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English Radio in Quebec

In the Name of the "Public Interest": CFCF and some Controversies of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s


by Melanie Fishbane and Mary Vipond



(167 K)

Post Production of a Recording, 1948


            In 1952, Gui Caron, the Québec leader of the Labour Progressive Party and a candidate for the riding of St. Louis in Montreal, asked CFCF if he and his colleagues could buy some air-time in order to promote the party’s platform for the upcoming election on July 16.   J. Allan Hammond, the Manager of CFCF, refused his request.  Caron complained to the federal government’s regulatory agency for such matters, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).  In response to the initial investigation conducted by the Supervisor of Station Relations in Québec, Maurice Foudrault, Hammond wrote on June 17, 1952 that he had refused Caron because “We feel that the broadcasting of communist propaganda is not in the public’s interest” (Hammond 1952a).

            The idea that CFCF was the protector of the public interest was nothing new for the private broadcaster.  A couple of years earlier S.M. Finlayson, the president of the Marconi Company of Canada (which owned CFCF), had suggested to the Royal Commission on the Arts, Letters and Sciences (more commonly known as the Massey-Lévesque Commission) that because the private broadcaster was a “community station,” and had to know its listeners and what they desired, it was in fact “much more a public station” than the CBC itself (Finlayson 1949, 8).  As was and is to be expected of a commercial radio station, during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s CFCF was motivated by its financial profitability.  Because most of its income came from advertisers who wished to reach large numbers of listeners, obviously it was in CFCF’s interest to know and understand what the listeners believed they needed.  But Finlayson and Hammond pushed it further than that.  They both implied that because they knew CFCF’s listeners’ desires, they knew their “interests” as well.  When making controversial programming choices, the station equated “the audience” with “the public” (or to put it another way, the consumer with the citizen) and defended itself by claiming that it was acting in the public interest.  Hammond believed that he was fully justified in denying Caron’s request because he thought he was doing what the station’s audience - public - wanted.  He knew that airing something which could be interpreted as communist propaganda would anger some - probably many - of CFCF’s listeners, but he justified his action not by admitting that he feared alienating his audience but by using abstract concepts like the “public’s interest.”


            Another interpretation of the listeners’ interests was revealed, however, when the Marconi Company tried to sell the station in 1963 to Radio Futura Limited, owners of the bilingual station CKVL Verdun.  In this case, it can be argued that CFCF’s top executives were willing to sacrifice CFCF radio’s audience to an unknown future for the sake of the development of the potentially much more profitable television station they also owned.  The new regulatory authority, the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG), did not believe that the sale was in the public interest, and refused to allow it.  In a third case, in 1974-5, the station encouraged its listeners to sign a petition against the introduction of Bill 22, the Liberal government’s attempt to preserve and promote the French language by giving it official status in civic administration and the workplace and by reducing access to English schools for immigrants’ children.  Now, in a changed climate of growing francophone nationalism, CFCF claimed that actively promoting what were later called to be called “English rights” was in their listeners’ and (according to their perspective) the public’s interest. 


            By examining these three controversies, we will demonstrate how CFCF’s status as a “community station,” when combined with its necessary search for profits, was understood by its management to mean that it must ascertain and act in the interests of its listeners - in other words it must give them what they (or the majority of them) wanted.  But the station’s listeners were transformed in management rhetoric into “the public,”and what was in their interest became by definition in the interest of the “public” or the whole community.  Nevertheless, when deemed financially necessary, Marconi/CFCF management was quite willing to sell its “public” to the highest bidder.


Advertisement for the Marconi Company

(190 K)

Canadian Wireless, June 1922


Communism is Not in the Public’s Interest: the Gui Caron Controversy


            The circumstances surrounding the case of Gui Caron suggest that the managers of CFCF chose the defence of “the public’s interest” as a tactic to dissuade the courts and the federal government from pressing charges and punishing the station for breaking the law.  Supervisor of Station Relations  Foudrault received Gui Caron’s letter of complaint on June 12, 1952.  He quickly responded by writing to Hammond: “In his letter, Mr. Caron complains of your refusal and that of [Broadcasting Manager] Mr. Victor George to sell him time on CFCF for the broadcast of a few political talks on behalf of himself and three other candidates of his party” (Foudrault 1952).  Foudrault stressed that by saying No to Caron, Hammond and George were violating Article 8, Section 2 of the Regulations which stated: “Each station shall allocate time for political broadcasts as fairly as possible between the different parties or candidates desiring to purchase or obtain time for such broadcasts” (see Bird 162).


