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Dear Canadian Rock Radio Stations, What Happened to You? – PART 1

Chad Vice #canadianrockradio #musicblog #musicfan musicinterests

I came a little late to the party.

At 34 years old, even though I was born in 1981, and I did hear and experience lots of great music played on AM radio and via cassettes played at people’s homes that we would visit, enjoying and being in awe of the music that would shape my life and my thoughts and my feelings into my adult years, really I was too young to attend concerts or do tape trading or really understand the feeling of getting a new album by a favorite artist or band like I do now, back then in what many would call the “Golden Age” for Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Pop-Metal, all those good things that I love. Even the pop-rock artists that mean so much to me now were in their glory days back in the 1980s. But by the end of the 80s decade, I was only 8 turning 9 years old….

So into the 1990s is where I started to tape trade, record on blank cassettes from music off of the radio (illegal downloading!!!) buy CDs, still buying cassettes because that was the only place you could hear them in the car, and really start to expand my horizons with owning the music that I loved. No coincidence that I was now getting older and more aware of the varied ways of obtaining music, and by the end of the 90s, I was now 18 years old…

This brings me to my experience with Canadian radio stations. They are interesting insomuch as they both fascinate and frustrate me, as I want to understand why they basically don’t play good music anymore. I mean the music that they used to play. I mean music that used to be actual hits that weren’t made by the same 5 bands. Why is the radio station so safe?

From the limited knowledge of radio station rules and regulations and such that I do know, they are required in Canada to play a certain percentage of Canadian artists. Check. They play the most popular hits by certain artists to hit a broader demographic of listeners who will tune in to hear familiar tunes. Check. They only play hits from the previous 3 decades of said artists, same reason as above. Check. They play well known artists that the majority of the demographic will know and support and recognize. Check. So by that logic, when these radio stations played artists in the 1980s they only played the most popular, established acts and only their previous hits in the 60s and 70s right? Well that’s not correct at all. If you had a charting hit, you would get at least SOME radio play. And many of these artists didn’t exist in the 60s and 70s, so that’s out too. I guess what I am trying to lament here is, something changed in the way radio plays artists, CANADIAN artists, no, it’s not for the better, and it happened in the late 90s/early 2000s and has stayed the same since. So for time sake and your eyes sake, I will stick to focusing on just a few radio stations here in my home of Ottawa, Ontario Canada, and if that doesn’t bore you already, read on for more of the same!

I’m going to name a couple, more like 6 radio stations in this feature to lament on and compare them on how they used to present us with Canadian music vs. how they do now, or not, in this case. Some of these stations are no longer on the air or never even made it out of the 1980s but I need them to be listed here to make my proper comparisons, and give this article the depth that it so desperately lacks right about now! So let’s dive into this!!

Energy 1200 (AM)
54 Rock/The Bear (54 AM/106.9 FM)
CHEZ 106 (106.1 FM)
X-FM (101.1 FM)
Boom (99.7 FM)
Kool FM (94.9 FM)

Each one of these stations came and went or became re-branded in this city with the exception of CHEZ 106, so I’ll start with them. They started in 1977 and have been going strong, never re branding or changing formats in their long-by-radio-station-standards career and that earns them a big ol’ PLUS. My issue? Same boring repetitive songs, same artists, same stock Canadian artists played. Everyone knows Bryan Adams, everyone knows Rush, everyone knows Triumph, everyone knows The Tragically Hip, everyone knows the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and everyone knows Alanis Morrisette, and most probably people will know Glass Tiger, Loverboy and Helix.  Now here’s some great Canadian artists that they don’t play or very scarcely play:

Kick Axe
Brighton Rock
Slik Toxik
Platinum Blonde
Alfie Zappacosta
Sven Gali
Harem Scarem
Rough Trade
The Payolas
Killer Dwarfs

Some are more rock based, and some are more pop, but the reality is, for radio stations to make their quota of a certain percentage of required Canadian content, and not include most if not all of these artists, then where are we getting our Canadian content from? Repeats of Bryan Adams and Rush I suppose. I mean, they will play Aldo Nova, but just one song (“Fantasy”), they might play The Payolas (“Eyes of a Stranger”) and maybe just maybe, Harem Scarem (“Slowly Slipping Away”). The rest? I have heard a few songs here and there from a few more of these artists, mainly if the station runs an “80s Weekend” or even better “Hair Metal Weekend” and this is where I was blown the holy heck away when I heard a Slik Toxik and Sven Gali song! Wow. Or, I can just go play these songs myself since I already own the albums, right? I am after all, a fan of these bands, but most definitely not because of the radio!

So the problem with our classic rock radio station, CHEZ 106, is that it plays seemingly in a loop the same several staple tracks by Zeppelin, The Who, Floyd, AC/DC, Rush, Heart, Triumph, and some Tom Cochrane. Hit play. Repeat. Yawn. They play a decent amount of Canadian bands but almost none of the ones mentioned above, no matter how much time passes they will just not play the more obscure Canadian artists, because less people than the majority of the population know them. But is that really true? When was the last time focus group was put out? I was a part of one actually back in 2013 and I remember several people on the panel sharing my same thoughts and taste and expectations for more diverse Canadian bands to be played to be played on our rock radio stations, and they listened. But it never happened. Have they really interviewed people, just random people, and asked them, what are some of the bands you don’t hear on the radio that you wold like to? If they did, they sure didn’t action their requests. Oh hey, requests, random people calling in will ask for some more broader songs to be played right? Non-shockingly, somehow where people still wanna hear Bryan Adams “Run to You” played again. Cool.

Great song, by the way.

You see, there is so much great Canadian music to be heard and played, and could be opened up to an even wider array of music lovers if they just added some of these bands back into rotation. But because these bands didn’t make massive sales and revenue in their first go around between 1982-1992, they are limited in their presentation now. Remember when I said that radio appeals to the largest possible demographic? Most people you would ask on the street will not know Killer Dwarfs, Haywire, or Rough Trade unless maybe you visit the home towns of these bands, but at that point they would more likely be known by their given names and that they “used to be in a band years ago”.  Exciting. But moving along….

Energy 1200 AM was a station that played all the Top-40 hits in the 80s and into the 90s even, maybe until 1995 or so, and yes, on AM RADIO. Now this may seem like a dirty word (Top-40) to hard rock and heavy metal music lovers, but looking at it now, this is when some of the BEST music was alive and lighting up the airwaves, great Canadian bands were played and played often. Remember when I mentioned Alanis Morrisette?  Well most radio today won’t touch her first two albums, pretending like her career started with “Jagged Little Pill”, (1995) but back around 1991-1993 we could hear her hits like “Too Hot” and “Walk Away” which are great, but are nothing like the sounds of her later career; these songs sound more like early Madonna and Tiffany material. Which may be why she chooses not play them now, and that’s fine, but why can’t the radio stations still play them today? Is there some sort of ban?

Lots of the music you heard on this station you could now find on Boom 99.7 or again when the pop stations of today do ‘Throwback Thursdays’ or specials of this ilk, but even then you are only getting the best of the best hits, and not really deep cuts that I know fans would love and remember but the radio just won’t play because they are trying to reach the: say it with me: the largest demographic possible. Nice.

I should point out that this blog isn’t to just bemoan the music of the greatest decade not getting the same type of attention as it used to. It’s bemoaning that our very own Canadian radio stations, and I mean in the capital of Ottawa, Ontario, play only a certain handful of the same big name Canadian acts and no longer play a larger and varied variety of some great Canadian songs and artist, and the reason for that is not very clear, at least to me. I wish Canadian radio played more diverse and a wider range of Canadian artists/songs, who had real bonafide hits and charting singles, and not just the same songs by the same artists over and over, and ignoring a large body of great work from bands that used to be big and had videos and appeared on the Juno Awards and such, whereas before the radio stations seemed so much more diverse. Maybe because we no longer really have regular disc jockeys who physically pick out the songs, just programmed playlists done on the computer. Of course I don’t expect AM radio to still be a viable option for mainstream radio anymore, I do wish they kept and imported those broadened playlists intact instead of just sticking to what songs eventually got the biggest.

My final question for you, the reader, here in part 1: How can a song get to be big if no one is able to hear it. Or, if a great song is played and no one hears it, was it ever really played? Think about that! Actually don’t do it, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time 

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