Editorial Comment

The Can Con Blues

Whether you agree with the regulations or not, and there is ample room for debate, the CRTC’s rules governing Canadian content (Can-con) on radio stations are flawed. Anyone listening to free radio, AM or FM, can spot the flaw immediately. The flaw is apparent on every type of station and is not confined to any particular genre, although oldies stations are the worst culprits. The major problem with the rule is that the same Canadian bands get overplayed while emerging talent is ignored, with the exception of a few lucky ones.
    The idea of having quotas for Canadian music is certainly not a conservative ideal; they believe market forces unfettered by government regulations to be the best situation for all. However, it was the Harper government, albeit a minority one, that last overhauled the Can-con system in 2006 leaving the obvious flaw intact.
    What value is it to the average Canuck to have bands and artists such as The Tragically Hip, Gordon Lightfoot, The Guess Who, Edward Bear, April Wine and Lighthouse played over and over? Do we really need to hear Michel Pagliaro or Burton Cummings aired ad nauseum. Does anybody really ever need to hear Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch” ever again?
    If we can all agree that the point of Can-con isn’t to give old, established acts fatter royalty cheques but to encourage newer and/or lesser known Canadian talent, then it is obvious, something must be done, but what? There are a number of different ways that this could be handled, each with it’s unique advantages and disadvantages.
    In the current system, the criteria for receiving Can-con airplay is based on what the government refers to as the MAPL system. (MAPL… Canadian… get it? Not PALM or LAMP. Never accuse the feds of subtlety. ) This stands for Music, Artist, Performance and Lyrics. An artist has to meet two of these four prerequisites for the content to be considered Canadian enough to qualify. So, you can be from  Walla Walla, Washington and have an American band, but if you play a song with both music and lyrics by Scotty Stephenson and Daughter Debbie (it could happen) it would still qualify as Can-con.
    It is important for artists to qualify as it means radio station program managers must play their stuff far more often than, say a Swedish band like Abba. (This makes it arguably a great rule.) However, If Agnetha, Anni-Frid and the boys recorded Stompin Tom’s “Bud the Spud” in Toronto (still nominally regarded as a Canadian city) it, too would qualify for over-playing on Canadian radio stations.
    Most of us agree with the concept of Can-con if the numerous surveys about the issue are correct. It is hardly a unique idea, after all, as many other developed countries have similar laws including Australia and the members of the Euro-zone. That we need such an arrangement isn’t the problem. It’s the fact that it fattens existing artists more than it encourages emerging ones.
    I believe I speak for many when I suggest there should be some kind of statute of limitation for a song to qualify as Can-con. There are a number of ways of doing this. It could be based on how long the song has been on the charts, for example. Perhaps after, say, twenty years, it should cease being allowed as Can-con since we can only assume if a song is still being played after 20 years, it has enough fans to keep it being played without any regulations forcing it. 
    Another method would be to have it based on record sales (or MP3 file sales or however the puff they sell music nowadays) whereby if a song achieves gold record status, it is considered an “international hit” and also not recognized as needing the Can-con boost.

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