             Hammond and George did not believe that they had broken any regulation.  Hammond declared: “We are also aware that our license requires us to operate in the public’s interest,” and went on, as already quoted: “We feel that the broadcasting of communist propaganda is not in the public’s interest” (Hammond 1952a).  Caron, apparently sensing that he would not get timely satisfaction from the CBC regulators, approached the legal firm of Marcus and Feiner to represent him.  Their letter to the CFCF management stated that failure to comply with the CBC’s regulations within 48 hours would be “construed by us as a refusal on your part” (Marcus 1952).  But the station remained adamant.  It offered a second line of defence at this point, communicated in a June 19 letter to Foudrault.  Here Hammond argued that because the Labour Progressive Party was not yet registered as a political party in Quebec, its representatives could not claim to be “candidates” in the sense of the regulations (Hammond 1952b). On July 3, the Superior Court issued a writ of mandamus ordering CFCF to put Caron on the air, which the station again ignored (Montreal Herald 1952).


            Although Caron was defeated on July 16, he continued to pursue the matter.  On October 17 the Superior Court ruled that although the station should have “allocated him a fair proportion of radio broadcasting time,” there was little it could do three months after the fact.  However, the Court did say that the “Plaintiff was entitled to the remedy sought and would accordingly be entitled to the cost of the proceedings” (Superior Court of Canada 1952).  Here is where the documented story ends.  Whether or not CFCF honoured this demand is unknown, although presumably it had little choice; the CBC does not seem to have taken any further action once the case moved to the courts.


            It is important to mention that CFCF was not the only Montreal station concerned about airing what could be considered communist propaganda.   A correspondent informed Victor George on June 19 that “Incidentally, CKAC and CJAD are also refusing time to the commies...” (Kingan 1952). Why Caron took only CFCF to court and not the other stations is unknown.  It may be suggested, however, that if Hammond and George had responded positively to Caron’s demands, CFCF would have been in the position of being the only private station to allow the Labour Progressive Party on the air - which undoubtedly would have caused criticism from its listeners.  It may be concluded, then, that while in this situation CFCF’s executives invoked the public’s interest as the grounds for their refusal, their real concern was not the broader public interest that the citizenry be well informed, but their fear that they might alienate that narrower public - their own listeners - by broadcasting unpopular material.

Financial Possibilities and the Public’s Interest: CFCF’s Attempted Sale to Radio Futura Ltd.,1963


            In 1962 and 1963, CFCF was again in the spotlight when it tried to sell its AM and FM stations to Radio Futura Ltd.  Radio Futura owned CKVL-AM Verdun, a bilingual station (25% English, 75% French programming) and had a license as well for an FM station.  The most important issues arising during the public hearing held by the new federal regulatory body, the BBG on March 26, 1963 concerned the implications of such a sale for Montreal’s radio listeners.

            As is normal in these cases. Marconi had apparently let it be known quietly in the broadcasting community the previous fall that its two stations were for sale.  Some eight or ten parties held meetings with Marconi officials, but only Jack Teitolman, President of Radio Futura, made a firm offer of just over $1 million (Montreal Star 1963). The BBG hearing, then, was to confirm that the sale would be in accord with the regulations of the Board, and most particularly that it would be in the best interest of the industry and the listening public.  The end result was that the Board concluded that the sale was not in fact in the public interest, because it would, by the definition of the broadcasting regulations, duplicate service.  As an official in the Department of Transport wrote to CFCF: “It is the opinion of the Board that the issue to one party of two licenses to operate in the same medium in a particular market can be justified only where this appears to be necessary to ensure the support of a minority service (e.g. in another language) (Nixon 1963). It was apparently the Board’s opinion that the English-language service of CFCF was secure under Marconi’s ownership, and therefore that the sale was not necessary to protect that minority interest.  On the other hand, it could have been argued that there were disproportionately few French-language stations in the Montreal market, and that CKVL’s suggestion that it would switch to 100% French-language programming if the purchase went through might have enhanced the francophone presence on Montreal airwaves.  This argument was apparently not raised, however.  CKVL did subsequently switch to all-French programming anyway.


