Thursday, May 3, 2007

Moving up the CBC Radio Hierarchy

Readers who have been following this blog until now will recall that I was planning to write to Ms. Jennifer McGuire, executive director of programming at CBC Radio. (I should have mentioned at the beginning of this blog that it recounts a series of events beginning in late February and continuing until the present. So far, I've only covered the period to March 25. If you want to understand the entire sequence of events, please start at the earliest post and work your way to this one.)

On the morning of March 19, the first day of the new CBC Radio Two evening schedule, I read an article in the Globe and Mail entitled "Radio Two's New Gig". The following is an excerpt from that article:

"The last time CBC Radio made a move toward more contemporary sounds, with the Radio One afternoon show Freestyle and other changes on that network in late 2005, it was met with a wave of criticism from some listeners. One group, including representatives of the Canadian League of Composers, met with CBC executives."

It later states:

"But the CBC said it has tried to avert some of that controversy this time. "Everybody is always concerned about change at CBC Radio because they [listeners] are heavily invested in it, and that's a good thing", McGuire said. But "we have talked to all the organizations. We talked to composers. We talked to them when we started the study [to overhauled CBC Radio] and when we were thinking about what it meant in terms of programming changes ... That conversation continues to be ongoing."

Now, the astute reader and those students who successfully completed Marketing 101 will have noticed something glaringly obvious in the above statement. Who did they miss? Why, the consumer, of course! Those very listeners who are "heavily invested" in CBC Radio Two (as well as the owners, given that the Broadcasting Act identifies CBC Radio as being "effectively owned and controlled by Canadians". Did CBC Radio hold public forums to solicit the opinions of their customers? Did they announce on the CBC Radio web site that these changes were being considered and invite public opinion? Did they announce these changes say, six months in advance on CBC Radio Two and invite comments? Did they dedicate a "Cross-country Checkup" show to this topic? (I would have liked to hear Rex Murphy's opinions on this!) Did they publish ads in the national newspapers to announce these changes? Now, I can't be 100% certain that they didn't do at least one of these things, or all of them for that matter. But since I listen - or, at least, used to listen - to CBC Radio Two from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, read the National Post and Globe and Mail daily and occasionally watch CBC TV programs other than "The National", I sure as hell think I would have noticed such efforts at public consultation. But I saw nothing of the sort.

Ms. Jennifer McGuire was also quoted in the Globe and Mail article as saying the following:

"And we are trying to have a service that is sustainable, with an audience that regenerates." In other words, McGuire said, Radio Two's target audience is between 35 and 49 years old, yet the majority of current listeners are over 50. So the network is looking to attract a relatively younger, although still adult audience."

Well, crap! I thought. I'm in that target audience! I started listening to CBC Radio Two when I was in my early twenties, not even in the target audience! And I've been listening to it ever since! Do they really think they are going to replace their current audience (most of whom I expect they have lost) with an equal number of 35 - 49 year olds, and furthermore grow that audience? With the mediocre programming that is now being broadcast in the evenings? A return to Marketing 101 for a refresher course is in order, I think. Some courses in Business Strategy wouldn't hurt, either.

So, I composed the following letter to Ms. Jennifer McGuire. I sent this as an actual paper-based letter - I had heard such things were still being done - on March 25:

"Dear Ms. McGuire,

I am writing to express my outrage at the changes that have taken place in the evening schedule of CBC Radio Two. I have listened to the new programming for a full week and I am just as outraged now as I was when I first heard of the programming changes to come.

Why am I outraged? I am outraged because CBC Radio Two listeners have not been given a choice. I would have agreed with the launch of an alternative station to CBC Radio Two with this new programming. As a taxpayer I would have fully supported such an initiative. I would also have agreed with the changes to the CBC Radio Two programming if there had been a public consultation with CBC Radio Two listeners, via public forums such as the CBC Radio web site or phone-in shows where the proposed changes could have been announced, discussed with the listening audience and only then, once the listeners had been allowed to express an opinion, changes had been made (assuming that the listeners supported such changes). It appears that nothing of the sort has taken place. As a regular listener to CBC Radio Two I expect I would have heard of such a public consultation. However, the first inkling that I had of the changes coming to the evening schedule was an announcement by Danielle Charbonneau several weeks before the event that her program would be ending and new programs would begin March 19. I believe the CBC Radio Two listeners were blind sided by such sweeping changes.

