Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Frontman of the Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, centre, leads the band through a concert in Vancouver on July, 24, 2016. They disbanded in 2017 when Downie died of brain cancer.Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

The structure’s good and the night is beautiful, the connection is clear now … – Radio Show, by the Tragically Hip

When he was 12, before he set his sights on becoming a professional musician, guitarist Rob Baker of the defunct Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip wanted a career on the airwaves. “I wanted to be a DJ,“ says Baker, speaking from his hometown, Kingston, Ont. “I still do.”

He might very well get his chance. This week, SiriusXM Canada launched a new channel, Tragically Hip Radio. In addition to the band’s previously released catalogue of albums, subscribers to the satellite-radio network get exclusive access to archived interviews, concert recordings, solo material, playlists curated by band members, specialty programming from the group’s Bathouse Studios and, if everything goes as hoped, the realization of Baker’s long-delayed disc-jockey dreams.

“I’m begging them,” says Baker, who has been lobbying for an all-night shift on the Hip channel. “Before I was a rock ‘n’ roller, I thought being a DJ was where it was at in the music industry.”

In many ways, SiriusXM is where it’s at today. Streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music boast impressive subscriber bases, but they don’t make much money. Profitable SiriusXM, thanks in no small part to considerable sports content and a channel dedicated to the raunchy talk-show hijinks of Howard Stern, has more than 35 million subscribers. The network has managed to get listeners to pay for a form of media that used to be free, and Baker thinks he knows why.

“One of the things I miss on other radio formats is intelligent information coming with the music,” the guitarist says. “I originally subscribed to the service when they got Bob Dylan as a DJ. For me, having on-air personalities like him and Steven Van Zandt and [former Rolling Stones manager] Andrew Loog Oldham was a game changer.”

SiriusXM Holdings acquired streaming service Pandora Media in 2018, making it, according to an announcement at the time, "the world’s largest audio entertainment company.” The service hosts multiple legacy channels, including those dedicated to artists such as Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty. In July, SiriusXM announced an agreement with Canadian hip-hop superstar Drake, with content from the partnership to be rolled out this year.

The Tragically Hip disbanded in 2017 when lead singer and lyricist Gord Downie died of brain cancer. While no new Hip music will be available on the band’s channel – “We exist only as a historical entity and friends who have shared business interests" – the group has a stash of unreleased live recordings available. “We taped every show, going back to the early 1990s,” Baker says.

One of those recordings scheduled to play on the band’s channel is the live 2012 launch party for the album Now For Plan A, taped at Toronto’s Supermarket club. Beyond that, Baker declined to discuss specifics. Some two dozen unreleased songs might end up on a rarities compilation album rather than on the satellite station. “That was the original plan,” Baker says. “But who’s buying albums any more?”

The rarities project has been temporarily shelved owing to the loss of eight songs recorded during the sessions for the band’s first two studio albums, 1989’s Up to Here and 1991’s Road Apples.

Baker was in Italy this summer when he came across a New York Times story about master tapes destroyed by an extensive fire in 2008 at Universal Studios Hollywood. The newspaper’s investigative report included an alphabetical list of some 400 acts that might have been affected, the Hip being one of them – slotted between Mel Tormé and the Trapp Family Singers.

Baker quickly contacted Hip drummer Johnny Fay and the band’s management team. The news was the worst possible. “We lost significant stuff,” he says. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

Fresh product from the band will soon come in the form of a 25th-anniversary vinyl reissue of the 1994 album Day for Night. Two double-LP editions, set to drop Sept. 27, include the album pressed on silver vinyl and another on black wax mastered at half-speed at Abbey Road Studios.

On Sept. 14, three of the four surviving Hip members (all but Fay) are scheduled to take part in Rockin’ the Big House, a charity concert for United Way held on the grounds of the shuttered Kingston Penitentiary. Other participating artists include Headstones, the Trews, the Pursuit of Happiness, Tom Cochrane and Kasador, featuring Baker’s son, Boris.

While it’s possible the three Hip members will be on stage together at the festival, Baker describes the band as finished – “a force that was halted in our tracks.” He says the satellite station will allow them to tell their story and turn people onto the music that influenced them and the music they’re listening to today. “We love music, and we’re obviously not alone,” Baker says. “If it turns us on, it’s going to turn other people on as well.”

Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe