"The coast-to-coast expansion project had always been
planned," explains Sylvain Lafrance, vice-president of CBC''s French-language
radio network. "In 1978 the process stopped because broadcasting stations were
no longer available. Of course it was not normal for La Cha?ne Culturelle not to
be national. It is a public service and, as such, should have been accessible to
Lafrance recaps the somewhat hazardous journey. "The CRTC
had been nagging us for years to complete our expansion, but every time we tried
to get a broadcasting frequency it never worked out. At the Vancouver hearings
two years ago we finally succeeded in getting one, not the strongest one, but
still, it was acceptable."
This partial victory nonetheless so upset Mr. Jean-Marc
Demers, one of the CRTC''s commissioners, that he wrote a 16-page letter of
complaint arguing that because of the official languages laws and the fact that
Radio-Canada was a public service, La Cha?ne Culturelle should have been allowed
a more powerful frequency. He convinced the CRTC, and a window of opportunity
opened. Deciding to press its advantage, Radio-Canada asked, then and there, for
no fewer than 20 broadcasting frequencies.
The national expansion project will be completed in the
record time of a little over a year. The four stations of CBC/Radio-Canada will
all become pan-Canadian: Radio One, Radio Two, La Premi?re cha?ne and La Cha?ne
Culturelle. "When we launch La Cha?ne Culturelle in Vancouver in September,"
says Lafrance with pride, "it will be not only for francophones but for anyone
who wants to listen to music and discover the French culture."
The ultimate goal is to reach 50% of francophones in all
provinces, but Lafrance also hopes to appeal to a growing public of
non-francophones willing to bask in the sound of the French language. "It is
considered classy to listen to La Cha?ne Culturelle in Toronto, just as it is to
listen to Radio Two in Montreal," he says.
The programming will be basically the same for all of
Canada, though the time slots may vary. In Vancouver, two more hours will be
devoted daily to jazz, allowing the local scene''s darlings to be heard from 5 to
7 pm, just in time for the drive home. Andr?e Girard, director of programming at
la Cha?ne Culturelle, explains that 85% of airtime will be filled with
broadcasts of mostly classical music but also including some jazz and popular
and traditional French song. "Each show has its own mandate," she says. "Each
has its own personality."
Lafrance feels confident Canadians will tune in daily. He
doesn''t mind if from time to time the classically-inclined listener alternates
between Radio Two and La Cha?ne Culturelle. "After all, we are our own biggest
competition!" he laughs, happy to be a chef d''orchestre with a national
audience, after years of waiting in the wings. *
Also joining the Cha?ne Culturelle''s extended family in
the fall will be Halifax/Charlottetown, Rivi?re-du-Loup (in September),
Sept-Iles, Edmundston (in October) and St. John''s and Saskatoon (in