The Spirit of Radio

Background and Commentary

The song took its title from the slogan of Toronto radio station CFNY, which took chances with new music and was the first station to play a Rush song over the air.

“They were totally free-form at a time when all these big programmers were coming in and consultants were telling all these station managers how to keep their jobs. ‘Play these records and you’ll keep your job.’ So there was this one station that was playing anything, and you’d hear very abstract things, very hard things, or classical. It sort of reminded us of what it used to be like when FM just started, and guys like Murray the K were on the air. And it was really great, and everybody was so into it, and you’d live by the FM radio.” (Up Close, 1994)—Geddy in Merely Players

“It’s about musical integrity. We wanted to get across the idea of a radio station playing a wide variety of music. There are bits of reggae and one or two verses has a new-wave feel. The choruses are very electronic, just a digital sequencer with a glockenspiel and a counter riff guitar. The verse is a standard, straight-ahead Rush verse. (Modern Drummer)—Neil in Merely Players

“Oddly enough, this track would unlock the doors to radio airplay for Rush. . . . For David Marsden [the DJ who first played the band on the station] ‘it was really flattering that [the song alludes to] the station. We don’t even play that much Rush, but they were obviously quite taken with our willingness to play bands before anyone else would even go near them.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“Radio has become a lot more commercialized since then. Now, the station that we wrote that song about won’t play our music.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar Player interview

“The last lines are a twist on Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sounds of Silence: ‘for the words of the prophet are written on the subway walls.’ The first verse syncopates the choked hi hat with the “s” sounds in the lyrics.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“This is where a sense of humor comes into it. I was sitting there, thinking of the conclusion of the song, and the parody came into my mind. And I thought, ‘well, either this is very stupid or it’s very great.’ But, all it says is, salesman as artist I can see as an ideal, but they have no place in telling us what to play on stage, and they have no place, any more than a car salesman, in the recording studio.”—Neil in Merely Players

“By the time we cut this, I was using mainly a Strat that I had modified by putting humbuckers in the bridge position. I also used the 355, which I used in the studio for the next couple of records. My amps were Hiwatts, the Marshall and the Twin. I also had a Sixties Bassman head and cabinet. The flanger on that song was an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress, which I still have. I used the Boss Chorus Ensemble, and I had graduated to the Roland Space Echo, which replaced my Echoplex.”–-Alex in a 1996 Guitar Player interview

The piece is one of five songs for which Rush was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. The other four are “Closer to the Heart,” “Limelight,” “Tom Sawyer,” and “Subdivisions.”

Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone thinks the main riff of “The Sprit of Radio” is a lot like the chord sequence for “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground. You compare. 

Four “The Spirit of Radio” tribute versions.


Begin the day with a friendly voice
A companion unobtrusive
Plays the song that’s so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning mood

Off on your way, hit the open road
There is magic at your fingers
For the Spirit ever lingers
Undemanding contact in your happy solitude

Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free

All this machinery making modern music
Can still be open hearted
Not so coldly charted
It’s really just a question of your honesty, yeah
Your honesty
One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity


For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall
Concert hall
And echoes with the sounds of salesmen


By Damon Schmidt

Excerpted from Ultimate Guitar.

Key to Notation: T = Tap, P = Pull-off, H = Hammer-on

Main Riff-



Repeat Main Riff 7 Times

While Guitar 1 T P P H T P P H T P P H T P P P H
is repeating —^–^–^–^—^–^–^–^–^–^–^–^–^–^–^–^—-
the main riff-> -7–5–3–5–10–5–3–5–7–5–3–5–9–7–5–3–5—
Guitar 2 is ——————————————————
playing a full ——————————————————
extension E5 ——————————————————
a la Tom Sawyer ——————————————————
Ascending patt. Repeat 4 times
‘Tom Sawyer’ E5 0 ———————–|—————————-
5 ———————–|—————————-
4 ———————–|—————————-
2 –4–2–0—–0——–|————————–2-
2 ———–3—–3–2–|————–0–2–3–4—-
0 ———————–|–0–2–3–4—————-

E B5 G#5 A5 B5

Pre-verse riff

E B5 G#5 A5

Verse riff one(times 2) “Begin the day…”

E B5 G#5 A5

For complete tab, go to Ultimate Guitar.


“The Spirit of Radio” guitar cover

“The Spirit of Radio” bass cover

“The Spirit of Radio” drum cover

Back to Rush Vault

~ by rvkeeper on February 5, 2011.

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