I am outraged because it appears that CBC Radio Two listeners 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, most of which we may have no interest in.

I am outraged that CBC Radio Two listeners have been deprived of a full newscast on the hour, and of the World at Six newscast on weekday evenings. Why would you think that CBC Radio Two listeners are not interested in a full newscast? Why must we switch to CBC Radio One on the hour, just to hear the news, then switch back to CBC Radio Two?

I am outraged that the Arts Report has been cancelled on Music and Company. Why was this done? What has taken it's place? Nothing.

I am outraged at the lack of a public forum for listeners to express their views, share opinions and see responses from CBC Radio Two management. I strongly urge you to create a site on the new CBC Radio Two web site where listeners may express their opinions. Will this site reflect all of the opinions being expressed by CBC Radio Two listeners. No, it will not - I expect that many listeners do not have access to personal computers and are not computer and Internet literate and are therefore unable to use this site. I therefore also urge you to scan and post any written letters that you receive, with the permission of the author, on such a site. Will CBC Radio Two create a site and go to such lengths to ensure that public opinion is expressed? I sincerely doubt it. Why should you? It is not in your interest, nor will it reflect well upon CBC Radio Two management.

What alternatives does the poor downtrodden CBC Radio Two listener have? Unfortunately, not many. 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 or two others. 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, you were quoted as saying 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 those listeners that express their opinions.

So, you may be thinking, what does this listener want? I would be satisfied with nothing less than a return to the former CBC Radio Two evening schedule, reinstatement of full newscasts on the hour, a return to CBC Radio Two of the World at Six newscast and reinstatement of the Arts Report on Music and Company in the mornings. If you want to create a new CBC Radio Four broadcast with the new programming then fine, as a taxpayer I would fully support this. However, I believe Canadians require and deserve an alternative to commercial radio that focuses on classical music that CBC Radio Two formerly provided.

Do I have any hope that this will happen? Yes, a great deal of hope. Do I have any expectations that this will happen? No, none whatsoever. Will I contact as many individuals and government officials as I can to help make this happen? Yes, I will."

Yes, I agree the language is a bit over the top at times, and the tone somewhat bitter. But I was still in that stage of anger and denial when I thought something could be done.

While searching the CBC Radio web site, I found the CBC org chart (see the link to the right) and saw that Ms. Jane Chalmers is the Vice-President of CBC Radio. For good measure, I also sent the following letter on the same day:

"Dear Ms. Chalmers,

I am writing to express my outrage at the changes that have taken place in the evening schedule of CBC Radio Two. I have listened to the new programming for a full week and I am just as outraged now as I was when I first heard of the programming changes to come.

Why am I outraged? I am outraged because CBC Radio Two listeners have not been given a choice. I would have agreed with the launch of an alternative station to CBC Radio Two with this new programming. As a taxpayer ..."

Well, you get the general idea. I freely admit I sent the same letter (with minor modifications) to both Ms. Jennifer McGuire and Ms. Jane Chalmers. And, diligent readers of this blog will recognize some sentiments that are recycled from my previous post (or attempt at posting) to Mr. Jowi Taylor's blog and my submission to the "Tell Us What You Think" link on the CBC Radio Two web site. After all, writing these things is time-consuming - I can't be completely original every time. I still have a day job to go to!

So, I wrote the letters and dropped them off at my local Canada Post office. I also decided not to wait for a response from Ms. Jane Chalmers or Ms. Jennifer McGuire. Next, I would go to the top: Mr. Robert Rabinovitch, President and
CEO and Acting Chair of the Board of Governors.


Norman Rosenblood said...

it will take some powerful organization skills to undo/repair the damage done by Jennifer McGuire and Chris Boyce.

One place to start is the hiring standards that allow them to hold their destructive positions.

James Wooten said...

Norman, recent events have shown that the chickens are finally coming home to roost. "Blood will have blood", to thoroughly mix my metaphors.