Musée du son
Sauvegarder, documenter et diffuser le patrimoine sonore
|English Radio in Quebec|
by Melanie Fishbane and Mary Vipond
Post Production of a Recording, 1948
In 1952, Gui Caron, the Québec leader of the Labour
and a candidate for the riding of St. Louis in Montreal, asked CFCF if
his colleagues could buy some air-time in order to promote the party’s
platform for the upcoming election on July 16.
J. Allan Hammond, the Manager of CFCF, refused his request.
Caron complained to the federal government’s regulatory agency
matters, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
In response to the initial investigation conducted by the
Station Relations in Québec, Maurice Foudrault, Hammond wrote on
June 17, 1952
that he had refused Caron because “We feel that the broadcasting of
propaganda is not in the public’s interest” (Hammond 1952a).
The idea that CFCF was the protector of the public interest was
new for the private broadcaster. A
couple of years earlier S.M. Finlayson, the president of the Marconi
Canada (which owned CFCF), had suggested to the Royal Commission on the
Letters and Sciences (more commonly known as the Massey-Lévesque
that because the private broadcaster was a “community station,” and had
know its listeners and what they desired, it was in fact “much more a
station” than the CBC itself (Finlayson 1949, 8).
As was and is to be expected of a commercial radio station,
1950s, 1960s, and 1970s CFCF was motivated by its financial
Because most of its income came from advertisers who wished to
large numbers of listeners, obviously it was in CFCF’s interest to know
understand what the listeners believed they needed.
But Finlayson and Hammond pushed it further than that.
They both implied that because they knew CFCF’s listeners’
they knew their “interests” as well. When
making controversial programming choices, the station equated “the
with “the public” (or to put it another way, the consumer with the
and defended itself by claiming that it was acting in the public
Hammond believed that he was fully justified in denying Caron’s
because he thought he was doing what the station’s audience - public -
He knew that airing something which could be interpreted as
propaganda would anger some - probably many - of CFCF’s listeners, but
justified his action not by admitting that he feared alienating his
by using abstract concepts like the “public’s interest.”
Another interpretation of the listeners’ interests was revealed, however, when the Marconi Company tried to sell the station in 1963 to Radio Futura Limited, owners of the bilingual station CKVL Verdun. In this case, it can be argued that CFCF’s top executives were willing to sacrifice CFCF radio’s audience to an unknown future for the sake of the development of the potentially much more profitable television station they also owned. The new regulatory authority, the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG), did not believe that the sale was in the public interest, and refused to allow it. In a third case, in 1974-5, the station encouraged its listeners to sign a petition against the introduction of Bill 22, the Liberal government’s attempt to preserve and promote the French language by giving it official status in civic administration and the workplace and by reducing access to English schools for immigrants’ children. Now, in a changed climate of growing francophone nationalism, CFCF claimed that actively promoting what were later called to be called “English rights” was in their listeners’ and (according to their perspective) the public’s interest.
By examining these three controversies, we will demonstrate how
status as a “community station,” when combined with its necessary
profits, was understood by its management to mean that it must
ascertain and act
in the interests of its listeners - in other words it must give them
(or the majority of them) wanted. But
the station’s listeners were transformed in management rhetoric into
public,”and what was in their interest became by definition in the
the “public” or the whole community. Nevertheless,
when deemed financially necessary, Marconi/CFCF management was quite
sell its “public” to the highest bidder.
Advertisement for the Marconi Company
Canadian Wireless, June 1922
Communism is Not in
the Public’s Interest: the Gui
The circumstances surrounding the case of Gui Caron suggest that
managers of CFCF chose the defence of “the public’s interest” as a
to dissuade the courts and the federal government from pressing charges
punishing the station for breaking the law.
Supervisor of Station Relations Foudrault
received Gui Caron’s letter of complaint on June 12, 1952.
He quickly responded by writing to Hammond: “In his letter, Mr.
complains of your refusal and that of [Broadcasting Manager] Mr. Victor
to sell him time on CFCF for the broadcast of a few political talks on
himself and three other candidates of his party” (Foudrault 1952).
Foudrault stressed that by saying No to Caron, Hammond and
violating Article 8, Section 2 of the Regulations which stated: “Each
shall allocate time for political broadcasts as fairly as possible
different parties or candidates desiring to purchase or obtain time for
broadcasts” (see Bird 162).
Hammond and George did not
believe that they had broken any regulation.
Hammond declared: “We are also aware that our license requires
operate in the public’s interest,” and went on, as already quoted: “We
feel that the broadcasting of communist propaganda is not in the
interest” (Hammond 1952a). Caron,
apparently sensing that he would not get timely satisfaction from the
regulators, approached the legal firm of Marcus and Feiner to represent
him. Their letter to the CFCF management
stated that failure to
comply with the CBC’s regulations within 48 hours would be “construed
as a refusal on your part” (Marcus 1952).
