Home > crtc, radio > Radio is sinkin’ man and I don’t want to swim

Radio is sinkin’ man and I don’t want to swim

Last month, I broke down and bought a car stereo to replace the factory model that came with my 2003 Toyota Corolla. Given that the car is eight years old, the stereo didn’t yet have the necessary inputs to properly connect an iPod. I’d therefore been relying on one of those crappy FM transmitters that plug into the iPod, which not only result in crackly sound, but you also have to continually adjust the reception because of shifting FM stations in different towns and cities.

I shelled out for the new stereo, a simple $99 model from Pioneer, simply because I can’t take Canadian radio anymore. On the one hand, there are all the ads - since the CRTC allows radio stations to air as many as they want, the amount has been climbing and climbing. That’s good news for radio revenues, which are also climbing and climbing, but bad news for your sanity while driving.

On the other hand, there are the CRTC’s Canadian content requirements. At least 35% of popular music radio stations’ content must be Canadian each week, with a further 35% requirement for Monday to Friday between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. If you like rock music like I do, that means you pretty much get The Tragically Hip every hour, on the hour. And let’s just say that’s one band I can’t stand. I would actually rather listen to my car explode than have to hear New Orleans is Sinking one more time.

Since I got the new stereo, my iPod has been on non-stop. I’ve ventured back to radio once or twice just to hear what was up, but got disgusted and switched back quickly.

Evidently, I’m not alone. Radio listenership is plummeting. According to the most recent report from Statistics Canada (from 2008), Canadians are listening to two fewer hours of radio per week than they did a decade ago. Moreover, adult contemporary was the most listened-to form of music, while kids barely tuned in to the radio at all. Translation: only older people are listening to the radio.

This means that, thanks to CRTC regulations combined with a plethora of other options (such as iPods), radio stations are raking in an increasing amount of dough, yet they’re reaching fewer and fewer people every year. Does that sound like a sustainable business? Most definitely not.

That takes us back to last week’s post about the possibility of the CRTC regulating the likes of Netflix and YouTube. Rather than looking at expanding CanCon requirements to new businesses, the CRTC should perhaps be examining how its rules are inevitably going to hurt old media. I, for one, won’t go back to radio unless stations cut back on playing ads and weak Canadian music.

Categories: crtc, radio
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  1. July 20, 2011 at 12:16 am | #1

    Wait, another Canadian cannot stand the Tragically Hip? High Five!

  2. July 20, 2011 at 12:35 am | #2

    My 2006 KIA came without any AUX plug. :-/

    As for CanCon, it could be worse. It could be Nickelback….

  3. July 20, 2011 at 12:36 am | #3

    I agree 100% that FM radio is garbage. It almost seems like the station programmers get together and synchronize their commercial breaks — 9/10 stations seem to be on commercial and the one that isn’t is playing something so bad that you go back to the commercials.

    Tried Sirius twice when I got free 6-mo subscriptions with new cars, which is mostly commercial free (or was), but there is no way I am paying money for ‘radio’. Now we plug in the iPod/iPhone and program our own music.

    If radio went away overnight tonight it might take weeks for me to notice.

  4. July 20, 2011 at 12:50 am | #4

    Also feel like mentioning that the Hip is one of my favorite bands and while I was a teenager, Radio, yes RADIO, ruined many of their iconic songs for me. Could we suggest modifying the Canadian Content requirements to no longer play New Orleans Is Sinking, or Blow At High Dough, (because they’ve been severely overplayed) or 50 Mission Cap (because its about the Leafs), playing ANY Nickelback results in a $50k-per-second fine and three-strikes gets your broadcast license revoked.

    So with those 3 songs gone, there are ~150 other Hip tunes they could shuffle through. If that was 35% of their content I would tune in for my hour-a-day during my commute, put up with their commercial breaks - maybe even have it on at work once-in-a-while. Who knows.

