Et tu, CBC?

One of the nice things about living in Detroit (yes, there are some!) is that we’re close enough to Canada to pick up the CBC radio stations. I cannot stand commercial radio — the ads are so obnoxious, I can rarely wait to see if there’ll even be any music scattered among them, let alone any worth listening to. I’ve been a hard-core public radio junkie for years now. (I’m a nerd — we’re clear on that, right? 😉 )

When McDoc and I first moved here, I figured that the CBC would provide a welcome alternative to the local public stations during pledge drives 😛 or when the news became tiresome. But pretty soon we found that we were turning to CBC Radio 2 first, and leaving it on most of the time. We found that they played a great mix of music — mainly classical, but anything was fair game, depending on the program. The hosts were eccentric and witty, and were allowed enough talk time to charm the listener with commentary and off-the-wall stories, and they did it so engagingly that I never minded having to wait a bit longer to hear the next musical selection.

It was like being able to open your refrigerator at any time of the day and have a gourmet meal from a fine restaurant leap out onto your plate! 😛

Our favorite programs included:

  • The Signal, with Laurie Brown — she tells the zaniest stories — delightfully random and ethereal.
  • The Vinyl Café, with Stuart McLean — a “variety show,” something like a Canadian answer to A Prairie Home Companion
  • In the Key of Charles, with Gregory Charles — this dude is some kind of savant, seriously — he sings and plays snatches of any song you can name, broadcasting from his living room piano bench. Each week he has a theme, and plays music of many genres that fit the theme.
  • …and perhaps most importantly:

  • Music and Company, with Tom Allen. Interesting classical music — not just warhorses — with the aforementioned witty commentary. Oh, I said “most importantly” because a) it’s the weekday morning program, so I wake up to it every morning on my clock radio, and b) this very blog was mentioned on the program about a month ago, as as a result I had the most hits in a single day so far — and folks are still finding their way here via a link from the show’s website (Howdy! 🙂 ). Also, Tom gives pre-concert talks at the Detroit Symphony, so I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him in person.

You may have noticed my use of the past tense up above — “It was like being able…”, “Our favorite programs included…” Yes, well, I should’ve known it was too good to last… someone left the cake out in the rain, baby! 🙁 (I should be used to this by now… stuff I like almost always ends up on the chopping block due to its lack of mass-market popularity…)

In March, the CBC announced some programming changes that very few people are happy about.

The plan for weekday programming on CBC Radio Two is:

  • 6-10 a.m.: A music program dedicated to a range of genres, including classical, pop, jazz and roots music.
  • 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: A classical program that will emphasize the most popular and accessible classical music, including Mozart, Beethoven and other favourites.
  • 3-6 p.m.: A drive-home show focusing on vocal music, including many new artists.

The rationale behind the changes is that R2 (that’s what the cool kids call it, by the way 😉 ) needs to devote more airtime to Canadian artists, which means they have to increase the amount of non-classical music that they play. In this way, the folks who run R2 hope to attract more listeners.

Unfortunately, these changes threaten to alienate many current listeners, who are very devoted. I read through some of the comments left by listeners on the Radio 2 blog, and the vast majority are not pleased. The demise of Music and Company is particularly lamented.

I read comments on 3 different posts:

Among the minority of commenters who support the coming changes, at least one referred to “dead white men,” saying it wasn’t a bad thing for their music to lose its dominance on the station. I felt like I’d gotten whiplash of the brain when I read that; on the one hand, I felt hoisted on my own petard — the complaint I’ve so often tossed around about the classical world was now being used to defend an action that I find lamentable. On the other hand, I wish I could meet this individual so I could hand her one of these:

  • Clue #1: A major plank in CBC 2’s new platform is their midday show: “A classical program that will emphasize the most popular and accessible classical music, including Mozart, Beethoven and other favourites.” No more of that pesky interesting stuff! Guess what? It’s about to get a whole lot deader, whiter, and manlier!
  • Clue #2: There are many people involved in the production of classical music who are one or more of the following: alive, non-white, non-male. Not all of the composers are dead, and there are living performers too.

I think the goal of supporting Canadian artists is a worthy one, if, as Radio 2 claims, they really will be creating opportunities for artists who aren’t being heard elsewhere. I’m skeptical about that — if the goal is to draw more listeners, are we really supposed to believe they won’t play familiar and already-successful artists as a means to that end? Also, it’s very sad that classical programming will be short-changed in this equation. I like the way one commenter summed it up:

On an ‘easy listening’ commercial station or on a Radio One afternoon show, Diana Krall and Joni Mitchell are intelligent and classy.

On a nationally funded station that is supposed to be a repository of Canadian art and culture, they are pap.

Overall, it seems that in their attempt to please everyone, CBC Radio 2 will end up pleasing no one… and irritating long-time listeners.

*This statement is stupendously wrong-headed in more ways than one, but I’ll save that for another post. I also have a lot more to say about the word “accessible” as it relates to classical music, but I’m gonna climb down off the soap box for now, before I sprain something or get a nosebleed. 😉


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