Canadian Association of Radio Broadcasters Rising from CAB’s Ashes

By James Carelss, Radio World International 

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) is dead; long live the Canadian Association of Radio Broadcasters (CARB). That’s the de facto mantra of Elmer Hildebrand; chairman of the defunct CAB and now the flagbearer for its radio-only successor, the CARB.

            Having been unsuccessful in his attempts to hold the CAB together – it was destroyed by infighting between its broadcast television and satellite/cable TV members – Hildebrand is now putting together a radio-only group. “I’m just an interested volunteer in all of this,” he tells Radio World International, “although I have put in some money from my own company, Golden West Broadcasting.” Golden West operates 29 radio stations in Western Canada.

            “The CARB’s purpose is to assume the national role for radio that the CAB and RMB had shared in the past; acting as a unified voice for the country’ 400-odd stations and promoting the medium to advertisers,” Hildebrand adds. “It is critically important for our industry to have such a voice. If I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t be putting my own money into it.”

The Case for the CARB

            Ironically, it was radio and radio alone that founded the CAB in 1926. It was formed by Canada’s commercial radio broadcasters in response to impending royalty payments. Until this point in time, radio stations had been allowed to play recorded music for free, simply because Canadian copyright law did not include the then-new medium. But impending revisions in the law meant that radio station would now have to start paying fees; the only question was how much?

            By banding together, Canadian radio broadcasters made sure their views were taken into account when royalty payments were set. Years later, the CAB’s lobbying efforts prevented the entire commercial industry from being abolished in favor of a BBC-style Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Although the CBC was founded, the CAB ensured that private stations remained part of Canada’s broadcast mix.

            The advent of Canadian private television in the 1960s saw the CAB’s base grow to include these upstarts; many of whom were owned by radio broadcasters. For decades the marriage worked well, until market consolidation led to satellite and cable TV companies owning TV stations and becoming CAB members as well. It was this inherent conflict of interest, brought to a head when Canada’s over-the-air TV networks began demanding payment for being carried on cable and satellite TV, that destroyed the CAB earlier this year.

            This said, the reasons that made the CAB important still matter. Without a unified national voice, radio broadcasters can be ineffectual when lobbying government agencies such as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (which regulates broadcast content and licenses radio stations) and Industry Canada (which manages the radio spectrum).  This is why Elmer Hildebrand tried so hard to save the CAB, and why he is so committed to the CARB.

 Sticking to Basics

            As envisioned by Hildebrand, the CARB will be a ‘mean and lean’ radio-only version of the CAB, with minimal staff and a narrow focus on critical issues such as copyright and pending government broadcast legislation. “How Industry Canada intends to re-divide up the spectrum is another huge issue that we must have a say in,” Hildebrand notes.

            As for digital radio? The CARB will have no part of it. In contrast, the CAB, CBC and Canadian government pushed through the deployment of Eureka-147 DAB L-band transmitters in major Canadian markets years ago. But a lack of receivers means that these transmissions are basically unheard – with broadcasters footing the bills to keep these DAB broadcasts on air.

            “I think the time for digital radio has come and gone,” says Hildebrand. “I expect it’s going to go the way of AM Stereo. I don’t know what kind of digital solution will eventually come to Canadian radio, but I do know that the CARB will not be playing a part in developing it.”

            Radio analyst David Bray (of Hennessy and Bray Communications) welcomes

the new development. “The void left by the CAB and RMB comes at an inopportune time for the medium,” he says. “Radio stands at a crossroads as it attempts to find a foothold in the future of an increasingly fragmented media universe. Without someone to speak up, radio’s voice could be lost in the cacophony of competition.”

            “We also need leadership as we forge a digital future, whatever form that may take,” Bray adds. “It would be naive to think that the decades-old FM and AM technologies will stand the long term scrutiny of younger generations spoiled by cutting-edge technology.”

 Progress to Date

            There are signs that major radio groups are rallying to the CARB’s flag. Take CHUM Radio (34 stations), which is owned by CTVglobemedia: “We can confirm that we are interested in joining the CARB,” says CTVglobemedia spokesperson Andrea Goldstein.

            A more guarded yet still positive sentiment has been issued by Corus Entertainment, which owns 49 stations. “We … can let you know that Corus is reviewing its options and CARB’s proposed agenda,” says Corus spokesperson Magda Krpan, “but that we do endorse, in principle, the concept of a radio industry voice on national issues.”

            In the meantime, Elmer Hildebrand’s progress in creating the CARB has been slow but steady. The group is now legally incorporated, and has assumed responsibility for compiling the all-important Trans-Canada Radio Advertising by Market (TRAM), which tracks radio advertising spending in Canada. This data had been previously compiled by the Radio Marketing Bureau (RMB), but it too has recently closed.

            “We are doing the work that has to be done, and moving slowly and methodically ahead to cover the CAB’s other critical functions for radio,” Hildebrand says. “But the CARB is not going to jump up phoenix-like from the CAB’s ashes. This rebirth will take time: I am prepared to work at it, no matter how long it takes.”

            Still, there seems little doubt that the Canadian radio industry needs a champion like the CARB to work with government and advertisers. As David Bray observes, “without a voice, radio could face the very real prospect of a future in which it will cease to be heard.”