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.
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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 thex.ca.