Share the Air · Partageons les ondes

NEW STUDY: Share the Air: A study of Gender representation on Canadian Radio (2023-2023) was released on 3 June 2024 in partnership between SongData and Women in Music Canada and the National Arts Centre. The study was generously supported by Creative BC, Ontario Creates, and Feisty Creative.

The press conference was held at Canadian Music Week. Below is the presentation delivered by Dr. Jada Watson (SongData) at CMW, along with the slides that accompanied the text.

The path to exposure and success within the music industry is an intersectional journey for artists: to achieve success artists often live, work and create at the intersection of a model for industry support that includes many actors, including labels, management, booking agents, digital engagement, streams, sales, and radio airplay. This is an intersection that, when aligned, creates pathways to opportunities such as touring and festivals and to awards and other honours.

So when we have conversations about inequity within the industry, we have to consider each of these systems and how they interact and influence each other.

As conversations about inequity within the industry have increased in Canada and around the world over the last few years, we’ve seen many articles and studies address the absence of women and Trans* artists across festival stages and award nominations in the Canadian music industry – we know already that representation across these systems are dire. But radio – one of the oldest and most established pathways to distribution and exposure within the industry – has received limited attention within these discussions.

Radio has long been a focal point of my research and in many ways is linked to my own history as a young musician, using radio as a way to discover new music and advance my instrumental skills. I may not have followed a path of musicianship or songwriting, but that experience shaped in me a deep respect for the great potential for artist discovery through radio and an understanding of the power that radio holds in curating musical culture, in making hit songs, and in shaping cultural memory for listeners.

Radio is, in fact, the only system within the industry that collects and reports on their data in a transparent way. Not only does the tracking of airplay data generate industry rankings and charts, but because radio is governed by the Broadcasting Act, their data report out distribution by time of day, by song type, and on airplay for Canadian content regulations.

It is because of this transparency in reporting that we are able to share with you the results of a study of gender representation on Canadian radio from 2013 to 2023. 

SHARE THE AIR is a study of radio programming across six formats in Canada, evaluating trends in representation from 2013 to 2023 for the top 150 songs played on each format – considering the rate of airplay over this 11-year period and analysing representation within the yearend airplay charts – evaluating how often songs by women and Trans* artists peak within the top positions.

We then dove deep into the weekly airplay reports for 2023 to study not just how much airplay songs by women and Trans* artists received last year, but also the time of day at which their songs are heard and rate at which songs by these artists are retained within recurrent and gold catalogue programming. 

Here, too, we are interested in representation amongst the most-programmed songs on each format, and so we studied the weekly airplay charts to learn more about representation in the top-spun positions of radio playlists. The songs that are heard most frequently for listeners.

Perhaps most critically, we were invested through this portion of the analysis in representation via Canadian content certification, with the goals of better understanding how federal legislation influences programming, and what this means for representation of songs by Canadian women and Trans* artists, and how current practices were influencing the trajectory of their songs onto and up the weekly charts.

We looked at all six of the formats that are monitored by Mediabase:

  • Country
  • Alternative Rock
  • Active Rock
  • Top 40
  • Mainstream Adult Contemporary 
  • Hot Adult Contemporary

The study also considers representation on French language stations in the Mainstream AC and Hot AC formats through two portfolios of French-language stations that were designed for this study. While the study does not offer linguistic analysis of representation on these stations, the results offer deeper understanding of representation on Canadian radio through a body of songs and artists otherwise invisible in a largely Anglo-dominant Canadian music industry.

Foundational to this work is its intersectional approach. While gender identity remains at the fore of discussion, this work is based on the fundamental understanding that identity cannot be defined via that single axes alone and we must consider race and ethnicity to evaluate more deeply the ways in which artists are included and excluded from programming.

This approach is particularly important for cultural industries like the music industry – which was racially segregated in the early 1900s and organized around genre classifications that are racially coded and remain foundational to the way in which the industry works to this day. The racial segregation of the industry has typically been discussed within a US framework through the division of the recording industry into Hillbilly and Race records and the chart and radio formatting systems that followed in the mid-1900s. But these systems are not unique to the US industry and the genre classifications that separates musicians, their recordings, and radio formats south of the 49th parallel is embedded in the industry in Canada, as well. 

