Sunday, March 16, 2008

Speak out Against CBC Radio Two Programming Changes

For those of non-Canadian readership, a little background information. The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is our government owned and operated broadcasting service, operating a few national TV stations, and a national radio broadcasting station (knows as "Radio Two") and Local and Provincial radio, mostly talk and news, (known as "Radio One"). For years, Radio Two has been the only outlet for classical musicians of our country to be heard coast to coast. The setup was not too dissimilar to that of the internationally successful BBC in Great Brittan, or other large European radio stations. Certainly, it's the only broadcasting corporation of its kind in North America.

Over the past year, the CBC has altered their programming by cutting off all "Classical" music after 6:00 PM, they cut all news programs, including "The World at Six", the most comprehensive national news radio program in Canada, and "The Arts Report" which was one of the sole ways to hear about performers, concerts and anything music related from coast to coast. It was also announced yesterday that Rick Phillips, the host of "Sound Advice" the only national music recording critique show has resigned, and the show will stop at the end of this month.

By September of this year, CBC Two has announced a complete overhaul in its weekday daytime programming, and weekend morning programming. Including axing the highly popular morning show "Music and Company" and afternoon show "Disk Drive", relegating all their classical content to five hours in the mid-day portion, and only playing what they are describing as "popular and accessible classical music". Morning and late afternoon shows will only feature light jazz, popular music and other "easy listening" favourites. Nothing official has been announced about their popular weekend shows, "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" or "Choral Concert" at this point, but one would think that it won't be far down on the list of shows to be axed.

To read the entire CBC article, from their own web page - click here.

Here are the highlights (or rather, lowlights) of the programing changes:

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 format for the morning program also will continue on weekend mornings, with a different host.

There is an article from Russell Smith of The Globe and Mail, which I will reprint below, however, before I do that, I do want to make this cry to all Classical Music bloggers, or lovers of the CBC and classical music in Canada:

  • Please REPOST as much of this information as you can on your blog, or link them here - encouraging like minded folk to flood the CBC with comments, emails, and protest.
  • visit the CBC's insider blog at and post a comment stating your opinion
  • send a fax to CBC chief Hubert Lacroix at (514) 597-5439
  • Email all the following people with your thoughts:
  • Join the CBC Facebook group which is protesting these changes, to find out more to have your voice be heard.
And now, here is the fantastic report from Russell Smith printed in Thursday's Globe and Mail:

No classical? Then kill Radio 2 and get it over with


From The Globe and Mail

March 13, 2008

I am almost too depressed about the planned "overhaul" of CBC's Radio 2 to even write about it. What's the point? We've all seen the writing on the wall for some time now, and resistance is futile: The CBC no longer feels there is any point to devoting an entire radio station to the more musically and intellectually complex style of music colloquially, though entirely inappropriately, known as "classical" (more on that tendentious terminology in a moment), because, according to its mysterious studies, no one is interested in that any more.

So, come September, there will only be "classical" music (God, I hate that term!) at midday on weekdays; the rest of the air time will be taken up with light pop and jazz. Yes, that's right, explicitly light: In an interview with The Globe and Mail last week, the executive director of radio explained that the station will be playing even more Joni Mitchell and Diana Krall. The executives have also proudly expressed their interest in playing more middle-of-the-road pop such as Feist and Serena Ryder. Yes, they are proud, proud to be brave purveyors of Serena Ryder and Diana Krall, the very best culture our country has to offer.

In other words, Radio 2 will become essentially an easy-listening station. It will play, aside from four hours a day when everybody is at work, the kind of verse-chorus-verse popular music that is likely to win awards at industry-created ceremonies - the Junos, the Grammys, the Smushies, the Great Mall Music Prize.

Sometimes there will be jazz; I'm guessing it will continue to be the Holiday Inn lounge jazz they already so adore. It's also pretty safe to say there will be no underground pop music, nothing noisy or electronic - unless they keep Laurie Brown's The Signal (surely they must, they must at least keep The Signal?) - and of course that will be only late at night so it doesn't disturb the imagined audience, an audience of the mousiest, nicest, middlest of middle Canadians.