But the station remained adamant. It
offered a second line of defence at this point, communicated in a June
to Foudrault. Here Hammond argued
that because the Labour Progressive Party was not yet registered as a
party in Quebec, its representatives could not claim to be “candidates”
the sense of the regulations (Hammond 1952b). On July 3, the Superior
issued a writ of mandamus ordering CFCF to put Caron on the air, which
station again ignored (Montreal Herald 1952).
Although Caron was defeated on July 16, he continued to pursue
On October 17 the Superior Court ruled that although the station
have “allocated him a fair proportion of radio broadcasting time,”
little it could do three months after the fact.
However, the Court did say that the “Plaintiff was entitled to
remedy sought and would accordingly be entitled to the cost of the
(Superior Court of Canada 1952). Here
is where the documented story ends. Whether
or not CFCF honoured this demand is unknown, although presumably it had
choice; the CBC does not seem to have taken any further action once the
moved to the courts.
It is important to mention that CFCF was not the only Montreal
concerned about airing what could be considered communist propaganda.
A correspondent informed Victor George on June 19 that
CKAC and CJAD are also refusing time to the commies...” (Kingan 1952).
Caron took only CFCF to court and not the other stations is unknown.
It may be suggested, however, that if Hammond and George had
positively to Caron’s demands, CFCF would have been in the position of
the only private station to allow the Labour Progressive Party on the
which undoubtedly would have caused criticism from its listeners. It may be concluded, then, that while in this
CFCF’s executives invoked the public’s interest as the grounds for
refusal, their real concern was not the broader public interest that
citizenry be well informed, but their fear that they might alienate
narrower public - their own listeners - by broadcasting unpopular
Possibilities and the Public’s Interest: CFCF’s Attempted
Sale to Radio Futura Ltd.,1963
In 1962 and 1963, CFCF was again in the spotlight when it tried
its AM and FM stations to Radio Futura Ltd.
Radio Futura owned CKVL-AM Verdun, a bilingual station (25%
French programming) and had a license as well for an FM station.
The most important issues arising during the public hearing held
new federal regulatory body, the BBG on March 26, 1963 concerned the
implications of such a sale for Montreal’s radio listeners.
As is normal in these cases. Marconi had apparently let it be
quietly in the broadcasting community the previous fall that its two
were for sale. Some eight or ten
parties held meetings with Marconi officials, but only Jack Teitolman,
of Radio Futura, made a firm offer of just over $1 million (Montreal Star
1963). The BBG hearing, then, was to confirm that the sale would be in
with the regulations of the Board, and most particularly that it would
be in the
best interest of the industry and the listening public.
The end result was that the Board concluded that the sale was
not in fact in the public interest, because it would, by the definition
broadcasting regulations, duplicate service.
As an official in the Department of Transport wrote to CFCF: “It
opinion of the Board that the issue to one party of two licenses to
the same medium in a particular market can be justified only where this
to be necessary to ensure the support of a minority service (e.g. in
language) (Nixon 1963). It was apparently the Board’s opinion that the
English-language service of CFCF was secure under Marconi’s ownership,
therefore that the sale was not necessary to protect that minority
On the other hand, it could have been argued that there were
disproportionately few French-language stations in the Montreal market,
CKVL’s suggestion that it would switch to 100% French-language
the purchase went through might have enhanced the francophone presence
Montreal airwaves. This argument
was apparently not raised, however. CKVL
did subsequently switch to all-French programming anyway.
The Board’s conclusion that Radio Futura should not be allowed
four stations (two AM and two FM) in the same market was in accordance
long-standing policies, so not of great surprise.
But in the course of the hearing some points of interest about
the realities of English-language radio at the time were revealed.
One of the issues raised concerned the programming that would be
broadcast on CFCF in the event of the change of ownership.
A lengthy discussion occurred about where Radio Futura’s
hoped to find English-language live talent for the new drama and
programs it proposed (CFCF 1963, 111-121).
Although Radio Futura’s lawyer, A.B.R. Lawrence, argued that
plenty of talent available, including English-speakers, immigrants, and
bilingual French-speakers, and although evidence was produced that the
Guild of Montreal strongly supported the deal on the grounds that it
increase “employment and revenue for our membership” (105), the Board
not seem to have been completely convinced.
This discussion reveals, moreover, that
CFCF was perceived to be lagging in its employment of local talent for
programs. The reality was that CFCF was facing increasing competition
and CFOX on the AM dial, and had apparently decided not to make the
investment in the radio station necessary to salvage its share of the
The members of the BBG were particularly interested in this
exactly why did Marconi want to sell “the oldest station, not only in
but ... in the world?” (145). Victor
George, General Manager of the station by this time, was bluntly asked
member of the Board whether Marconi would be interested in selling the
station if it did not also own a television station.
