Monday, April 30, 2007

The first week is over: time to express an opinion

So, after the first week of the new CBC Radio Two evening schedule I decided that, as a CBC Radio Two listener, taxpayer and shareholder in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (see clause 3.(1) of the Broadcasting Act, 1991, which states "It is hereby declared as the broadcasting policy for Canada that (a) the Canadian broadcasting system shall be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians") that I would begin to make my opinions known to the CBC.

Being a calm, considerate Canadian attempting to work within the system (as they used to say in the '60s) I went to the CBC Radio Two web site to try to find a venue for my comments. Aha! I found that CBC Radio Two had thoughtfully created a blog site, presumably where CBC Radio Two listeners could read posts from CBC Radio Two management and personalities, post their own opinions, exchange feedback with CBC Radio Two management and other listeners. A venue for the exchange of ideas! Freedom of expression! Everything that makes western democracies great! I dutifully began to read the posts. Most I found to be self-absorbed, public relations fluff.

Then, I found a blog written by Mr. Jowi Taylor. I read through the posts, until I came upon an entry date March 21, entitled "Moving On". In his post, Mr. Jowi Taylor made the following statement:

"A lot of time is spent going through the comments associated with each post. I have posted comments both positive and negative about some of the new shows when they've been directly related to my original post. There are also a lot of comments coming in that are totally unrelated to the posts but express a genuine concern about the programmes, the schedule, the direction of the network - you know - all the stuff that has been the stuff of the public conversation about the CBC since the very beginning.

This is not the best place to leave those comments. To the left, you'll notice a piano keyboard graphic that says TELL US WHAT YOU THINK. That will get your message to the people it's intended for."

Hmmm, I thought. There are a lot of comments coming in. Why can't I find them? I searched some more. I realized that there were no comments on the web site expressing a genuine concern about the programmes, the schedule, the direction of the network - everything that I expected to see on the CBC Radio Two blog site. Could it be that these comments were being deliberately suppressed? No! It couldn't be!

So I came back the next day. And the day after that. Finally, there were three comments, one from Mr. John Pendley, one from Lorry - no last name given - and one from Mr. Michael Ostroff. All of these gentlemen made very good points. I thought I would join the fray.

So I decided to submit my own post in response to Mr. Jowi Taylor's March 21 entry. Here it is, verbatim:

"Hi Jowi,

First, my apologies for using your blog as a forum to vent my outrage over the changes that have taken place in the evening schedule of CBC Radio Two. I realize that you are not responsible for these changes and have no influence over the programming or schedule.

However, by mentioning these changes and the responses that your have received from listeners in your March 21 entry entitled "Moving On", you have begun a discussion on this site that should be allowed to flourish.

Others who have left comments identify the lack of a forum on this site to express their opinions. This is the reason they are responding here. I, of course, completely agree. I will also provide my feedback using the TUWYT link but I have little hope that it will be read or considered even for the briefest moment, let alone acted upon by anyone in CBC management. There should be a forum on this site where listeners can express their views concerning the programming on Radio Two. I have searched this site and the CBC Radio site and can find no such forum.

In your March 22 comment, you state "As for consultation, there was month after month after month of it with all kinds of stakeholders - from listeners to orchestras to presenters to SOCAN to the musicians' association to... you name it." I must disagree. The first inkling that I had of the changes coming to the evening schedule was an announcement by Danielle Charbonneau that her program would be ending and new programs would begin March 19. I would have thought that consulting with listeners would have involved announcing possible changes months in advance (through public forums, such as the web site or the broadcasts themselves), soliciting opinion, allowing listeners to react and exchange opinions, then announce the outcome of this public consultation well in advance. Well, of course, nothing of this sort seems to have taken place. Instead, listeners were presented with a fait accompli on March 19. Live with it or move on, it appears we have been told.

Why am I outraged? I am outraged because we have not been given a choice. I would have agreed with the launch of an alternative to CBC Radio Two, with this new programming. As a taxpayer, I would have fully supported such an initiative. Instead, we appear to have been told by CBC Radio Two that no, our tastes in music are not sophisticated or worldly enough. Instead of listening to classical music while driving home or preparing dinner, we should be listening to jazz. Instead of listening to classical performances after 8:00 PM, we should be listening to live performances, of many different genres, some of which we may have no interest in.