In Canada, the systems navigated by artists include not just radio programming, but it also the legislative systems that govern programmatic decision-making, and charting systems that regulate movement onto and up charts and their pathways out of them. Each of these systems become barriers to entry for artists that are marginalised with industries and overlap in ways that exacerbate those barriers. These structural issues are exacerbated by the absence of Black-owned, Black-led and Black-oriented radio stations in Canada, as most recently reported by ADVANCE.

To undertake this study, we researched each of the 13,926 solo artists, bands and collaborations with songs played across these formats, each researched to determine their ensemble type, their gender identity, and their race and ethnicity. 

Before giving an overview of the findings, it is important to I want to pause here to share with you the project legend. The main focus of this report is gender representation, the study is based around these four colours to capture representation of men, women, Trans* artists (who identify as nonbinary, genderqueer and transgender), and mixed gender ensembles (of men, women, and Trans* artists). 

These four colours are the foundation of the colour scheme used throughout the study, but variations are introduced when graphics aim to show both gender identity and race/ethnicity at the same time. 

Variations within the colour scheme are not always perfect in cultural industries with inequitable programming practices. As will be seen throughout this the study, there are instances where black, indigenous and artists of colour are underrepresented in a way that renders their contributions invisible within visualisations of the findings. To attempt to rectify this, we use darker shades for smaller percentages so that they are as visible as possible in formats that prioritise white artists.

What we’ll see in these slides is a portrait of representation in commercial radio and the low rate at which songs by women and Trans* artists are programmed, and how Black, Indigenous and artists of colour are impacted. These findings suggest not only that they are underrepresented, but that Canadian women and Trans* artists (in particular) are disadvantaged within the industry ecosystem through a practice that prioritises songs by (predominantly white) men within each format’s efforts to comply with federal regulations. 


Analysis of the top 150 songs played on the yearend report played between 2013 and 2023 reveal that songs by women and Trans* artists have been underplayed over the last 11 years.

On Country, Alternative Rock and Active Rock radio, where songs by women are most underprogrammed (avg. 8.0% across the formats), women of colour (avg. 0.7%) are invisibilised within a system that prioritises the songs by white men. 

  • The full study shows that, in fact, on these three formats representation of songs by women has declined over the last three years and that 2021 was a peak year for all three with about 18.0% for country, 13.0% for alternative rock, and 9.0% for active rock.

Top 40, Mainstream AC and Hot AC reveal more diversity on their yearend reports, but songs by women average just one-third of the airplay over the last 11 years. However, this was mostly for songs by white women, as songs by women of colour avg. 6.5% across these formats.

  • For these three formats, there has been a slow increase in airplay for songs by women, with a boost in 2023 that followed broader cultural trends last summer with the release of Barbie, Miley Cyrus’s Flowers, and Taylor Swift’s rereleases.

Trans* artists are absent across the yearend reports, with an avg. of 0.5% of the songs played on the pop-oriented formats.

Analysis of the 2023 weekly reports revealed that songs by women and Trans* artists remain underprogrammed. 

Results of studying airplay across Country, Alternative Rock and Active Rock radio are most direct for women, Trans* artists and artists of colour. Share the Air reveals:

  • 15.6% on Country format radio – a rate that results in about 2 songs per hour 
  • 6.4% on Alternative Rock radio – about 1 song per hour
  • 1.9% on Active Rock radio – amounting to 1 song per 4- to 5-hour block. This format, in fact, plays songs by men to women at a 47 to 1 radio.

Songs by Black, Indigenous, and women of colour avg. 0.6% across these formats, marginalized and excluded from Country and Rock formats – formats whose music has Black, multiracial and multiethnic roots.

Representation across the three pop-oriented formats revealed more diversity than on the Country and Rock formats:

  • Songs by women averaged about 36% across the three pop-oriented formats – with the possibility of hearing an average of 5 songs per hour, where songs by women of colour are better represented through the programmatic mix, averaging 11.0% across Top 40, Mainstream AC, and Hot AC.

However, disconcertingly, Canadian women, Trans* artists, and artists of colour are disadvantaged by a system that prioritises international artists, their songs underprogrammed on all formats (except for Alt and Active Rock) and are not being programmed at a rate that sees songs by Canadian women and Trans* artists being promoted into top-playlisting spots. As a result they are absent from the top positions of the weekly charts. Instead, songs by international female artists are prioritised within the top-spun positions and the gap between these artists and Canadians is often wide.

