In the late 1960s, there was a concern that Canada wasn’t doing enough to protect its culture, especially when it came to the relationship between homegrown artists, music and the broadcast medium of choice, radio.
Frankly, there wasn’t one: the occasional Canadian song enjoyed national and international success, but there was no star system, no star-building infrastructure, that would guarantee domestic acts a shot at airplay, let alone cross-Canada support. The playlist content of Canadian radio stations, with the exception of the government-sponsored CBC Canada, relied on foreign artists largely located in the U.S. or the U.K. to fuel their listenership.
The Broadcasting Act of Canada and the establishment in 1968 of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to enforce the ruling changed all that.
In 1971, Canadian content regulations – or CanCon – were introduced and the MAPL system – suggested and created by broadcaster and producer Stan Klees, co-founder of the JUNO Awards – served as a model to help radio music programmers determine what qualified as Canadian content.
Generally, a recording must hold two of the four following distinctions to meet the defined criteria of Canadian content:
M – the music must be composed by a Canadian
A – the artist performing the music must be Canadian
P – the musical selection must have been recorded in Canada
L – the lyrics must be written by a Canadian.
Initially, the hourly quota in the 1970s was set at 25%: one-quarter of all music played by radio on a daily basis was regulated to be CanCon. But this didn’t stop numerous Canadian radio stations from attempting to skirt the issue; some of them would bunch their Canadian programming into off-peak hours. The CRTC put a stop to this practice and currently, 35% to 40% of Canadian music played hourly must be aired between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Canada’s CanCon regs ended up being a model for many other countries, who also imposed protectionist radio quotas for music: Australia (20%), France (40%), Korea (60%), Malaysia (60%), Venezuela (50%) and South Africa (20%.)
So, many foreign artists owe Canada a debt of gratitude for taking the lead and ensuring that countries preserve their musical heritage while competing in modern day markets.
Canadian television regulation concerns were first expressed even earlier. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) raised the issue in the late 1940s, but it took until 1959 for the then-governing body, the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG), to implement a 45% Canadian content ruling April 1, 1961, increasing it to 55% by April 1, 1962.
Canadian programs were defined as the following: any program made by a Canadian TV licensee, any made-in-Canada production, or a broadcast taking place outside of Canada that involved Canadians or reflected their special interest, qualified as Canadian content.
On May 22, 1970, the CRTC amended the BBG regulations and mandated that before 6 p.m., Canadian television broadcast must feature 55% content, with 40% to follow between 6 p.m. and midnight. The numbers are readjusted once more in 1972, with full day programming being lowered to 50% and prime time being raised to 50%, before being raised once more to 60% overall in October 1972.
Currently, the CRTC regulations for television state that at least 50% of prime-time programming – and 60% yearly – be Canadian, while private television broadcasters’ CanCon requirements sit at 55% yearly.
Once again, this CRTC decision has enabled Canadian production companies to generate new TV programs and build a creative industry that allows them to create content that competes both domestically and internationally.
Such measures have provided the perfect opportunity for Canada’s stars to emerge and shine.