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The History of Community Radio in Montreal

Memorable Radio Shows and Personalities

  by Roger Fritz Rhéaume



Memorable Radio Shows and Personalities


Between them, Radio Centre-Ville and CIBL FM have produced such a wealth of radiophonic gems that we would need  an entire book to pay homage to all of the artists involved. We have therefore embarked on the risky business of choosing just seven series, or groups of broadcasts. Three of these are or were produced by CINQ FM, three by CIBL FM and the last one is carried jointly by both stations. All of the shows in question have had a major impact and each  has left its mark on the history of community radio.

You will perhaps note that, with a single exception, we have chosen to highlight cultural broadcasts. This is not because  community-centered shows are any less good but rather because their magazine-style format dictates a constant change in content. It then becomes difficult to single out one particular broadcast. Audience interest in shows like this may vary from one time to the next, while shows with a cultural focus are better able to build up devoted followings. This was the case for all of the shows we feature below.



"La Ligue nationale d’improvisation" (Radio Centre-Ville)


In the early 1980s, Radio Centre-Ville carried the Ligue's matches live from Old Montreal. This brave experiment lasted almost four years with Benoit Fauteux, a personality from Montreal's alternative culture scene, at the helm. Working conditions, he admitted, were somewhat primitive: 

"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."

Broadcast of the show began a few years after the creation of the Ligue nationale d’improvisation (LNI). In those days, radio was the ideal medium for an experiment like this, better than television since we didn't have to cut, edit, or drop excess time. Organizers of the LNI were not interested in being subject to that kind of control.

The LNI came into being in part thanks to the Grand Cirque Ordinaire, which was the source of close to half its actors. From the outset, the Grand Cirque, then considered to be THE improvisation-based theatre troupe in Quebec, was split on the issue. Some Grand Cirque old-timers questioned the relevance of the LNI.  Guests would come on the show and debate this issue on air, all the while continuing their running commentary on the actors' performances.

Another hot topic was the role of women in the improvisations. Some of the female actors, and some of the women in the audience, thought that the guys were taking up too much room. As Benoit Fauteux put it: "This was feminism in a whole new arena: improvisation!" In general, though, the women didn't go at each other quite as brutally as their male colleagues did. 

The show afforded memorable moments to those willing to stay up late enough to hear it. In the beginning, at any rate, show time was somewhere around midnight. Over the years, listeners learned the rules of this typically and totally made-in-Quebec sport and were able to discover the talents of actors like Claude Laroche, Pierre Curzi, Sylvie Legault and Michel Rivard, a "young player" who arrived later on the scene.


It must have taken rare courage and initiative for people like Benoit Fauteux and his sidekicks to get involved with the LNI. 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!



"Au cœur du samedi soir" (Radio Centre-Ville)


Radio Centre-Ville's older listeners will remember legendary Saturdays hosted by Benoît Fauteux, Daniel Buisson and Dominique Langevin. Their show revolutionized Montreal's radio waves in the late 1970s with their avant-garde "Radio Art," a concept that had been around for a while in the United States, but that was unknown here.


"When we got going, radio was short on manpower," Fauteux remembers. "So we suggested to the radio people that we take over the whole of Saturday night, starting at 6 p.m. It was as though all of a sudden, programming became decentralized. At the beginning of the evening, Dominique Langevin put a list of interviews with people who shared his view of the world on the menu. The further we got into the evening, the deeper our explorations into new forms of radio."


Daniel Buisson had a magnificent collection of records that you couldn't find in Montreal. He usually got them in New York, mostly contemporary or experimental music. He would broadcast all kinds of musical styles, do research and  write texts, sometimes pretty edgy ones, during each of his shows. The evening would finish up with improvisations made with various kinds of noise. Saturday night was the time for innovation and experiment. There were even times when the broadcasts were done from two studios, each host-producer using two tape recorders, two turntables and anything else they could get their hands on.


On occasion, the hosts would do telephone interviews with some strange and wonderful people of the night. Some shows were broadcast live into the wee hours of the morning from cultural hotspots like La Grande Passe on Ontario street, with musicians like René Lussier or Pierre St-Jak. As the years went by, the show moved later and later into the night. Following Daniel Buisson's accidental death, Benoit Fauteux, tireless activist and iconoclastic communicator, continued his journey through radio land for several decades.



Jazz on CINQ FM


If there is one style associated with French-language programming at Radio Centre-Ville, it is surely jazz. "We were pioneers" says Kevin Cohalan, "we saw that jazz was under-represented on the air and so we played some every afternoon. We quickly built up an audience. We did our part, together with others, in contributing to a movement that grew and that eventually created the right climate for the Jazz Festival. It wasn't cause and effect, it was something that was in the air." 


The jazz-in-the-afternoon adventure continued until 2001. According to Jean-Louis Legault, one of the pioneers of the project, over seventy-five different people hosted the jazz broadcasts. Between 1982 and 1984, Radio Centre-Ville was the voice of jazz during Montreal's International Jazz Festival. The high point of this collaboration came in 1983 when the station produced close to one hundred hours of broadcasts over the course of a truly impressive festival.


Ever eclectic, jazz programming at Radio Centre-Ville reflected all tendencies. In the beginning, everyone learned about the musicians as they went along by playing them on air. Soon, however, specialized producers entered the picture, showcasing all kinds of jazz styles: blues, contemporary, easy-listening mainstream, big band swing, Afro-American dirty jazz, local groups, etc. The entire history of the genre passed through the studios.


