AM/FM Radio

Future Viability: Mature

Slow and steady, with risks on the horizon.

  • Radio remains the dominant audio distribution platform for music, news and spoken word content across Canada in both official languages despite competitive challenges from new platforms and its dependence solely on advertising revenues
  • Audiences and advertising revenues have been declining slightly, but both remain significant
  • Profits have remained high and resilient because of consolidation and synergies
  • Radio continues to benefit from its strengths: it is ubiquitous, free, easy-to-use and locally focused

Shifts in the way businesses spend their advertising dollars and the availability of online alternatives via lower-cost and higher-speed mobile broadband are important competitive factors for the future of radio, but we expect that radio will remain viable in the future.

Read time: approx. 7 min

The Fundamentals

Soft rock, today’s big hits, talk radio, all-day sports, golden oldies… AM/FM radio offers many familiar formats of curated music, local news, traffic, weather, variety and sports. It is available nearly anywhere and is a great way to discover new music. AM/FM radio aims to keep listeners up to date on what’s going on in their city, region and community, and is an important resource for urgent or emergency information, like weather alerts. In total, there are more than 1,100 radio stations licensed to broadcast from terrestrial towers across Canada. The number of radio stations available to listeners is limited by the number of frequencies available in a geographic market, which in Canada’s largest markets is near capacity.

Advertising-based business model. Since their services are broadcast free over-the-air, private radio broadcasters depend almost exclusively on advertising, in particular local business advertising. This advertising model has been successful, with the payoff for advertisers being access to a local audience and the convenient fact that listeners can’t easily skip advertising on AM/FM radio.

Consolidation to maintain profitability. A key business strategy to help defray costs in a mature business has been consolidation. Canada’s six largest private radio broadcasters account for 65% of private commercial radio revenues.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is a public service. Canada’s national public broadcaster is a distinctive source of news, information and cultural content with a presence in the daily lives of millions of Canadians. The CBC provides local, national and international content to Canadians and, since it is publicly funded, it is available to listeners ad-free.

Traditional meets digital. Radio is extending its reach to the internet and across all devices to stay ubiquitous and generate online advertising revenue. Stations simulcast online via their own websites, through aggregators like iHeartRadio and RadioPlayer Canada and on apps for smartphones and tablets; they are also now integrated with smart speakers (e.g. Amazon Alexa, Google Home). There is some limited experimentation with HD Radio technology. Broadcasters are pushing to ensure FM chips are activated in smartphones—a feature that turns a mobile phone into a traditional radio set without using mobile data.

Canadian Contribution

That song is Canadian! AM/FM radio remains an important platform for Canadian artists. Standard quotas 1 set out in Canadian radio regulations require that stations play specific minimums of Canadian content as defined by the MAPL system . The quota depends on the type of station and the type of music broadcast. Commercial, campus, and community stations, for example, must ensure that at least 35% of their weekly popular music content is Canadian. For commercial stations, weekly special interest music selections must include at least 10% Canadian content. For campus or community stations, at least 12% of weekly special interest music must be Canadian. The quotas are much higher for the CBC, where at least 50% of weekly popular music and 20% of weekly special interest music must be Canadian.2

Content quotas also support linguistic duality in Canada. On French-language stations, 65% of weekly popular music selections must be French. For the CBC’s French-language radio service, at least 85% of weekly popular vocal music must be French.3 The CBC also provides local and national talk radio and music services in official minority language communities.4 What are Canadian Content Categories?

Supporting Canadian music. AM/FM radio is an important financial contributor to Canadian content. Radio stations must make Canadian content development contributions in a number of cases, such as when applying for new licences or selling stations. These financial contributions are used to develop and promote Canadian content and artists. Radio stations must also pay royalties to Canadian artists, labels, publishers and other creators. These royalties are collected and distributed back to rights holders by organizations like SOCAN and Re:Sound.

In 2016, AM/FM radio contributed $33.6 million to Canadian content through Canadian content contributions, and SOCAN distributed $38.3 million in royalties from radio to Canadian songwriters, composers and publishers.5 How do music rights work?

Consumer Profile

Radio is ubiquitous. Most Canadians listen to radio—and spend a lot of time doing it. On a weekly basis, 86% of the national population listens to AM/FM radio regularly and the level is similar in both English- and French-language markets. On a weekly basis, listeners spend an average of 16.6 hours per week listening to radio, and at a slightly lower level in the English-language market than in the French-language market. The time Canadians spend listening to radio has been declining slowly, but that measure doesn’t fully account for online listening.

Audience trends for AM/FM Radio

Source: Numeris (Fall Diary)


Getting by with a smaller slice of the advertising pie. Radio’s main revenue source is advertising, and revenues have been in slight decline since 2014. To make up for this decline, English-language radio stations have been cutting costs to maintain profitability; however, this strategy has its limits. Comparatively, the French-language market has been more resilient. The year 2015 was the only year since 2007 in which advertising revenues declined.

Radio remains the major player in the Canadian audio landscape with a market share of over 70% of audio revenues.

Financial trends for AM/FM radio

Source: CRTC estimates (CRTC data collection; Sirius XM publicly available financial statements; Ovum; MTM consumer data)


  • Unless specifically mentioned, CBC/SRC is included in the revenues and market share but is excluded from the Canadian contributions and profit.
  • English-language AM/FM radio figures include services broadcasting in third languages.
  • Canadian content development (CCD) excludes the amounts estimated for Sirius XM Canada (satellite radio).
  • PBIT and PBIT margin are the measures used for the profits of AM/FM radio.
  • Some figures may have been updated since the reference document was issued.