Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A question for the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills

In my September 10 blog entry I suggested that we all ask the candidates in our ridings what their policy is with respect to the recent programming changes on CBC Radio Two. So, following my own advice, I sent the following e-mail to the candidates in my riding, Carleton-Mississippi Mills:

There has been considerable controversy in recent months concerning the recent programming changes on CBC Radio Two. While this may seem to be a small issue to some, it directly affects the lives of many former CBC Radio Two listeners, including senior citizens and retirees, for whom CBC Radio Two was an integral part of their daily life. Given that:

  • Canadian taxpayers are, according to the Broadcasting Act, 1991, the effective owners of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
  • CBC Radio management has been singularly unresponsive to the protests of CBC Radio Two listeners over the past six months
  • the members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Heritage are unable (or unwilling) to influence the day-to-day operations of the Crown Corporation

Could you please tell the voters of Carleton-Mississippi Mills what you intend to do, if elected, and what your party would do, if it forms the government, to ensure that CBC Management is made more responsive to the wishes of it's audience, the Canadian taxpayer?

I am sending the same question to all of the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills. I am also posting the question and the fact that I have sent this question to all candidates on my web site, cbcradiotwoandme.blogspot.com.

With your permission, I will also post your reply on this web site.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.

I sent this e-mail to the incumbent, Gordon O'Connor (Conservative Party), Jake Cole (Green Party), Justin MacKinnon (Liberal Party) and Paul Arbour (NDP), this afternoon.

There are, of course, other points that could have been made in this e-mail, but I wanted to send a simple, direct question and receive a direct reply.

We'll see now what responses we get!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

DIY Protest: 10 things you can do to protest the CBC Radio Two changes

Are you outraged about the changes that have taken place on CBC Radio Two this September? Are you wondering what you, as a shareholder in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, can do to protest these changes? Well then, here are some possible actions to take:

1. Stop listening to CBC Radio Two.

I know that you may have done this already, but if you are still listening to CBC Radio Two, then stop. Listen to Classical 96.3 FM instead, if you are fortunate enough to be within broadcasting range, or Radio-Classique 99.5 FM in Montreal or Couleur FM in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. If you are living in another part of the country where these radio stations are not available, see the list of classical radio stations to the right.

If you can afford the start-up cost and fees associated with satellite radio, consider subscribing to Sirius or XM satellite radio. As a subscriber to Sirius satellite radio for over a year now, I find it very much worth the cost.

You may be asking: Why stop listening to CBC Radio Two? Ms. Julie Nesrallah's new program "Tempo" is still available, and it's still a very good program. Why stop listening, even though it is only between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM? There are two reasons to stop listening. The first reason is simply a matter of principle. Even if no one knows that you have stopped listening, you will have the inner satisfaction of knowing that you no longer support or are in any way associated with the CBC.

The second reason is so that you can truthfully respond, if asked, that you no longer listen to the CBC; for example, if you are lucky enough to be asked by the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement (BBM) during one of their frequent quarterly surveys.

2. Join the CBC Radio Two protest.

See the Stand on Guard for CBC web site. This is the best one-stop-shopping site for all things related to the CBC protest. See also the other sites listed to the right.

3. Join the CBC Radio Two protest on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/).

If you are not already on FaceBook, sign up and join the groups "Save Classical Music at the CBC" and "Save the CBC Radio Orchestra".

4. Write a letter to the Minister of Heritage, the Honourable Josée Verner.

Tell Ms. Verner that although you understand that the CBC is a Crown corporation and therefore the Minister can not become involved in the day-to-day operations of the CBC, remind her that it is the job of the federal government and Parliament to ensure that our tax dollars are being spent responsibly and in a way that reflects our wishes as Canadian taxpayers. Remind Ms. Verner that this whole CBC Radio Two fiasco occurred while the Conservatives were in power, even if in only a minority government, and that Canadian voters will hold the Conservatives responsible for this outrage perpetrated on the loyal CBC Radio Two listeners. See the earlier letter that I sent to Ms. Verner's predecessor, Ms. Oda, for inspiration.

5. During the federal election campaign, ask the candidates in your riding what their position is on ensuring that the government and Minister of Heritage provides proper oversight on the action of Crown Corporations, including the CBC.

See the above. Remind the Conservative candidate that Canadian voters will hold the Conservatives responsible for the changes that have taken place on CBC Radio Two since these changes were implemented during their minority government. Don't let any promises of further tax reductions be used as a consolation for the changes that have taken place on CBC Radio Two. A two cent per litre reduction in the tax on diesel fuel, indeed!

6. Write to the members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

See my posts on this topic on May 14 2007 for inspiration.

7.Write a letter to the CBC management team. See the list to the right for the CBC Radio management hierarchy.