There are, unfortunately, few alternatives available to listeners. As you may have noticed, there are few radio stations that broadcast classical music programs. In larger centres such as Vancouver, Toronto or Ottawa there may be one other. But what about smaller cities? The great value of CBC Radio Two was that it presented an alternative to commercial radio and provided a means for younger listeners to discover classical music. Will a young person discover the evening programming and become a long-term listener? I sincerely doubt it. Yet, in a Globe and Mail article on March 19, Jennifer McGuire (identified as CBC Radio's executive director of programming) stated that "... we are trying to have a service that is sustainable, with an audience that regenerates". By presenting a consistent format, with programming that was an alternative to commercial radio, CBC Radio Two was able to do just that - acquire a new audience who would stay with the programming. I believe that the new programming in the evening is not sufficiently distinctive, or consistent, to provide an alternative to commercial radio that will attract new listeners.

If this were a commercial radio station the outcome would be predictable. Listeners would abandon the station, advertisers would become aware of the declining audience and pull advertising, advertising revenues would suffer and the management of the radio station would realize their mistake and adjust accordingly. Given the lack of accountability to the audience, I expect CBC Radio Two management to go blithely on, unaware of audience interests and unresponsive to the few comments that percolate upwards.

What I find even more alarming is that I have heard mention of further changes to the daytime schedule. You also mention in your March 22 response: "For me - and this coming from someone who lost a show as a result of this exercise - I think that these changes are a good first step." One cringes at the thought of what the next steps will be."

I hit "Post", then sat back, satisfied that I had made my comments and was contributing to the free flow of ideas - all the while remembering that I was a shareholder in this great corporation called the CBC.

Imagine my surprise when I came back to the CBC Radio Two web site the next day, only to see that my comments were not posted. Nor were they the next day, or the day after that. My post was not posted on Mr. Jowi Taylor's blog and it has never appeared. Well, crap! thought I. What was wrong with my post? I did not use profanity! (Although I was tempted.) I did not defame CBC Radio Two management or Mr. Jowi Taylor! Agreed, the tone of my post may have been slightly bitter, but is this not allowed?

OK, I thought. The next step is to make my comments on the "Tell us what you think" link on the CBC Radio Two web site (it is the "piano key" link on the CBC Radio Two site as mentioned by Mr. Jowi Taylor). I would make my comments there, and see what sort of response I got.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

March 19, 2007 - a day that will live in infamy in the hearts of CBC Radio Two listeners

Well, this is it. The new evening programming begins on CBC Radio Two. On my drive home from work I tune in to CBC Radio Two at 6:00 PM. Two minutes of news, then Katie Malloch launches her new program, "Tonic". Now, I like Katie Malloch. I liked her program when it was on for an hour or two on Sunday evenings. I like jazz, late at night, driving home after an evening out, cool jazz playing as the street lights and darkened buildings flash by. But at 6:00 PM? Yes, I realize that there are jazz fans who like to listen to jazz at any time, day or night. As you will see from future postings on this blog, I do not mean to belittle or denigrate any musical genre or those who appreciate the music that has become the mainstay on CBC Radio Two in the evening. The point of this blog is that CBC Radio Two management has made wholesale changes to the evening schedule without consulting Canadians or providing any period for Canadians to comment on the proposed changes. What is more abhorrent, CBC Radio Two has not provided any means for CBC Radio Two listeners to comment on the changes in programming in a public forum where CBC Radio Two listeners can exchange opinions and comments, for all to see. This is the purpose of this blog - I hope to stimulate open discussion by CBC Radio Two listeners of the changes that have taken place. Future posts will document the letters I have written to CBC Radio management and the response I have received (or lack thereof), feedback I have posted on the CBC Radio Two web site, letters I have written to the House Standing Committee on Canadian Culture (which, incidentally, has initiated a study entitled "A full investigation of the role for a public broadcaster in the 21st century" - check out the Committee's link to the right). But I am getting ahead of myself. This post was only intended to describe that first week.

So, I continued to listen to Katie's program. I listened all the way home. I continued listening at home. Some of the music I enjoyed, some I did not. All in all, I would have preferred "Music for Awhile" and Danielle Charbonneau.

I listened to the new "Canada Live" at 8:00 PM. I tried to enjoy it - I really did! But I gave up after ten to twenty minutes and changed to Espace Musique - or perhaps it was "Couleur FM", 97.1 in the Ottawa/Gatineau region.

