The Canadian Talent Library – Canadian Content – The Struggle to Bring Canadian Programming to Canadian Radio

(To access details of the contents of the entire Library, click on: CTL Discography)

In radio’s first 40 years, no one had yet figured out how to make Canadian private radio “Canadian”. Foreign music – foreign artists – foreign programs dominated the Canadian airwaves.

Despite its reliance on carrying several hours a day of imported U.S programs, CBC net¬work programming launched in 1936 could be shown to be “predominantly-Canadian”. The remainder of the CBC’s 18-hour day was made-up of news, talk, drama, sports actualities, documentaries and various types of musical and variety programs, produced in Canada mostly by the CBC, with funds provided in part by Parliament and in part by advertisers. Because the CBC regulated all network broadcasting and had reserved unto itself the operation of Canada’s coast-to-coast networks, Canadian listeners were assured of the availability of a schedule of radio fare that was mostly Canadian.

Private stations were denied similar networks, but where the CBC did not have its own outlet in a city or region, it relied on private stations carrying several hours-a-day of the CBC’s programs. Otherwise, each station assembled its own programming – some placed by advertisers who supplied their own pre-produced programs on electrical transcriptions, but mostly locally-produced programs principally involving the use of phonograph records. In this respect, to visitors from outside of North America, the musical content was really no different from that of U.S. radio stations. Canadian stations filled out their days with American records, and played music mostly written by Americans and other foreign composers and performed mostly by American and other foreign artists.

The CBC, as regulator of Canadian broadcasting, pressed private stations to produce programs by local talent and demanded an accounting of such activity and expenditures. While there was some programming featuring home-grown talent, it was unimpressive when compared with US and CBC network productions and could do virtually nothing to enhance the careers of performers nationally. Also, the local stations were unable to share talent costs with other stations because they weren’t permitted to operate networks.

For example, the CBC could hire an organist to play for 30 minutes and pay him/her $25.00. Carried by (say) 25 stations across the country, that amortizes to One Dollar per station. However, if a private station in Toronto wished to hire the same organist for the same period of time, it would have to bear the full cost ($25.00) for a one-station presentation. If a Toronto station wished to broadcast the Toronto Symphony, it would have to pay what the CBC was paying to air it over 30 or more stations from coast-to-coast.

Fortunately, there was no regulation on the amount of money or the amount of time required for live local programming and no station lost its licence because of a lack of local or Canadian programming. But, comparisons were made on Parliament Hill between CBC’s (subsidized) support of Canadian talent and that of the local broadcasters on a playing field that was far from level. And, that picture suited the CBC politically.

As more Canadian stations started to come on the air after WW II, the programming of foreign artists on records greatly increased, and when the popular U.S network shows disappeared as advertisers were won-over by television, records became the mainstay of all local station programming. Even the CBC started to play phonograms on its networks.

One might ask why Canadian stations didn’t play Canadian records. The answer? Simply because there were virtually no Canadian records to play. Canada did not have a record industry, other than a group of independent manufacturers and/or distributors of imported foreign records.

Canada did not have a record industry that encouraged the making of Canadian records at a profit. Canada lacked the population that could justify the expense of making a record.

In addition, there was no promotion activity for Canadian artists, apart from appearances on CBC networks, But, then, no performer was likely to be heard singing the same song more than once – and they were only heard at fixed times in the day or week, but never in morning and other drive-time hours when radio audiences were highest. And, how could the public develop a liking for a song sung by a Canadian after hearing it only once – and, failing all else, if it wasn’t on a record and available in a local store.

While American big bands, through their records, became famous from radio exposure in Canada and the USA, Canada’s big bands never had equal broadcast and promotion opportunities. Orchestra leaders Mart Kenney and Bert Niosi did make a few 78s in the late 30s, but they never appeared in a theatrical movie or even a musical short – they never were booked into an American hotel and given a coast-to-coast network pick-up that would carry their music into every state in the Union. The CBC did pick up some Canadian bands from Canadian hotels, but the acoustics, the orchestral balance and quality could never compare with that of an American record – nor would any arrangement of a popular song be heard often enough to endear it to the public. And, apart from Mart Kenney during WW II, the bands never “barnstormed” across Canada or in the USA playing one-nighters from city-to-city.

Western and country type singers Wilf Carter and Hank Snow were “discovered” by RCA Victor’s Hugh Joseph – but they played their own accompaniment and making a one-person record was quite cheap. But, both Carter and Snow left Canada and achieved fame and fortune in the USA and abroad.

Hugh Joseph also discovered crooner Dick Todd, but he was whisked to New York where he made dozens of records and appeared on the “Lucky Strike Hit Parade” as well as at other venues.

Toronto orchestra conductor Percy Faith went to the States to further his career and to make records leading large orchestras that never could have been afforded in Canada.

