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The History of Community Radio

In a word ... (citations)


For a quick overview, we suggest either the chronology or the editor’s choice of quotations. You may consult the entire text by clicking the headings on the table below.


Quotations by theme





The special character of community radio


Thus, by contrast in particular with private radio, community radio is preoccupied with community development before market development. By contrast with public stations, the focus is on the local community rather than the national one. 

- Michel Sénécal


According to the established model, radio characteristically attracted people by creating its own “community of listeners,” what in the industry is commonly called the audience. This audience is quantified using ratings and market share. Community models of communication tried to reverse this commercial relationship by postulating the existence of already-formed communities, to whom the media were obliged to adapt and not the reverse. This is due in large measure to the fact that community media see their publics first as groups of citizens with particular communications needs and not as consumers whose percentage of listening time is sold to advertisers.

- Michel Sénécal


Some of the permanent staff felt that it was sometimes necessary to professionalize activities to enable grassroots and community groups to find a voice. Nonetheless, it remained important that community radio not “over –professionalize,” as this would have reduced access to the airwaves. Between the two ends of the spectrum there appears to be an equilibrium that, fragile as it may be, must be found if the station is going to endure.

- Michel Sénécal


A common characteristic of the two experiences, both for the U.S. version and the Quebec one, was financing. Each station was financed individually from within its own community. Similarities existed as well in the area of programming, more particularly with respect to urban community radio. >From the beginning, the Pacifica stations were known for their daring programming and for their very clear intention to change and develop community interests. The idea of Pacific served as an inspiration to many activists. Not just a case of Utopian thinking, community radio quickly showed itself to be an original alternative to traditional […] radio.

- Roger F. Rhéaume




Urban community stations


Urban radio stations in Montreal and Quebec City are broadcast on an FM band alongside many private French-language stations. They target social, cultural or economic groups which do not see their needs and interests reflected in the programming of the big commercial stations. In this they differ from private and public radio, both of which seek to gain and maintain the allegiance of a particular audience.  By contrast, it is rare that one listener or type of listener will be interested in everything that an urban community station broadcasts in a single day. 

- Michel Sénécal


Programming on urban community radio is highly eclectic, sometimes broadcasting in many languages. Further, community stations are often associated with younger, more marginal or avant-garde audiences than the other stations. These segments of the population are reflected among the volunteers […] Urban radio stations are also the ones that have the biggest financing problems: the competitive urban media landscape makes selling advertising difficult, the more so since many city-dwellers are not even aware of the existence of community radio. This latter condition can often be exacerbated by the fact that programming is fragmented and so is not able to gain and keep the loyalty of its listeners amidst the high media concentration of the big city.

- Michel Sénécal


The solution for community urban radio lies with the government, which is the last of our missed opportunities, the two others being the labour movement, which never understood the importance of an outlet like CIBL, and the cooperative movement, which is no longer what it once was. We could call the project Radio Québec. We are talking about a radio network along the lines of TV’s Télé-Québec, but with a mixed financing formula involving both the government and the community. With this network, we guarantee an effective structure both administratively  and in the area of news services with correspondents in all the regions. The majority of programming would have to remain accessible to the bulk of the volunteers. We envision a structure involving community participation. 

- Jacques Primeau





Student stations (university) 


One thing stands out in considering campus or student radio stations across Canada. While French-language, Quebec and Acadian community radio is mostly associated with community stations, community radio in English-speaking Canada is primarily campus-based. 

- Michel Sénécal

 Since they are associated with universities, these stations are usually found in urban and regional contexts. They enjoy a certain amount of independence with respect to public and commercial structures because, as campus stations, they are financed directly from student fees. [...]With so few obligations towards the government or the corporations,  campus-community radio has a “sound”, so they say, even more eclectic than its urban community cousins. 

- Michel Sénécal


While French-language community stations are proud to be among the first to discover a little-known musician, before she becomes the darling of the private stations, campus-community radio is proud instead of playing music that is not heard and will never be heard on the private airwaves. 

- Michel Sénécal






Promoters [of CIBL] maintained that the commercial and public networks were presenting “information that is deformed by the interests that these networks defend.”  [...] groups “dedicated to promoting the interests of the people did not usually have access to broadcast media.”