We could not possibly list all of the people who made this afternoon slot one of the richest around, not without becoming tedious. Nevertheless, we should mention Daniel Buisson, Éric Loiseau, Serge Truffaut (Le Devoir), Linda Tremblay, Adolphe Parillon, Andrew Amsy, John Gilmore, Robert Gélinas, Ivanhoe Jolicoeur, Patrick Straham known as "Le Bison Ravi," Dan Noseworthy, Mike Tomasek, Paul Stewart, Stéphane Wolfe, Hélène Mathieu, Michel Ditorré, Pierre "cool" Gagné, Marc Chénard and Jacques Gravel. All of these individuals played brilliant roles in weaving this  legendary project together.


These people and their passion helped put the station on the map where jazz was concerned. We should also point out that as soon as it came on the air, CIBL FM broadcast jazz and blues and so made its contribution to Montreal's radiophonic jazz universe.



"Rock et Belles Oreilles" (CIBL FM)


Their spirit and bite embodied a whole generation of Québécois humour. Recipients of 11 Félix awards and 21 Gémeaux prizes, they held sway both at CKOI FM and at Radio Mutuel and in 1992-93 became Quebec's most listened-to broadcasters. In 1987, their television show La Grande Liquidation du Temps des Fêtes on the Quatre Saisons network managed to dethrone Radio-Canada's enduring year-ending classic Bye Bye. Later on, on Radio-Canada, our men-about-town reached as many as a million listeners with their weekly broadcasts.


The legend started at CIBL in 1981 when Guy "A" Lepage and Richard "Z" Sirois created Le rock de A à Z , a music show liberally laced with  gags. They created their show by inviting along a galaxy of friends some of whom, like  Bruno E. Landry, Yves P. Pelletier and André G. Ducharme, ended up joining the team. Once Chantal Francke had signed on, the core of RBO had been formed.


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.  "I've heard it said that certain illicit odours had something to do with the gentle madness brought on by these broadcasts", says Jacques Primeau with a smile.


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.


In the second year, the RBO phenomenon grew. The first stage shows were added to the radio broadcasts. On the subject of their performance at the Salon de la Jeunesse as opening act for the rock group Offenbach, Bob De Board of CKOI FM said at the time that the whole thing was the worst show ever in the history of Quebec rock. Luckily, history was to prove RBO right.


This is a show that has surely marked the annals of Montreal, and even of Quebec radio. Today, it is the exception among commercial stations that doesn't have its humorous show, all thanks to our pioneers!



"Virgule 5" (CIBL FM)


After CIBL had redefined the parameters of its cultural programming in 1988, Bertrand Roux created Virgule 5, a cultural magazine designed for the drive-home slot. There were big shoes to be filled, seeing that  Alain Brunet (La Presse), Luc Tremblay (CKOI FM), François Martel, Jean-François Brassard and Isabelle Guilbault had already set the bar high. Roux held his own until 1992, by which time he had completed over one thousand two hundred broadcasts.


"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."


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.


Songs in French on CIBL FM


At the end of the summer of 1984, Yvon Lebeau, Diane Payette and Lise Robichaud made a proposal to the programming committee at CIBL: a show that would feature all sorts of songs, in French. Andthey wanted Sunday mornings. The committee loved the idea of a show broadcasting songs, but they were not at all sure about the time slot. Following the 1980 post-referendum plunge into the depths of despair, would there be enough interest to justify the choice of Sunday morning for a show devoted entirely to songs in French?


The success story that followed is well known. More than eighteen years later, the time slot is still reserved and the show eventually came to symbolize a policy change for the station, highlighting its francophone identity. Many highly talented broadcasters spent time there: Vincent Legault, Nicole Asselin, and then Monique Giroux (who broadcasts for  Radio-Canada today) alternating first with Diane Payette and then with Isabelle Tanguay. The latter two women achieved memorable successes during the first radiothons broadcast all across the city in the early 1990s.


Others, like Daniel D. Dubois, Jean Bélanger, Emmanuelle Beaulieu and Louise Éthier left their mark on the show with  French songs in a more classical style, culminating with Serge Poirier's Café Saint-Vincent, a series that takes a purist approach to "la chanson québécoise," both by developing new talent and by featuring the "chansons à textes", with their meaningful, poetic lyrics. Poirier produces the show together with Photi Sotiropoulos. On occasion, hosts of the calibre of François Martel and Benoît LeBlanc have also been heard there.



Special Mention: "Les Souverains anonymes"


This short list of memorable shows would not be complete without one activist series. We have therefore decided to give special mention to a show that is produced outside of Montreal by Mohamed Lotfi, but that is broadcast on two local stations. Since 1990, this show has been characterized both by its disconcerting acuity and by its original and strong artistic production values.


From the beginning, news of this groundbreaking show spread quickly, a show that gave inmates in Bordeaux jail a voice and saw them play host to guests of all sorts. Hundreds of free-spirited inmates posed thousands of questions, presenting hundreds of guests in unexpected lights and from surprising angles. 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?


The Souverains anonymes project reaches beyond the confines of a simple radio show. Mohamed Lotfi has also produced: shows on community TV; a song and poetry contest  that led to the creation of five hundred texts; the record Libre à vous ("free to you") recorded at Bordeaux with texts written by the "souverains" inmates; and finally, a website  (www.souverains.qc.ca). What will the future hold? We are betting that the producer will continue to find new ways to keep on spreading the word, making it ever more accessible to more and more people.


Many thanks to all those who have helped to enrich these pages:

Paul Beauséjour, Maurice Bolduc, Kevin Cohalan, Benoît Fauteux, Monique Giroux, Hyman Glustein, Jean-Louis Legault, the LNI, Serge Poirier, Jacques Primeau, Bertrand Roux, Isabelle Tanguay and Sylvie Tétrault




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


The Phonothèque Inventories and Databases Projects



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1997 Phonothèque québécoise / Musée du son
Last update June 7,  2004

URL http://www.phonotheque.org/.../Emissions-memorables-eng-rev.html