    • Randy
      July 20, 2011 at 1:28 am | #5

      Gotta agree with you, as a Canadian Expat living in New England, The Hip has been a tie back for myself and many other Expats. Seeing them in an 800 person venue is incredible, and it’s surprising that some fans drive from Buffalo to see them in Boston because they cannot get tickets in T.O. My American wife cannot stand 100th Meridian, but Lonely End of the Rink, 38 Years Old, Wheat Kings, these are incredible songs… THey are stories about being Canadian

      But yes the CRTC causes many good Canadian artists to be very overplayed. As a former DJ, what you see with the Hip today, I saw in the 70′s and 80′s, but the bands then were: Bryan Adams, Collin James, Streetheart, Harlequin, Loverboy, Red Rider, Rush, Saga, April Wine, Doug and the Slugs, TPOH, The Guess Who, Burton Cummins, Lighthouse, The Band, Niel Young, THe Stampeders. B.T.O. Rough Trade, Trooper, Nick Gilder, Gordon Lightfoot, Corbeau, Jerry Boulet, Harmonium, 1755…

      OK maybe we had a little more choice back then. Today, they either play Hip, or you could choose to listed to Bieber! (However I bet he does not meet the MPLA requirements! Bryan Adams stopped meeting the requirements by his third or fourth album.

      But if you look at the wealth of good music through the 70s and 80s, compared to 2011, maybe the CRTC can come to the conclusion that affermative action does not work when it is forced down the throat of the population. And as I have previously noted, this is a new world when it comes to media and how it’s dealt with. Just try to block the pids today. Between mp3′s, proxy servers, LimeWire, and other p2p networks, it just isnt going to work. Rather than let a bunch of over the hill Ludites try to create the game rules, maybe the CRTC needs to spend more time with some successful commercial artits that managed DESPITE them, and get a bit of a clue as to how to help Canadian artists rather than just get in their way.

      • July 20, 2011 at 1:56 am | #6

        Oh man — I looked at TPOH for almost a minute before remembering The Pursuit of Happiness.

        Media has changed radically in the past few decades. When I was young we had 2 channels on tv, only 1 AM station (country music) within range, 8-track tapes and vinyl. Growing up I could ‘tape-off’ songs on the radio or rent vhs movies from three towns over. Aside from that, I only had to dial 4 numbers to call my dad at work.

        Now I have 300 hours of on-demand music in my pocket, thousands of movies to choose from on my computer and I get YouTube on my phone.

        Despite that, I have never KNOWINGLY ever listened to or heard a Justin Beiber song. Does he even bother to record music? I would just book an arena tour, walk in, wave, leave and let six dozen people sell t-shirts and swag.

        I don’t think that Canadian culture is being preserved or celebrated by forcing broadcasters to play Beiber, Nickleback, or stuff I like like AOF and TTH. Make Canadian History, Canadian Literature, or Canadian Arts a MANDATORY area of study in Canadian high schools. Just a few credits would do, and the benefit would be a thousand times greater — if that were the purpose.

        But I am sure that the bottom line is the dollar sign and this is really more about creating an artificial market for Canadian music, television, and the like.

  5. Randy
    July 20, 2011 at 2:06 am | #7

    Interesting :) However I don’t think it’s about $$, it’s more like the Kangaroo in Horton Hears a Who… It’s all about power and being able to force your will upon people. That and it’s all about folks that just don’t get it and in the end, answer to no one. Lets face it, what kind of responsability does a CRTC burocrat have?? Who do the REALLY answer to? In the end, they create rules that few people realize are there, and few understand. And while someone might love that the CRTC caused Anne of Green Gables to be produced, it might be interesting to wonder what quality shows didn’t get produced and aired in Canada. Or what artists just give up and head south, or to France…

    Like the Senate, it’s time for the CRTC shut down. They probably create more employment inside their own organization than they do in the world of Canadian Arts.

  6. Marc Venot
    July 20, 2011 at 3:14 am | #8

    Sirius has been already indicated in the comments. At some (few) hours the CBC and Radio-Canada do a correct job.
    What is your proposal and how are they doing it in the USA or other countries?

  7. July 20, 2011 at 8:12 am | #9

    A bigger issue to me is radio laziness. There’s no excuse to play Tragically Hip several times a day. Even with the 35 per cent CC. Bands like the Arkells, Mother Mother and Hollerado can only get play on college radio or the Edge (the only station in Ontario that seems to know what they are doing) when they are great bands which reach out to a pretty broad audience. Hell, “Classic Rock and New Rock” stations still don’t bother to play Arcade Fire. It seems like when they play Canadian content, it has to be OLD Canadian content. New bands do not get any help in the Canadian radio world.