- CIBL Statement of Principles


We were expecting that Jane and John Q. Public would be there, sharing their musical tastes, sort of in the way that ladies at a sewing workshop gather to share their interest in knitting. In fact, however, the station attracted more educated people who tended to share cultural interests

- Pierre Fortin, CIBL pioneer


The idea was for citizens to appropriate a means of communication and thereby have access to speech in the public arena” Fortin explains. People spoke of the new radio as an electronic town hall. The neighbourhood was overflowing with community organizations and we wanted to create a marketplace managed by the people and groups themselves, with an authentically democratic structure, not infiltrated by any party or group. 

- Pierre Fortin, CIBL pioneer


This wasn’t radio for UQAM, or for the intellectuals, it was popular radio in an era when people cared about what was happening in Montreal’s neighbourhoods.

- Jacques Primeau, former chairman of the board of directors at CIBL

I thought we were the forerunners and that we could find our niche in both municipal and cultural news and information[…] We were constantly seeking a balance between local radio and alternative radio, between social and cultural news and information and between an informative medium and a creative one. 

- Yves Bernard, CIBL pioneer


In the wake of anti-globalization and as a kind of swing of the pendulum back again, I noticed a desire to go back to the roots of social radio on the part of a number of producers at CIBL. 

- Yves Bernard

In the 1990s, programming was less focused on social issues and community development. [...]cultural content had an important place in programming and in the affection that the audience had for its “free” community radio. [...]With the help of its new success, CIBL became the darling of the performers, of the record industry and of the cultural industry more generally. 

- Roger F. Rhéaume


The situation had changed over the airwaves in Montreal. In addition to CIBL, there were now four other non-commercial stations on the media map of the city: Radio Centre-Ville (CINQ FM), CISM, university radio at the Université de Montréal, CKUT FM, McGill’s university radio station, and Radio Ville-Marie, a religious station. Many of the so-called alternative media offered a product that seemed quite similar, but CIBL continued to stand out in the area of Quebec vocal music in French. However, all of these stations were soliciting the same sources of revenue, whether they were commercial or public; it became increasingly difficult to operate in such a competitive market.

- Roger F. Rhéaume




Radio Centre-Ville


The Francophones and Anglophones were not expected to represent the whole of their communities but this was not the case for the other teams” Hyman Glustein observed. The constraints differed so much from one team to another. For example, the news source in French was the Agence de presse libre du Québec, well known for its sovereignist positions, while the source for English information was the  Liberation News Service. The Hispanics proposed political information ideologically in line with certain left-wing governments like Chile or Cuba, while for the Greeks, whose country was under the rule of the “Colonels”, news became a gesture of resistance. [...]each team tended to become a universe unto itself. “Communication between the teams could have been better” explains  Kevin Cohalan, another pioneer who was involved from the beginning. Marked by counter-culture values in French and in English, the station offered a political alternative in the other languages. At the end of the 1970s, following a period of conflict, the station adopted a position respecting different points of view and remaining open to pluralism.

- Roger F. Rhéaume


Broadcasts offered to the cultural communities are devoted to intercultural and community activities, to news from countries of origin and of course to the information that will help community members integrate into the new society they have chosen. Shows having to do with elections in other countries attract many listeners. Each of the production teams is able to contact correspondents in the field to take the pulse of the situation. At times, these volunteer journalists have to take risks (for example, elections in Haiti are not always serene events). Where news is concerned, the cultural communities served by the station enjoy, to a certain extent, the best of two worlds: information from their countries of origin and information about their adopted country.

- Roger F. Rhéaume

 Some have criticized this format. They would prefer to see more collaboration among the teams leading to a hybridization of programming rather than intercultural enrichment. This type of collaboration has been implemented in the context of events, radiothons for example [...] but not enough [...]On the other hand, Radio Centre-Ville offers a rare opportunity for members of linguistic minorities to hear radio produced in their mother tongue or the language that is current in their lives. From this point of view, programming at Radio Centre-ville might be considered as halfway between a first service community radio for particular ethnic communities and a French-language, urban community station..

