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March 30, 2014

Did you know: The government has a top 40 song quota for Ottawa radio stations

Photo by Glen Gower
I've been talking to several local radio insiders about Ottawa's commercial radio formats, playlists, etc.  One interesting regulation that I learned about is called the "hit/no hit" rule.  This is related to, but completely separate from the CANCON rules regulating the amount of Canadian content played on the airwaves.  Here's a description from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the government body that regulates radio broadcasting in Canada. (Emphasis is mine.)
In the Commission's 1975 policy "FM Radio in Canada - A Policy to Ensure a Varied and Comprehensive Radio Service"312 the concept of monitoring and regulating the ratio of hits to non-hits that are broadcast on each commercial FM radio station was introduced. 
The basic concept was to increase diversity on the air waves, and to encourage the air-play of new and emerging Canadian artists. The hits/non-hits policy applied to all FM stations that broadcast popular music. They were required to maintain the level of hits below 50% of popular music selections broadcast during a broadcast week. The policy was enforced through incorporation of this commitment into a licensee's Promise of Performance, which became a condition of licence. 
Over time the Commission has reduced, by stages, the application of this policy. In 1990 the CRTC exempted French-language stations from the hits policy. In 1997 the Commission reduced the impact of the rule for most commercial radio stations, but continued to apply it to English-language commercial radio stations in Montreal and Ottawa. This was done in an attempt to level the playing field between French-language and English-language broadcasters who were competing for listeners and advertisers in those bilingual markets. The concern was that if the French-language FM broadcasters in those two markets were also required to play 65% French-language vocal selections they would be at a competitive disadvantage with their English-language counterparts, if they were no longer restricted to a level of "hits" below 50%. 

What qualifies as a hit?

  • "Hits" include any song that's appeared on the mainstream Top 40 list in Canada or the U.S. at any time in the past few decades. 
  • There's a big exception: Canadian songs that are can-con eligible and have been a top 40 hit the last year can be played without counting against the "hit" quota.  (But if they're older than one year old, they count as a hit.)  This is to encourage more new Canadian content on the air.  
  • The quota applies between 6am-midnight.  
  • Radio stations can program their 50% "non-hits" during overnight or evening hours when fewer people are listening.  As long as they don't go over 50% hit song limit during a seven day period.

Any local radio / industry people who can add some context or insight to this rule?  Send me a note at feedback@ottawastart.com

See also: Ottawa Radio Guide
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  1. Fascinating! Now I'll be counting every time the kids are listening to Hot 89.9 :).

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  3. Anonymous7:02 AM

    Actually, quotas only apply during the "broadcast day" which is the period between 6 a.m. and midnight. (A "broadcast week" is seven consecutive "broadcast days" beginning on a Sunday.) In other words, you have to play your 50% non-hit content before midnight. On the other hand you can play as many "hits" as you want from midnight to 6 a.m.


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