            The Board’s conclusion that Radio Futura should not be allowed to own four stations (two AM and two FM) in the same market was in accordance with its long-standing policies, so not of great surprise.  But in the course of the hearing some points of interest about some of the realities of English-language radio at the time were revealed.  One of the issues raised concerned the programming that would be broadcast on CFCF in the event of the change of ownership.  A lengthy discussion occurred about where Radio Futura’s management hoped to find English-language live talent for the new drama and variety programs it proposed (CFCF 1963, 111-121).  Although Radio Futura’s lawyer, A.B.R. Lawrence, argued that there was plenty of talent available, including English-speakers, immigrants, and bilingual French-speakers, and although evidence was produced that the Musicians’ Guild of Montreal strongly supported the deal on the grounds that it would increase “employment and revenue for our membership” (105), the Board does not seem to have been completely convinced.  This discussion reveals, moreover,  that CFCF was perceived to be lagging in its employment of local talent for its programs. The reality was that CFCF was facing increasing competition from CJAD and CFOX on the AM dial, and had apparently decided not to make the increased investment in the radio station necessary to salvage its share of the audience.

            The members of the BBG were particularly interested in this question: exactly why did Marconi want to sell “the oldest station, not only in Canada but ... in the world?” (145).  Victor George, General Manager of the station by this time, was bluntly asked by a member of the Board whether Marconi would be interested in selling the radio station if it did not also own a television station.  George tried to evade the question, but admitted that it remained important for the company to retain “a vehicle to carry our image to the people” as it had done since 1919.  His questioner reached the obvious conclusion that “if you had not got the TV you would still be wanting to present your image to the people of Montreal [via radio]” (146-7). 

Victor George in fact explained Marconi’s calculations regarding its business interests to the Board members quite frankly:

We have a very broad responsibility in our company in this whole business of electronics.  We try to live up to that responsibility.  One of the immediate ones is the operation of the TV station in Montreal, which we try to make carry a good image of our organization and to win and hold the respect of the TV viewers.  Quite apart from that and in addition to it, we have responsibilities in other phases of electronics.  We have many things coming along, new products, better ways of doing things.  We are trying to do what we can for the Canadian economy in building an export business...  On account of our other organizations, we do not have unlimited resources, time, money and so on.  So all the time we of the general management are making decisions - should be do this, or should we do that?  This is not just altruistic talk, because as goes the Canadian economy, so we go, and we feel that we must pay tribute to it.  So one of the decisions we made was that, having received an offer for the stations, we studied it in the light of all these things and we thought

that we would best be serving the interests of the company and all that the company

represents if we agreed to this sale. (98-99)


            While he was somewhat disingenuous in his implication that the offer for CFCF had come out of nowhere, it is clear that Marconi considered two main questions when it made the decision to sell: where it wanted to put its priorities in the future, and the need to remain in the public eye through some sort of broadcasting medium.  The future profitability of television was much more attractive than that of radio; hence the radio station lost its place in the company’s plans. Although George also argued that “there [was] nothing desperate” (99) in the sale of CFCF, it is quite clear that the company wished to divert its energies to its manufacturing sector and that the expansion of the television station fit better into that scenario. When the BBG turned the sale down, however, the company accepted the verdict and continued to operate the station for another decade.


