Radio Rules Relaxed on Canada Stations Ottawa Government Eases Bizarre Format Distinctions. BROADCASTING: REGULATION

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RADIO Free Canada? Well, not quite.

The rules of airwaves, set by the federal government in Ottawa, have been relaxed so that "hard" and "soft" rock music can be mixed on the same radio station. But don't play classical and country on the same station, or you could lose your license.

And don't forget to have enough talk shows. The rule says 15 percent - and the radio police are listening.

The new looser rules are great news for radio stations, if on-air announcements are anything to go by. Program directors - the behind the scenes people who tell disc jockeys what to play and when to play it - have popped up on the air babbling about a new "mix." Listeners were confused, but the radio people seemed pleased.

"The rule changes make it easier to adjust from one format to another," says Douglas Cunningham, president and principal owner of CIDC-FM in Orangeville, Ontario, north of Toronto. He says in the old days - as far back as August - it could take six to eight months of paperwork and hearings to change a format. As of September, changes can be made right away.

"It gives the FM station greater flexibility to move with changes in music tastes or with the availability of certain types of music," Mr. Cunningham says.

Radio rules are dictated by the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), from its headquarters in Ottawa. The body also decides how much telephone companies can charge, how many advertisements can appear in a television hour, and how much Canadian content there should be on prime-time television. But it is in the world of radio that the communications commissars are at their most Byzantine.

"We have simplified the standards for FM radio and there are now three categories instead of four: Pop-Rock and Dance, Country, and Specialty," says Andre Campeau of the CRTC. "The rock used to {be} split into two categories, hard and soft."

Yes, this is Canada, not North Korea. The rules have always been made by the CRTC (and before that by the Board of Broadcast Governors), government-appointed commissioners who oversee a small army of radio police, ever alert to bizarre mixtures of heavy-metal rock with classical.

No music is banned; anything can be and is played on Canadian radio stations. It is just that you can't mix the "formats," radio jargon for types of music. …

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