CanCon: The Most Canadian Radio Rule You’ve Never Heard Of

One of the odd details about Canadian media in general—and radio in particular—is the requirement from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that a certain percentage of whatever is being broadcast be sourced from Canada. This is intended to help give artists in the Great White North a leg-up over American performers, which would otherwise swamp the country’s airwaves due to the sizable difference in market size.

While the definition of what is actually considered ‘Canadian’ for broadcast purposes can vary with time and the method of transmission, when I was working in university radio it relied on the MAPL, or ‘maple’ system. This means that for a recording to be considered Canadian or ‘CanCon,’ it had to satisfy two of the following four criteria:

M – music is composed/written by a Canadian

A – artist performing the music is Canadian

P – the performance of the song takes place in Canada

L – the lyrics are written by a Canadian

All of the above is vague enough to create a bunch of weird edge cases when it comes to CanCon. I can remember being told that there were certain Heart tracks and one Aerosmith track considered CanCon because of where they were recorded and who had contributed to the writing process, and also that a bunch of Celine Dion no longer counted as CanCon for similar reasons.

For my purposes, I wasn’t too concerned with the grey areas of the CanCon requirement. I just focused on making sure 30 percent of my set list for any given show was Canadian (modern stations have to hit 40 percent). While it was occasionally a hassle, CanCon overall led to some fun discoveries of music I wouldn’t have otherwise heard from bands like Base Is Base, 54-40, and Prozzak.

In fact, sourcing CanCon became a bit of a game among DJs to see who could discover the most interesting or off-the-wall inclusions for each show. My partner Corey and I mowed through a bunch of cool Canadian shred metal from the ’80s (dug out of the vinyl vaults) during our time on the air, and made sure to check out each of the label compilations that piled up in the offices on a weekly basis for hidden gems, of which there were many. Speaking of which, there’s a Canadian band called CBAK (Christian Becoming A Killer) that had a track called ‘Push’ that I used to play on my show that to this day I have never been able to track down in any medium.

Of course, if you were feeling lazy you could always just grab something from the “Oh What A Feeling” compilation that came out in 1996. This four-disc set spanned a quarter century of Canadian rock, and probably explains why so many college stations were pumping out Trooper and Mashmakhan during that decade.

There’s no question that CanCon can pose a problem for DJs with very specific radio formats. For example, Michelle’s Britopia show would likely have to turn to sounds-like-Britpop albums such as Sloan’s “One Chord To Another” (which could plausibly masquerade “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” or “The Good In Everyone” as being from the other side of the ocean).

Josie’s electronic dance music show has another, sneakier option, however. In addition to CanCon requirements, the province of Quebec (where Dead Air’s CJNK 88.7 is located) also regulates the language of the music that is being broadcast. Francophone stations must ensure that most of the music they play is actually French, which is problematic for Top 40 formats striving to capture the ears of audiences eager for English-language tunes from around the world.

To get around this restriction, DJs at these stations began to put together what they called “mega-mixes,” where they would string together four or five or even 10 English-language songs into a single, non-stop block of tunes. While audiences got to hear multiple hits, on the entry sheet tracking both CanCon and French-language content a single mega-mix play only counted as one entry, deftly performing an end-run around the culture police.

As a teenager I of course had no idea that mega-mixes were A – created specifically to hoodwink the CRTC and B – were pretty much unique to my market. Imagine my surprise when I left the province after my own radio days and realized that these 10-minute blocks of popular tunes that slid seamlessly into one another didn’t exist outside of Quebec’s borders.

While I definitely missed out on this particular opportunity to pad my CanCon stats, given Josie’s results-oriented personality and scary high IQ, there’s no question that she’s found a way to create her own dance music mega-mixes and take care of any potential CanCon problems before they could materialize.

Click here to read the first 4 pages of Dead Air #1 for free!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *