I’m about to take an anti-Canadian stance on something. If you see anything Canadian as inherently good and have a small flag waving in your heart at all times, you might not like it.
Last week was Canadian Music Week and many of my broadcasting colleagues past and present gathered in Toronto for it. There are new artist debuts, listening sessions, seminars and chats on the status of the music business and others related to it including radio. I’ve attended these events several times in the past and this year I did not go but I’ve been reading the coverage with interest.
Many smart people said many smart things about the state of radio. To summarize: stop glorifying the past, make sure your people are comfortable in the digital world, don’t fear the future and be positive about the industry and its place in a rapidly changing marketplace. Humble Howard said we have to cultivate a new crop of broadcasters by opening up the overnight shifts to live people again. He’s right. These days, announcers are expected to come out of school medium or major market ready. There’s no training ground for them anymore. I started on an overnight shift and there is no better place to make mistakes and learn and prepare yourself for more popular timeslots.
Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy also spoke. Here’s a little fun fact about my one previous meeting with the guys in Blue Rodeo. Somehow, backstage before their performance in Listowel, Greg Keelor and I got into a little disagreement over cancon – the government’s regulations that determine how much Canadian music we, as radio programmers, have to play. He’s for it, because the extra spins greatly helped their career. I’m against it because it handcuffs us and prevents us from choosing the radio-worthy material that comes from this country. Music from any other nation gets on the air via merit alone. We must fill a quota when it comes to Canadians.
So back to Jim Cuddy. His idea for revolutionizing Canadian radio is to force radio stations to devote an hour of programming a day to new Canadian artists. As it stands right now we have to play 35% Canadian content. We already struggle to find worthy songs and artists from our homeland and now he thinks everyone should play completely unfamiliar stuff and that listeners are all just dying to hear it. Research proves otherwise.
The Canadian content rule is a thorn in the side of any radio programmer at a privately owned radio station whose job it is to make money. The entertainment business is still a business. It’s not that we don’t enjoy and want to promote Canadian artists but that we only want to promote and highlight those who deserve it. Not all artists are created equally and their birthplace, in my humble opinion, ought not be enough of a reason alone to put them on the air. Anyone who has been in radio a while has played some truly awful Canadian songs just to fill the quota. It’s just a fact and it annoys the heck out of many of us. We don’t owe a forum to each and every Canadian who picks up a guitar.
What if every art gallery in the country, also privately owned and commercial in nature, was forced to carry 35% Canadian art? You can’t tell people what to like when it comes to art, even if you force it down their throats or into their ears. Sorry Jim, you’re off base on this one. And if it were ever to become the law, it would bite established Canadian bands in the butt. Stations would count that one hour of new Canadian music as part of their 35% daily quota, leaving less time for, oh let’s say, Blue Rodeo records.