George tried to evade the question, but admitted that it
important for the company to retain “a vehicle to carry our image to
people” as it had done since 1919. His
questioner reached the obvious conclusion that “if you had not got the
would still be wanting to present your image to the people of Montreal
George in fact explained Marconi’s
calculations regarding its business interests to the Board members
We have a very broad responsibility in our company in this whole business of electronics. We try to live up to that responsibility. One of the immediate ones is the operation of the TV station in Montreal, which we try to make carry a good image of our organization and to win and hold the respect of the TV viewers. Quite apart from that and in addition to it, we have responsibilities in other phases of electronics. We have many things coming along, new products, better ways of doing things. We are trying to do what we can for the Canadian economy in building an export business... On account of our other organizations, we do not have unlimited resources, time, money and so on. So all the time we of the general management are making decisions - should be do this, or should we do that? This is not just altruistic talk, because as goes the Canadian economy, so we go, and we feel that we must pay tribute to it. So one of the decisions we made was that, having received an offer for the stations, we studied it in the light of all these things and we thought
would best be serving the interests of the
company and all that the company
if we agreed to this sale. (98-99)
While he was somewhat disingenuous in his implication that the
CFCF had come out of nowhere, it is clear that Marconi considered two
questions when it made the decision to sell: where it wanted to put its
priorities in the future, and the need to remain in the public eye
sort of broadcasting medium. The
future profitability of television was much more attractive than that
hence the radio station lost its place in the company’s plans. Although
also argued that “there [was] nothing desperate” (99) in the sale of
it is quite clear that the company wished to divert its energies to its
manufacturing sector and that the expansion of the television station
into that scenario. When the BBG turned the sale down, however, the
accepted the verdict and continued to operate the station for another
CFCF and the CRTC
Le Jour, 1976
22 and the Petition that Might Have Cost CFCF its
The changes in Quebec politics in the 1970s had some profound effects on how CFCF-AM interacted with its listening public. Being an English-language station in a province whose political agenda increasingly focused on expanding the use of French raised for the management the question of how best to represent the interests of the anglophone community. A station which had traditionally argued that it was motivated by the “public’s interest,” more and more narrowed its focus to the interests of English-speaking public. In the charged political atmosphere, the station opted to define service to its public - at least on occasion - as advocacy for “English rights” rather than to maintain an attitude of neutrality.
One opportunity for the station to assert its presence was when
Liberal government of Robert Bourassa introduced Bill 22 in 1974.
From September 3 to September 16, 1975, CFCF-AM used air time to
encouraged its listeners to sign a petition against the Bill.
Not surprisingly, the petition campaign aroused anger among some
listeners, who complained to the BBG’s successor as federal regulator,
Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC).
The CRTC responded to these protests by sending a telex to the
requesting that it send in the tapes of the controversial broadcasts.
CFCF sent the CRTC the audio recordings of all the broadcasts
3 and 16 of September, but the Commission was very unhappy with the
the tapes of the programs on September 14 and 15 were inaudible - a
CRTC regulations. The preliminary
investigation by the Commission concluded
that CFCF seemed to be allowing discussion both for and against Bill 22
but that it did not broadcast any criticism of the station’s decision
circulate the petition. The CRTC
therefore concluded that the station had failed to provide a sufficient
of balance in its programming. (CRTC 1976, 453). More specifically, the
Commission was referring to Section 2 of the 1968 Broadcasting Act,
persons licensed to carry on broadcasting
undertakings have a responsibility for programs they broadcast but the
freedom of expression and the right of persons to receive programs,
to generally applicable statues and regulations, is unquestioned;
programming provided by the Canadian
broadcasting system should be varied and comprehensive and should
reasonable, balanced opportunity for the expression of differing views
matters of public concern.... (Bird 374)
In March 1976 CFCF’s license came up for renewal, and the
its actions around the petition were presented and discussed. In its report on “the issues raised by CFCF’s
22 campaign,” the CRTC concluded that the case was “not unique, but
out of contemporary conditions in which controversial programming takes
throughout the system” (CRTC 1976, 1) The
report went on to assert that the CRTC believed broadcasters should be
“encouraged to experiment with and find new approaches, formats and
for controversial programs.” While
it concluded that in this specific case CFCF had “dealt with a
matter of public interest in which it espoused principally one side of
[and] ... failed to provide adequately in its own programming for a
responsible discussion of the subject,” the CRTC nevertheless renewed
station’s license. As a number of
scholars have noted (see Hardin 1985), at the time the regulatory
realistically available penalty for even a minor indiscretion was
of the license - a rather draconian punishment given the substantial
involved in station ownership and operation.
