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The Music Scene Vol. 1 No. 1
The Resurgence of Classical FM Radio in Canada

by Dominique Olivier Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Classical radio seems to be in crisis. Visitors to La Scena Musicale''s website news section http://en.scena.org in the last year will note the frequent announcements of starts and stops in classical music radio around the word. In Canada, looking over the last 20 years, there has been an obvious growth in the appetite for classical programming, as well as jazz, on FM radio. Several private broadcasters have applied for and received CRTC permission to establish such outlets. At the same time, the CBC has followed the CRTC''s requests to expand its English and French cultural networks (Radio Two and Cha?ne Culturelle).

Originally, the CBC scheduled extensive classical music programming on both of its AM radio networks, Radio One and Premiere Chaine. Today''s Radio Two originally started in the mid-1970s with only five FM Stations (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver) while La Cha?ne Culturelle began with just two stations (Montreal and Ottawa).

However, in the mid-1980s the program director of English CBC Radio, Margaret Lyons, announced a profound change in the traditional methods and practices of carrying classical music on its airwaves, decreeing: "There''s too much classical music on CBC radio." This angered long-time staffers and listeners alike. Nevertheless, today CBC Radio One is now mostly talk; classical music is only heard from 10:00 pm to 1:00 am. While most areas of Canada can receive Radio Two or La Cha?ne Culturelle, there are still large sections of the country where neither of these networks is available. The impending restructuring of the CBC radio programming under new program director Adrian Mills may see a change in classical music on Radio One. The CRTC has recently authorized the Soci?t? Radio-Canada to establish new stations for La Cha?ne Culturelle across the country.

On the private front

Meanwhile, several privately owned classical FM stations have begun operations in the last 20 years. In Toronto, CFMX-FM Classical 96 has two transmitters, at 96.3 and 103.1, while in Montreal, CJPX-FM Radio-classique-Montreal has been operating at 99.5 with remarkable success. According to Claude Dufault, an executive with Radio-Nord, CHLX-FM at 97.1 on the Ottawa dial will commence operation around 15 September 2002 with a library of 30,000 classical CDs. Approval of Radio-Nord''s application for another classical license in Quebec City is expected shortly (CJJX-FM at 91.9 could open in early 2003). Furthermore, Radio-Nord is preparing, in partnership with an executive of the Montreal Jazz Festival, an application to the CRTC for a 24-hour smooth jazz station on an unused FM frequency previously allocated to the Montreal area. In competition is Canwest Global who has just received permission from the CRTC for a smooth jazz station in Winnipeg in 2003. Meanwhile, the hours of 9:00 pm to midnight will be allotted to a smooth jazz program on the new CHLX-FM in Ottawa, joining perhaps the only other operating smooth jazz station in Canada, one in the Hamilton, Ontario area, at 94.7 FM.

The commercial pull

Commercial radio broadcasters have always been driven to attract advertising revenue for owners and shareholders. This has led to the demise of several good American classical FM stations in favour of more lucrative popular formats, in such cities as Detroit, Albuquerque, Atlanta, Syracuse, and Chicago. In comparison, the state of classical FM commercial radio in Canada looks very bright. Classical 96 in Toronto over the last two years has seemingly adopted Radio-classique''s "easy classical listening" mode--by reducing talk.


Audiences for classical music are everywhere, not just in the bigger urban centres. The CRTC should allow both the CBC and private broadcasters to expand their operations as rapidly as possible. In the days before television, all major American and Canadian radio stations had network transmissions available if they wished to broadcast an affiliated program. The CBC still makes use of this method of broadcasting, as do NPR (National Public Radio) and PRI (Public Radio International) in the United States. It is also a good method for private broadcasters to save on program production expenses yet still offer programs featuring symphony orchestras and opera companies. For example, the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York continues to be heard as the "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" on the CBC.

?Major concert fixtures such as the Festival de Lanaudi?re and the Montreal International Jazz Festival feature performances that would fill the requirements of network radio admirably. Toronto''s CFMX and Montreal''s CJPX each have a listenership of over 440,000 people, a number that continues to grow. In the United Kingdom, Classic FM has overtaken the BBC''s Radio Three in listenership.

So the substantial audience for classical FM radio can no longer be denied. Further, broadcast wavelengths are public property in Canada. Thus classical and jazz listeners may rightfully demand that the broadcasting industry serve their requirements better than is done now-- and not just serve those who listen to popular and country formats. *

Some privately owned classical FM radio stations in the USA and Canada

WCRB-FM 102.5 Boston, MA
WBOQ-FM 104.9 Boston, MA
WQXR-FM 96.3 New York City, NY
WGMS-FM 103.5 Washington, DC
WTMI-FM 93.1 Miami, FL
WCLV-FM 95.9 Cleveland, OH
WFMT-FM 98.7 Chicago, IL
WFMR-FM 98.3 Milwaukee, WI
KFUO-FM 99.1 St. Louis, MO
KXTR-FM 96.5 Kansas City, MO
WRR-FM 101.1 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
KRTS-FM 92.1 Houston, TX
KKHI-FM 100.7 San Francisco, CA
KDFC-FM 102.1 San Francisco, CA
KBOQ-FM 95.5 Monterey, CA
KZMT-FM 105.1 Los Angeles, CA
KFSD-FM 92.1 San Diego, CA
KING-FM 98.1 Seattle, WA
KLEF-FM 98.1 Anchorage, AK
CKMX-FM 96.3 Toronto, ON
CFMX-FM1 103.1 Cobourg, ON (fed from main studios in Toronto)
CHLX-FM 97.1 Ottawa-Hull, ON (French-language)
CJPX-FM 99.5 Montreal, QC (French-language)
CJJX-FM 91.9 Quebec City, QC (French-language)


Visit http://100000watts.com for a list of thousands of radio outlets.


(c) La Scena Musicale