CJRT's studios are located on Pardee Avenue in Toronto's Liberty Village neighbourhood, while its transmitter is located on top of the CN Tower. It is available on Bell TV as channel 960, and on cable FM and digital cable audio services throughout Ontario. JAZZ.FM91 can be streamed online at www.jazz.fm and by downloading the app for iPhone, iPad or Android device. In addition to providing on-air programming, the station supplies specialty music streams Oscar Peterson Channel, High Standards and Grooveyard.
The station was founded in 1949 as an experimental FM broadcaster, only the second in Canada, by the Ryerson Institute of Technology (later Ryerson University). The JRT in the station's call sign stand for "Journalism, Radio, Technology", which were three of Ryerson's educational mandates. The station's principal purpose was to train radio engineering and radio and (later television) broadcast students and initially only broadcast from 3 pm to 9 pm on weekdays during the school year. In 1964 the station became professionally staffed and extended its programming to 7 am to midnight, seven days a week. Content became an eclectic mix of classical music, jazz, folk music and other genres, educational and public affairs broadcasts, children's programming and dramas, news, documentaries and quiz shows and comedies imported from the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Ryerson owned the station until 1974 when, due to financial restraints, the post-secondary institution announced it would surrender its broadcast licence. Due to a public outcry in support of the station the Ontario government of Premier Bill Davis announced that it would fund the station through an independent corporation and ownership was transferred to CJRT-FM Inc., a non-profit corporation which received over 60% of its funding from the provincial government and the rest from donations by listeners and corporate and foundation support.
In 1996 CJRT-FM's government support was discontinued by Premier Mike Harris, forcing the station to restructure into a self-sustaining public broadcaster. Regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), CJRT's license is categorized under "other special FM", a third sector of Canadian radio broadcasting that provides to Canadians a style of radio that is an alternative to that available from the CBC or private commercial stations. The radio station has since had to support itself entirely by corporate and private donations and by limited commercial revenue. Its licence from the CRTC prohibits it from running commercials for more than four minutes an hour.
In co-operation with Ryerson and York University's Atkinson College, CJRT offered several on-air Open College university level credit courses a year from 1971 until 2003 when the service was transferred to Ryerson's G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education which now offers distance education through the internet, print and recorded media rather than on radio. In its last years, Open College broadcasts were aired Sunday mornings from 6 am to 8 am.
Ryerson later launched another campus radio station, CKLN-FM, which was operational from 1983 to 2011.
In 2001, the station switched to a 24-hour jazz format under the name JAZZ.FM91, though it also continues to air interviews and commentary, BBC news and its own educational radio documentaries on music related topics. The station also offers internship and music scholarships and an inner-city community outreach program. Today, JAZZ.FM91 is an alternative radio voice that covers 95% of Ontario (and the adjacent parts of the United States) through a combination of on-air coverage from the CN Tower, through most cable systems in the province, via satellite, and the Internet.
In 2004, Ross Porter, a former jazz broadcaster with CBC radio, was named president and CEO of JAZZ.FM91. This was made necessary because an audit of the station finances from previous years led to the dismissal of the former president and CEO. Later the same year, Porter's former CBC Radio colleague Ralph Benmergui joined the station as host of its morning program. Benmergui left the station in 2010 to join the communications staff of provincial MPP Glen Murray, and was succeeded by John Donabie, who after much fanfare - including a full-page article in the Toronto Star - left the station after only nine months. In 2011 the morning shift was taken over by Heather Bambrick, who was succeeded in turn by Garvia Bailey in 2014.
The station's studios remained on Ryerson property until May 2006, when it relocated to a new facility on Pardee Avenue in Liberty Village.
The availability of CJRT in the Buffalo, New York market may have been a factor in Buffalo's WBFO reducing its local jazz programming to late night weekend and overnight, and finally, on March 1, 2012, eliminating it entirely.
Other personalities currently associated with the station include: Ross Porter, Brad Barker, Terry McElligott, John Devenish, Walter Venafro, David Basskin and Glen Woodcock. In addition to hosts and jazz musicians: Joe Sealy, Heather Bambrick, Laura Fernandez, Danny Marks and Jaymz Bee. JAZZ.FM91 features Arts Reports weekdays & the program Arts Toronto, providing special coverage of the arts by Senior Arts Editor, Mark Wigmore.
They also feature on-air syndicated programs from international jazz favourites, including: Jamie Cullum’s BBC Radio Show, Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey and the Ronnie Scott’s Radio Show with Ian Shaw.
Programming History: Blues guitarist Jeff Healey hosted a weekly program on the station, My Kinda Jazz, from 2005 until his death in 2008; the program continues to air in repeats. Actor and singer Terra Hazelton also formerly hosted a program devoted to classic jazz recordings from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The station also carries several syndicated programs in the evening, including Jazz with Bob Parlocha, Riverwalk Jazz, and Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center.
The radio station creates special programming content by recording live performances and concerts presented and produced by the organization. Such recordings include Live to Air concerts or music clinics that are hosted and performed within their Hall; performances with their Sound of Jazz Concert Seasons, and their annual fundraiser – JAZZ LIVES.
With Toronto’s publication Now Magazine, their ‘NOW Readers’ Choice: Best Of Toronto’ poll of 2015, the station was named as the Runner Up in the ‘Best Radio Station’ category. The following year, they were voted the ‘Best Radio Station’ in Toronto and on-air personality, Laura Fernandez (host of JAZZ.FM91’s program Café Latino) was nominated as the Runner Up in the ‘Best Radio Personality’ category.
In 2016, the New York Festivals World’s Best Radio Programs Awards, honoured JAZZ.FM91 with a Bronze award recognizing the station for Best Jazz Format.
Part of Canadian Music Week 2017, JAZZ.FM91 received two awards with the 52nd Annual Crystals Radio Awards: Bronze for Station Campaign and Silver for Copy Writing, both for their 'Discover Music Promo Campaign'.
In 2017, JAZZ.FM91 was recognized with Gold, Silver and Bronze at the prestigious 2017 New York Festivals World’s Best Radio Programs Awards. Repeating on the success of 2016, JAZZ.FM91 competed against over 30 countries and 200 broadcasting companies, securing awards for three programs:
Gold – For their Sunday morning live music program, The Sound of Jazz;
Silver – For Saturday morning’s Music To Listen To Jazz By with Ross Porter;
Bronze – For a special Live to Air Tribute Concert for Leonard Cohen.