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Regulated Musical Diversity on Canadian Airwaves

On July 22, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued a revised version of their Broadcasting and Regulatory Policy (PDF) as it applies to campus and community radio in Canada. Amid all of the policy changes (and a nice promise of funding), which for the most part are meant to simplify the ways that the CRTC looks at and regulates stations; there were also some interesting tidbits about the ways in which the Canadian government seeks to promote diversity and local artists on its airwaves.

The CRTC requires radio stations to play a certain percentage of spoken word programming, special interest music, music of Canadian origin, and asks that campus stations limit the number of “hit” songs that they play. The weekly percentages of material from each category vary by type of station and have changed over the years based on evolving needs of radio stations and revisions to the CRTC’s definitions of the different musical categories and sub-categories.

I was fascinated to see that the latest policy included references to experimental music and a discussion of where turntablism fit into that category. The CRTC even conducted an investigation into turntablism, with their Turntablism and Audio Art Study 2009 outlining not only the history of turntablism, but also delving into the challenges of attempting to categorize turntablism, DJ mixing, and audio art. According to the study:

“Turntablism and audio art are becoming more common forms of expression onĀ  community and campus stations. Turntablism refers to the use of turntables as musical instruments, essentially to alter and manipulate the sound of recorded music. Audio art refers to the arrangement of excerpts of musical selections, fragments of recorded speech, and ‘found sounds’ in unusual and original ways…”

Stemming in part from this report, the July 22 policy change introduced a new experimental music sub-category of music for Canadian broadcasters, with its definition as follows:

“The unconventional and non-traditional uses of instruments and sound equipment to create new sounds and an orchestration of these sounds. This includes audio-art, turntablism, musique actuelle, electro acoustic and sound ecology. While it may involve the use of previously recorded sounds to create new sounds and orchestrations, it does not include spinning or beat mixing where the alterations of previously recorded tracks are limited to mixes between two or more pieces or samples.”

They further found that if a turntablist or sound artist is Canadian, then the piece of experimental music will also meet the requirement for music of Canadian origin (known as the MAPL designation). More details about these programming requirements are outlined in the previous Campus Radio Policy document from 2000 and in the related policy document Revised Content Categories and Sub-Categories for Radio.

It’s encouraging to see that Canada works to encourage musical diversity on radio and I would imagine that the Canadian broadcast system is unlikely to see the ever-shrinking playlists that have become so commonplace in the United States. Yet at the same time, the complexities in categorizing music and determining what constitutes a piece of Canadian music under the MAPL system must be time-consuming projects for radio stations. I’d be interested to hear if DJs and stations (particularly those on college campuses) feel that these policies help to support their missions to expose unheard music and local artists, or if they feel that the rules hamper their creative freedom.


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