Quebec-based online radio station Punk Rock Radio.ca kicks ass. They started in 2017 with an idea carried by pure DIY spirit and have only gotten stronger since then. Along with playing a rotating mix of new and old punk music 24/7 on their website, they also broadcast original shows and podcasts throughout the week including the Punk Rock Show du Matin hosted by co-owner Pierre-Luc Thiffault, the Big Bro Show hosted by station founder and co-owner Christophe Brochu, Sewer Spewer hosted by Chris Aitkens of Gutser, and Le P'tit Moment Trash hosted by Claudia Bo. They truly have something for everyone no matter what kind of punk you like to listen to and they strive to uplift their local scene as much as they possibly can.
Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with Christophe Brochu over Zoom to talk about the history of Punk Rock Radio.ca, building community through punk, the importance of having fun, the Quebec punk scene, and so much more. Read the interview below!
You started Punk Rock Radio.ca in 2017. How did the idea to start a radio station come about?
It’s a really good question, actually. It wasn’t planned at all. I was bored, my job wasn’t full-time anymore, and I said, “I cannot be unhappy for the rest of my life”. So I started digging in my thoughts for what I could do and if I wanted to be happy my ideas had to be based around something that makes me feel happy. I love punk rock and have since I was a teenager in the early 90s. So I said, “Yeah, why don’t I start something about punk rock?”. I’m not a musician at all. I haven’t been in a band but I have lots of connections. I know a lot of people who are really involved in the community. I know people who are involved in some big bands too and I had an idea of starting something that doesn’t exist. I was getting tired of the Spotify basic membership because of all of those annoying commercials. I wasn’t ready to pay for it but I was like, “there’s something that can be made better about this”. At some point, the idea popped into my head and it was like, “you gotta create your own stuff”. So I did it. The funny part is, I hate commercial radio. I cannot stand commercial radio with all the ads and all the fake laughs from the radio hosts. They laugh so hard for nothing and create a fake environment. I hated radio but I ended up starting one. We’re really DIY. As I said, I never touched a mixer before. I needed to learn from scratch - everything about licenses, about servers, about setting up a homemade studio with mics and wires and stuff and getting it on the web. I did a lot of research online with YouTube and Google. I ended up starting a radio station on my own.
That’s the true DIY spirit. You don’t see it and then you made it happen.
I created it the way I saw it in my mind. In the beginning, I had huge ideas and it didn’t start the way I wanted it to. I was all by myself. The audience was much smaller back then. I had really good ideas and I really thought it would make a splash. I quickly got back to earth, I said, “ok, I will never make money out of this”. It wasn’t expected in the beginning but I thought a crowd would jump in because I was bringing back an old TV show that was really popular here on MuchMusic, our MTV. We used to have a whole punk show called 1-2-3 Punk. It was really huge on TV here in Quebec and the host is one of my friends so I asked him, “hey, do you want to start a radio version of 1-2-3 Punk?” and he said yes before the station was even created, so I was really hyped about it. I had a lot of expectations before it was announced anywhere. We did ok and I kept doing it. I kept airing my shows all by myself and suddenly, after a few months, I got people interested in starting their own shows. So I said, “let’s do it! That’s the spirit! DIY”. They bought some microphones, they came out to my place to see how my setup worked, then people started their own shows and we grew from there. We’ve really grown since 2017.
What’s the biggest difference between 2017 and now?
I’m not alone anymore. I have a big team - well, not a big team but a really good team. I am the co-owner of the station. I split half of the station with one of the hosts [Pierre-Luc Thiffault]. He was one of the first fans that I didn’t know at all. He wasn’t a friend, we were just punk rockers from the same province and he loved the idea. He said, “man, you created something beautiful”. At some point, I think it was 2019/2020, I went off the air. I had to take a break. The social media accounts were still running but I pulled the plug on the station so there were no more shows and the apps were shutting down. I said it was temporary but I was tired of paying for everything because I have no revenue from the station. I don’t want any ads so it was free for everybody and I was tired of paying for all the stuff - the license, the servers, all by myself. After two months, PL came back and said, “Chris, what can I do? We have to launch it back. We gotta get back on the air.” So we sat down and talked and he convinced me that my baby was a good idea and because somebody believed in my project so much I said, “ok, let’s bring it back”. Back then, we had a show once every two weeks and he said, “Chris, if you want to bring back Punk Rock Radio with me, I will do a show every morning.” I said, “great, you believe in my stuff! If you do every morning then I will do every afternoon”. So from that moment, we had two live shows each day on weekdays and we launched it back to a great response. Now we have fifteen original shows. Some are every two weeks, some are biweekly, but we have shows every day of the week. We take care of the community with podcasts, radio shows on other stations, and we have fifteen of our own hosts. So that’s the big difference from back then. We also have a photographer [Dominic Gendron] now who is doing a great job. He’s always the first one to post quality photos after shows so most of the time big bands are reposting our photos with credits to their social media and saying things like, “thanks Montreal! It was awesome last night!”. I’m really proud of what Dominic is doing for us. He’s been well known in the Montreal scene and I’m really proud of him.