In 1958, the Canadian Parliament created The Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG) to take over from the CBC the regulation of Canadian Broadcasting. TV had arrived, but some cities were crying for a second service (an alternative to CBC- TV), and still others were waiting for one station.

When Frequency Modulation (FM) was developed in the 1940’s, many AM stations applied for licences and were required by CBC to simulcast their AM programming. Only a few stand alone FM stations were created. But the advent of TV and the lack of FM receivers saw the end of the FM experiment.

In 1960, the BBG began to accept applications for new FM stations that would be permitted to broadcast separate programming.

It should be mentioned here that one of the BBG’s priorities stipulated by Parliament was to make Canadian broadcasting (more) “Canadian”. While radio broadcasters welcomed the replacement of the CBC by the BBG as a regulator to administer an almost-level playing field, they were apprehensive of what the new inexperienced board might impose on them to provide more Canadian programming. At this time, there was still no thriving Canadian record industry. Stereo records were being pressed, distributed and sold in Canada, but no Canadian stereo records were being produced or even anticipated.

The first of the new FM stations went on the air September 1, 1961. Other applications were yet to be dealt with.

CFRB Toronto, owned by Standard Radio Limited, had operated an FM station since 1939. As the recipient of one of the first licences issued by the BBG, CFRB-FM was given a new frequency and higher power, and was now providing separate FM programming 18 hours a day.

In 1961, Standard had bought CJAD-AM in Montreal, which was now operating from new studios at Mountain and St. Catherine Streets. Standard’s President, W.C. Thornton Cran, decided CJAD should also have an FM station.

In preparing the application to the BBG, CJAD’s Mac McCurdy and Lyman Potts were stopped short when they came to the BBG’s question on use of local talent. How could a station broadcasting in stereo make effective and substantial use of Montreal musicians and singers? Live stereo programming could be achieved, but new studios and equipment would be required – and who could afford huge talent costs if the performance was limited to one station and only one hearing? And, what benefit, other than occasional employment, would a musician or singer derive from such limited exposure?

For many years, Lyman Potts had taken a keen interest in electrically-transcribed program services that originated in the USA. He suggested to “Winks” Cran that CJAD spend its talent money to make stereo records in Montreal. Mr. Cran liked the idea. For many years CFRB had been broadcasting programs featuring Toronto musicians. Mr. Cran questioned the value of these programs – to the station, to listeners, and even to the talent itself. They were being broadcast in the evening (prime time) against powerful opposition from television. These musicians were not, nor could they be, utilized in the morning and afternoon prime time radio periods, where the exposure would benefit the performers and be programmed alongside top American and British performers on record.

It was agreed that CJAD and CFRB would pool their talent money and hire Canadian musicians and singers to make records that they could broadcast.

It was agreed to include this concept in the application for CJFM-FM.

Messrs. Cran, McCurdy and Potts appeared before the BBG at the CJFM hearing in Quebec City in 1962 and explained how a library of Canadian records could be produced which, on an increasing scale, would bring a measure of Canadian programming throughout the entire broadcast day and throughout Canada. Standard said that it would be willing to share these records with other stations if they, too, would contribute to the talent pool to help make more records There was no profit motive involved. All monies provided would be devoted to expanding the availability of music performed by Canadians on records.

From this hearing, the Board of Broadcast Governors awarded five private station FM licences for Montreal – one of which was for CJAD’s CJFM-FM. However, no other station had come up with such an innovative and practical plan to deal with Canadian content.

The time had come to start the job of making Canadian content records in Montreal and Toronto. Canadian musicians had never before made this type of recording.

McCurdy and Potts called upon the office of the Montreal Musicians’ Association, and were received by the Secretary and a member of the executive. The union was told by McCurdy and Potts that they wished to hire their musicians to make broadcast recordings (in the form of LPs) and that CJAD and CFRB wanted to become signatories to the Transcription Agreement of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada.

After concluding their presentation, the Secretary leaned over the table and said “Gentlemen – what’s your racket?”. Somewhat stunned by this reaction, McCurdy and Potts set out to convince the two union executives of their sincerity. Still skeptical, the union’s secretary said that Standard would have to contact the Canadian Vice-President for the A F of M for Canada in Toronto – Walter Murdoch.

Potts then wrote to Murdoch, explained the nature of the project, and asked for the needed papers. There was no reply – that is, until after waiting for one month, Potts wrote to Murdoch again, and enclosed a copy of the first letter and allowing for the possibility that it had gone astray. This time, Murdoch did reply. He stated that he was against the idea, that he would not allow Standard to become a signatory to the agreement, and that he would take such steps as he felt necessary at a higher level to make sure that the broadcaster could not record Canadian musicians.

Dashed by this attitude, Potts and McCurdy wondered what to do next.