And for the small handful of songs by Canadian women that are programmed within the top spun songs, we see a form of inequitable tokenistic programming that favours single artists. Rather than build opportunities for many women and Trans* artists, this practice elevates just one group in a way that doesn’t advantage anyone else within the community. 

This is particularly damaging within the distribution of airplay amongst current singles, recurrent tracks and gold catalogue records, wherein songs by Canadian women are not retained for recurrent programming and as a result are filtered out of stations’ gold catalogues of “canonical” songs. In this way, their songs are lost through the programming pipeline and eliminated from Canadian musical culture at a far faster rate than songs by men. The stories and experiences of women and Trans* artists – particularly those of artists of colour – are not being preserved within the programming catalogues that shape cultural memory.

These findings hold true on the 2 portfolios of French languages stations. While they both play more Canadian Content than the format-reporting stations, women and Trans* artists (especially artists of colour) are underprogrammed and lost through recurrent-to-gold programming.

While the results of this study are disheartening, we are only able to do this type of work because of the transparency within these reporting systems, and as a result we are able to think about what types of change might be possible.


Radio currently plays mostly songs serviced to them by labels, suggesting that the underrepresentation of women, Trans* artists and artists of colour on playlists is in part influenced by a lack of support within other spheres of the industry. Left to their own devices, the industry will continue to favour songs created and performed by white non-Canadian men, because it is their songs that are believed to have historically dictated radio’s ratings and profitability. 

But we really need to be questioning systems and credibility of industry-generated data and charts that govern the industry to consider the cyclical relationship that’s emerging between the various players in the music industry ecosystem. Because the industry has historically been an inequitable cultural system, developed around racial segregation and gender inequity, and because each of these sectors has historically relied on the data generated by their own internal processes to make business decisions, they are reinforcing and indeed exacerbating pre-existing inequalities. 

So this long-held belief that artists whose songs have historically been underprogrammed should be limited to increase profitability is inherently flawed. The marker of profitability has been determined without their data as part of the process and ecosystem.

The absence of airplay data and chart data for women, Trans* artists and artists of colour is used to justify and maintain programming practices that limit their inclusion in playlists. Within some format communities (like Country music), radio even influences streaming, and the algorithms that generate playlists train on data emerging from activity unfolding in the label-radio relationship, thereby recommending music based on the mainstream market. Low rates of airplay then deter labels from investing in women, Trans* artists, and artists of colour, which over time leads to fewer opportunities in the industry, including touring, festivals and awards. This creates a feedback look – one that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s time to SHARE THE AIR.

There will be a desire to simply add more songs by missing artists by way of a quota to correct inequities, but adding and stirring is not the answer. Visibility counts for a lot, it’s powerful, but it is not the whole picture.

  1. It is integral to acknowledge that gender identity is complex and fluid and ever-changing. Putting strict quotas leaves no room for change, and there is concern of great impact on Transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer and 2-spirit artists.
  2. Quota-based initiatives that seek improvement for women often results in improvements only for white women. And while white women are certainly underrepresented, we must approach programmatic changes through an intersectional lens that understands that Black, Indigenous and women of colour are most marginalized within this industry and that their opportunities are at risk of greater barriers with a system designed for gender alone.
  3. There is a need to ensure that any system advocates for and supports opportunities for Canadian artists. Since this study shows that Canadian women and Trans* artists are disadvantaged within programming, we must understand how an additional quota system might exacerbate CanCon inequities and create a practice in which gender representation increases through the music of international artists.

This work is as much about creating opportunities for artists as it is questioning the system, evaluating and understanding the impact of current practices on the careers of these artists and the ways in which they create barriers that limit their potential for success and longevity within the industry, effectively eliminating them from cultural memory. This is an industry-wide conversation about conceptualising the reconstitution of the industry to build for the first time an equitable, diverse, inclusive, and accessible system.

But there are some steps that radio programmers can take immediately to start rebuilding their practice, and they are based on the concept of reversing the negative findings of Share the Air:

DON’T RELY ON SPECIALTY PROGRAMMING: Siloing the voices of women, Trans* artists and artists of colour in specialty hours, isolates their music, reinforces differences, and exacerbates familiarity barriers. Don’t rely specialty programming. Include and introduce their music throughout the 24-hour cycle and during daytime hours in addition to any specialty programming.

