Tuesday, 7 August 2007

It's August, But the CBC Needs Some Letters Written

When the head-hunt for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s new president was announced a couple of weeks ago, the folks at Radio Canada made on-air jokes about who should apply. Their laughs sounded a little hollow, because many on both the French and English sides of Canada’s public broadcaster are pretty worried about what comes next.

Television programming is constantly in crisis, and over the last two years the “cultural” part of radio programming has profoundly changed. First the French service inaugurated “Espace Musique” which programs a lot less serious music than its predecessor did--and nothing about literature and theatre. Then this spring CBC’s Radio Two started down the same route. Now Canada Live broadcasts a mishmash of music seven nights a week from 8 to 10 p.m. instead of the solid concerts of serious music that we enjoyed for years. The same dumbing-down of programming has slopped over into other programs: Peter Togni’s Weekender now plays much less serious stuff and the Saturday Afternoon at the Opera no longer has knowledgeable Howard Dyck as its host.

The motivation behind these changes seems to be a desire to increase audience, but it's unlikely that it will work: if anybody looked at the ratings, they’d see that the fiddling of the last two years hasn’t changed listenership substantially. What really seems to be prospering are the dedicated classical music stations, like CJPX in Montreal.

Robert Rabinovitch, on whose watch as CBC/Radio Canada president these changes were made, is retiring and supposedly a nationwide search is on to find his successor. Also up for grabs is the English language Executive News Director. The chief head hunter is Egon Zehnder International. Resumés for the news job are supposed to be sent to no other than Egon Zehnder staffer Tom Long, a great friend of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and not a great friend of public broadcasting. It would appear that, if anything, the move from serious programming is likely to intensify. Are we going to lose “Ideas?’ Eleanor Wachtel? All literary discussion?

The CBC and Radio Canada have helped define Canada. They need solid funding, and a mandate to let us listen to the best we produce, be it music, literature or thought. Even though it’s August, a letter to an MP about the danger would be worth the effort.


Martin Langeland said...

What's most annoying to this long time CBC listener is the abruptness of Howard's departure, coupled with the obvious lack of any coherent replacement. The present announcers are competent, perhaps, but in no way comparable. The only good thing about the changes at the CBC is the opportunity to wear out my own cd collection. Grrumpf.

Mary Soderstrom said...

Grrumpf, indeed.

Peter Phao was a classmate of my daughter Elin's in music at McGill, and I know him to be a young man of great musical knowledge and much initiative. I'd like to see him have a niche some place in the opera programming. But to have him (and the others) do a request program is not really interesting. On Howard Dyck's watch there was far more informative and even exciting stuff.

I do hope the CBC brings him back and gets the message that they are shooting themselves in the foot. As I said before, just look at the solid, solid ratings of the dedicated classical music stations in Toronto and Montreal.


Martin Langeland said...

Thanks for the intro to Peter Phao. I look forward to hearing him on a show where he is allowed some scope. He was the best of the subs. But you are right, it is the dumbed down aspect of the show that annoy.
I remember when CBC had excellent News reporting. More than one side of every story was presented. Then Mulroney decided to gut the CBC's budget, and sound bytes bit us.
The only thing that would make me really happy is the resurrection of Bob Kerr in vigorous opinionated full spate! Thank god for Jurgen.

Werner said...

Perhaps the reason for the endless "dumbing down" of CBC especially radio ... the television service couldn't get much worse ... is the desire of higher ups to make it difficult for us to defend the CEEB. Politicians and their hirelings have an inbreed hatred of intellect so it is necessary to promote the view that "every opinion is equal to every other opinion except the opinion that every opinion is NOT equal to every other opinion". That's pretty straight forward,right? Seems to me this is all that's behind the accusations of "elitism" from the "pointy haired bosses" calling the shots within the corporation.

Laurence James said...

i was only pining for dear Bob Kerr.....pity about CBC that they can accomodate so much piffle....I read something about the often rambling Bob Kerr....it was , in this case, the halcyon days...when a certain depth was the true tonic,,,

James Wooten said...

Hi Mary,

I found your blog tonight when I was searching the "inside the cbc" blog for comments from listeners on the new CBC Radio Two programming. The title of your August 7 blog ("It's August, But the CBC Needs Some Letters Written") caught my eye. I've been writing letters to the CBC, generally with little response from CBC management, with the exception of a reply from Ms. Jennifer McGuire.

Rather than attempt to relate the full history of my letters to the CBC, please see my blog (cbcradiotwoandme.blogspot.com).

You may find it occasionally interesting, perhaps amusing, but most of all, depressing considering the lack of interest CBC Radio management has in its listeners opinions.