A week later, Potts received a telephone call from an old friend in New York. Al Sambrook was Vice-President and General Manager of RCA’s custom record division. Potts and Sambrook had first met several years earlier when the latter was General Sales Manager for World Broadcasting System – one of six radio music program libraries in the United States. He said he had heard of the Canadians’ problem with Murdoch, and that he might be able to help.

Sambrook said RCA had from time to time sent Ben Selvin to England to hire British musicians to make music library recordings for them. He said that he would be happy to send Selvin to Canada. In return, and since the proposed Canadian Talent Library (CTL)’s mandate was solely to cover Canada, RCA would like to have world rights to the records produced. Sambrook said that not only would he be willing to send Selvin to Canada, but that RCA would also provide the studio recording facilities, tapes and other materials, all at no cost to CTL. CTL would hire the musicians. This idea was highly acceptable, as it meant that all of the money put in by Standard would go to hiring musicians.

Potts asked – “But what about Murdoch?”.

Sambrook explained that RCA was a signatory to the international transcription agreement and that Murdoch could do nothing to prevent the making of the Canadian recordings. CTL was also pleased to have the advice and expertise of Ben Selvin as he had been making records for half-a-century. (Mr. Selvin claimed that, in his career, he was involved in the making of 10,000 recordings). It was agreed that CTL would start with the production of 10 LP-type recordings.

Selvin came to Toronto for the first meeting and a number of top Canadian conductors, arrangers and musicians were interviewed. All of them expressed a keen desire to work with CTL. Excellent co-operation was given by J. Alan Wood – the President of the Toronto Musicians’ Union (who, shortly afterwards, succeeded Murdoch as the top official for the A F of M in Canada).

One disappointment came in Montreal. A leading Montreal producer of commercial jingles in Canada, and a veteran musician and composer himself, turned down a CTL offer for him to make a Canadian record, using as his excuse that “you can’t do this kind of thing in Canada”, and implying difficulty in finding the “right” musician for each chair.

A second leader who was performing on the CBC network from Montreal was also approached, and he, too, reflected a lack of confidence in Montreal musicians’ ability to perform this type of work. However, the records that were made by others in Montreal initially and later were world class in every respect.

The ten albums were master-taped in RCA’s Montreal and Toronto studios during July and August of 1963. Selvin, who in his time had hired great musicians such as Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and others of their calibre, was delighted with the professional performances of both the Toronto and Montreal musicians, and judged them on a par with the best in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London.

At the time that these CTL recordings were made, master-taping machines offering more than two tracks (stereo left and right) were not available. CTL undertook to produce stereo copies for FM stations broadcasting in stereo, and monaural copies for AM stations.

It was now time to let the BBG hear what could be done with and for Canadian talent. Lyman Potts selected one track from each of the ten recording sessions and put them on one reel of tape. He made an appointment with Dr. Andrew Stewart, the Chairman of the BBG, to bring the “sample” tape to the BBG’s Ottawa office to play it for Dr. Stewart and the two full-time BBG members – Barney Goulet and Carlyle Allison. The three Commissioners expressed their enjoyment of what they had heard.

Potts was anxious that the 9 part-time members of the BBG (representing all parts of Canada from Newfoundland to BC) should also have an opportunity to hear the sample. Dr. Stewart said that a planned meeting of the full Board would be held in Ottawa shortly and suggested that a meeting could take place the previous evening following the members’ arrival in Ottawa.

With the backing of the President of Standard, a reception and dinner was arranged in the Chateau Laurier, for which CFRB’s engineers would set up a stereo sound system so that all BBG members could hear each of the orchestras that had been recorded.

Also invited to the reception were J. Alan Wood and Andy Tipaldi (the presidents of the Toronto and Montreal musicians’ unions), the Deputy Minister of Transport, and the Department’s Controller of Broadcasting, as well as five department heads of the BBG. CJAD and CFRB executives were also present, as were the owners of two radio stations that had already subscribed to the CTL Library.

Prior to the playing of the records, every person present was given a hard cover album containing all ten LP recordings that had been produced – each enclosed in a pocket on which was printed photographs of the musicians on the record at work in the RCA studios, together with the names of all musicians who took part. Each BBG member’s name was embossed on the binding cover. (An identical set was sent to Walter Murdoch).

As each track was performed in the room, guests could turn to the cover page containing the pictures of the performing artists.

It was explained to the members that the Canadian Talent Library was being set up as a non-profit trust, and that all funds received from all participating stations would be used solely to produce more records by Canadian performers. Standard continued to fund the administration of CTL, and went on to increase its talent support in the ensuing years.

To introduce CTL to all radio stations in Canada, Lyman Potts produced and sent to every station a recording made up of selections from each disc, together with an explanation of how CTL would operate, and went on to invite their participation. A schedule of rates was set-up commensurate with the ability to pay of even the stations in Canada’s smallest markets.