PLAY ‘EM BACK-TO-BACK: Songs by women are currently being played at extremely low rates per hour (and daypart) on Country and Rock formats, this is a decades’ old practice, and it serves to reinforce their marginalization. Play their songs back-to-back and in close succession to rebuild your playlist and audience experiences.

REBUILD STATION GOLDS: One of the most critical pieces of this entire discussion lies in the harmful inequity of gold catalogue programming. So many voices and stories have already been lost in a practice that eliminates songs by women, Trans* artists, and artists of colour at a faster rate and without consideration for their contributions to the evolving sound of musical culture. Rebuilding station golds to include songs by women, Trans* artists, and artists of colour will be a crucial and foundational step toward change. This is integral reconciliatory work to recover lost voices, reintroduce their stories, and reinvest in their careers through the long-term preservation of their music. 

CHAMPION UNSIGNED ARTISTS: The current commercial model depends on relationships with major labels, but this should not be the only route to championing new music by women, Trans* artists, and artists of colour who are already underrepresented on label rosters. Because they are often the artists whose careers are unfolding outside of the intersection of the industry’s mainstream support model, their exclusion from label rosters and the precarity of working on the margins means that there are limited pathways to the intersection of distribution. Become an active agent in music discovery and be part of the pathway for new artists to build their careers. The internet puts the music of these artists at your fingertips. Do the research, find new artists, and build pathways for introducing new artists to listeners and the industry.

AIM HIGHER THAN CANCON: The current programming regulations require that stations play a minimum 35% Canadian Content between 6am and 6pm. This study shows that most formats are just meeting this requirement and the distribution within this portion of airplay, that Canadian artists are disadvantages, particularly women, Trans* artists, and artists of colour. If their songs are included in playlists at all, their songs are played enough to say they were spun but not enough to really support artists and help build pathways to audiences’ ears and to charts in a way that then leads to opportunities to tour, to participate in festivals, and to be considered for industry awards. As a result, they meet significant barriers to opportunities within the industry wherein they cannot build financially viable careers in their own country. Aim higher than 35%. Redistribute airplay amongst Canadians in an equitable way that ensures that Canadian women, Trans* artists, and artists of colour are played in daytime hours, are played in proximity and back-to-back, and are preserved through recurrent-to-gold programming so that are part of the canon of Canadian music.

BUILD AUDIENCE FAMILIARITY: All of this matters. How often songs are played, when they are played, the sequence in which they are played, the way in which they are played, it all plays a role in building the soundtrack of a listener’s experience. Airplay does not just influence the trajectory of an artist’s career – it also shapes audience experience and familiarity. We need to consider how low representation of songs by women, Trans* artists, and artists of colour influences perception of listeners. Repetition shapes an audience’s experience and understanding of musical culture. Repeated airplay increases an artist’s presence on radio, their voices become heard, become known and ultimately become familiar to a station’s listeners. 

DEVELOP NEW AUDIENCE TESTING METRICS: And without audience familiarity, you are wasting your time with audience testing. Current audience testing models are perhaps the most flawed tool in the industry.  Audiences need to hear the music on which they are being tested, especially during the same dayparts and at frequency that builds familiarity and likeability with music. 

Current data and testing models engage station listeners through a survey that asks them to rate whether they like or dislike (and want to keep hearing) music played on the stations. But these tests (1) evaluate their audience on inequitable programming data for artists that they may not even hear during their listening hours and (2) replicate that inequity in the distribution of songs in their survey. These current testing mechanisms reinforce the feedback loop. Testing results distort inequity and as a result they perpetuate and reinforce practices that favour current programming. This model is inherently flawed, biased, and provide an inaccurate picture of the market.

KNOW YOUR STATION: This work requires knowing the current rate of representation and the areas for improvement and change. When you are looking at this data, you’re looking at national averages – some stations will play above this average, and others will play below it. 

Reach out to SongData at for support. We are invested in being part of the discussion and work toward building a healthier, sustainable ecosystem – one that aims to build pathways for stations to share the air in a more accessible, inclusive, equitable, and diverse way.

This is not on radio alone. Labels, publishers, funders, managers, radio promoters, bookers, and organisations that support, advocate and champion artists will all need to play a role in building an equitable system for sharing the air.

The report is available on SongData for you to download and read, and it’s available in French as well. I would like to thank my collaborator, Eugenie Tessier, who is here today, for her instrumental work in this project and in the translation. And to Bronwin Parks of Feisty Creative who designed this report and so carefully prepared the layout in both languages.