Consequently in this instance, as in virtually every other
that time, the station’s license was renewed despite the CRTC’s
that it had breached Regulation 3d. CFCF
deemed its actions in the interests of its mainly anglophone listening
it risked license cancellation to cement that relationship and was able
to do so
Knowing what the public wanted was always a primary concern for
and CFCF. As a station that prided
itself on being involved in its community and representing what it
its listeners’ needs, CFCF took it upon itself in many situations to
that whatever it did in business and programming had the public’s
Thus, in rejecting Caron’s request in 1952, CFCF argued that it was in fact respecting its listeners’ abhorrence of communism. While it could be argued that a radio station like CFCF has the responsibility to inform citizens about all of their political choices, the reality was that no private station wished to be associated with political messages outside the mainstream. Ironically, this placed the public broadcaster in the position of being the only station that felt on principle that it must treat listeners as citizens rather than consumers, and to have the problem of alienating some of them by airing the views of unpopular political parties (Vipond 1994).
Similarly, CFCF sponsored the petition against Bill 22 in what
perceived to be the interests of its English-speaking listeners.
While aware that it might lose the loyalty of some listeners who
supported the legislation, the station management apparently concluded
had to place higher priority on cementing its ties with the
community which it considered its natural “public.”
Again in this case, then, the listeners were not
conceptualized as part of a broad public of many diverse points of
view, but as
a narrower group whose listenership could be sold to advertisers
focus on a particular demographic.
The attempted sale of the station to Radio Futura raises a
questions about the station management’s view of its “public.” While it
apparent that the Marconi Company wished to retain a broadcasting
keep its “image” in the public eye, it concluded that television was a
better (and more profitable) medium for such a mission, which was
anyway to the company’s main focus on the manufacture and export of
equipment. In this case the
management was unable to make an effective claim that what it wished to
in the “public interest.” It
was clearly only in the interest of the profitability of the Marconi
Canada. The CRTC forbade the sale
precisely because it did not consider it in the interest of the
radio-listening public of Montreal to allow a sale that would have
radio ownership in the local market in fewer hands.
While in 1952 and in 1975 CFCF successfully defied the courts
regulator, in 1963 its inability to make any credible claim to be
public interest checked its plans. The
CBC, the BBG and the CRTC respectively attempted to enforce a view of
“public interest” that was quite different from that of the private
broadcaster, a view of the listener as citizen rather than consumer,
and a view
of the public as comprising the whole community, not just that part the
wished to target. The mixed results
of these three cases suggest that the tension between these two views
listening public bedevilled the Canadian broadcasting system in the
question. Indeed that tension
remains a factor in the ongoing relationships among the CRTC, the
industry and the public broadcaster to this day.
ed. 1988. Documents
of Canadian Broadcasting (Ottawa: Carleton University Press).
Meeting, March 26. National
Archives of Canada (hereafter NA), RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part
CFCF-sale to Radio Futura Ltd. 1962-63 (proposed).
CRTC, 1976. Decisions
and Policy Statements.
to be presented by Canadian Marconi Company to the Royal Commission on
Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences at its hearing in
RG 28, ser. III
72, vol. 77.
Letter to J. Allan
Hammond, June 12. NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72,
part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.
J.Allan, 1952a. Letter
to Maurice Foudrault, June 17. NA,
RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.
Allan, 1952b. Letter
to Maurice Foudrault, June 19. NA,
RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.
Hershel, 1985. Closed
Circuits: The Sellout of Canadian Television (Vancouver: Douglas
J. J., 1952. Letter to W.
June 19. NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part
4, CFCF litigation, 1952.
Albert, 1952. Letter
to J. Allan Hammond, June 18. NA,
RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.
Unlikely to Broadcast Despite Ruling Against CFCF,” July 4.
NA, MG28 III, vol. 19, file 11, CFCF Radio AM, FM, President’s
1963. “Local Group Opposes Sale to Radio
Station,” March 27, p. 5B.
Nixon, F. G.,
to W.V. George, April 29. NA, RG
97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF - sale to Radio Futura Ltd.,
Court of Canada,
of the Superior Court of Canada, October 27.
NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.
Mary, 1994. “The
Beginnings of Public
Broadcasting in Canada: The
CRBC, 1932-36," Canadian Journal of Communication, 19, 151-171.
|English Radio in Quebec|
CFCF: The Early Years of Radio (see also Anecdotes...)
|Galerie d'images / Gallery||Extraits sonores / Sound Clips|
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© 1997 Phonothèque québécoise / Musée du son.
Mise à jour le 29 juillet 2001