Tuning in the Future: Digital Technology and Commercial Radio Broadcasting in Canada

Article excerpt

Commercial radio, a pervasive part of the Canadian cultural landscape for nearly a century, is poised to undergo a fundamental transformation. Driven by a technology known as Digital Audio Broadcasting, radio broadcasters, with the support of the state, are proposing to replace conventional AM and FM radio, altering the familiar sounds we have known and re-organizing cultural practices associated with the medium. Prophesied as the "wave of the future," this digital technology and the new programming services it will engender, promise to draw Canadian radio into the "communications revolution," as well as the larger processes of globalization that are increasingly characterizing social, economic and political life. This essay outlines the nature of digital radio, the powers behind its development and stabilization, and some of the questions and issues that arise concerning not only the fate of radio broadcasting, but of commercial culture and cultural policy in Canadian national life.

Part preponderante du paysage culturel canadien depuis presque un siecle, la radio commerciale s'apprete A subir une transformation fondamentale. Pousses par une technologie connue sous le nom de radiodiffusion audionumerique, les radiodiffuseurs, appuyes par l'etat, proponent de remplacer la radio AM et FM conventionnelle, ce qui entrainerait la modification de notre univers sonore familier et la reorganisation des pratiques culturelles associees au medium. Proph&isee comme etant la nouvelle vague (< wave , en anglais signifie c vague , dans le sens d', ondes radio * comme celui de la mode), cette technologie numerique - et les nouveaux services de programmation qui vont s'ensuivre - promet d'entrainer la radio canadienne non seulement dans la , revolution des communications >, main de la plonger au coeur des principaux processus de mondialisation qui caracterisent de plus en plus la vie sociale, economique et politique. Cet article fait ressortir la nature de la radio numerique, definit les pouvoirs qui contribuent a sa mine en place et a sa consolidation, et soul&e certaines des questions qui se posent non seulement au sujet de l'avenir de la radiodiffusion, main aussi de l'avenir de la culture commerciale et de la politique culturelle des Canadiens A l'echelle nationale.

As we enter a new century, the radio industry of the last is situated to undergo a fundamental transformation. With the support of the state, large-scale comLrercial broadcasters are planning to alter the sounds we have known and the cultural practices we have engaged in. At the heart of this change is a technology known as Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB).' It is designed to replace conventional AM and FM, and broadcasters promise new forms of radio based on "compact disclike, interference and drift-free digital signals," which will give listeners crystal-clear sound on both fixed and portable receivers. Promoted as the "wave of the future," DAB, it appears, is being firmly planted in the lexicon of Canadian communications.

The story behind the development and implementation of digital radio in this country is a story of the growing power of globally integrated communications industries, shifting state priorities, the proliferation of ideologies of consumerism and technological determinism, and the contradictions that can emerge between national cultural goals and the goals of economic expansion. But, then again, Canadian radio has always been much more than a leisure device. Since its inception, radio has had a particular symbolic significance attached to it. Beginning with the much celebrated first nationwide broadcast of Canada's Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927, Canadian nationalists both within and outside the state have adhered to a belief in the unifying capabilities of broadcasting. The regulatory infusion of the ideology of Canadian nationalism is one of the forces that has made commercial radio in Canada unique. Thus, this story is interesting both for what it says about a relatively narrow cultural sector and what it suggests about the future of nationalism in relation to commercial culture. …