Friday, June 29, 2007

A reply to Ms. Jennifer McGuire's letter of June 4 2007

Ms. Jennifer McGuire, Executive Director of Programming at CBC Radio, had sent me a letter on June 4, 2007 in reply to my letter of March 24 (see my blog entry from May 3 entitled "Moving up the CBC hierarchy" for the original March 24 letter).

This is the letter that I mailed earlier today in response to Ms. Jennifer McGuire's reply:

June 29, 2007

Jennifer McGuire
P.O. Box 500 Station A
Toronto, ON
M5W 1E6

Dear Ms. McGuire,

Thank you for your letter of June 4, 2007. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to consider my letter and respond.

I have seen many references to the arts and culture survey that you mention. If, as you suggest, the results of this survey support the decision to revamp the programming on CBC Radio Two then I encourage you to make this survey available to the CBC Radio audience by posting it (or a summary of its conclusions) on the CBC Radio web site. I believe CBC Radio management should have nothing to fear from making this information available to Canadians, assuming that the results of the study support these decisions.

You also mention that CBC Radio Two listeners were consulted and that "in excess of two thousand people were involved". You also state that the results of this research indicated that "many Canadians did not find the programming on our radio services relevant to them and their experiences". This brings to mind the question: did the two thousand individuals consulted identify themselves as CBC Radio Two listeners? If so, then I would have expected them to find the CBC Radio Two services highly relevant to them since they are already listeners. If the survey sample was not restricted to CBC Radio Two listeners only, and was intended to represent the general Canadian population, then how many of these survey respondents do you believe will become CBC Radio Two listeners with the new programming?

I also contend that a survey with such a limited sample size should only have been the first step in a program of public consultation. While the survey may have identified some necessary changes, I suggest that the next step should have been to make these proposed changes known to the CBC Radio Two audience well in advance of their implementation and to allow the CBC Radio Two audience time to comment on these changes in a public forum, such as the CBC Radio Two web site. This would have allowed CBC Radio management to determine, based on the feedback received, how much of the existing audience would be retained after the new programming was launched. A subsequent step should have been to test market the new programming in some sample markets to determine how many new listeners would be attracted to the new programming. If you are planning any further changes to the daytime programming I suggest that you consider this course of action.

I agree that the mandate of CBC Radio should be to deliver programming that is meaningful to Canadians. What, however, is programming that is "meaningful to Canadians"? Should it attempt to reflect every region, every ethnic group, every musical genre that may be performed in Canada? If you attempt this then it is my opinion that the result will be a musical melange that will be of interest to only a very few. The programming will become so fragmented and unpredictable that you will lose your audience to stations where the programming is more consistent. If you succeed in broadening the scope of the programming, only to reduce the size of your audience, have you truly succeeded in making CBC Radio more relevant to Canadians?

Should the programming attempt to reflect popular culture? I suggest that popular culture is well represented by commercial radio stations and that CBC Radio does not need to attempt to replicate the genres available on commercial radio.

What, then, is the role of the public broadcaster? I suggest that the public broadcaster should attempt to perform one function and to perform it very well: that function being to expose Canadians to music that they can not find on other radio stations and that broadens their cultural horizons. Furthermore, the programming should be of such consistent quality and interest to the audience that it attracts and retains an audience. A public broadcaster that is broadcasting a varied and diverse program but has no audience would not be fulfilling its mandate. I believe CBC Radio Two previously fulfilled its mandate very well, but does not do so now.

Did the previous programming offer Canadians music that they could not find on other radio stations? Yes, I believe it did. There are very few radio stations broadcasting classical music and original works from Canadian composers in the evenings. Will young people discover and be attracted to classical music without CBC Radio Two's consistent broadcasts of classical music in the evenings? Some may, but their opportunities to discover classical music have been greatly diminished. Will young people discover CBC Radio Two's new programming and become regular listeners, thus allowing you to grow the CBC Radio Two audience as you have stated is your goal? I contend that the programming is too inconsistent to attract young people as a regular audience, given the many other source of music available to them.

You also state that the previous programming was "seen as an elite service marked by 'high culture' music". I believe this is precisely the point - the role of the public broadcaster should be to contribute to Canadian culture in areas that the private sector finds unprofitable. Just as the Canadian cultural landscape is enhanced by the existence of the National Arts Centre, the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Civilization and the public library system (to name some of the institutions in Ottawa), so too did CBC Radio Two contribute to Canadian culture. Should the National Gallery cancel the Renoir exhibit because it is elitist? Should the National Arts Centre Orchestra be disbanded because it performs 'high culture' music? Should all books written before the 20th century be removed from the public libraries because they are difficult to read? No, of course no one would propose any of these actions and I suggest that reducing the classical music content of the CBC Radio Two evening schedule because it is perceived by some as being 'elitist' is similarly unjustifiable.

What criteria will CBC Radio management use to measure the success of this new programming?. Will it be measured solely by market share? By audience feedback? Do you plan to survey various regions and ethnic groups to determine if you have broadened your audience, albeit at the expense of total listeners? I believe many listeners are interested in questions such as these and encourage you to make this information available in a public forum, such as the CBC Radio Two web site. I believe Canadians, as shareholders in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, are entitled to this information.


James Wooten


Brian Avery said...

I agree with every single point that you made in your very well thought out reply. Keep up the good work.
This is the best analysis and comment that I have seen to date. I think it should be publicised as much as possible. Brian Avery

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wooten- Bravo to you! Excellent letter- I am going to circulate your response to my friends and colleagues, as it thoroughly explains this cultural crisis- Thank you for your time and effort,
Lisa Reimer, Vancouver, BC

Nick said...

Dear Mr. Wooten,

Thank you for your activism. Please find pasted below the text of a letter which I mailed to Jennifer McGuire today.

Best regards,


Ms. Jennifer McGuire
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
P.O. Box 500 Station A
Toronto, ON
M5W 1E6

March 19, 2008

Dear Ms. McGuire,

I write to you in response to the article by Russell Smith which appeared in The Globe and Mail on March 13, 2008. Although I understand that your role as programming director compels you to consider original programming ideas rather than passive programming stewardship, I am upset to learn of the imminent cancellation of Tom Allen's Music & Company.

As a young student at McGill's Faculty of Law, I can assure you that Mr. Allen's program attracts more than just an aging demographic. Indeed, I am disheartened to see the complete absence of targeted advertising aimed at younger professionals - the very types who would most appreciate Mr. Allen's engaging references to music history, cognitive science and his college music school hijinks.

Music & Company is a wonderful blend of refreshing humour - such as the musical "cage matches" and "swag exchange" - and serious musical themes. As a lover of Russian culture, I particularly appreciate Mr. Allen's fascination with Eastern European orchestral music.

I find CBC Radio Two’s plan to confine classical music to a new midday program emphasizing "the most popular and accessible" pieces of the genre less than compelling. This strategy will hardly distinguish CBC Radio 2 from Radio Classique Montreal and Classical 96 in Toronto, two prominent radio stations in major anglophone markets. Indeed, why does CBC Radio 2 seek to make itself less distinguishable from its ostensible rivals?

I strongly urge you to both keep alive and better promote Tom Allen's splendid morning program. Should you make the unfortunate decision of canceling his show, at least select Mr. Allen as the host for the new classical program. His energetic, witty, and delightful personality contrasts markedly with other longtime, yet relatively colourless radio personalities such as Jurgen Gothe and Catherine Belyea.

I respectfully request a written response to my concerns.


Nicholas Richards-Bentley