke to us about their diverse format, international reach and community spirit.

In February of 2016, a Montreal-based online radio station called n10.as was launched. Pronounced “antennas,” the project was founded by a group of then-Concordia students (Mason Windels, Conan Lai, Dylan Bourdeau and Tam Vu), as well as Arbutus Records founder Sebastian Cowan. Inspired by similar online radio projects like London’s NTS and New York’s Know Wave, the project was visualized whilst playing Settlers of Catan, a game Vu and his then-roommate (and Braids drummer) Austin Tufts would play together.

Operating out of the same building as Arbutus’s headquarters, on 7119 St-André in Plaza St-Hubert, the station’s programming and genres run back and forth across the musical gamut. Listeners can tune in and hear death metal, dub, future soul, U.K. garage, old-school techno or even something as niche as medieval music. Guest mixes from hosts located around the world can also be heard, and the station is open to hosting talk shows. n10.as is also known for its website design, which looks charmingly like a Windows 95 webpage from back in the day. Perhaps its most striking feature is the live chatroom on the main page, where listeners can interact with one another and form a community around their love for the station. Mixes from past n10.as show episodes are also archived on Mixcloud.

About two-thirds of its hosts are Montreal-based, with the rest broadcasting from elsewhere in Canada or abroad. Many international hosts play music highlighting their local communities and amplifying their sounds, helping to give n10.as a truly global perspective with their programming. The station also does not run advertisements or have sponsors, and their independent nature also means they are not bound by any CRTC regulations.

As it approached its fifth anniversary, I chatted via Zoom with three of n10.as’ major figures from over the years: Rachel Nam, Simon Rock and co-founder Tam Vu. While listening to Know Wave’s Skate Wise show, Vu noticed how its ambience resembled people chatting in a living room. He sought to fill a void in Montreal’s music community, while also bringing people together from all walks of life and varying interests.

“It was the dead of winter, and I thought ‘That sounds really nice! How can we do something like that in Montreal?’” says Vu, who acted as n10.as’s station manager until about 2018. Vu also says that, when the project began, the goal for n10. as had always been for it to “stay fun,” and maintain creative freedom without investor interference. Though he also admits there are growing pains to running a community project like this one, he’s happy to see how far n10.as has come over the past five years.

“It’s still running with good people,” he says. “People are learning and maturing. There’s growth and skills to get from it. We can still make funny merch items, which I love! (laughs)”

The station’s operational approach is quite distinct compared to that of campus-community radio. Run by a core group of volunteers, n10.as offers a great amount of accessibility to aspiring hosts, as anyone can send a proposal for a show. The station then works to ensure everyone who applies for a show eventually gets one. This contrasts with university radio stations, which tend to have a more rigorous process for accepting show proposals.

n10.as radio
n10.as radio launch, 2016

Nam and Rock, who have both been involved with n10.as in some capacity since 2018, had already been campus community radio volunteers at CKUT and Calgary’s CJSW, respectively. Since joining n10.as, they’ve found themselves stumbling upon great new music with every listen — even if they’re just there to let show hosts in and out of the studio, which there needs to be at least one volunteer present for.

“I’ll be passively listening, but then something will pop into my ears and I will be like, ‘Oh my God, I have to get this track ID immediately,’” says Nam. “Some of my favourite tunes have definitely come from listening to n10.as.”

Nam also feels grateful that n10.as has been able to create a community of people within Montreal’s music scene who believe in the project, trust them with hosting their shows, and want to actively help keep it going.

“I feel like that’s so hard to do in a city that sometimes feels as transient as Montreal, with people moving in and out all the time,” she says. “We have show hosts who started shows here, have moved away, and continue to send in shows because they love the radio and care about it so much.”

In some cases, hosts from outside Montreal have come to the city to visit, and n10.as typically welcomes them to town by having them as guests in the studio. The station’s international reach is such that listeners come from all corners of the globe. Rock even notices during our Zoom call that there had been more Polish n10.as listeners over the two preceding weeks than Canadian ones. In fact, one volunteer from abroad even drew direct inspiration from n10.as for a radio project of their own.

“We had a volunteer who was here for a semester abroad from Australia,” says Rock. “When she went back, she started sort of a branch of n10.as radio out in Australia, called n10.aus.”

During the onset COVID-19 pandemic last March, n10.as had to close their physical studio space. Although there’d only be a few people present at a time while hosting shows, they ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Nonetheless, it wasn’t easy news to take.

“A large part of n10.as’ charm is that our hosts would come into the radio station. It was almost like a social activity,” says Nam, who later mentioned that the station had to create an entirely new workflow system when COVID hit. “The physical space was such an important part of the station. It’s a reason why a lot of hosts decided to apply.”

While it didn’t affect their hosts of pre-recorded shows too much, n10.as wanted to ensure live hosts — who make up most of the programming — were still able to record and submit their shows. Despite how much n10.as prides itself over their studio space being such a huge part of their community, the station is continuing to grow, and programming has continued expanding.

“Even though I’ve only been here volunteering for the past year and a half, I can feel that five years of work, energy and community spirit,” says Rock. “It’s persevering. We’re still getting people interested in volunteering and submitting shows. It’s exciting to see that resilience through the pandemic.”

As far as what the future holds for n10.as, the station had intentions pre-COVID to make their studio space more open to the community, so it could host events such as workshops and teach aspiring DJs how to practise on CDJs. The station had also been broadcasting events remotely, where they would transmit a show live from an event in the city. Rock considers both of these initiatives to represent the station’s increased community involvement that’s “not necessarily us doing something ourselves, but opening ourselves up and using the platform and space that we have to make those links and bring people together.”

Although Vu is no longer actively involved with n10.as, he and Nam still see each other frequently, and often get to talking about the station’s continued evolution.

“When I reflect on it now, I’m so proud of how the spirit continues,” he says. “Everyone’s so generous with their time and energy. The people who participate in radio [at the station] have such a deep and profound love for it. That’s been there from the start.” ■

This feature originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Cult MTL. For more about n10.as radio, please visit their website.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.