I’ve seen some of the photos and they look great.
He does a good job. Even Rage Against The Machine reposted one of the stories when they went on their big reunion tour last summer. I think it got something like 80, 000 views in a few hours. It was crazy. Aimee from The Interrupters did the same thing. I don’t know how many thousands of likes her photos got but seeing my little logo in the corner was really cool to see. When you see the number of likes you can expect to see a lot of followers the next day. It wasn’t that much but it was a little victory just for us knowing that they appreciate our work. I mean, that’s our pay because we don’t do it for money. We’re all volunteers. Nobody makes a dime out of it. Like I said, I used to pay for it out of my pocket but now we have Patrons on Patreon. Now that pays for the license and the servers. We did a new logo last year and we paid the artist with money from our Patrons. We reinvest everything in the station because now we know we will never make a dime out of it. We are all driven by passion and that is why the station is a success. It’s the main key that everybody is doing it for passion and nothing else.
Anyone can make money but not everyone has the passion.
It’s always one of the top questions people ask me like, “hey, do you make money?”. And I’m like, “No. We never will”. But with anything you start, even if it’s a restaurant or a little hobby, the first thing is always, “Do you have earnings?”. As I said, we have a few Patrons who pay all the bills and stuff so nothing is coming out of our pockets and even if we make money, we reinvest. I just announced this week in my first show that we will give 100% of all the Patreon money from January to a GoFundMe that was started by our friend at Thousand Island Records. One of our listener’s sons has cancer. He’s ten years old and he had his leg amputated six days ago so they made a GoFundMe to help him. He was listening to our station while he was in the hospital so I said, “let’s start the year in a great way and we will give 100% of the January Patreon money to him”. That’s a good way to give back and start the year on a good note. We kinda did the same thing last year too. We gave all of the money from January to a good cause that helps people with multiple sclerosis because one of our listeners is heavily impacted by MS. All our Patrons are really proud because by giving us money they can help someone else. Everybody is very proud that we can do that. It’s the kind of stuff we like to do.
Very community driven.
Yeah exactly. We’re close to our listeners. Last year we created a Discord server that brings all of the community together. Every show has its own channel so when I’m live all the listeners can talk together from their houses or from their job at the same time. It was a big upgrade for the station to be able to have everybody from around the world chatting altogether while listening to the same live event and making friends. If they are going to shows in Montreal or Quebec City, people are finding friends to go with and stay over with. So we’ve built a great community. That Discord channel has really brought everybody together.
On Punk Rock Radio.ca you play music all the time, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day even when shows aren’t being hosted. How do you keep the music playing all the time?
There’s a big rotation so whenever you tune in on our website or on the app there’s always something playing. There’s always new music and local music. We’re really into the local scene here in Quebec. We have lots of bands and we like to support them but we’re going to air some NOFX sometimes too. There’s always music on and during the day we have a lot of shows. During the day we start off with our morning man, then we have shows around noon. I do the afternoon at 3:30 and at night we have lots of podcasts and shows. All the hosts are different. For example on Wednesdays, I host a ska show where I play ska punk and skacore. One of our hosts focuses on women in the punk scene so every band she plays has got at least one woman in it. We’ve got specialists in street punk, oi punk, hardcore punk, emo, and pop punk. We have a show dedicated only to the local scene. Every host has their particularity. It’s pretty cool. We have a host for you. For my daily show, I play whatever I want so it’s always a surprise on my side. [laughs]
For the server we use a template called radio.co. They are based in the UK. It’s really user-friendly and it was simple to set up, just really easy but kinda pricy. They take care of all of the apps and stuff and we can add hosts and we have the schedule on there. That’s what we use to bank our music rotation and servers for live shows and stuff. Lots of other radio stations use that platform too.
How do you decide what songs are going to be in the rotation on the site?