- Michel Sénécal

People from the four corners of the world were able to sit together, to discuss and to enter into debates and (…) were able to move things forward; they influenced and through their influence helped thousands of people understand how the society we live in works [and] become aware that despite our differences, in fact we are very close to each other; and that we can live in harmony and contribute, every one of us, to our society

- Evan Kapetanakis, CINQ pioneer


One day, a CRTC commissioner asked me how I went about finding out what was being broadcast in Greek. I told them that I had faith in the team. This was the approach that we took. 

- Hyman Glustein


Community radio should not be just informative and entertaining. I find, for example, that some of the programming in French is not socially engaged enough, even though it contains its share of gems. This is no doubt due to the influence of the other stations. 

- Mikhaïl Kapellas, Radio Centre-Ville pioneer


If I had it to do over again, I would take a very well-structured approach from the very beginning,” says Kevin Cohalan. I would opt for a more coherent programming vision and a more directive management style. This way, we would no doubt have succeeded in having more impact. To begin with, we want the radio to become a vehicle for the whole community, not just the artists, thinkers and philosophers of the Carré Saint-Louis. I still think it’s important for the radio to open its doors to everyone.

- Kevin Cohalan

[...] the station intended to give preferred access to “those neglected by other media.” We continued with what must be considered the multi-ethnic credo of the organization: “Radio Centre-Ville will respect our community's diversity in a spirit of impartiality. The minorities' right to airtime will be respected as much as the majority's. As a community medium, CINQ FM will invite ethnic groups to express themselves in their own language. The development of dialogue and communication between the different ethnic and linguistic groups will be encouraged, in order to promote mutual understanding. We will work to bring about the objective conditions necessary for the active participation of immigrants in Quebec society.

- CINQ Statement of principles



Memorable shows



LNI on the radio

Theatre on the radio was a rare thing then, not to mention the fact that some LNI improvisations were silent, quite a challenge for a radio broadcast!

- Roger F. Rhéaume


Kevin Cohalan, one of the station's pioneers, had fashioned a wok for me, in the shape of a bowl and a microphone that we placed over the heads of the actors, that is, above the skating rink. We had built a tiny booth on the stage. From here, an actor would do the play-by-play and interview players between periods. We also installed a big cable for doing 'on-ice' interviews. I was in charge of producing the show and sometimes I would open in "Hockey Night in Canada" style, imitating Jean-Maurice Bailly of La Soirée du Hockey. 

- Benoit Fauteux



Rock et Belles Oreilles on CIBL

Every Friday night, the RBO team and their fans literally took over the station, some worked at the discotheque, others in the studio. Jacques K. Primeau was publicity director at CIBL at the time and then became the group's manager, throughout its career. Primeau recounts that listeners who were particularly devoted to the group's gags and non-sequitors would drive around in their cars in order to be able to catch the station, then broadcasting at sixteen watts.  [...] There was no doubt about the success of the show, even though the station management was called on to put out a few fires. Some announcers were none too keen on our comedians' sense of humour, starting from when they directed it against the station's advertising messages.

- Roger F. Rhéaume


Virgule 5 on CIBL

[The magazine] Virgule 5 would often go to where events were taking place to cover them. The show was broadcast live from a  municipal swimming pool for one whole summer and was one of the first to broadcast from the Museum of Contemporary Art. At the "Festival de musique actuelle de Victoriaville," the team broadcast from a local station.  Bertrand Roux claims that the wildest spot he broadcast from was a glass cage at the Foufounes électriques. "At the Foufounes we had to protect ourselves from the surrounding 'wildlife'", he muses, still smiling at the memory.


I was in the heart of a Plateau that was really happening. The magazine Voir got started and became wildly popular right away but it took us a while to get on board. We had to respond to what was going on and we did, by setting up teams of as many as twenty-five people, recruited from all points on the cultural map. We covered it all, from dance to visual arts, architecture, geopolitics, film and music. We could afford the luxury of having different reporters for pop, jazz, blues, 'musique actuelle' -- you name it! We even created characters, like Sylvain Lafrenière did with 'le Capitaine Rock' to mention just one.

