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The History of Community Radio

Promoting Content in French and Cultural Diversity

  by Michel Sénécal


Promoting content in French and Cultural Diversity

The initial goals of community radio included democratizing access to the media and expressing cultural identity and differences. To these were added the desire to have local programming in French and also to include cultural diversity through voices and music from elsewhere.

Even though the community radio model is quite different from the private or public one, 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.

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.


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, who come either from one of the station’s target audiences, or from the pool of students or other individuals who want to work in the media, either as a career or for a short time only. 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.


This situation shows no signs of changing for the better with the imminent arrival on the scene of a number of specialized radio stations (thematic or musical). Quebec’s association of community radio stations, the Association des radios communautaires du Québec (ARCQ), claims that this may cause irreparable damage to urban radio stations in the Montreal area, and may even threaten their existence. Some twenty requests for licences have been lodged with the CRTC in the urban areas of Montreal, Sherbrooke, Saguenay and Trois-Rivières.


The threat to community stations will likely persist, unfortunately, despite the constant efforts of the community stations to maintain programming unavailable elsewhere in Montreal. Their offerings include promoting innovative musical styles, jazz, blues, techno, or particular elements in the area of French and Quebec vocal music. However, the programming that allowed community radio to create a niche up until now could potentially be dissolved amidst the super-specialization of the airwaves.


The balance sheet drawn up by ARCQ in a news release published in January of 2003, suggests this. It describes a situation in which eight out of nine community radio stations operating in Quebec’s large and medium-sized cities were in precarious financial situations in 2001.       



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Last update:, June 7, 2004


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