Phonothèque québécoise

A Sound Archive
Preserving, documenting and sharing our sound heritage

The History of Community Radio

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

  by Michel Sénécal


·         See also Community radio in Montreal (origins and development)

·         See also Local and community information


Urban life and social connections


Community radio stations have played and still play an important role in informing, in educating and in creating openness to the cultural, ethnic, artistic and social diversity of their urban environment. 

Today it is unthinkable to speak of urban life in Montreal without mentioning the cosmopolitan crossroads that this city has become, and the co-habitation of heterogeneous cultures and collectivities that has come to characterize it. It will therefore come as no surprise to learn that two of the first urban community radio stations were created in Montreal. One of them is pluri-ethnic and multilingual in character, while the other is Francophone and oriented towards cultural and community life.


Montreal’s Radio Centre Ville (RCV) came very close on the heels of Vancouver Co-op Radio, Canada’s first urban community radio station that hit the airwaves in 1974. This station aimed to be multi-ethnic radio, mirroring its St-Louis neighbourhood in downtown Montreal. It acquired its licence with the call-letters CINQ FM, reflecting the five (“cinq” in French means “five”) languages that then enlivened its broadcasts with the multiple accents of French, English, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish. Since then, two more languages have been added (Haitian Creole and Chinese) and seven distinct production teams, divided according to broadcast language, prepare their respective program options.

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, or during orientation workshops, but not enough to meet expectations. 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.


According to the Broadcasting Act (1991) 1, all radio must “reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada”  in its programming. This suggests that the responsibility for building bridges among cultural communities would rest equally on all types of radio stations, apart from the ones already mentioned, whose specific mission it is to offer significant multi-ethnic content.


A little later, in the early 1980s, nearly four years after the  Radio Maisonneuve project had taken off, it was finally granted a licence with the call letters CIBL FM. On December 13, 1977, Radio Maisonneuve voted on a statement of principles at a general meeting, in which it was specified that the population the station wanted to reach consisted primarily of workers, the unemployed, those on welfare, housewives, students, the retired and immigrants that is, people who had been excluded or neglected in a number of ways by the traditional media. It was clear that community radio had to be designed for and with the local population.  This meant first of all the population of the East end of Montreal, and then from 1990 on, coverage was extended to all French-speaking districts throughout Montreal.


Multi-ethnic or Francophone, community radio quickly became part of the Montreal media landscape, often escaping strict classification by language or by genre. Diversity was the order of the day. When it was not participating directly in the different community social and cultural events of the community, tried to reflect all its dimensions in its programming, both news and music. As well, community radio never hesitated to give free publicity to local and alternative culture or to social and community events for artists, community and social workers, people active in the cultural communities, etc.


Community-oriented communications in Montreal were not limited to community radio. In student radio stations as well, different groups with similar social democratic values and concerns joined forces to create an alternative medium alongside the public and private sectors.




Community Radio in Montreal


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

URL http://www.phonotheque.org/Hist-radio-communautaire/Urbain-social-eng-rev.html