Our hearts. If we love it, we add it. That’s all. Even on my shows, if I like what I hear then I’m gonna play it. We have lots of connections with all the labels so they send us new music. Sometimes we have to wait a bit because we have the records before they are released and sometimes we brag a little bit about an expected release. [laughs] Every day we have little bands from around the world contacting us. I don’t have time to listen to everything sometimes but a lot of people are still DIY in their own way and they are reaching out to us on our website or over direct message on Instagram. If we like their music then we play it. [laughs] It’s pretty simple. It is always going to stay like that. I have one rule: you’re never gonna hear “American Jesus” or “Bro Hymn” because these guys have like 10+ releases and they have so many songs that we’ve never heard. I said never but it could happen in one of the host’s shows but it’s never going to be on the rotation. I like to play different stuff like a song that needs more likes or something like that. On the rotation we have local bands, we have brand new songs, we have classic songs, and you’re going to hear some NOFX and Pennywise once in a while but not the big tunes that are kinda burnt out in my mind. [laughs]
The station is described as playing “the best punk hits of the past 30 years”. If you could pick one song to represent the past 30 years what would it be and why?
Wow, that’s a really tough one. It’s hard to pick a favourite. It’s like having a favourite flavour of potato chip, it’s kinda hard because it depends on how you feel. I would say “Back to The Motor League” by Propagandhi. That’s one of my favourite bands. This song is rocking, it’s flawless. I could say a hundred songs for that question but this song is the first one that comes to my mind. “Back to The Motor League” sums it up I think. I hate this kind of question! [laughs]
There’s so many!
Yeah, there are so many! That’s why we exist. If there were so few songs we couldn’t run a radio station. There’s actually a good cover of “Back to The Motor League” that members from Ten Foot Pole and a couple of other bands released last week. They did a pretty good job. The cover is up on YouTube and it’s pretty cool.
You mentioned earlier you host your show, the Big Bro Show, every Monday-Thrusday at 3:30 pm on Punk Rock Radio.ca. How do you prepare for your show?
Most of the time I do my playlists ten to fifteen minutes prior to the show. I go with the flow. I’m a father of three, I work full time, and I’m never prepared. The good thing is I’m actually more of a storyteller so my listeners are here to listen to my stories. If some jerk on the road made me curse during the day, I’m doing to tell that story on my show and that’s what they love to hear. If I go to a hockey tournament some weekend, they can’t wait until Monday to hear the story. [laughs] So it’s always in the moment. Mondays and Tuesdays it’s really punk rock. Sometimes I do themed shows, and sometimes it’s all mixed up, there’s no guiding line except for Wednesdays which are called “SKANKREDI” a little catchy word for my ska special. On Thursdays, I invented a new way to take special requests. I call it “Demande au Suivant” which is like “ask the next one”. So on Thursdays, I drop cover art from an album on the show’s Facebook page and the first person to comment picks a song off of that record and leaves a new album cover in the comments for the next person to pick from. You choose a song and leave a record that you like for the next person. Then the chain goes on and sometimes two people come on at the same time and the chain breaks and I have to figure it out. I give shit to people on the air and on Discord, we all make fun. It’s my way to take special requests in a new way that everybody is enjoying. Sometimes people have their records that they want to drop for the show picked out in advance like, “oh next week I’m going to drop this one”. Not everybody goes with the big classics, they always put something new to force people to go check it out and pick a song from that record. They want to bring something unusual so people say, “that guy has taste”. People want to step up and show everybody that they know their punk rock and it’s pretty cool to see.
That’s so cool! It’s another layer of community.
For real, it’s amazing how our Discord community came all together. Sometimes if somebody is having a bad moment and they post on Discord something like, “today I need some love”, people are stepping up to cheer them up and cheer for them. It helps because we all have our adult lives and sometimes relationships, jobs, cars, whatever, go bad. We all have that sometimes. It happens, you have a bad day. They know they have friends all around the world who can cheer them up and cheer for them when they need it so it’s pretty cool.
Yeah, it’s nice to have that support system. Especially around something that everybody really loves. Everyone’s there because of punk rock.
Yeah, it’s a big common point for everybody. They all love punk rock and they all can’t wait to meet up at festivals or at local shows and stuff. Where I grew up, everybody was listening to punk rock so it was kinda normal but for some people, it was a totally different way and now they enjoy the community we’ve created very much They never had friends to go to shows with and now for the first time in their lives, if they are in their 40s or late 30s, they have friends that understand them. So for them, it’s pretty cool to finally have friends that listen to the same music and no one is being judged.