Notice how the CBC has already won half the public-relations battle through its choice of language. It is wise, if it wants to dismiss exciting and abstract music that doesn't have a 4/4 beat, to call such music "classical." That word instantly relegates it to the past. "Classical" connotes that which is established, respected, stuffy - another word for "old favourites."

"Classical" is wholly inadequate in describing an intellectual tradition that has always thrived on innovation, on radical new interpretations, on defiance of previous traditions, indeed, of iconoclasm. When Arthur Honegger sat down to write Pacific 231, when Olivier Messiaen began Quartet for the End of Time, when Edgard Varèse ordered his orchestra to play along to tape recordings from sawmills, do you think they wanted to write something "classical?"

But even this conversation is pointless; it isn't even happening. It belongs to another world. I feel, when talking about these things, like a visitor to an isolated country where everybody believes the Earth is flat and the moon is made of cheese: No one is going to listen to me because every single one of my premises, my fundamental assumptions, is different from theirs.

I assume, for example, that the point of having a government-funded radio station is not to garner the largest possible audience; if that were the goal, and that goal were attained, such a station would be commercially viable and no longer in need of government support. I also assume that art and intellectual inquiry can sometimes be challenging and demanding of intense concentration, and that they are naturally not always going to attract lucrative audiences, and that this does not make them any less valuable, which is why governments in enlightened countries support them and provide access to them.

I guess I assume, too, something even more fundamental and even more fundamentally unpopular, which is that not all art is of equal value. Art that does not tend to follow strict generic conventions (such as, for example, the verse-chorus-verse structure of 90 per cent of pop music) is deserving of extra attention. Art unbound by formula tends to indicate the area where the best, the most original talents are working.

And this is not, I assure you, about the past; it is about the future. Art unbound by formula - music that does not have to accompany words, for example - is the art that will be remembered by cultural historians and will come to define our era.

A country with no public forum for such art, with nowhere for the less privileged to gain access to it and to intelligent analysis of it, is an unsophisticated one.

And furthermore, a radio station that is indistinguishable from commercial stations - other than by its fanatical niceness - will have no reason to receive government support. Why not just shut it down already?


Muzition said...

Great post. Thanks.

gpop said...

Excellent article by Russell Smith.
It captures the core of this debate.
But don't kill CBC 2! Save it!

Anonymous said...

CBC 2 is a distinguishing mark of Canadian culture-the programming links and enriches those of us Canadians who appreciate both musical roots and creativity as expressed in the Baroque works as much as in Bernstein. However, if the bottom line is to make access to harmonically complex music equally complex, and replace it with the mundane that sells!! then let the government privatize yet another corporation! It matches their agenda. We will be all the poorer for loosing access to musical beauty, cultural richness a "classical" radio station can provide.

Peter said...

Just to let you know. A national Day of Action to protest the Radio Two changes is being planned for Friday April 11th all across Canada. A 10am demonstration is planned for Calgary at the CBC as well as one in Edmonton at the same time. See the Facebook event page called "Raise a Ruckus for Radio Two" for more details

John Brough said...

Thanks for the tip Peter - I will seek this out here in Edmonton

Janette Griffiths said...

As a British journalist who spends a lot of time in Vancouver, I had found new Canadian friends in Tom Allen, the much-missed Shelley Solmes, and Rick Philips. CBC 2 put me in mind of the BBC Radio 3 but better! Understated, unpretentious, but with a profound understanding of the value of great music. And yes, sorry, but I think Beethoven is better than Diane Krall. Call me old-fashioned...
I am reading about this change from the UK and feel so dismayed, so distraught. Listening to the CBC taught me that your vast and beautiful country is also small and cosy. Now Ms McGuire is turning it into a stroll through a shopping mall. Who is this woman? How can she be allowed to transform the quality of daily lives from Halifax to Victoria?

