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In the broad sense, pop-culture can come to mean anything that is, well, “popular”. One thing that has been popular since the beginning of time has been the expressing of one’s opinions, and debating the opinions of others.
Talk-Radio has become the premier medium for populist debate, ranging from topics of local, provincial, and national interest. Because many Québec-specific hot-button issues can often bring out the strongest of positions, talk-radio in Québec attracts a very large audience and a wide range of topics.
Canada’s English airwaves have some very well-known talk-radio stations (some of the more popular ones are Edmonton’s 630 CHED, Toronto’s Newstalk 1010, Saskatchewan’s News Talk 650, Halifax’s 95.7, and of course CBC Radio One).
Québec also has several very popular French talk-radio stations… perhaps even more popular with Francophones than what English radio is to Anglophones in other regions of Canada. When hot-button topics are debated over the airwaves in Québec, people off air seem to continue to talk about what was discussed on air (television talk and news will sometimes carry on a discussion which was started on the radio). Thus, Francophone radio hosts tend to hold sway. If they’re not also career journalists for the written press, they’re often former politicians or well known columnists. Some have become cultural institutions unto themselves, having been on air for decades of live talk and debate (the Peter Gzowskis and Dave Rutherfords of Francophone radio, if you will).
What’s also interesting about Québec talk-radio is how specific stations and shows tend to have a place on the political spectrum. Some feature middle-of-the-road information and inquisitive talk (ICI Radio Canada Première for example, with more focus on politically-neutral current events, arts and informative programming than private broadcasters). Others stations have hosts who may be more left-wing, more right-wing, more sovereignist, or more federalist – and they sometimes transmit their views through their selection of invitees or how they direct debate.
Another interesting feature of the more popular Québec talk-radio stations is that tend to be networked between several cities, much like television networks are (versus a tendency towards syndicated programming in Anglophone Canada)
Whereas local talk-radio in other parts of Canada will often feature topics of importance to Canada at large in addition to local interests, Québec radio has a much higher focus on Québec-specific topics, Québec politics, and much less focus on issues of national concern shared with Canadians outside Québec (unless those issues are weighed against Québec-specific topics as part of a debate or expression of opinion). Language is an obvious barrier which gives rise to the Québec-centric nature of its talk-radio – an unfortunate byproduct of the vestiges of the Two Solitudes. But I’ve noticed over the years that Radio-Canada has made some efforts to balance-out its own lop-sided coverage of issues (particularly in the last couple of years after some pointed criticism from various sources such as the CRTC, Guy Fournier, etc. that Radio-Canada has not been fulfilling its “national” mandate, which can play a role in causing the public to feel detached in both heart and mind from what’s important in Canada). Unlike Radio-Canada, private networks, which carry the bulk of listening audiences across Québec, are under no pressure to balance things out — but I’ve noticed that a small number of popular radio show hosts have taken the initiative unto themselves to play devil’s advocate from a Canadian national perspective when Canada, as a topic of debate itself, is in the hot seat.
As I said earlier, Québec talk-radio attracts very large numbers of listeners (you’ll even often witness people listening while at work). It therefore shouldn’t come as much surprise that the “populist” side of it reflects the views of society, as much as it influences the views of society. Having a microphone is having power – and those with the mic can have an influence over the way people vote. I personally have noticed that voting tendencies (federally, provincially and locally) seem to align quite well with what’s being discussed over the air waves, and how it is being discussed.
If you want to get a snapshot of what’s on the collective mind of society in Québec, I’d highly recommend you take in bits and pieces of Québec talk-radio. Often, certain topics which are important issues both in Québec and elsewhere in Canada are approached from a very different angle in French. Hearing these different views might make you think about a topic in a new light which never occurred to you before. It could possibly even change your views. Or it might entrench your views even more, and you may be enticed to call into one of the radio shows yourself (in French of course) to express to listeners that there might be another angle from which to view the issue.
I personally believe it’s very unfortunate that a long-standing two-way language barrier has prevented dialogue between Francophones and Anglophones on issues of mutual importance. From listening to Québec talk-radio, it’s often more-than-obvious the core values between the two groups are the same or extremely similar (in many ways even more so than shared values between Anglophone Canadians and Americans), but the way in which those values are translated into actions and laws can be quite different – and the language barrier doesn’t help in narrowing those differences. For this reason, it’s important for both language groups to participate in, and learn about the topics being discussed within each language group.
30 years ago… even 15 years ago, it would have been impossible for someone in Kelowna or Gander to be able to hear the views of the common person living in Drummondville, or le Plateau in Montréal. But those days are behind us. Talk-radio is now live-streamed over the internet, can often be played back at a later time and date, and can be downloaded as MP3s. Anglophones anywhere in Canada can now listen to, and understand what’s important to Francophones (and vice versa); what is different for both sides, and what is the same.
I’m going to offer you a selected few, but wide-ranging French-Québec talk-radio recommendations, covering a good range of the spectrum of views. I won’t say where I necessarily feel any of these stations or their respective shows fall on the political spectrum… that’s not important. What’s important is that you listen with an open mind and open heart. People’s views are based on their own experiences, exposure and reasons … that’s why every individual’s views have validity — regardless how different they may be from your own. Like I said earlier, who knows, your views may change because you may find you had certain misconceptions regarding Francophone Canada, or you may want to play a part in changing the views of others by calling in yourself, if you believe others have misconceptions about you (talk-radio wants to let you have a voice – that’s why they broadcast their phone numbers and email address).
- ICI Radio-Canada Première, Federal Public Broadcaster based in Montréal (the French equivalent of CBC — Radio-Canada is carried over the air in most parts of Canada, but its internet site is a great source to listen to past broadcasts). Click HERE for a link to their page with shows that can be streamed (click on émissions at the top of the page).
- Radio 9, Montréal (private station belonging to the RNC Media network). Click HERE for a link to their website. You can listen live, or you can listen to playbacks.
- 98,5 FM, Montréal (private station belonging to the COGECO network). Click HERE for a link to their website. You can listen live, or you can listen to playbacks.
- CHOI 98,1 Radio X, Québec City (private station belonging to the RNC Media Network). Click HERE for a link to their website. You can listen live, or you can listen to playbacks. I must say, they have also done an EXCELLENT job of creating a super-easy-to-use APP for your iPad, allowing you to choose previously broadcast shows and topics dating back a few weeks. This station, and its sister station in Saguenay, have some of the largest radio audiences in all of Québec. It has been referred to many times as being one of the more politically influential stations in the regions where it broadcasts (ie: the Eastern half of Québec with the largest Francophone demographics). If you’re learning French or trying to approve your French, of all the stations, this is the one where you will encounter the most Joual.
I think you’ll find it an interesting experience browsing through the content these stations offer. Have fun with it, and Bonne Écoute !!