During our recent road trip through Atlantic Canada, Sue and I had the opportunity to listen to local Canadian radio. The first thing we noticed when we scanned the AM radio band throughout Nova Scotia was there was nothing to listen to. I don’t mean there was nothing worth listening to, but there was literally nothing but static on the AM band.
When I got home, I did a search for AM radio in Nova Scotia and found there are actually four AM radio stations listed as being on-the-air, but our Honda Accord radio couldn’t find them.
AM versus FM in Nova Scotia
In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, there are 102 radio stations, of which only four are broadcasting on the AM band and ninety-eight are broadcasting on FM. The population of Nova Scotia is a little over a million people.
To put the land mass of Nova Scotia into context, it’s about the size of West Virginia.
West Virginia has 224 radio stations with a population of 1.76 million. Sixty-five of West Virginia’s radio signals reside on the AM band and 159 on the FM band.
Radio Programming in Nova Scotia
As we scanned the dial through Nova Scotia, the biggest impression we both had was how under-radioed Atlantic Canada was compared to the radio dials in the United States. The programming we heard basically broke down into French speaking radio, religious radio, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada’s NPR-style radio service), rock radio, country radio and community radio.
Community radio in Canada is a legally defined broadcast category by the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, the Canada equivalent of America’s Federal Communication Commission or FCC). CRTC licenses radio service for commercial broadcasting, public broadcasting and community broadcasting.
Community radio began in Canada in the mid 70s. While many community radio stations are associated with a school campus, it’s not unusual for a college to hold both a campus radio license and a community radio license. Both licenses are governed by the same document.
CRTC policy states that community radio “distinguishes itself by virtue of its place in the communities served, a reflection of its needs and values, and the requirement for volunteers in programming and station operations. This helps ensure that programming is different from that of commercial and public radio, in both style and substance, and is rich in location information and reflection. The programming provided by campus and community radio should meet the needs and interests of the communities served by these stations in ways that are not met by commercial radio stations and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).”
These radio services were created much like our LPFM (Low Power FM) radio service here in the United States. But there is one big difference between Community Radio in Canada and LPFM radio in the United States, and I will address that in a moment.
One of the things the CRTC governs in Canada that the FCC does not in the United States is the content of programming on its radio signals.
All broadcasters in Canada, including community radio, must follow strict CRTC regulations regarding the minimum amount of Canadian content they must broadcast. For music broadcasts, 35% minimum must be Canadian between the hours of 6 AM and 6 PM.
Canadian broadcasters make this determination using the MAPL System.
- M (music) – the music is composed entirely by a Canadian
- A (artist) – the music is, or the lyrics are, performed principally by a Canadian
- P (performance) – the musical selection consists of a performance that is wholly recorded in Canada or performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada
- L (lyrics) – the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian
(CRTC, Government of Canada, MAPL System)
Community radio stations must also have 15% of their content be spoken word programming, that is produced locally, and 5% of all music played consists of lesser known and/or emerging/experimental genres, and of this 12% must be Canadian.
LPFM vs Community Radio Restrictions
The big difference I found between the LPFM radio service here in the United States and Community Radio in Canada was in the ways of funding the service. While the CRTC puts all kinds of restrictions on content, when it comes to funding a Community Radio Station, both donations from listeners and businesses as well as advertisements, provide financial support for these non-profit operations.
LPFM radio stations can accept underwriting and donations from listeners but there can’t be a “call to action” in the message, as there can be on a commercial radio station. This is the same restriction that Public Radio in the United States operates under.
A call to action, are words like “hurry down right now,” “call now,” or “check out our low prices.” This language while alright for commercial radio advertisements in the United States, are not allowed on LPFM or Public radio stations.
CKOA-FM, The Coast 89.7
The radio station we enjoyed listening to while driving the Cabot Trail was The Coast 89.7 FM. The station has local air personalities, local musical artists, local news and provides real companionship for both the residents of northern Nova Scotia as well as tourists. In fact, their website has a section just for tourists visiting Cape Breton Island.
We listened long enough to hear the ads for Roger Burns Real Estate so often, that we could say the tag line with the ads when they came on: “If our sign is on your lawn, YOUR MOVIN’!”
CKOA-FM targets a 55-plus audience, and we certainly fit that target demographic.
Being a community-based not-for-profit radio station, CKOA-FM is one hundred percent locally owned and operated – not part of a large conglomerate.
It’s website states:
“We depend on advertising from community-minded businesses and upon our listeners’ generosity to continue our tradition of bringing you programming that you can’t find anywhere else.”
The station went on the air on December 3, 2007 and appears to be thriving in the 21st Century.
We travel to meet new people, see one-of-a-kind sights, and have new experiences. After two road trips across America, everything but listening to radio fulfilled those expectations.
After road tripping through Atlantic Canada, we can honestly say this part of the world exceeded our expectations, for its beauty and its warm/welcoming people.
Having great original radio programming to listen to on the ride, like CKOA-FM, was a wonderful bonus.