A Medium of Instant Communication


Radio reaches people everywhere with opinion, news, entertainment and advertising.

Canadian radio operates in both the private and public sectors.

News is becoming less important in the programming mix of radio, while Talk Radio is becoming a dominant format.

What Makes Radio Different?

Radio is a blind medium. You can't see it with your eyes, like you can television, a movie or a newspaper.

Radio broadcasters use time, not space as their canvas to communicate.

Radio uses four signs to create its imagery: words, sounds, music and silence.

1. Radio is based on the spoken word. Sometimes it is not what is spoken, but how it is spoken.

An announcer can say "great" and depending how he or she says it, the word "great can mean two different things, one positive and one negative.


2. Sounds or sound effects are indexical signs. The sound of a creaking door is an index of the sound of a creaking door.

3. Music , identifies the station.

4. Silence, as a sign, communicates in two different ways. First, it can be symbolic. A minute of silence on Remembrance Day signifies respect and honour for the soldiers who died in the war. Or silence can signify "dead air", which means something is wrong.

Each week, four actors put together a performance named "The Royal Canadian Air Farce" where they lampoon leading politicians. The program borrows from the old school of radio comedy with lots of sound effects and a live audience.


Radio is ubiquitous. It is everywhere. The signals piggyback on naturally occurring waves in the electronic magnetic spectrum and reaches everywhere nook and cranny in the world.

Radio is a medium of both mass communication and interpersonal communication.

It acts as a friend, reflecting our taste in music, our political orientation and our overall ideology.

Three out of four bedrooms have a radio.

Two out of three kitchens have a radio.

Nine-five percent of all cars have a radios.

Two out of every three offices has a radio on.

Radio reaches 96% of al Canadians

The typical Canadian listens to 22 hours of radio per week

In 1996, Canada had 540 privately owned radio stations.


Example: See Encarta

In 1873 a young Italian named Marconi , made radio a practical application of theories developed by a group of physicists.

On December 12, 1901, Marconi stood on Signal Hill in Newfoundland and received the Morse code signal fir the letter "S" from Cornwall, England.

On Christmas Eve, 1906, he broadcast music and voices to ships at sa.

Marconi patented his invention at sea, not knowing the full potential and force of the innovation he had invented.

Transmitting Voices

In 1906 Lee De Forest created the audion tube, making it possible to transmit voices.

In 1939, Edwin Armstrong, a Columbia University researcher, developed a new system called frequency modulation.

FM was different than the older amplitude modulation, or AM.



In 1919, the Montreal based radio station XWA (now CIQC) was the first station to get a broadcasting license from the federal government.

Its first broadcast took place in May 1920, under the supervision of Marconi.

Radio was considered a status symbol. People used radio much the same way we use television today. People would gather around the radio after dinner listening to concerts, political commentary, dramas and comedies.

Another place where Canadians listened to radio in the 1920s was on the Canadian National Railway (the CNR).

Canadians were also listening to more American radio stations; partly due to the geography and the availability of so many American stations.

Also, a number of American radio personalities were also Broadway or vaudeville actors'.

With more varied programming, radio attracted a true mass audience in the 1930s.


Radio was also used by Canadian politicians to unite Canada. In 1927, on Canada's 50th birthday, CNR's newtwork of telephone and telegraph lines joined orchestras in several Canadian cities from Halifax to Vancouver through its 23 private stations across the country. About 5 million people tuned in to listen to the Diamond Jubilee Broadcast.


The fact that Canadians were listening to more American than Canadian programming worried politicians.

The domination of Canada by American mass media has always been a problem.

The Aird Commission, named after Sir John Aird concluded:

  • National Sovereignty was to be preserved.
  • Broadcasting services were to be made available to anyone in Canada, no matter where they lived.
  • Broadcasting was not to be exploited by private interests.

In 1932 the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act was passed, resulting in the creation of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which broadcasted for only one hour a day.

In 1936 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was formed (CBC).

In 1968 Canada Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) began to license radio and television stations in Canada.


Unlike Canadian radio in the early years of 1920 and 1930, American radio was different because:

  • It used a private rather than state ownership of the broadcasting systems
  • It emphasized popular culture
  • It was based on an economic foundation of selling time to advertisers.



In the 1950s Allen Freed came up with the Top 40 format playing mostly Rock 'n' Roll.

Gordon McLendon, a wizard of radio programming, developed the format by mixing fast-paced newscasts, disc jockey chatter, lively commercials and promotional jingles, and hype with the music.

Rado's fragmented programming has reduced its role as a culturally unifying factor. Almost everyone listens to radio, but listening to a hard-rock station gives a person hardly anything I common with people who listen to public-affairs oriented stations.

Terms used to distinguish radio's major music formats for private radio in Canada.

Adult Contemporary: Called "light rock" or "adult rock".

Top 40: Called "CHR" for "contemporary hits radio".

Country: "CW" or "country western".

Album-Oriented Rock: "AOR" formats go back a couple of years to add variety.

Oldies: Mostly music from the 1960s and 197s.

Middle of the Road: "MOR". Not too hard, not too soft.

Beautiful Music: Elevator music

Ethnic: Serves 9 million ethnic groups representing 70 different cultures.

Classical: Composed of symphonies and orchestras.

Religious: Inspirational music.

Talk Formats

Not news but low-brow entertainment.

EXAMPLE: Shock-Jock Howard Stern

FCC has fined stations that carry his program $1.2 million.

How is Canadian talk radio different than American talk radio?

  • American is of a warrior, confrontational nature.
  • Canadian is more of a fatherly figure, kinder and gentler.
  • Regional and local flavour of Canadian radio
  • Defined by English, French, East or West.

The proliferation in radio programming can be expected to continue with stations narrow-casting into more specialized niches.

SOURCE: Abridged version of Chapter four from:

Vivian, John and Maurin, Peter. (1997). The Media of Mass Communication. Allyn and Bacon Canada. Scarborough, Ontario.