Prior to 1971, it was almost impossible for a Canadian singer, musician, or group to be heard on Canadian radio, unless by some miracle they had made it big in the US.

Prior to 1971, it was almost impossible for a Canadian singer, musician, or group to be heard on Canadian radio, unless by some miracle they had made it big in the US.
Photo Credit: Cory Ruf/CBC

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

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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.

In 1967 a new regulatory body was created, The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).  As the frustration of Canadian musicians grew, so to 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 “sub par”,  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 this date, 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, 35 percent in 1999, 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 day in 1971.

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2 comments on “History: Jan. 18, 1971-When Canada stood up for Canadian music
  1. Avatar Warren Cosford says:

    “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 made it in the US”.

    Really?

    Did how did Windsor Ontario’s Jack Scott manage to have 19 records on the Billboard Charts between June 1958 and November 1961? The first time I saw him preform was on CBC’s ‘Cross Canada Hit Parade. Or how about Port Arthur Ontario’s Bobby Curtola? And then, of course, there was Winnipeg where I grew up. CKY and CKRC used to fight over which of the local bands they would champion. Interestingly….neither Jack nor Bobby are in The Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. I wonder why?

    • Marc Montgomery Marc Montgomery says:

      Indeed, the Billboard charts were American.
      Jack Scott, Bobby Curola, the Crew Cuts, Guy Lombardo and many others were heard on Canadian stations, but after they were popular in the US. That was the problem. There were extremely few proper recording studios in Canada, and quality of production was not as good as the better equipped better experienced multitude of US studios. Getting a Canadian on air in Canada, was as mentioned, almost impossible- unless- they had already made it in the US. The CanCon laws changed all that and basically created a recording industry in Canada, and enabled the careers of so many extremely talented Canadian artists and musicians.