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In Fort McMurray, rock radio tunes out Neil Young over ‘Hiroshima’ remarks

Neil Young performs at a benefit concert in Mountain View, Calif., on Oct. 24, 2010.


Neil Young can keep on talking in the free world, but Fort McMurray won't be listening.

A local rock radio station stopped playing the Canuck singer's music for a day after he compared the northern Alberta oil-sands city to Hiroshima after the atomic bomb.

On-air personality Chris Byrne at Rock 97.9 then asked his listeners if the ban should be extended indefinitely.

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Neil supporters were in the majority, but when station staff looked at their e-mail addresses, most came from out of town.

So with local opinion firmly against him, Young has been pulled from the station's playlist. No more Heart of Gold in the heart of the oilsands.

"We're going to continue with our ban," said Byrne, who said he used to play two or three Young tunes a day.

Byrne had declared Wednesday to be a "No Neil" day after a news conference Young held the previous day in Washington. It was there that he declared Fort McMurray to be a wasteland.

"The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima," said Young, who visited the city earlier this summer. "There's fumes everywhere. You can smell it when you get to town."

About 600 replied to Byrne's survey. About 44 per cent wanted to keep Young on the air, 36 never wanted to hear him again and the rest asked, "Who cares?" or "Who's Neil Young?"

"Rock listeners are pretty apathetic people," said Byrne.

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"It takes a lot to get their ire up. But based on the number of emails and voice mails that I've gotten, I don't think … a topic … has caused more people to call in or write in than this – including our MLA getting caught with a prostitute."

People in the city of 76,000 get used to being tarred with the brush of the oilsands, he said. Byrne acknowledged that many outsiders use "Fort McMurray" as verbal shorthand to refer to the mines, not the community.

But Young went too far, he said.

"To [put] Fort McMurray on the same level as a nuclear bomb, dropped to end a world war – when you get to that extreme, you kind of have to get into specifics."

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