No love for the Dire Straits

Campus radio won't play 'Money for Nothing,' and it has nothing to do with offensive words

Unlike their commercial counterparts, campus radio stations are not subject to the ruling banning the original version of the Dire Straits’ 1985 hit, “Money for Nothing” over the word “faggot.” It is, however, unlikely that university disc jockeys will be taking advantage of their newfound monopoly as probably the only broadcasters in Canada permitted to air the song. The reason? Many campus stations already have a policy against playing “Money for Nothing.” And it has nothing to do with offensive words.

“Dire Straits is a band that is more suited to AOR and classic rock radio,” says Bryce Dunn, program coordinator at CiTR at the University of British Columbia. When asked if his station would play the song in light of the recent controversy, Dunn said, “Umm, no.” That goes for all versions not just the original.

On Friday, the University of Calgary station, CJSW, dedicated an afternoon talk show to the controversy surrounding the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) decision to censor the song. Although the offending word was used several times, “Money for Nothing” was not actually played. “No offence to the Dire Straits. We just don’t play them,” says station manager Chad Saunders.

When a late night program host at the University of Manitoba’s UMFM played the song following the ruling, he was sent an email from supervisors reminding him of the station’s policies against playing mainstream music. “We can’t condone the fact that he played a hit song on the air, as that falls outside our mandate,” Jared McKetiak, who runs UMFM, said.

There are two reasons why “Money for Nothing” and other mainstream songs will get little if any airplay on Canadian campuses. The first is regulatory. Licenses issued to campus radio stations by the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) strictly limit how many “hit” songs they are permitted to play. Their broadcasts are suppose to be dedicated to independent and local artists.

Aside from licensing requirements, that limit but do not ban mainstream music, campus station managers are just not that interested in rockers from other decades. “After 25 years, does anyone really need to hear ‘Money For Nothing’ again anyways?” McKetiak asks. “We don’t need to be playing something like Bryan Adams.”

Kristiana Clemens, operations officer for CFRC at Queen’s University, says that while her staff does not “censor” programming, volunteers “are expected to be responsible and thoughtful in planning their programs and upholding the station’s broadcast license.” They are encouraged to “play artists and genres that are under-represented in mainstream media,” she says.

Despite having no interest in playing “Money for Nothing” the CBSC ruling isn’t being met with indifference among campus radio circles. “It is simply a quick fix by the CBSC to appease advertisers and listening audiences without actually taking steps to address the systemic homophobia,” Clemens said.

The U of C’s Saunders called the ruling “dangerous” adding that “the punchline to the joke is it has taken 25 years for a complaint to come through.”

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