  8. Randy
    July 20, 2011 at 8:30 am | #10

    I have to ask, what IS a “Correct Job”? Is there a “Correct” way to mandate what the public MUST hear or see?

    The concept worked in the past because the entertainment industry had a very limitted channels of distribution and marketing. Radio stations used music as content much the same way as websites use bloggers or youtube uses video as content. Content drove the audience numbers and that created a basis for advertizers. The music industry provided the music and nominal to no fee was charged for its use. This was basically the path to artist exposure, much the same as getting a piece of your clothing line to be worn by a sports professional or and actor / actress.

    The record buying public, thus exposed to your music will then seek it out so that it can be played at will rather than only by chance or by getting a giddy 15 year old girl to call the station and beg to hear it because it only played 107 times today and she HAS to hear it again.

    Skip forward 30+ years. The channels of exposure are expanding daily. The demographic groups that buy music and concert tickts are no longer listening to radio, they listen to YouTube, or they get updates from the artist websites, recomendations and “Like This” notices from Facebook, Song of the day cards from Starbucks. And they buy their music virtually and often store inside of a unit the size of a matchbox 50 times the music one might have had on a bookshelf in 1985.

    The music consumer of today has hundreds of choices in their home, car, and elsewhere. 100 music channels on the Cable or Sat dish. Pandora and other streaming services to their PC or phone. Radio is simply no longer relevent to the promotion of a new artist, and making radio play music that their audience is not interested in simply drives their audience elsewhere, as the title of this blog entry indicates. Those that remain listening to radio are demographically of little importance to most new artists looking for exposure.

    I can’t speak for Europe or anywhere else, but in the US, there are no general content rules of a national or cultural nature to speak of. It is simply driven by the free market system.

    Next the CRTC will want someone to create the Justin Bieber Channel…

    • sparkyd
      July 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm | #11

      I think Marc just meant to say that CBC/SRC radio is actually pretty good. I only listen to CBC radio and I think they have awesome programming for the most part. On the odd occasion that I’m not interested I switch over to regular commercial radio, but then I’m usually switching stations every song or two and keep checking back on CBC to see if they’ve moved on to something more interesting.

  9. Rui
    July 20, 2011 at 8:57 am | #12

    Can’t agree more with you on this. Radio has, for me, become a dead donkey. Can’t stand all those commercials and many of these dj’s have become too manic. But isn’t this part of the problem overall (in all sections of media: radio, tv, internet): heavy commercialization that has gone too far? I remember this from David Simon:


  10. Myles
    July 20, 2011 at 9:15 am | #13

    I have had the same experience with Canadian radio — very shallow, superficial content is all I can find between Windsor and Kingston (I drive a lot). I tried SiriusXM for 2-3 years and enjoyed a much better variety of music. But what I really got hooked on was the talk radio content. The two best shows, hands down, are the Howard Stern show, and the Bubba The Love Sponge show. Excellent interviews, awesome music, and non-stop entertainment. There are shenanigans that sometimes turn me off, but overall their CONTENT is awesome. Now Bubba has moved on to RadioIO and I can hear it on my smartphone. SiriusXM have also recently began broadcasting on smartphones. So, no more AM-FM radio, no more satellite radio, and I can get everything I want over the internet via my smartphone. There is one last use for radio and that is local traffic and weather. Aside from that, podcasts and MP3 music keep me company on my long trips. I would not waste my time switching back to boring, commercial filled radio.

  11. July 20, 2011 at 10:34 am | #14

    I agree that most FM stations need to re-think their playlists, but I still prefer it to the other options. I won’t pay for Sat radio b/c I don’t drive very far each day, and trying to keep my iPod music collection up-to-date is a hassle (plus I have that same awful radio-transmitter solution) so that leaves me with the FM dial. The good news is that there is still some great radio out there. Q107 has Kim Mitchell in the afternoon drive and he is incredible. His musical knowledge, casual delivery and interviews with musicians are all a pleasure to listen to. Just hearing him tell me about how John and Paul fought over a certain Beatles tune makes me smile. So there’s still hope, and no, I’m not at all convinced that CanCon rules are the problem. Would we have been exposed to acts like Alanis, Chantale Creviazuk and others without them? Doubtful.

