Canadian Commercial Radio Sucks

“If they play “Something in Your Mouth” one more time...”

It’s sad that a title like that can’t be considered bold. I can write it in bold, but it’s not the same. I’m sure if I were an American and dared to say such things – I’d probably get more blog hits – maybe an indignant Yankee or two would care enough to question my patriotism of their great nation.

In Canada it’s different, because we know it’s true. Our Radio Stations have to abide by very strict Canadian content rules; and it’s not the law, but execution of the rule that shoots us in the foot. It should come to no surprise to anyone that we have an inferiority complex; it’s evident in every faucet of our media. Common misconceptions are: “Canadian music sucks” “Canadian TV sucks” and “Canadian movies suck”. So much in fact that we had to legislate a law in the 70’s just to wedge in some homegrown content over the airwaves. Now we’re stuck in this cycle where the most interesting Canadian music is showcased by CBC Radio and everyone else plays it safe, sticking to a small group mainstream Canadian musicians to satisfy Canadian content laws.

I’m picking on music specifically, movies and TV are a whole other beast that I’ll rant about another time. A lot of Canadian artists have to make it big out of the country before any of the Canadian Commercial Radio Stations will play them. Even the “edgier” Stations seem to play it safe for the sake of retaining those precious advertising dollars and not alienating dedicated blowhards who raise a drink and scream the name of their favourite artist whenever one of their songs predictably plays over the air at the same time, day in and day out. (I’m looking at you CFOX, you’ll have segments about Anal Bleaching, but stick to the same conservative 40 song rotation day in and day out. I can tell by listening to your DJs talk on air that they know a metric fuck-tonne about the local music scene. CORUS why not let them explore a little? Maybe JR Shaw is to blame. Could someone kick his ass out of the boardroom already.)

Canadian Commercial Radio Stations are losing the war against Podcasts, Internet ,American-Talk and Satellite Radio. It’s an issue the Stations have to be aware of, and I’m sure somewhere in a boardroom a group of stressed out businessmen have been trying to answer the question “how do we retain our listeners?” Perhaps the conversation has gone something like this:


Pencil Pusher: C’mon guys we need ideas to attract new listeners!

Number Cruncher: Lets hire some very charismatic and knowledgeable DJs. Then stream our shows online!

[There’s an uncomfortable silence around the boardroom while the staff processes the notion – unsure of what to make of the broad new proposal. BEAN COUNTER breaks the silence by abruptly jumping to his feet.]

Bean Counter: I have a brilliant idea! We’ll take our services online AND throw more Nickelback at them! Everyone likes Nickelback, right?

[BEAN COUNTER’S proposal is met with thunderous applause. SHIT SHAKER politely raises his hand from the corner of the room.]

Shit Shaker: [stuttering] I don’t like Nickelback. Maybe we can play more independent Canadian artists and develop a culture around encouraging local musicians and discovering diamonds in the rough.

Bean Counter: [shaking his head in disappointment] Shit Shaker, Shit Shaker, Shit Shaker. How many times do we need to tell you, people don’t want to hear new and exciting artists. The people are dumb and will gladly listen to the same recycled garbage we force down their throats!

It’s horseballs and doesn’t have to be like this! I dare any major Radio Station to take a risk and play unknown Canadian artists from time to time. Give your DJs more control over content by imposing fewer restrictions – in terms of what specific songs they can or cannot play on the air. Trust their tastes and if they feel that a particular band is good enough to play, but might not have a huge following, let them take that risk. Who knows, it might do some good. “Unknown” artists don’t need to be relegated to oft ignored college Radio Stations. If a band being signed to a record label is an issue, I wonder if the idea of opening-operating/sponsoring record labels has ever crossed the minds of these “entertainment” companies.

For all the complaining corporations do about the digital music age they’re forgetting one key factor about the progression of technology and that’s to embrace it head on. Are fewer people listening to radio because they can download anything they want? Sure. But that same technology has made it easier for bands across this nation to record music without shelling out a boat load of money in studio fees or jumping through the hoops of getting a FACTOR grant. Talent from all walks of Canada now have easy access to professional grade software and equipment.

The reason people are listening to less and less music through the radio is because it’s the same music every day, all day. Technology has opened up the floodgates for musical talent to put their stuff online and they’re sharing it all over the Internet, but for some crazy reason Radio Stations haven’t picked up on this bottomless pit of potential.

For the Radio Station itself, a show of good faith is usually rewarded. If I were part of some unknown garage band who – by some miracle of nature – managed to produce a professional quality song or two that made it to the radio, I’d be ecstatic. I’d motivate me to follow that dream and produce more music. I’d tell my friends about receiving air time and even if I was cautious about namedropping, the name of the Station who played my stuff would probably be repeated a few times. If a band becomes huge as a result, chances are they’ll remember where that “break” came from, fans will remember where they first heard of this awesome new band and chances are they’ll keep listening, looking for something new and refreshing. Maybe they’ll even tell their friends.

Word of mouth is a powerful tool.