CFCF and the CRTC


(173 K)

Le Jour, 1976


Bill 22 and the Petition that Might Have Cost CFCF its License


            The changes in Quebec politics in the 1970s had some profound effects on how CFCF-AM interacted with its listening public.  Being an English-language station in a province whose political agenda increasingly focused on expanding the use of  French raised for the management the question of how best to represent the interests of the anglophone community. A station which had traditionally argued that it was motivated by the “public’s interest,” more and more narrowed its focus to the interests of English-speaking public.  In the charged political atmosphere, the station opted to define service to its public - at least on occasion - as advocacy for “English rights” rather than to maintain an attitude of neutrality. 


            One opportunity for the station to assert its presence was when the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa introduced Bill 22 in 1974.  From September 3 to September 16, 1975, CFCF-AM used air time to encouraged its listeners to sign a petition against the Bill.  Not surprisingly, the petition campaign aroused anger among some listeners, who complained to the BBG’s successor as federal regulator, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC).


            The CRTC responded to these protests by sending a telex to the station requesting that it send in the tapes of the controversial broadcasts.  CFCF sent the CRTC the audio recordings of all the broadcasts between the 3 and 16 of September, but the Commission was very unhappy with the fact that the tapes of the programs on September 14 and 15 were inaudible - a breach of CRTC regulations.  The preliminary investigation by the Commission concluded that CFCF seemed to be allowing discussion both for and against Bill 22 itself, but that it did not broadcast any criticism of the station’s decision to circulate the petition.  The CRTC therefore concluded that the station had failed to provide a sufficient degree of balance in its programming. (CRTC 1976, 453). More specifically, the Commission was referring to Section 2 of the 1968 Broadcasting Act, which stated:

2c. All persons licensed to carry on broadcasting undertakings have a responsibility for programs they broadcast but the right to freedom of expression and the right of persons to receive programs, subject only to generally applicable statues and regulations, is unquestioned;

2d. The programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should be varied and comprehensive and should provide reasonable, balanced opportunity for the expression of differing views on matters of public concern.... (Bird 374)



            In March 1976 CFCF’s license came up for renewal, and the subject of its actions around the petition were presented and discussed.  In its report on “the issues raised by CFCF’s anti-Bill 22 campaign,” the CRTC concluded that the case was “not unique, but arose out of contemporary conditions in which controversial programming takes place throughout the system” (CRTC 1976, 1)  The report went on to assert that the CRTC believed broadcasters should be “encouraged to experiment with and find new approaches, formats and standards for controversial programs.”  While it concluded that in this specific case CFCF had “dealt with a controversial matter of public interest in which it espoused principally one side of the issue [and] ... failed to provide adequately in its own programming for a reasoned and responsible discussion of the subject,” the CRTC nevertheless renewed the station’s license.  As a number of scholars have noted (see Hardin 1985), at the time the regulatory body’s only realistically available penalty for even a minor indiscretion was cancellation of the license - a rather draconian punishment given the substantial investment involved in station ownership and operation.  Consequently in this instance, as in virtually every other instance to that time, the station’s license was renewed despite the CRTC’s conclusion that it had breached Regulation 3d.  CFCF deemed its actions in the interests of its mainly anglophone listening public; it risked license cancellation to cement that relationship and was able to do so with impunity.




            Knowing what the public wanted was always a primary concern for Marconi and CFCF.  As a station that prided itself on being involved in its community and representing what it believed were its listeners’ needs, CFCF took it upon itself in many situations to argue that whatever it did in business and programming had the public’s interest at heart. 


            Thus, in rejecting Caron’s request in 1952, CFCF argued that it was in fact respecting its listeners’ abhorrence of communism. While it could be argued that a radio station like CFCF has the responsibility to inform citizens about all of their political choices, the reality was that no private station wished to be associated with political messages outside the mainstream.  Ironically, this placed the public broadcaster in the position of being the only station that felt on principle that it must treat listeners as citizens rather than consumers, and to have the problem of alienating some of them by airing the views of unpopular political parties (Vipond 1994). 


            Similarly, CFCF sponsored the petition against Bill 22 in what it perceived to be the interests of its English-speaking listeners.  While aware that it might lose the loyalty of some listeners who supported the legislation, the station management apparently concluded that it had to place higher priority on cementing its ties with the English-speaking community which it considered its natural “public.”  Again in this case, then, the listeners were not conceptualized as part of a broad public of many diverse points of view, but as a narrower group whose listenership could be sold to advertisers wishing to focus on a particular demographic.