See my letters to Mr. Robert Rabinovitch, Ms. Jane Chalmers and Ms. Jennifer McGuire. Sadly, none of these folks are still in a position to reverse the changes that were instituted during their reign, but their successors - who are even more militantly in favour of the programming changes, it seems - may see the light if enough people write to them.

8. Write a letter to the CBC Board of Directors. See also the list to the right.

9. Write a letter to "Contact Us" on the CBC web site.

See my letter to TUWYT. Of course, I never received any response from the folks behind the scenes at TUWYT, but it's worth a try.

10. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

There has been some coverage of the CBC Radio Two changes in national newspapers, but not enough my opinion. See some of the articles that have been published in the list to the right. Let's make this issue more visible!

To summarize, there is a great deal that you, as a shareholder in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canadian taxpayer and CBC listener can do to protest the changes. The current election is an especially opportune time to make your views known!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Third day listening to the "new 2"

9:45 AM: I leave for Montreal. I tune in to Mr. Tom Allen's new program, "Radio 2 Morning". Among the pieces that I hear before the program ends at 10:00 AM is a cover of Johnny Nash's "I can see clearly now". Is this the much-vaunted Canadian content that CBC management has been trumpeting over the last six months? Covers of hits from the '60s and '70s?

10:00 AM: Ms. Julie Nesrallah's new show, "Tempo" begins, and once again Ms. Nesrallah reaffirms that this show is the gem in the new daily schedule. Although, it occurs to me - why was it necessary to replace "Here's to You" and "Studio Sparks" with a single program, and replace two program hosts with one? Is this a case of thinly-disguised cost cutting - replace two highly paid, veteran hosts with a single neophyte? (No offence is intended to Ms. Nesrallah, whom I already admire - I'm just wondering about the possible economics behind the change in programming.)

approx. 12:00 PM: I lose reception of the CBC Radio Two station in Ottawa, 103.3 FM. Once again, I have forgotten the frequency of the English-language CBC Radio Two station in Montreal and scan the FM frequencies for the station in Montreal. I find Radio-Classique, 99.5 FM in Montreal. Initially, I confuse this with CBC Radio Two, but the presence of commercials (and commentary) in French make me realize this is a commercial radio station. I give up on searching for CBC Radio Two and continue to listen to Radio-Classique for the rest of my trip.

approx. 4:15 PM: I leave for Ottawa, with a detour through Cornwall. I continue to listen to 99.5 FM until I lose reception. By this time it's 6:00 PM and I don't even bother trying to listen to Ms. Katie Malloch's "Tonic". I've listened to it enough times since its initial introduction in March, 2007, to know that it's not for me. I listen to a CD of the soundtrack from the movie "Across the Universe" instead, for the rest of the journey home.

Now, I should mention that the past three days have by no means been usual for me - a Toronto-Waterloo-Toronto drive, followed by a Toronto-Ottawa trip, followed by an Ottawa-Montreal-Cornwall-Ottawa journey is quite out of the ordinary. But it highlights one point - CBC management has been trumpeting the fact that classical music is available 24/7 on the web via streaming audio - but it doesn't do one much good, does it, if you are not tied to your PC/web-enabled PDA/iPhone.

So, once again, I return to the main points that I have been trying to make to the CBC management, members of Parliament, Minister of Heritage and to anyone elso who will listen for the past 18 months: the changes to the CBC Radio Two programming were made without proper consultation of the shareholders of the corporation (i.e. you and me, the taxpayers of Canada), the changes were made without allowing feedback to be solicited and displayed on the CBC Radio web site both prior to and after the changes were implemented and, furthermore, the changes are ill-advised and will drive the once-loyal CBC Radio Two audience away, with no replacement likely.

Will I listen to CBC Radio Two after this week? No, I will not, since I have found alternatives that are much more to my liking - Sirius satellite radio, Classical 96.3 FM in Toronto and now, Radio-Classique 99.5 FM in Montreal.

My own personal "Groundhog Day"

The start of my third day listening to the "new 2". We get up at 6:30 AM, having driven from Toronto to Ottawa the day before. As is my habit when at home, I make coffee, turn on Sirius satellite radio to "Symphony Hall" and read the Globe and Mail and National Post. Forty-five minutes elapse before I remember that I'm supposed to be listening to the "new 2" in my attempt to give CBC Radio another chance. I tune into Mr. Tom Allen's new program, "Radio 2 Morning", just in time to hear the Stampeders and "Sweet City Woman". There is a brief moment when I think I have been doomed by CBC to my own personal version of "Groundhog Day" in which I play the Bill Murray character - will I be condemned by CBC to hear "Sweet City Woman" at least once a day on the "new 2"?

I see my letter to the editor is published in the National Post. Here is the full text, as published in the Post:

Re: I Survived The CBC's New Radio 2, And So Can You!, Adam McDowell, Sept. 3.