7 Responses to Canadian Commercial Radio Sucks

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh, for heaven’s sakes and stop playing Rush too. Ironically, the “Spirit of Radio,” is now the most overplayed Canadian song on the radio, talk about spirit and guts. The song itself is about a Toronto, Ontario radio station (that no longer exists) called CFNY who back in the 70s and 80s would play artists that NO ONE else in Canada would play (the underground-artists like The Diodes, Teenage Head, Iggy Pop (and not just “Lust For Life”), the list could go on. They are now, “The Edge,” who plays some decent stuff, but it’s “Tighten Up,” by the Black Keys at 9 a.m. then again at 1 p.m., and “Dog Days are over,” by Florence and the Machine (the singer’s got a nice voice), but the Edge plays it twice in the same show (talk about being “edgy”) And, for heaven’s sakes, its like everywhere you go on the dial you hear the same songs (“Spirit of Radio,” is a prime example in this part of town). Enough Already——radio stations are loosing their loyal audience because, well what do you expect, they hear the same hundred songs every day. All I can tolerate of commercial radio now is an hour a week, isn’t that sad? I guess we’re at a time when radio is no longer important to the public anymore and it’ll soon be dead, give it till the summer of 2011.

  2. astronautcop says:

    In Ottawa, we call Chez106 the Tragically Rush station.

    I worked in radio for nearly 7yrs as a producer and announcer. Now, I’m closing in on 30, back in school, and writing about why commercial radio sucks.

  3. A Brown says:

    Great article! I don’t know much about the CRTC’s content rules for radio, but I assume that they are suffocating and unbreachable, since I listen to radio at work five days a week, seven hours a day, and have noticed something; they all play the same forty songs every single day!

    One poster here said he calls CHEZ 106 here in Ottawa “The Tragically Rush Station.” Sadly true. For those who are lucky enough to not live in Ottawa, I’ll fill you in. CHEZ is a classic rock station. This means they have about four decades worth of rock and roll songs to choose from. You would think they could program one mean day of music at the very least. But no, what they do program is four or five Rush songs, five or six Hip songs, a lot of Supertramp and Heart, and the same played-out staples from Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, and AC/DC as filler.

    It’s really, really sad. The DJ’s can’t possibly be playing the songs they want to hear, unless they really are as clueless about music as they seem, and just can’t get enough of that “Barracuda” riff, even if they lived a hundred years.

    We also have Virgin Radio, formerly The Bear, as well as a newer station that is supposed to be “alternative,” called Live 88.5. These are both horrible as well. Virgin plays enough Nickleback to make even the most ignorant twelve year old with a horrible taste in music turn the dial after an hour. And Live 88.5, though they came out of the gate pretty strong, seem to have been crushed by CRTC content rules as well. This station plays Econoline Crush songs every day. Enough said.
    And hey, I liked that Florence And The Machine song one morning, until I had heard it six times by the end of my shift, and a hundred times by the end of the week.
    And really, if this station considers Nirvana to be the most underground band in the world, they might as well start throwing in some Celine Dion tracks. They can’t possibly lose any more respect.

    So the author of the article is really spot on. I don’t think that imaginary boardroom meeting is too far off the mark. College radio and CBC radio are the only stations that seem willing or able to play a true mix of music and promote bands that aren’t already over-promoted and over-played. Seems like if your signal is able to reach outside of the city, you’re obligated to play the same tired mixed tape of crap you’ve been playing for years.

    Also, a funny sidenote about how ignorant DJ’s are. CHEZ’s morning crew was talking about Them Crooked Vultures doing a show at Scotiabank Place a couple years ago, only because John Paul Jones is in the band of course. The younger, “hip” DJ made a remark about them being a “supergroup,” which confounded the two old farts beside him. They didn’t even know who Dave Grohl was, let alone Joshua Homme of QOSTA! Who the hell are Queens of the Stone Age, they wondered aloud. Yeah, some really knowledgeable guys at the helm over there.

  4. Geraldr says:

    Funny what you stumble on. I love radio hate columns.

  5. The Yeti says:

    I love the institution and Engineering of AM and FM. I hate the busniess side of it. I listen to mostly AM talk in my car as i live near Toronto. I used to pick up Buffalo radio and listen to it mostly. Since the CRTC has granted smaller FM Licences to College radio station that don’t deserve that,it pisses me off i can’t pick up WGRF 96.9 in Brampton anymore. Now i listen to them on the internet and everything else except Canadian FM radio. Thanks to internet radio…i have my sanity back again. Cheers

  6. James says:

    I have been wanting to write about how horrible Rock 94 in Thunder Bay and Q92 in Sudbury and Timmins as well as Rock 95 in Barrie and the Fox in North Bay all suck for rock radio. Thankfully I live in Sault Ste Marie where I can listen to real commercial rock radio that is Billy Talent free and free of other crap like 54-40. I am a big fan of Chevelle, Cavo and I love Thousand Foot Krutch as well as Evans Blue which are sone Canadian rock bands that deserve more exposure in Canada. It’s not that I don’t like Canadian talent, it’s more about what Canadian rock stations choose to play over good bands like Thousand Foot Krutch, Evans Blue and Art of Dying. The CRTC needs to be gutted out big time becausr commercial radio is losing to satellite radio and the internet

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