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A Suggestion for Tweaking Radio’s CanCon Music Rules

By Steve Marlow, Radio Programmer, in an opinion posting for Kamloops This Week

When Canadian content laws (CanCon) came into the radio sector, their job was to promote Canadian music on Canadian airwaves and to develop culture with less influence from American broadcasters.

While CanCon laws took a while to be accepted, they have achieved their purpose. Canadian music is everywhere on Canadian radio stations. But in 2010, CanCon laws needed a new focus.

In a petition circulated in 2005, the Indie Pool website gathered 5,000 signatures from musicians and music fans, asking for an update to the laws and to raise the CanCon requirement for radio past 35 per cent (that is, 35 per cent of all music played on Canadian radio music be Canadian content).

Furthermore, they asked the requirements for CanCon to be tweaked to have radio stations promote more emerging and underplayed artists.

As it is, a radio station is required to play 35 per cent CanCon, but it doesn’t matter which songs they play, as long as they count as Canadian content.

There is no provision for any radio station to play a diverse range of songs, it can just play the same handful of songs over and over.

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) has asked the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) to lower Canadian Content requirements to 25 per cent, claiming that an increase would harm their ability to compete in the radio world.

If they continued with the model they are using right now, they’d be right. Canadian commercial radio, for what it’s worth, follows the American commercial model: sell advertising and play what’s familiar. With less CanCon, this is easily achievable.

Indie Pool has offered a counter argument: keep the 35 per cent model, but change how CanCon is measured. They suggest a credit system, where songs by established artists count less toward CanCon percentages and lesser known artists count more.

For example, an internationally known Canadian artist like Drake or an established one like Paul Brandt would count less toward CanCon totals, but artists like Metric or Mother Mother would count more toward CanCon.

An independent artist with little national exposure would count even more. What this would do is allow a station that wants to play only the biggest stars to continue doing so as they did and still make their 35 per cent CanCon.

But an adventurous station could start playing lesser known artists and end up playing less than 35 per cent CanCon, but add more diversity and variety to their sound.

To the CRTC’s credit, they have changed the laws slightly, in that new stations are required to play 40 per cent CanCon, but stations licensed before this change remain at 35 per cent.

Campus/community stations often take it upon themselves to exceed CanCon requirements, often playing more than 50 per cent.

The goal of CanCon laws were both to protect Canadian culture and to promote our own unique culture. If we copy what the United States does with its radio, but with similar sounding artists, we’re doing very little to help promote and protect Canadian culture.

Steve Marlow is the program co-ordinator at CFBX, an independent radio station in Kamloops. Tune in at 92.5 FM
on the dial or go online to


  1. 25% maximum Canadian content, if we have to have any rules at all. If its just a question of whats good or bad, then there should be no rules and regulations. If an artist is talented, then you will get played, if its junk, it should never be played. Let the people decide, not special interest groups or the government.

  2. I agree with Ernie. The Canadian content rule was imposed on radio in 1971 and, at the time, was a good requirement. It gave Canadian artists an opporttunity to be heard on radio when they otherwise may not. Today it is out-of-date and anachronistic. Anyone living in Canada can access any music they want, at any time without having to listen to music imposed on them by some bureaucratic organization.

    Besides, artists today can publish their own music on the Internet if they so choose and radio does not have the influence it once had to promote that particular artist. I’m going to hate myself for saying this but Justin Bieber was a YouTube sensation with the teenie boppers and gained his prominence and fame from that medium as opposed to radio.

    Canadian content served a valuable purpose at one point in our history but it know servies on the bureaucrats who administer the program. Get rid of it.

  3. New stations are not required to play 40%, new applicants just keep proposing it when applying for new licences to give them a better shot at getting the licence. Or if you’re proposing 35% against a pile of 40’s you’re at a disadvantage so 40 is the new 35 when applying. .

    As for emerging artists, they are too difficult to regulate and who’s in charge of regulating it? What happens when an Emerging artist makes it big? Who makes that decision? Who sends out the memo to broadcasters to change the coding?

