Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
What’s the closest you can come in North America to visiting the headquarters of one of the big European state broadcasters? That would be east of downtown Montreal, at Maison Radio-Canada, the 24-story headquarters of Radio-Canada’s French-language services.
Built in 1973, this massive complex is much more than the skyscraper that dominates the landscape in this otherwise low-slung part of town. That’s just office space, as it turns out – and if you’re lucky enough to get a tour of the place, as we did in March, you’ll see that the guts of this huge operation are largely below ground.
Enter through the lobby (in winter, there’s a long enclosed walkway that leads inside to keep visitors out of the weather), take a peek down the main hall at a showcase radio studio (the midday show on the ICI Musique network is originating there this day), but then it’s down the escalators that go three stories deep…
…where our tour starts at a warren of big TV studios. Quebec TV has its own ecosystem of local stars and shows, and these studios are home to all sorts of game shows, talk shows, variety shows and more, much of it produced right down here in these studios, which are much larger than you’d imagine from street level, where the tops of the studios appear as the pedestal to the office tower.
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Up one level from here is an expanse of studio and newsroom space, much of it home to CBC’s Montreal English-language operations. While the English mothership is many hundreds of kilometers away in Toronto, there’s a robust English presence here, too, along with the headquarters of what remains of Radio Canada International.
Off the English newsroom, there’s a small control room and studio for CBC-TV’s local Montreal newscasts; down the hall is the studio space for English local radio, both the Montreal-only morning show (the rest of the province gets a show from Quebec City) and the province-wide midday and afternoon shows. The morning radio show is now simulcast on TV, as are most of the local morning radio shows across CBC.
Right by the elevators in the middle of this floor, we find the glassed-in master control areas for French-language TV and radio. All of the local Radio-Canada signals from the Maritimes to Vancouver pass through these master control areas on the way out to viewers and listeners; there’s a parallel English-language hub at the CBC’s Broadcast Centre in Toronto. (And yes, even the local English CBC Montreal radio and TV signals have to go to master control in Toronto before coming back to transmitters here.)
Another escalator ride and we’re back up at the main level, where broad hallways open into the local French-language newsroom and studios for CBF (95.1), the local ICI Premiere signal.
Windows off the main hallway open into the one area where even our private tour doesn’t go – the impressive two-level studio/newsroom for Radio-Canada’s national French-language news operation, with a studio for local French-language news off in a corner, too.
This complex may be going through some big changes in the years to come. Urban planners have agonized for a long time about the way in which an entire city neighborhood was wiped out in the 1960s to build Maison Radio-Canada, and there have been on and off plans in the last few years to redevelop part of this site to better integrate it with the surrounding city. The latest plan, which emerged a few months after this tour, would sell off the existing MRC building and create a brand-new MRC on one corner of the current site.
Thanks to CBC/SRC’s Bruno Gaulin for the tour!
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Next week: More Montreal