The captalization of the letters CRTC in the words isn’t an accident.
Prior to 1970, Canadian radio and television was the near exclusive purview and stomping grounds of foreign entertainment. Almost everything that was broadcast was either from the US or the UK. (In English, anyway; the Quebec music scene was more developed.) Television and radio stations had neither the money nor the interest in producing or developing Canadian artists and actors. Canadian authors, writers, poets, newspapers, journalist and painters were famous at home and abroad, but at a time when TV was now a household appliance with immediate gratification and popular music dominated by record sales, Canadian culture was being silenced and shut out. The only voices you heard or saw were those popular internationally: Joni Mitchell, The Guess Who, Paul Anka, Wayne and Shuster, etc. There was no domestic-only broadcast culture, period.
In 1970, the Canadian government had the Bureau of Broadcast Governors (in 1976 renamed the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC) create what would become the Canadian Content Regulations. Written by Stan Klees and approved by BBG chairman Pierre Juneau, the policies were announced in November 1970. They became law in January 1971, immediately changing the artistic landscape.
For television, broadcasters were required to provide a specific amount of prime time slots for Canadian produced shows, and not just sports. This included dramas, comedies, arts, music programs, movies or others. This forced broadcaster to spend money developing their own shows. And it wasn’t limited to prime time, children’s television benefitted greatly: Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant, Circle Square, Polka Dot Door and many other long running shows. Many Canadian television programs ended up being broadcast in the US: You Can’t Do That On Television, The Beachcombers, Degrassi High, SCTV, King Of Kensington, E.N.G., Littlest Hobo, Trailer Park Boys, among others (e.g. 1980s CBS late night shows Night Heat, Adderly, etc.).
Canadian radio stations were required to play a minimum percentage of songs that qualified as Canadian Content. In 1971, it was 25%, becoming 30% in 1980, and 35% in 1999. New stations since 2000 must play 40%. At that time, radio stations and record companies saw Canada as a place to play US and UK music, but now they had to spend money to develop and produce Canadian bands. Talent existed, but the amount of recorded material available was small. You could end up hearing Anne Murray ten times a day in 1972. As years and decades passed, the back catalogue become much larger, making it easy to fill the 35% or 40%. MuchMusic and its sibling channel had a 10% minimum in the 1980s when it began; I don’t know the current standard.
What qualifies a song as Canadian Content (or CanCon, as most call it)? It has to meet the MAPL rules: Music, Artist, Production, Lyrics. For any song produced before 1971, it only had to meet one of the four, so any Canadian artist’s music would suffice. After 1971, it had to meet at least two of the four requirements. That means if a song was written by a foreigner, both the artist and the producer had to be Canadian, e.g. Streetheart’s cover of “Under My Thumb”. On the other hand, songs written by Canadians but recorded by a foreign act would still qualify as Canadian Content – for example, Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (written by Eddie Schwartz), Santana’s “Hold On” (written by Ian Thomas; his version is better), Bonnie Raitt’s “Something To Talk About” (written by Shirley Eikhart).
Increased opportunities and A&R money meant bands that were once ignored would both get time in the studio and airplay on the radio. Many went on to significant international success: Rush, Frank Marino, April Wine, Prism, Chilliwack, Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan, Drake, Cowboy Junkies, Alanis Morissette, among many others. The music scene in Quebec is so vibrant that its artists have dominated France’s pop charts for decades (e.g. Roch Voisine, Michel Pagliaro, Isabelle Boulay, Les Cowboys Fringants).
It wasn’t only Canadian artists who benefitted. The increased domestic music system included recording studios and venues for bands to play. Styx (from Chicago) benefitted heavily from their proximity to Canada and received airplay they weren’t getting in the US during their early years. Some male members of Heart (from Seattle) were draft dodgers from the Vietnam war. They lived in Vancouver, recording their debut album “Dreamboat Annie” at Mushroom Studios. Several studio musicians on the album are Canadian (e.g. drummer Kat Hendrikse).
There was a downside to CanCon. Many US, UK and other countries’ radio stations took (and still take) the chauvinistic attitude, “They’re only on the radio in Canada because they’re Canadian”. Some Canadian groups became popular abroad over the next fifty years, but many Canadian artists have had decades-long careers producing high quality music yet are unknown abroad. If a group sucked, Canadians wouldn’t be watching them in clubs, arenas, or buying their records. (Country music is a different animal, many artists successful in the US.)
CanCon laws are under threat because of the “trans pacific partnership”, falsely labelled as commercial protectionism. While some Canadian musicians and TV creators have benefitted from the law, it’s biggest effect is cultural. It gave Canada a sense of national identity we didn’t have before, unifying the country despite how disparate the different regions are (the Pacific, Prairies, Easterners, Maritimes, the Arctic). It’s not “for better or worse”, it’s mostly for the better.
More below the fold.
Here is a partial list of favourites from the past. Some you may know, but likely most you’ve never heard of. And yes, I’ve intentionally left out many big name artists who have had international success because I’m not a fan (e.g. Celine Dion), I’ve profiled them elsewhere (e.g. Bruce Cockburn), or you might have heard of them (e.g. Gino Vanelli, Nick Gilder, Red Rider).
Doucette: “Mama Let Him Play”
Eddie Schwartz: “All Our Tomorrows” (covered by Joe Cocker)
A Foot In Cold Water: “Make Me Do Anything You Want”
Fludd, “Cousin Mary”
Idle Eyes: “Tokyo Rose”
Images In Vogue: “Lust For Love” (Kevin Ogilvie later founded Skinny Puppy)
Kim Stockwood: “Jerk”
Jim Byrnes, “Hands Of Time” (he is the actor from TV’s “Wiseguy”)
Ocean: “Put Your Hand In The Hand” (I know it’s religious, but it’s a good song)
The Powder Blues: “Doing It Right”
Gary Lee and Showdown: “The Rodeo Song” (NSFW)
Trans X: “Living On Video”
Voivod, “Astronomy Domine“