The Dismantling of CBC Radio

CBC Radio, our country’s national treasure of classical and non-mainstream
music, has announced drastic format changes which will shift the station away
from it’s traditional roots. Moving away from classical and jazz genres, the
programming changes will move the station to more mainstream styles of music,
supposedly to reflect the changing taste of Canada.

On March 4, 2008, CBC Radio announced the complete restructuring of Radio 2.
This was the second installment of changes, the first being mid-way through
2007, albeit less drastic on that first round. Announced by Jennifer McGuire,
Executive Director of CBC Radio, the changes are meant to “provide a
dedicated range of genres, including classical, pop, jazz, and roots music.”
These changes mean a clean slate of programming and radio hosts from 6am
through to 10pm weekdays. Now, stop for a moment and think what
programs and hosts currently occupy these timeslots. First to mind is likely Tom
Allen’s ‘Music and Company’ and Jurgen Gothe’s ‘DiscDrive.’ Moving along,
other programs included here are ‘Here’s to You,’ ‘Studio Sparks,’ and
‘Tonic’ (which was recently installed in place of the long standing ‘After
Hour’s with host Andy Shepard).

The outcry to these changes has been astounding as I read the editorials in
our National newspapers and comment forums online. These radio programs are
institutional, specifically Jurgen’s ‘Disc Drive’ which is now in it’s 23rd
year. As a dedicated listener to Disc Drive and Music & Company for the
better part of a decade, I consider these two programs and their hosts to be
the jewels of CBC Radio and Television combined. Nowhere else in Canada do
you gain a more varied offering of classical and jazz music. Furthermore, the
commentary from Allen and Gothe to complement their musical choices is second
to none. Whether it is the antics and humor of Allen’s weekly ‘Cage Match’,
or Gothe’s tangents ranging from wine, gourmet recipes, and extending all the
way over to The Canadian Brass’s latest recording, these are our national
radio hosts at their finest.

Three weeks after changes to Radio 2 were revealed, the CBC has announced the
dismantling of it’s own Radio Orchestra. Originally formed in 1938 and North
America’s last existing Radio Orchestra, Vancouver’s CBC Radio Orchestra will
perform it’s last concert in November 2008. Executives at the CBC argue that
the cost to operate the orchestra (in the range of $1million annually) does
not make sense given the limited concerts performed each year.

Before our eyes, we are watching CBC dismantle itself and move towards a more
mainstream focus. The intent is to water the station down and appeal to a
larger audience with less classical music and more jazz, pop, and roots
music. Now, last time I checked, all I had to do was turn my FM radio two dials
over and I was inundated with mainstream stations. The focus of the CBC has
always been to promote music that could not be found elsewhere on the air, as
well as promoting music by Canadian artists, including orchestral works
commissioned for the Radio Orchestra.

Whichever way the folks at CBC explain the changes, these are sad days for
the CBC. They seem to go against what the CBC mandate has always been, a Public Broadcaster. Meanwhile, these changes on Radio 2 are meant to draw in an entirely new group of listeners; these changes only seem to be driving away the current audience, and attracting new listeners from an already watered-down group is not going to be an easy task. As for the Radio Orchestra, another unsubstantiated move that does not seem to really be about funding. You really have to ask if the CBC is even awake and hearing out it’s listeners?

As we draw into the final few months of solid Radio 2 programming, I do
question what will fill this hole in Canadian Radio? An institution that has
had a presence for decades, the absence of some of these programs will be
very challenging to replace. We can say goodbye starting our day with
“entertaining wit, wisdom, and a smile” from Tom Allen….right over to
finishing our afternoons with “off-the-cuff commentary and flights of fancy”
from Jurgen Gothe.

For those of us who have listened to Radio 2 and it’s varied programs, we can
say this: We are better off for taking the time out of each day to listen to
these programs, and we will truly miss them once they are gone.
Quality such as this is not easily recreated.

David Reimer is a Vancouver resident and freelance pop culture analyst – his musings will be featured on the Coffeecrew blog from time to time.