            The attempted sale of the station to Radio Futura raises a number of questions about the station management’s view of its “public.” While it is apparent that the Marconi Company wished to retain a broadcasting facility to keep its “image” in the public eye, it concluded that television was a better (and more profitable) medium for such a mission, which was supplementary anyway to the company’s main focus on the manufacture and export of electronic equipment.  In this case the management was unable to make an effective claim that what it wished to do was in the “public interest.”  It was clearly only in the interest of the profitability of the Marconi Company of Canada.  The CRTC forbade the sale precisely because it did not consider it in the interest of the radio-listening public of Montreal to allow a sale that would have concentrated radio ownership in the local market in fewer hands.  While in 1952 and in 1975 CFCF successfully defied the courts and the regulator, in 1963 its inability to make any credible claim to be serving the public interest checked its plans.  The CBC, the BBG and the CRTC respectively attempted to enforce a view of the “public interest” that was quite different from that of the private broadcaster, a view of the listener as citizen rather than consumer, and a view of the public as comprising the whole community, not just that part the station wished to target.  The mixed results of these three cases suggest that the tension between these two views of the listening public bedevilled the Canadian broadcasting system in the period in question.  Indeed that tension remains a factor in the ongoing relationships among the CRTC, the private industry and the public broadcaster to this day.



Reference List


Bird, Roger, ed. 1988.  Documents of Canadian Broadcasting (Ottawa: Carleton University Press).


CFCF, 1963.  Executive Board Meeting, March 26.  National Archives of Canada (hereafter NA), RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4; CFCF-sale to Radio Futura Ltd. 1962-63 (proposed).


CRTC, 1976. Decisions and Policy Statements.


Finlayson, S.M., 1949.  Brief to be presented by Canadian Marconi Company to the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences at its hearing in Montreal, November, 1949.  NA, RG 28, ser. III 72, vol. 77.


Foudrault, Maurice, 1952.  Letter to J. Allan Hammond, June 12. NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.


Hammond, J.Allan, 1952a.  Letter to Maurice Foudrault, June 17.  NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.


Hammond, J. Allan, 1952b.  Letter to Maurice Foudrault, June 19.  NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.


Hardin, Hershel, 1985.  Closed Circuits: The Sellout of Canadian Television (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre).


Kingan, J. J., 1952.  Letter to W. V. George, June 19. NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.


Marcus, Albert, 1952.  Letter to J. Allan Hammond, June 18.  NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.


Montreal Herald, 1952.  “Caron Unlikely to Broadcast Despite Ruling Against CFCF,” July 4.  NA, MG28 III, vol. 19, file 11, CFCF Radio AM, FM, President’s File Correspondence.


Montreal Star, 1963. “Local Group Opposes Sale to Radio Station,” March 27, p. 5B.


Nixon, F. G., 1963.  Letter to W.V. George, April 29.  NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF - sale to Radio Futura Ltd., 1962-63 (proposed).


Superior Court of Canada, 1952.  Decision of the Superior Court of Canada, October 27.  NA, RG 97, vol. 149, file 6206-72, part 4, CFCF litigation, 1952.


Vipond, Mary, 1994.  The Beginnings of Public Broadcasting in Canada: The CRBC, 1932-36," Canadian Journal of Communication, 19, 151-171.

Projets réalisés
English Radio in  Quebec

CFCF: The Early Years of Radio (see also Anecdotes...)

CFCF before the Massey and Fowler Commissions of the 1950s

In the Name of the "Public Interest": CFCF and some Controversies...

A Brief History of CJAD

Relations among the English Stations in Montreal

Chronological Master List of Quebec's English-Language Radio Stations

Galerie d'images / Gallery Extraits sonores / Sound Clips  



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© 1997 Phonothèque québécoise / Musée du son.
Mise à jour le 29 juillet 2001

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