Adam McDowell hit the nail squarely on the head with his final assessment of the new CBC Radio 2: "radio is all about having to sit through stuff you're not necessarily keen to listen to." This is precisely the problem with the new CBC Radio 2 programming. In an era of narrow-casting, how will a radio station that attempts to be all things to all people attract and keep an audience?

Commercial radio stations understand this and focus their programming to a specific audience and musical genre. CBC Radio 2 previously did this and did it reasonably well. Now, by trying to squeeze every possible musical genre into the daily schedule, I expect CBC Radio 2 will lose its audience to more focused commercial stations.

But will the federal government realize that if no one is listening to the "new 2" it no longer deserves to be funded with our hard-earned tax dollars?

James Wooten, Kanata, Ont.

I will leave for Montreal later this morning. During the drive I will continue to give the "new 2" a second chance.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A second day of the "new 2"

Second day of trying to be open-minded and give the "new 2" a chance. Driving back to Ottawa from Toronto, I tune into Julie Nesrallah's new program, "Tempo", at 11:45 AM. I listen to Ms. Nesrallah's show until I begin to lose reception of CBC Radio's Toronto station somewhere east of Toronto.

A second day of listening to Ms. Nesrallah's show confirms my first impression from yesterday - this is excellent programming, and precisely the type of program CBC Radio Two should be offering to it's listeners, not only during the 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM time slot but throughout the day and evening.

When I lose reception of 94.1 FM I turn to Sirius satellite radio, "Symphony Hall".

Sometime after 3:00 PM, and still driving to Ottawa, I search for the CBC Radio Two station from Kingston. I used to have all of the CBC Radio Two stations stored on my car radio, so that I could switch from Ottawa to Kingston, then from Kingston to Toronto while driving from Ottawa to Toronto. But it's been so long since I've listened to CBC Radio Two that I've forgotten the frequency for Kingston's Radio Two station. I scan the frequencies, searching for Radio Two, then realize the problem - when CBC Radio Two sounds like any other commercial station on the radio, how do you find it by scanning the dial? Wait until the hourly news, then scramble for five minutes to find the station? Continue to scan until you hit one of those annoying promos for CBC Radio Two's new programs? I give up in frustration and return to Sirius.

Closer to Ottawa I tune in to the Ottawa CBC Radio Two station, 103.3. FM and listen to Mr. Terfry's new show. It's not intolerable, but I hear Lyle Lovett, followed by a barely-recognizable cover of Murray McLauchlin's "Down by the Henry Moore", performed by Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. Is this the long-awaited Canadian content that the CBC has been promising? U.S. performers and covers of Canadian hits from the '70s?

But then Mr. Terfry also plays Hawksley Workman - and I admit I've never heard of Mr. Workman, until now, and I enjoy Mr. Workman's performance. Then, a song by Amos Lee (I was distracted by driving, I may have misheard the name) followed by a bit of eclectic wierdness, which I believe was "Banjo Girl".

All in all, Mr. Terfry's show fills a need - a need for eclectic, out-of-the-ordinary music - that I previously filled by listening to university radio stations. I may listen again from time to time, but I still hold a grudge against the CBC for cancelling so many fine programs and for destroying my - yes, my - CBC. As I have previously stated in other blog entries, as well as letters to CBC management, I would have supported the creation of a CBC Radio 3 to feature programs such as Mr. Terfry's. But I do not support the destruction of CBC Radio Two, to replace it with an inferior offering.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My first day listening to the "new 2"

12:30 PM: The truck is loaded and we're on Highway 401, somewhere between Mississauga and Waterloo. I remember that I'm supposed to be listening to CBC Radio Two's new programming. I tune the radio to CBC Radio Two, to Julie Nesrallah's "Tempo". Mozart's Symphony No. 41 is playing and apparently all four movements are to be played today. Ms. Nesrallah's comments between the second and third movement are insightful and concise. This is how CBC Radio Two used to be, and should be! Too bad it is only between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM.

When it was first announced that Ms. Nesrallah would be hosting a show for five hours a day, five days a week, I wondered how Ms. Nesrallah would find the time to select pieces for the programming and write commentary on each. Perhaps it is cynical for me to think that this task is to be accomplished by playing all pieces in their entirety and by keeping commentary to a minimum. However, I have no objection to this and welcome this approach to programming. Please keep it up, Ms. Nesrallah! Unfortunately, we arrived in Waterloo at 1:00 PM and I had to turn the radio off, to move things into Alex's apartment.