The rest of the week continued in the same vein. (I missed Tuesday's programming, attending Murray Perahia's performance at the National Arts Centre with my girlfriend - finally, a classical music fix in the evening!). But I diligently listened to CBC Radio Two for the rest of the week, trying to find some good in it all. Sad to say, I found very little.

Memorable concerts during that week included the "Black History Month" concert, the "Sicilian Jazz Project", "Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans" (I'm not making this stuff up, check out the CBC Radio Two home page under "Concerts on Demand"). There may have been others - or in fact these may have taken place the next week - but my memories of that bitter time are, thankfully, beginning to fade.

Now, I have nothing against the performances listed above, the content of the performances or the performers who participated in them. I'm sure that the performances were excellent, the performers are dedicated musicians and that there is an audience for such performances. My point is that CBC Radio Two has abandoned its listeners with such drastic changes in programming. Imagine if "Hockey Night in Canada" had been replaced with "Ballet Night in Canada". What would be the reaction? There would be rioting in the streets, CBC management burned in effigy, letters written to the editor. Don Cherry would likely replace (by popular demand) Stephen Harper as the leader of the Conservative Party, run for Parliament in the next election, win a seat in the House and the election by a record margin, then restore some sense to CBC management and return Hockey Night in Canada to its rightful place in the CBC schedule. But classical music? Who cares? Who is being affected?

Well, oddly enough, quite a few people apparently. Mr. Robert Rabinovitch, President of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, referred in his March 22 2007 address to the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage of "... a decade of almost continuous growth in audience share and loyalty". Is this how audience loyalty is rewarded?

The unfortunate thing is that many of the CBC Radio Two listeners are from the generations that are less likely to be computer literate or able to protest these changes. Will they start a blog? Will they go to the CBC Radio Two web site and provide feedback to CBC Radio Two? Will they write letters to CBC Radio management? Will they write to their Member of Parliament? Will they protest on Parliament Hill? Will they see this blog? Sadly, no. It is up to you, reader, to do these things for those who can not.

The warnings become clearer

The announcements on CBC Radio Two became more frequent as the bleak month of March wore on towards March 19 2007, initially just vague references to the new schedule, then more explicit announcements. "Music for Awhile" would be replaced by an evening program of jazz, beginning at 6:00 PM. The evening newscast, "The World at Six" from 6:00 - 6:30 PM, would be replaced by a short summary of the top news stories of the day. (And "short" means two to three minutes - how 's that for in-depth reporting of the day's top news stories?). "In Performance", which generally consisted of recorded performances of classical music performed by Canadian orchestras, would be replaced by "Canada Live", performances of a variety of musical genres in venues across Canada.

Wonderful, I thought. CBC Radio Two management has decided that the CBC Radio Two listener should adopt jazz as their preferred choice of music when driving home or preparing the evening meal. And apparently classical music after 8:00 PM is now out of favour - we should be listening to other genres. We should be widening our horizons, become more culturally diverse, learn to enjoy different types of music. Furthermore, apparently we do not need to be informed of the day's events when we are listening to CBC Radio Two - a three minute summary of the news at 6:00 PM is all we need. If we want more in-depth discussion of the day's news stories, we can always tune in to Radio One.

Minicult has issued a new directive, and we complacent Canadians must obey. War is Peace! Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Strength! Jazz is good!.

Early warnings of the impending disaster

It must have been sometime in late February or early March 2007 when, while listening to Danielle Charbonneau's "Music for Awhile" program on CBC Radio Two, I heard Ms. Charbonneau announce that there would be a new program replacing "Music for Awhile", beginning March 19 2007. My heart sank. I was afraid that I knew what was coming - more crapulent programming such as the Friday evening "Canada Live", or whatever it was called at the time. I immediately regretted that I had not expressed my dissatisfaction to CBC Radio Two management the previous year when the new Friday evening programming was launched - live performances of eclectic music from across Canada that could be of interest to only the comatose or taxi drivers. Latvian hip-hop, Bulgarian Blues, Polynesian operatic works - you name it, it was not too bizarre or of limited interest to the general CBC Radio Two listening audience to be featured on Friday evenings. I could only tolerate it for several seconds before changing to Espace Musique where good taste still prevailed.

What to do? Should I begin writing letters now? Telephone my Member of Parliament? Begin a protest march on Parliament Hill? No, being a calm, considerate, complacent Canadian, I thought I should at least give it a try. Wait for March 19. Listen to the new programming - after all, I naively thought, it might not be as bad as I imagined it could be. It might even be good! Thus proving that hope springs eternal.