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The Music Scene Vol. 1 No. 1
French Classical ? Coming to a wavelength near you...

by Lucie Renaud Tuesday, October 22, 2002

La Cha?ne Culturelle, the French counterpart of CBC Radio Two, will finally hit the Vancouver airwaves on September 22. Hitherto, except for devotees able to listen to the Cha?ne Culturelle on the Internet, this luxury has been reserved for listeners from Quebec--and not even all of them--and those from Toronto and Moncton. By December 2003, however, this situation will have been rectified. Classical music lovers from Vancouver to St. John''s will be able to tune in to Debussy and Dvorak, broadcast en fran?ais, s''il vous pla?t.

"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 all Canadians."

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 December).

(c) La Scena Musicale