That’s a good point. Especially in Canada where you have so many places that are so isolated. You have the big cities and then you have rural areas that don’t have a lot of people so the internet is really important to be able to connect with other people.
Now you can find some of your friends online and it’s really cool to see people joining Discord during live radio shows. We have hosts from France now, so it’s international. They host a show every two weeks and it’s pretty cool. We have had some regular listeners tell us some heartwarming stories about their experiences with the station that I never expected because I created the station for fun and to show my passion but we did save a couple of lives. People were in depression and were listening to us every day. When we met them in person they said, “Man, you kinda saved my life” and I was like, “for real?” I never imagined it could be possible. People are listening to us sometimes when it feels bad and are like, “these guys are good for us”. We have a couple of people who said that to me and I’m always stoked to hear those stories. I’m telling you now and I have goosebumps. It was totally unexpected. When I first thought of creating the station, I never would have thought it would be possible to be so important for some people, I never imagined that would be possible to have that kind of reaction. I knew some people would hate me and I knew some people would think I’m funny, but to be important on a regular basis was something I didn’t expect. The guy said, “in the morning, I listen to PL then I hold on because I knew you were coming in the afternoon then I hold on because there were more shows coming”. The guy was kinda lonely and he hung on because he knew there were other people out there who like the same music. We are all who we are. Sometimes on commercial radio, they wear a mask or something. They have to be a certain type of person but we are natural. When I speak, I’m me, I’m the same guy. When they meet me on the street, I’m the same dude who’s behind the mic. We are authentic and genuine. I think the listeners understand that part and really appreciate that part. I would rather have fewer listeners but have them be quality ones who really care rather than have big success and people who just believe in a fake guy. I would rather be myself and have fewer listeners but true ones.
Quality over quantity.
Exactly what I wanted to say. [laughs]
What advice would you give someone who wants to become involved in radio?
Most of the time when people start a new show, the first thing I tell them is, “have fun! Don’t be stressed. Enjoy”. It can be stressful, especially during the first few shows. If making or preparing your shows is stressful there’s something wrong. You gotta be driven by passion and having fun. Sometimes people want to read all the facts and stats like they’re at school doing an oral report but I take notes and say, “dude, relax, have fun. Talk some shit, curse, do whatever you want. Be yourself”. Some beginners are shaky but that’s alright. I always remind them to have fun and that it’s ok to take time off too. We don’t have contracts. If one week you’re busier and don’t know what to do for your shows, don’t stress, take it off, it’s alright. There’s going to be music on the radio. Nobody is paid so if you don’t film for two, or three weeks in a row, who cares? You’re going to be back. Set up your stuff, get back when you’re ready, your spot will still be here. It’s very important for me that my hosts have fun. I keep reminding them to not rush anything if they don’t have an idea for a show or they don’t know what to do for a show or they’re stressed, there’s something wrong. So just wait another week to come back and your listeners will be there. I’m pretty sure if you asked any of the hosts they would say, “there’s no pressure at all”. There’s no quota. Just have fun, share your passion, and you’ll be fine.
That’s great advice for anyone.
And even for myself sometimes. If I feel mediocre, I will say, “see you, tomorrow guys. Today I won’t do a show”. I’ve learned to do it. It doesn’t happen a lot but maybe one or two times a year I just have to say, “sorry guys, I won’t be there today. See you tomorrow” and that’s it. It doesn’t have to be stressful.
Quebec has one of the most interesting punk scenes in Canada. Why do you think this is?
I would have to say the promotors, they’re the pioneers. They did an amazing job bringing all the big bands here in the early 90s. We have a good network of promotors and bookers. They have booked the same bands here in Montreal for 30 years. They’re friends of ours so we can give away tickets. But these guys are the ones that make sure every tour stops in the province so we can have a chance to meet the bands. And having our proper punk rock TV show,1-2-3 Punk, that was airing punk rock videos on national TV every week, was a huge part of building the Quebec scene. The host is a close friend now but back then I used to watch him on TV. He used to have a skateboard in his face, he was hidden, and it was fucked up. [laughs] He was called Rej Laplanche and I didn’t know who he was! After the second season, he finally took the board off. It was an iconic show. He did the tour with Anti-Flag before Christmas and took them all over the province and he made a comeback. He had a really big impact on the Quebec scene. So him and the promotors really did a great job back then to help us find shows and be aware of what’s going on in the punk rock scene.
