The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 911: 50 years of CanCon

Fifty years ago, the Canadian music industry was essentially non-existent. Well, at least compared to the US or the UK. Yes, we had bands who played gigs and recorded singles and albums. But there wasn’t much of an infrastructure to support a domestic scene.

There were too few recordings studios. There was a lack of experienced promoters, managers, agents, producers, and engineers. There only a tiny number of record labels. With no other alternative, the best and the brightest decamped for America in hopes of finding success. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Anka were all part of a worrisome brain drain of talent. For those left behind, it was pretty discouraging.

Canadian radio stations weren’t helping, either. There was a perception that Canadian audiences did not want to hear Canadian music because…well, because it wasn’t very good. It was inferior to all the music coming from America and England. It just wasn’t worth anyone’s time.

However, there were those diehards who believed that it just wasn’t right that our musical culture and music scenes (such as they were) should be overwhelmed by foreign powers. Canadian music was getting smothered in the crib. Something needed to be done–and five decades ago, something was done, beginning on January 18, 1971.

It was difficult, expensive, and, in some quarters, wildly unpopular. But it was all worth it because Canada is now a global musical powerhouse. This is the history of fifty years of CanCon.

Songs heard on this show:

  • Our Lady Peace, Starseed
  • Tragically Hip, Fifty Mission cap
  • The Diodes, Red Rubber Ball
  • Lenny Kravitz, American Woman
  • Eddie Vedder, Hard Sun
  • Pop Evil, Trenches
  • Tea Party, Temptation
  • Arcade Fire, Reflektor

Eric Wilhite provides this playlist.

The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:

We’re still looking for more affiliates in Calgary, Kamloops, Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Brandon, Windsor,  Montreal, Halifax, Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton, and St John’s and anywhere else with a transmitter. If you’re in any of those markets and you want the show, lemme know and I’ll see what I can do.

If you ever miss a show, you can always get the podcast edition available through Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your on-demand audio.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 911: 50 years of CanCon

  • April 30, 2021 at 11:25 pm

    Oh Alan….here we go again…..

    “There was a perception that Canadian audiences did not want to hear Canadian music because…well, because it wasn’t ‘very good’. It was inferior to all the music coming from America and England. It just wasn’t worth anyone’s time”

    Alan I grew up in Winnipeg in The ’60s. We didn’t think that Canadian Music ‘wasn’t very good’. It was just that there was so little of it and we didn’t know enough to ask why. Until Jack Scott.

    In 1958 when some pals and I discovered that Jack was from Windsor Ontario we couldn’t believe it. THEN, the next year, along came Bobby Curtola from Port Arthur Ontario. He even ‘opened’ for Bob Hope at The Winnipeg Arena!

    Winnipeg Radio was playing Jack and Bobby all the time.

    Soon I was playing a ‘used’ set of Slingerland Drums and my pal next door, Lyle Thauburger, was playing guitar. At first we just played as we could over the Records we had. But soon it seemed that there were Bands everywhere!

    We didn’t know it but, Winnipeg was becoming The Rock & Roll Capital of Canada.

    Best of all, CKY and CKRC, our two Rock & Roll Radio Stations were recording the best of our bands and putting them on The Radio.

    It wasn’t until I visited Toronto for the first time in 1967 that I realized The Toronto ‘Scene’ wasn’t at all like The Winnipeg ‘Scene’. We made our own music. Toronto Imported theirs.

    So it was really exciting walking down Yonge Street for the first time.

    Dizzy Gillespie at The Colonial, The Righteous Bros at The Friars, Solomon Burke at Le Coq ‘dor, Jim Ed Brown at The Edison. Then it was Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee at The Riverboat.

    It never occurred to me, at the time, to wonder where the Canadian Bands were. The only Canadian I knew of who played Rock & Roll in Toronto on TV was Jack Scott. He sang his latest of 19 Hit Records in The U.S. and Canada on Toronto’s Cross Canada Hit Parade with Wally Koster and Joyce Hahn.

    So…when I moved to Toronto in 1970 to work at CHUM I was surprised to hear that Canadian Radio wouldn’t play Canadian Records and there would soon be The Canadian Content Regulations.

    What are they doing??!! CKY, CKRC and even MOR CJOB with Standard Broadcasting’s Canadian Talent Library, were playing Canadian Records all the time.

    Now, I know you know most of this Alan and so, likely, do most of Your Readers, but I suspect we’ll have different opinions on why what happened happened and what should have been done.

    I don’t think it was Radio’s fault that a Canadian Music Industry hadn’t been built in 1960’s Canada. It was Government’s fault. In the late ’60s, with Auto Pac they had the right idea to build a Canadian Auto Industry by negotiating with the U.S. Auto Industry to make Cars in Canada financed mostly by The U.S. Why not do something similar with Music and build a Canadian Music Industry with money sourced from The U.S. Multi-nationals? How much money do you think that Capital Records made from Beatle Records sold in Canada?

    Actually, to be fair, Radio should have thought of that.

    There were a lot of mistakes on All Sides….Government, Radio and Music.
    30% CanCon was too high. It didn’t inspire making Hits. You didn’t need to. Money from Music Publishing was earned from Airplay. 30% guaranteed Airplay was a lot of money for The Music Publishing Industry.

    I could go on and on…and I have, many times.

    I got so tired at CHUM of doing Home Grown Style Contests and not getting Bands signed because The Winners were The CHUM Band that I brainstormed with Earl Rosen at CIRPA.

    We came up with what became known as FACTOR.

    Then I went to NYC in 1987 to launch WDRE. We were almost exclusively Import Records. If you ever see The Documentary 101 Depeche Mode, I’m the guy with The Ponytail. We also made a Record on The Radio with Crossfire Choir that, I’m told, is still a Cult Classic.

    When I came back to Canada in 1990 for The Junos, I was thrilled to meet Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, Lyle Lovett, Quincey Jones and Milli Vanilli.

    Problem was….they had been imported to Canada to improve Juno’s Ratings.

    Juno Evening I thought I was back in 1977 Toronto.
    20 years of CanCon and that was the best The Canadian Music Industry could do?

    I suggested in RPM Music Weekly that we take The Junos on tour around Canada.
    I hear I pissed a lot of people off.
    The Labels would have to spend a lot of money to do it.

    So what?

    If you do it right, Canadian Cities may give you some money to come to town and bring a few hundred people with you to spend money in Hotels, Restaurants and Bars.

    It appears to have worked out just fine.

    My only problem with all that CanCon Baggage today is…..Jack Scott, Canada’s First Rock Star, is STILL not in the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. Could it be that being a Canadian performing with Canadian Singers, The Chantones, and having 19 Chart Hits in 41 Months disqualified Jack from being a Canadian?
    Yes, since the age of 10, Jack had lived in Hazel Park Michigan. It’s 10 minutes away. People here think of Hazel Park as a Suburb of Windsor.

    So writing on behalf of Winnipeg, where Jack ‘lit the fire’ for so many of us Kids…..isn’t it about time?

    Tell you what.
    I’ll even call Robert Plant, one of Jack’s Biggest Fans ,to see if he’ll drop by.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.