It Was 45 Years Ago, CanCon Came To Be Played

Believe it or not but it was 45 years ago this week when Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government pushed through legislation giving the CRTC aand its Chair Pierre Juneau the regulatory muscle to force radio broadcasters to play Canadian music over the airwaves.

For decades following, the regs were fought, flouted, and argued by a casebook of lawyers charging a king’s ransom. Hundreds of compliance hearings ‘across the river’ in Gatineau resulted in thousands of man hours spent bickering, and fighting before the air escaped from the hot balloon. Between time, the acrimony between regulator and broadcasters generated a forest of paperwork and a rich income for high-powered law firms. For a time it seemed that the power brokers behind Canada’s radio broadcast industry were spending more time loitering in Ottawa’s best watering holes, hotels and steak houses than at their desk. For the broadcasters, most self-made empire builders, it was a matter of pride. For the CRTC, it was a matter of upholding the law.

Outside the country, the regulations were deemed an embarrassment and American broadcasters looked askance at their counterparts in Canada who were being told what to play, when, right on down to the number of spins Canadian records needed to be played during broadcast hours.


Jan. 18, 1971- When Canada stood up for Canadian music

- Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International

Until 1971, just about the only way a Canadian musical artist would be heard on Canadian radio, was if through a combination of extreme talent and good luck, they had already made it in the US.

It was extremely frustrating for Canadian musicians that they could not be heard in their own country, while American and British artists completely dominated the airwaves.

Canadian station managers would simply accept what American charts said, and basically copy their playlists.

However, in 1955, a government commission under Robert Fowler was tasked with examining the broadcast system in Canada especially since private television stations were growing in Canada and “competing” so-to-speak with the public broadcaster CBC. The Fowler commission was to look into the roles of private and public broadcasting. It recommended that 45 percent Canadian content be the figure..

In 1967 a new regulatory body was created, The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).  As the frustration of Canadian musicians grew, so too did pressure on the CRTC to force radio stations to play Canadian music.

Canadian radio stations for their part were not happy about the prospect and resisted. By choosing to play records that were already hits in the US, they were assured it would be popular in Canada and people would listen to their station. There was an attitude that Canadian artists were “subpar”, and because of American domination of the industry, there was hardly any music industry in Canada to speak of to put forward Canadian artists.

On January 18, 1971, Canadian Content rules came into effect (Can-Con), meaning radio stations had to play 30% Canadian music determined by a rating system known as MAPL- Music Artist Performance Lyrics. To qualify as “Can-Con” a record would have to have at least two categories as Canadian, that is the music had to be created by a Canadian, the lyrics written by a Canadian, the artist was Canadian, or the performance –live or recorded - was done in Canada.

The percentage was raised to 35 percent in the 1980s, and some new stations have a licencing requirement to play 40 percent Canadian music.

Although initially there was great resistance from American recording companies, Canada joined several other nations with their own domestic content rules, including Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Russia, and others. Canadian radio station resistance was muted by the fact that Canadians began to appreciate and ask for Canadian artists.

There is no doubt that the Can-Con rules fostered and grew an entire Canadian recording industry and the careers of many excellent Canadian artists, many of whom have gone on to international fame.

And it began on this week in 1971.



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