The song was titled after the slogan for Toronto’s local radio station, CFNY, which started out in Brampton, Ontario, in 1960 and is now known as Edge 102. The maverick radio station, which experienced a tumultuous history due to ownership and personnel changes over the years, was known for its intensely loyal listeners. It was the listeners themselves who named the station The Spirit of Radio. Its strong reputation with its listeners is exactly what inspired Rush to compose the song of the same name.
In an interview with Billboard Magazine, Neil Peart said about the song: “The Spirit of Radio was actually written as a tribute to all that was good about radio, celebrating my appreciation of magical moments I’d had since childhood, of hearing the right song at the right time.”
The Spirit of Radio gained a significant amount of attention and was soon recognized as one of the band’s most successful singles. Peart discussed the song with Bob Mack of Spin, stating that he still considered it a song that fused the sounds of reggae, pop, and metal in a new way, “a valid musical gumbo” created “to represent what radio should be.” Rolling Stone’s David Fricke was quoted as saying that “Rush demonstrates a maturity that even their detractors may have to admire.” He showed a particular interest in the single The Spirit of Radio and in his review he mentioned that “this band is among the very best in its genre.” John Swenson of Rolling Stone observed that The Spirit of Radio had “gotten more airplay than Rush’s entire catalog put together, and it’s brought them a whole new audience.”
The Spirit of Radio was named one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. A rendition of the song recorded from a live performance at the Apollo in Manchester, England, was featured in the video game Guitar Hero 5. In 1993, the famously familiar opening riff of the song was sampled on Conchita Martinez from the album “So Tough” by British indie band St. Etienne. In 2006, the song appeared on the soundtrack for “Trailer Park Boys: The Movie”, and became available as downloadable content for Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol Encore 2 for the popular gaming system, Playstation 3. The track is also available on the music video game Rock Revolution.