On October 1st, the CTL recordings were introduced to radio listeners and quickly found their way into the programming of 21 stations that initially subscribed. Canadian artists could now be heard at any time of the day in programs that also included the most popular recordings artists in the world.

Reaction from the press, music critics, talent unions, government officials and the public was excellent.

Recording resumed in the following January, and two new albums were turned out each month and sent to subscribing stations. The number of participating stations also continued to increase.

When J. Alan Wood succeeded Walter Murdoch as Vice-President for Canada of the A F of M, CTL became a signatory to the A F of M Electrical Transcription Agreement, which continued to limit the use of the recordings for broadcast only.

RCA’s two-track master tape machine was replaced by a four-track model that contributed to better orchestral balance and production. As the years wore on, 8-track, 16-track and 24-track machines appeared. New recording studios started to rise, and skilful recording engineers surfaced. Toronto and Montreal soon could boast some of the finest recording facilities in the world.

In 1968, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) acquired the use of CTL recordings, and Canadian artists were heard extensively on BBC-2, and on the new local stations that the BBC had established throughout the UK. A prominent Canadian actress, Barbara Hamilton, who was appearing in a play in London’s West End, wrote to a friend in Toronto to say that since she had come to England she had heard more Canadian artists on the radio than at any time during her life in Canada.

Lyman Potts also convinced Air Canada that their aircraft should carry Canadian performers on their boarding and landing music tapes, pointing out that its international competitors used the people of their country, whereas Air Canada had been using non-Canadian performers. Air Canada’s subscription also augmented the talent funding pool.

(Judy Loman, the principal harpist with the Toronto Symphony, which had done a tour of Europe, recalled that when the Air Canada TSO plane was landing in Switzerland, the landing music came on, and Judy said, “It was ME!” (Judy had made a recording for CTL, especially arranged for harp and orchestra by Johnny Burt).

Arrangements were also made with a number of radio music suppliers in the United States and Australia. Canadian travelers returning to Canada reported hearing CTL recordings in several foreign countries. CTL began to receive letters from American radio listeners asking for information as to where they could buy the records it produced.

After producing 79 albums as electrical transcriptions for broadcast use only, the A F of M agreed that the interests of their members would best be served by allowing CTL to become a signatory to the Phonorecord Agreement, thus permitting the records to be sold to the public. At this point, CTL negotiated contracts with conventional record companies for them to release future CTL records on their labels and thus available for purchase by the public. CTL also provided a royalty on sales to the name artist on the record, with the rest of the royalty paid by the record company being put into new production.

It having been demonstrated to the broadcasting industry that the ideal way for a radio station to lend support to a Canadian musician or singer was to underwrite, or help to underwrite, a recording by an artist, the Armadale group of stations undertook the production of three albums featuring talent from the cities and towns that their stations served in Regina, Winnipeg and Hamilton. The records were released to all stations on the CTL label.

Encouraged by CTL’s leadership in making Canadian recordings, independent record producers started to invest in producing records in Canada. Advertising agencies that for years had gone to New York and Hollywood to produce commercials, turned to hiring Canadian musicians and singers, and using the modern Canadian recording studios which had sprung-up from coast-to-coast.

CTL became a showcase for Canadian musicianship, composing, writing and performing, and American producers, too, realized that Canada’s resources in the music industry were on a par with the best in their own country.

However, not all radio stations had got into the act, and this fact prompted the CRTC, which succeeded the BBG, in 1972 to introduce a Canadian Content Regulation which required all stations to broadcast Canadian musical performances for not less than 30% of their total musical programming.

This regulation, which came 10 years after Lyman Potts had shown how Canadian radio could become more Canadian, stimulated further investments in the making of Canadian recordings. New Canadian talent began to emerge, and Canadian records started to appear on popularity charts around the world.

By the time Lyman retired from Standard Broadcasting in 1981, CTL had produced 250 albums. It had given Canadian musicians and singers the opportunity to be heard around the clock, not only in Canada, but in the USA, the UK and other countries, had recorded hundreds of (new) Canadian songs and musical works, and had shown the Canadian Government and its broadcast regulators how Canadian radio could become “Canadian”.

In 1985, following the production of its 265th album, the Canadian Talent Library was merged with FACTOR.

For his dedication to the interests of Canadian talent and broadcasting, in 1978, Lyman Potts was inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada. In 1984, at the Juno Award ceremonies, he was presented with the first Special Achievement Award of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) for his outstanding contribution to the Canadian Recording Industry.

In the final decade of the 20th Century, the recording and radio industries began to work more closely together – in their own interests and in the interest of Canada’s creators of music – finally recognizing that for both to succeed, they needed each other.

The production, promotion, distribution and broadcasting of recordings by Canadian singers and musicians throughout the world has not only brought international fame to Canadian artists and composers, but has carried into millions of homes a form of Canadian culture that could not have been achieved by any other combination of media.