  12. July 20, 2011 at 2:36 pm | #15

    The reason we got CanCon was because radio at one point was all request and DJ’s selection. This lead to “Stairway to Heaven” being played eight times a day and it being near impossible to get away from Styx/Eagles/Boston/Foreigner on radio.

    This lead to the Top 40, which now dominates most radio stations in America but not much in Canada. Canada started moving to Top 40 but we also introduced CanCon laws to ensure Canadian artists could get played. Since they weren’t being played.

    The problem, like I said earlier, is that CanCon has lead to “Classic Canadian” lists. The music is rarely new (and when it is, it’s The Trews. Just The Trews. Payola anyone?) and is almost exclusively classic rock or the same Our Lady Peace song you heard in the 90s. It’s a wonderful opportunity to play new Canadian artists touring now for under $30 and help young Canadian artists make some money. Instead we’re putting $0.10 in Gord Downie’s pocket per spin. As if he needs it.

    You need a combination of “All Request Hour”, “Top 20″ and “New Spins”. Canadian music can fit in all three. If anything needs to be regulated, it’s how many newer Canadian artists can get play in a typical Canadian radio station. It takes a new Airheads-esque effort to get it done. LONE RANGERS!

    • July 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm | #16

      Aaron, you might have an interesting idea! I like the idea of maybe tying station format into the equation in order to reduce the 30% Guess Who station. However there is an additional issue on the definition of CanCon that causes the issue. Many artists that are Canadian simply do not qualify as CanCon. Why? Because it is all down to the M.P.L.A.

      To qualify as Cancon, music must meet two or more of the following:

      1.) The Music is composed ENTIRELY by a Canadian.

      2.) The music is, or the lyrics are, performed principally by a Canadian Artist.
      (This is tricky)

      3.) The musical performance is recorded WHOLLY IN Canada, or performed WHOLLY IN Canada and broadcast live in Canada.

      4.) The lyrics are written ENTIRELY by a Canadian.

      Pre 1972 recordings need only one of the above

      Instrumental performance of music written or composed by a Canadian.

      Canadian composed music for instruments only.

      The Bryan Adams clause: After Sept 1, 1991 If a Canadian receives at least half the credit for BOTH music and Lyrics, that can serve as one credit of two, the second would then be Canadian Artists or Canadian Performance. (Added because Adams worked with Mutt Lange on Waking Up the Neighbours and that caused him to no longer be MPLA!)

      So if Justin Bieber re-records a song J.T. wrote, doing his voice track in Vancouver, while Jimmy Iovine works through video conference with him from LA and he remixes it using some beat producer in Europe, the track does not qualify as CanCon. While Justine Bieber is Canadian, the recording was not wholy done in Canada, and the lyrics and music were from non Canadians also.

      So if someone wants to break into the US or European market, they have to be very careful how it is done, or they can lose the CanCon status. This is a major contributor to the lack of new music in the CanCon. When added to the fact that many play list controllers want Canadian acts to prove themselves outside Canada before they can even get some play… Kinda makes it a catch 22.

      Maybe what is needed is an “Indy Artist clause”. Also, the categories that are lumped together for station format make it entirely too simple to fall back on the old faithful.

      In the end, there are so many more methods of promotion and distribution than over the air radio for the new artists out there, that the entire argument is simply becoming moot. (Unless the CRTC decides that ITunes.ca has to meet CanCon also ;-)

  13. July 20, 2011 at 4:38 pm | #17

    When I have the radio on in the car it’s pretty much just 680 now.

    That said, there’s actually MORE choice in radio these days if you expand your definition to include streaming internet ‘stations’. Now we just need decks with sim slots ;)

  14. Sam Davies
    July 20, 2011 at 10:19 pm | #18

    Honestly - I have not listened to FM radio for like the last 10+ years. I can imagine that it has become even crappier. On occasion, I do listen to a few AM stations, mostly for news and Blue Jays games. Why is it that the portable gadgets that include radio capabilities skip AM? I’d love to get some sort of media device that could also be used to listen to Jays games on the go, but am not holding my breath…

  1. July 22, 2011 at 12:07 am | #1

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