4:10 PM: Driving to Canadian Tire to pick up charcoal for the barbecue while Ingrid and Alex shop for food at Food Basics. I tune to CBC Radio Two, to listen to Rich Terfry's new program, "Radio 2 Drive". I hear a performance that I initially believe to be a novelty act, either a precursor to Tiny Tim, or perhaps a Tiny Tim impersonator. I arrive at Canadian Tire and thankfully turn off the radio.

approx. 5:30 PM: Driving back to Toronto from Waterloo. I turn on the radio, again back to Rich Terfry's "Radio 2 Drive". We hear a singer that Rich describes as the "Voice of Cuba". Ingrid thinks that it's Cuban rap and asks me to turn the volume down. I tell her that it's all part of the "new 2" experience and we should listen. I turn the volume down. This is how CBC Radio features new Canadian content?

approx. 5:45 PM: Mr. Terfry introduces a collaboration between Robert Plant and Allison Krause. We listen. It's enjoyable.

approx. 5:55 PM: Mr. Terfry closes the program with a rendition of "Sweet City Woman", originally recorded by the Stampeders in 1971. I cringed when I heard this during the '70s and it still makes me cringe. Dear God, no, is this what the drive home show is going to be like?

To summarize my first day of listening to CBC Radio Two, or what little that I was able to listen to during our busy day of moving Alex from Toronto to Waterloo: as I expected, the new morning programming is too eclectic and inappropriate for the time of day. If I want to listen to Bob Dylan at 8:00 AM, I'll put on a CD or tune to a station that features '60s classic rock. If I want to listen to soul, or R&B, or jazz between 6:00 AM and 10:00 AM, I'll do the same.

Rich Terfry's show had it's moments, but as I say, listening to one enjoyable piece only to be followed by an irritating, nauseating recording causes me to lunge for the next button on the radio. Dangerous when driving on the 401 during rush hour traffic.

Ms. Nesrallah's show was the only truly enjoyable moment of the day, at least for me. I may even start listening more often, switching from my much-beloved Sirius satellite radio "Symphony Hall". But then I, as a retiree (albeit at the ripe old age of 51), have the luxury of being able to listen to classical music during the middle of the day. The vast majority of Canadians don't - and that's the sad part of this whole sorry affair known a the "new 2".

Masochism? Or trying to be open-minded?

In the spirit of attempting to be open-minded and to give the "new 2" a chance, I tuned the radio to CBC Radio Two while in Toronto today, instead of the usual Classical 96.3 that we listen to while in Toronto. We woke up to Tom Allen's new show; I listened to it while drinking my morning coffee; while eating breakfast; while writing this blog. And, although I respect and previously enjoyed Mr. Allen's "Music and Company", I have to say that it is an ordeal to continue to listen to this new programming.

The only high point was Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", although the CBC CD player managed to mangle this performance, making it a less than satisfactory experience. Although I still enjoy hearing Bob Dylan from time to time, is 8:00 AM really the time that CBC Radio Two listeners want to hear Bob Dylan?

I'll continue to try to give CBC Radio Two a chance today while we drive Alex to Waterloo; move him into his apartment and drive back to Toronto. I suspect, however, that the eclectic and rather irritating music that the CBC seems to be featuring now will wear our patience to the breaking point and we will have to turn to Classical 96.3 FM at some point during the day.

Monday, September 1, 2008

CBC executives nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads

On the eve of the launch of CBC Radio Two's new programming, one wonders what must be going through the minds of the CBC Radio Two executives that are responsible for these changes. Are they going to sleep tonight, secure in the knowledge that the programming changes that they are inflicting upon their once-loyal audience are best for the CBC, for their listening audience and for the Canadian taxpayer? Do they believe that the storm of protest that has resulted from the announcement of the new programming is just a small speed bump on the road to greater relevance of the CBC and a greater share of the listening audience? Do they dream of even greater glories for CBC Radio Two, with even more alarming changes in store for their unsuspecting audience, to be announced perhaps in six months time? Or are they beginning to question whether the choices they have made are correct, and are they beginning to worry that they will have to justify the radical changes they have made to the CBC programming, and the subsequent decline in market share that may ensue?

Well, I have no inside knowledge of what is going through the minds of the executives of CBC Radio Two - your guess is as good as mine. Interestingly enough, however, the CBC is advertising for a Research Analyst who will "analyze and report general audience data for internal and external clients using BBM and comScore audience ratings databases" and "analyze and interpret the data, and verify its statistical validity and communicate research findings by means of written reports in both French and English". This is a temporary position, until May 2009.

Now, it could be that this is just business as usual for the CBC. Alternatively, it could be that the CBC is feeling some pressure from the Minister of Heritage to justify its recent decisions and is intent on compiling data to prove that it has indeed increased its market share, as a result of the new programming.

No matter whether this is simply business as usual or a new initiative of the CBC, don't you think that, as shareholders in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, we should be able to see for ourselves the results of this analysis? CBC, will you not put these reports on your web site for all to see, and to prove to us that your new programming is resulting in increased market share for the CBC?