- Bertrand Roux



Souverains anonymes

From the beginning, news of this groundbreaking show [produced by Mohamed Lotfi] spread quickly, a show that gave inmates in Bordeaux jail a voice and saw them play host to guests of all sorts. […] It is difficult to think of other activist radio shows that pay as much attention to the form of the show as to its content. For the "Souverains anonymes," once the questions have been asked, the answers are reconstructed during the editing process and delivered as such, in a spirit of utmost respect. We as listeners imagine an entire universe based on a single question: what can an inmate say in front of a radio microphone? and we may add: what does a guest from the outside, from the free world, have to say to the inmates?

- Roger F. Rhéaume







It has taken time for public participation to become the watchword for a greater democratization of our society and the institutions dedicated to managing public affairs. For the community radio movement, however, citizen involvement has been a priority from the outset. [...]The different social groups that make up the community need community radio to find a voice and to get their point of view across. In return, the radio station must rely on volunteers for management, for program production and even the for financial survival of the organization.  Giving a platform to people, to ordinary citizens, demystifying the news, making the radio station a true medium of communication, all became major objectives in blazing the path of creating and developing community radio in Quebec.

- Michel Sénécal


Whether it be the counter-culture movement of the 1970s or today’s anti-globalization movement, activism in and through the voices of community radio stations has constantly be re-invented. All the major social causes of the past decades have been supported. The women’s movement, education, health, housing, ecology, immigration, etc., all these social causes have found supportive echoes on community radio.  This is not only because it was part of the stations’ mandate to reflect the values and interests of their communities but also because the active members of these stations were also stakeholders in these social movements. 

- Michel Sénécal

it is quite appropriate to speak of the pioneers of community radio and community media generally as communications activists. Starting in the 1960s, many of these activists were on the job to defend a particular vision of the media. They wanted the media to give a voice to citizens, to representatives of grassroots and community groups and to up-and-coming artists, in short, to those whom the traditional media, electronic or written, commercial or public, rarely handed over the microphone. [...]Through their activism, all contributed to one of Quebec’s finest experiments in grassroots and cultural education, an experiment in free, community communications.

- Roger F. Rhéaume


Community radio is a necessary alternative because of the way that radio works today. The federal government through the agency of the Board of Governors and the CRTC is responsible for this state of affairs. These organizations have never done a thing to ensure community access to the media and active community participation, or to guarantee that the listeners are the ones who are truly responsible for what is broadcast to them. The fact is that all they have done is to grant licences to millionaires, to let them run their little businesses, to broadcast their advertisements, to squeeze all they can out of the public. It is the CRTC’s responsibility to regulate the stations [... in order to] offer some choice within the system. 

- Hyman Glustein, a pioneer of community radio in Montreal


We are living at a time when the lifestyles, values and interests that hold centre-stage have engendered an alternative, anti-capitalist culture. Perhaps this is another form of protest, appropriate to a new socio-political context, where individualism has overtaken collectivism and where social involvement tends to com from an appeal to human solidarity rather than to institutional politics. Campus and community radio stations are part of this wave, which is characterized by new modes of expression through words, music and different cultural and political manifestations. In fact, more than just a media project, community radio in itself is a project for social affirmation and change. 

- Michel Sénécal


Cultural diversity


[...] community stations must still follow CRTC regulations with respect to “Canadian content.” A minimum of 30 % of the music broadcast must be Canadian in origin. French-language radio must ensure that 65 % of its vocal music is in French. Private industry has always resisted such regulations, on the grounds that quotas harm the quality of music they offer and hence hurt their ratings. It is interesting to note that some community radio stations have protested against the same policies but for less commercial reasons. They suggest that content rules reduce the room available to broadcast music from other parts of the world, which prevents community stations from fulfilling their goal of cultural diversity.

- Michel Sénécal




Finally, the following are a few of our interviewees who have been involved in community radio (the links lead to sound clips of interviews on our sound heritage): 




The History of Community and University Radio in Montreal

Pioneers of community radio

Community radio in  Montreal (origins and development)


In a word ... (quotations)

Memorable shows and hosts

Radio Centre-Ville CINQ multi-ethnic radio

CIBL: alternative radio in French

Local and community information

Community groups find a voice


The special character of urban radio (urban life,  social connections)

Promotion of French-language content and cultural diversity



University radio



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Last update June 7,  2004