When I grew up everybody was listening to punk rock and everybody was skateboarding and snowboarding. Back then if you were a skater then you were listening to punk rock music. The Warped Tour had skateboard ramps set up and the culture around skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing was everywhere. We have less surf here [laughs] so we do snowboarding. We used to have the biggest venue for Warped Tour in Montreal. We had huge crowds and I was part of it with my friends and all the other kids. Warped Tour was the best day of the year, actually. We loved it so much. You go there as a teenager and there are thousands and thousands of kids who love the same bands as you do and it’s a life changer. You want to go next year, you wanna live it again. It made you want to catch the tour again and go to local shows.
How would you describe your local scene right now?
Really healthy. There’s lots of releases, lots of small shows, and lots of international exposure now. We have local labels that are really healthy and signing big bands, that’s amazing. We have big festivals. As I said, every big name, big headliners come at least every two years, and some come twice a year. And including us, we help spread the new stuff that’s coming out. If there’s a new EP or singles coming out soon and we hear it, we can share it. All this together, the promotors, the bookers, the labels, us spreading the news, and having the people care makes the scene healthy. Right now in the province of Quebec, it’s really good to be a punk rocker because you have all of this very close. It’s amazing, actually. Record-wise, festival-wise, radio-wise, everybody is having a good time. There are lots of bands putting out stuff. One of our hosts did a list and I think there were 120 releases from the local scene last year. I didn’t listen to all of them but he specializes in the local scene. You can’t keep up actually. It’s crazy. [laughs] What I like also is the bands are not all the same. They’re not just all skatepunk. We have a different kind of variety and that’s what I like about it, it doesn’t all sound the same.
It’s so nice to have the variety. What are you listening to now?
You know what, these days I can’t keep up. As I said, I do my playlist about ten minutes before my shows. I’ve been hooked on Banner Pilot for quite a while. It’s become a running gag now for my listeners. I used to play them a lot. I’m a big Banner Pilot fan. I like to go back to my old stuff too, all my classics. But having a daily show, I can’t be stuck on one thing. I want some diversity. I’m always changing bands because I’m afraid of being known for always playing the same songs. That’s my biggest fear and I work hard to never play the same song in a short period of time. I’m always digging for more stuff. It’s hard, I don’t have an algorithm for what I listen to. I can go from an old favourite to a brand-new local band. It’s always crazy. I love Sam Russo, the acoustic guy. I’ve never seen him live but I know he went to the Fest last fall. I think Sam Russo was my top artist last year. I’ve been listening a lot to a band called Special C. They’re basically like Sublime. It’s the same style. They’re really small. They have a beach vibe and are really fun to listen to around the pool. Because our summertime is kinda short here we enjoy a good Sublime vibe. They’re from SoCal so it’s easy to imagine them by the beach. I said I hate “Bro Hymn” but they have a really interesting reggae-ska cover of it that I love. I listen to Propagandhi, Lagwagon, and NOFX all the time also but I’ll name Banner Pilot, Special C, and Sam Russo for now.
What’s next for Punk Rock Radio.ca?
We have more shows coming up and more new shows that will start this year. Most of our shows and podcasts are in French because we’re from Quebec, but we do have another new English show that will start pretty soon if they get their shit together. [laughs]. We’ve been thinking about an anniversary party. We’re going to turn six this May but it’s more like the fifth anniversary because that party never ended up happening. We wanna get out there and do some gigs with one or two bands or maybe an acoustic show or something like that. We wanna set up parties in Quebec and Montreal, maybe in Three River because that’s halfway. Nothing is set yet but we all want to get into the cities and meet our listeners. We’ve met some of them at our booth at festivals but we wanna do a live gig and be on stage and present stuff. Eventually, we’re going to do it. As I said, with our adult lives it’s hard to find the time to set up all this kind of stuff especially when you have daily shows. My free time goes to the radio and then I have to take care of the kids. Some day we’re going to have a gig or two with us on the stage. I wish it could be this year. I am full of ideas. I want to do some road trips, like rent a bus and go to a show in Boston, just take the gang and drive out of the city and do a big trip together. Maybe go to a show and catch a sports event on the same trip. We have lots of ideas but we just have to make them happen. We’re going to have fun for sure. We’re going to have booths in the biggest festivals this year too and we do live shows from the festivals sometimes. We bring our gear and we broadcast live from events and meet the people. We changed our logo last year so maybe we’ll have some new merch. We know we will have a big party, we just don’t know when and maybe by talking about it, it’ll happen sooner. I have to get on it, for real. [laughs] Now that I’ve said it and it’s going to be on paper forever, I’m going to have to do it. It’s going to be good pressure for me.