David L. said...

I'm a US listener to CBC Radio 2. My day at the office goes better with "Here's To You" & "Studio Sparks." Catherine Belyea & Eric Friesen are national Canadian treasures. The proposed changes in CBC Radio 2 are horrendous. Thankfully, should this train wreck occur, I'll be able to turn to the Internet Streaming of Classic 102 from Johannesburg, South Africa. CBC don't be this foolish!

Bill said...

I realize that there are a number of excellent classical music stations available on the internet, but with CBC 2 going to pot, one station I would highly recommend to try is King 98.1 from Seattle Washington, USA. My wife and I had the opportunity to tune in to this station on a recent visit, and the very knowledgeable programme hosts played an excellent mix of classical music with very few interruptions, (including advertising or dj comments).

Peter Rhines said...

Over the border in Seattle we are
dismayed, distraught over the loss
of this treasure...CBC-2 has been
an important part of my life for
years. The remarkable hosts gave
us so much more beyond just spinning discs.
As has clearly been argued, publc radio is not there to compete for body count with commercial stations. It is there to serve an important and worthy minority. CBC management should be sent to music school.

Anonymous said...

I think what they have done to CBC Radio 2's listeners is downright cruel! I have loved some of these programs for many years. Yurgen Goethe and Eric Friesen are totally irreplaceable. I can't believe they just did away with those shows. And I loved the morning show full of beautiful requests and letters from people.

I will particularly miss Friesen's comments on the music he played. And I will truly miss Disc Drive.

And Tom Allen's expertise with Classical music was unfathomable.

And to think the CBC has changed all this.

Now, they play new music, and yes, much of it is great stuff. But its music you can get in a thousand other places! CBC Radio 2 used to be what public radio is supposed to be. It preserved certain genres that have almost completely fallen by the wayside because they are not market driven.

Its just sad.

I am so sorry for all the other listeners out there, many of whom relied on CBC Radio 2 to bring warmth into their homes each day.

Just wait... a few years will pass and they will play even less classical music. And then one day that will be it. No more.

And i think its terrible that they think they can replace it with some sort of endless internet streaming channel. That's not radio!

george said...

I have been listening to the new radio 2 for a while. I wanted to give it a fair hearing.
I can only conclude that it is not working. Radio 2 has lost its identity. Rich Terfry is earnest enough but Drive just sounds like everything else. The true test ios to cruise the dial. Radio 2 used to have a distinctive sound. Now it sounds like all the other stations.
10am to 3pm is an oasis in the desert. It quenches the soul. As for the rest... What were those high-paid executives thinking?
The station has no brand. You can't build a brand with "a little of this and a little of that". You will have no loyalty from your old listeners and you won't get many new ones with this hodge-podge.
I feel as if I had been abandoned by an old friend.
Please reconsider and bring back the old format.

Anonymous said...

Radio 2 had no doubt lost many listeners. My wife and I tune in less and less every day it seems. And putting classical only from 10am - 3pm !? Sorry, but that just doesn't work for me.

I loved the way it was just before the final blows were inflicted on it. You had wonderful classical music from 6am right through to 3pm. After which was a blend of classical, folk, jazz, skiffle, country, whatever. That was, of course, Yurgen Goethe. And then I was getting into Tonic for a while. It was a nice shift of moods for the early evening.

The CBC have taken something so great and just destroyed it.

Is there any hope of reversing things?

Lois B said...

I'm sorry to be so late in the commenting game but I've been listening to CBC2 the last two weeks, having recently left Ontario where I used to listen to a dedicated classical station (albeit kind of a 'greatest hits' classical) and I'm ready to throw my radio out the window. It's awful. Paul Simon just finished warbling a tune I heard in high school and now it's the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin's pseudo jazz-blues. It's pop music however you label it. Please will someone tell me this wretched experiment is nearly through.