    Every Drake, Weeknd, etc were all once upon a time an emerging artist. So now that Cancon helped them achieve fame, radio is supposed to get less credit for playing them? We already lose a pile of artists after they make it big and get an international team of writers and producers behind making their music no longer “Canadian”, (Bieber, Mendes, etc) yet the Junos have no problem heaping awards on them as Canadians while radio is told they’re no longer Cancon. Lame.

    You wanna “fix” Cancon. Change the MAPL system from two parts to one. If David Foster or Daniel Lanois produce a record why is that less canadian than if Drake sings it?

    I PD a 40% Alt station and have no problem making Cancon, nor do I think I should be given an advantage for playing newer bands. We do that because that’s the format. Lowering CC won’t stop us from playing great new music. Changing the MAPL rule won’t either. But when two of the top five songs on CHR star Canucks and Canadian Broadcasters don’t get to count them as CC, there’s a problem.

  4. I have spent the last three months in Europe. I have enjoyed every moment of not hearing Tom Cochrane, April Wine, Trooper, Honeymoon suite, Toronto, the list goes on and on and on. YOU wanna fix the Canadian content? Have a music director take the time to alter artist separation and song seperation. Radio stations blame the system, when In fact, the problem is the actual station. You know Mr radio station can change it…but they don’t. Budget cuts to music personel and just plane LAZINESS are a major factor. I leave with this point: music has no borders…if it’s good? It is played…it is that simple.

  5. Christian Hall, good points, the % is easy enough to manipulate

    I’d actually update the MAPL and add in “residence” catagory. How Canadian is an artist that no longer resides north of the 49th for years, decades, life?

    But let’s be honest, since 1971, well times have changed and IF i wanna listed to German speed metal all day direct from Berlin, no problem, the internet has shrunk the world to such a degree borders no longer matter…

  6. I will take the German speed metal all day any day.. .over “life is a hiway” over and over and over again. Torture, pure torture

    Burton Cummings said it best…”they played the guess who before cancon rules, cause we were good.

    FYI Mr Hall, I am in France…i have over 200 stations to choose from……

  7. I will add to this for you Mr Hall,

    Let’s take Tom Cochrane for example.

    Take out life is a hiway, slip in songs from Neruda, or as far as Siam. There is plenty of Canadian content to be played. In fact, if you did that as a music programmer? I might be inclined to listen again. Music directors do not make the effort to do that kinda work.

    All I merely am saying is creativity goes along ways when it comes to the ears and your listeners.

  8. Tim, I’m not sure what your point is. No where was I complaining about a lack of Cancon choices to play. I simply believe in “once a Canadian, always a Canadian” and seeing canadians achieve international success shouldn’t punish radio for continuing to support them.

    And to defend Canadian Radio, BDS shows no less than a dozen different T.C. and Red Rider songs being played regularly across the country. We’re a creative bunch out here just living on the Lunatic Fringe.

  9. It would be interesting to know when Burton Cummings made that comment regarding CanCon rules. Because within a couple of years of his going solo in 1976, his hitmaking days in the US were virtually over. (His self-titled first solo album spawned the million seller Stand Tall and the slightly less successful I’m Scared.) But from My Own Way To Rock on, it was non-stop (and deserved) Canadian airplay that sustained his career with hit singles, TV specials and magazine profiles. Personally, I was shocked at how deeply his career dwindled in America, because his recordings were still superb. Thankfully, in part due to CanCon, he remained a big cheese up here.

  10. The Cancon regulation needs to be scrapped completely.

    It had its time and place but it no longer has any relevancy today. It was originally imposed to support Canadian artists which is fine. But any artist today can promote themselves far better on the Internet without the need for radio play.

  11. Ian. Everything you said is wrong.

    Ask a band that’s currently getting zero airplay on radio how many albums and tickets they’re selling compared to a band that does get radio play.

    Not even close. There’s incredible value in being played on the radio, Canadian or not.

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