Sunday, November 28, 2010

How have you adapted to the demise of CBC Radio 2?

How have you adapted to the demise of CBC Radio 2?

For many long-time listeners CBC Radio 2 was an integral part of their lives. When a part of your life is taken away from you, you have to adapt. Generally, you find a substitute for what has been taken away. If Coke is not available, you drink Pepsi. If Pepsi is not available, you might drink a no-name Cola. There are usually substitutes for most products or services.

Not so for Classical music radio stations. In the case of classical radio, CBC Radio 2 was the only game in town in most Canadian cities. I wrote one of my early blog entries on this subject on May 4 2007. What do you do without a source of classical music? Some readers suggested playing CDs. Others suggested listening to your iPod. I discovered other radio stations in the Ottawa/Gatineau area but I eventually found each of these wanting.

I soon discovered the pleasures of Sirius Satellite radio and wrote about it in a blog entry on Nov. 24 2008. It took some time, but I eventually developed my Sirius Satellite radio installation to be an acceptable substitute for CBC Radio 2, with the help of a roof-top satellite antenna and a radio repeater installed in the attic. I eventually grew my Sirius Satellite radio installation to three radios: one for the bedroom, one for the kitchen and one roving unit for car. It’s true that you could use a single unit for all three purposes, but I prefer leaving the house units where they are. I’m sure Sirius is happy with this arrangement too.

Even though I was very satisfied with Sirius Satellite radio, I found another source of Classical music: WiFi internet radio. While some may think of internet radio as listening to music streamed over the internet on your PC, in this case “WiFi internet radio” refers to a device which is dedicated to receiving internet streamed music over your home WiFi router. It looks just like an AM/FM radio, except that it connects to the internet and can receive any radio station worldwide which streams its programming over the internet. The internet radio also has an FM tuner and can play MP3 files, but I use it for internet radio only.

I soon had some favourite stations, which I described in a post on Jan. 16 2009. Ottava from Japan, Radio Stephensdom from Austria, Bayern 4 Klassik from Germany, Concert FM from New Zealand and ABC Classics from Australia. I must admit, I even broke my self-imposed ban on all things CBC by listening to CBC Radio Classical. I began to narrow my listening to just a few stations. Ottava was interesting at first, but I found there are long periods of spoken introduction to each piece. Unless you are a student of Japanese and are practising your verbal comprehension of Japanese, it starts to become tedious.

The same is true of Radio Stephensdom and Bayern 4 Klassik. At first I enjoyed listening to the news and trying to follow the broadcast using my extremely limited knowledge of German. But I don’t know enough to follow, and the spoken broadcasts became less interesting.

Concert FM from New Zealand and ABC Classics were interesting to listen to too. It was refreshing to hear news from the other side of the world, and to hear the weather forecasts for cities in Australia during the depths of the Canadian winter. (I learned that broadcasters in Australia will use the term “and fine” to refer to, I assume, sunny weather; for example, “The forecast for Brisbane today is 34 degrees and fine.”) I still listen to ABC Classics from time to time.

As I note above, I broke my self-imposed boycott of all things CBC Radio by listening to CBC Radio Classical. I eventually realized, however, that this is the white bread of radio broadcasting. It has no character, no context, nothing but the same top-40 classical hits streamed over the internet. It’s not radio; it’s Muzak for classical listeners. The periodic interjection of “This is so-and so and you are listening to CBC Radio 2 Classical” became annoying in the extreme. Even so, I continued to listen to CBC Radio Classical until, not surprisingly, my internet radio would no longer connect to the site. Can’t the CBC get even this right?

So what am I listening to now? When I’m in Toronto, I listen to 96.3 FM, CFMZ FM, Moses Znaimer’s classical music station. When I’m at the cottage, I listen to CFMZ. And I recently found that I can tune into CFMZ over my internet radio when I’m in Ottawa. So we listen to CFMZ.

It’s true, the announcers on CFMZ can be a bit irritating at times – I won’t name names – and the commercials can be even more annoying. But I find it comforting to hear Robert Upward’s traffic reports for Toronto, even when I’m in Ottawa and they’re of no use to me. Jean Stilwell has the sexiest voice in perhaps all of Canadian broadcasting and I would tune in to her program just to hear her read names from the telephone book. Even some of the commercials become part of the fabric of your life.

Which brings me to the point that I have been leading up to all along, in a somewhat long-winded and round-about manner: radio is all about ambience, context and connections. We listen to radio stations because we have some connection to the announcers and programming that is meaningful to us in a context that is familiar or because we have developed such a connection over time. The programming and announcers become part of our own history and the daily fabric of our lives, whether it is listening to Joe Cummings and the Arts Report and Tom Allen’s ‘Cage Match’ while you are shaving in the morning, Howard Dyck and Choral Concert while preparing breakfast on Sunday morning, Jurgen Gothe talking about the cats while you are driving home in the evening, Robert Upward reading the traffic report and telling us about the congestion on the DVP, Jean Stilwell laughing her husky laugh while you are drinking your second coffee of the morning or Danielle Charbonneau (the previous holder of the 'Sexiest Voice in Canadian Broadcasting' title) while you are drinking your pre-dinner drink. Radio is all about context, ambience and connection with your day-to-day life.

Overseas radio stations can be enjoyable but it’s much more difficult to make a connection to a foreign broadcaster or foreign country that makes the station integral to your life. CBC Radio 2 Classical is just too bland to ever make a meaningful connection. The new CBC Radio 2 is too variable, too unpredictable and too annoying to ever make that connection, at least with me. The old CBC Radio 2 had those connections but broke them forever for many listeners. This is what the management of the CBC has failed to understand and what has led them to make some disastrous decisions, in my opinion.


Spiderant said...


We live on the West Coast and after over 30 years of listening to CBC Radio 2 in its various guises, we stopped tuning in. After sending numerous letters of protest, we tuned out when the management at CBC decided for us all that someone who picks up a guitar in a pawn shop and learns to strum three chords should get equal representation with someone who has spent a dozen years or more mastering a musical instrument.

We picked up a REVO WiFi adapter, plugged it into our Tivoli radio, and now listen exclusively to public classical stations out of Oregon and California. Although we're subjected to a lot more Copeland than Mozetich, at least we no longer need to listen to Julie Nesrallah chatting between movements about how someone has nice hair.

Roland and Kate out of BC.

Katka said...

My husband and I, like yourself, have been searching for an alternative to the old CBC 2 for two years now.

We also bought an WiFi internet radio and flirted with some of the European stations until we landed closer to home. These days we mostly keep to three or four American NPR stations:

Portland's KQAC 89.9 - All Classical
Sacramento's KXPR 88.9
and, for jazz at night, either Tacoma's KPLU 88.5 News and Jazz, or Radio Swiss Jazz (streamed)

You're very right about radio being about connections and we've been hoping to discover new people to build listening relationships with. Sadly, we haven't found any. There are a few announcers who, after several months, feel sort of familiar, but there isn't a Danielle Charbonneau, Eric Friesen, Shelagh Rogers, or Howard Dyck among them anywhere.

After two years, there's still a void and we're still mourning.

James Wooten said...

Roland and Kate and Katka,

I agree with your comments completely. The tragedy is that the CBC ignored the protests of the listeners when the changes to the CBC programming were first announced and the management of the CBC continues to ignore the audience, to the detriment of the CBC. As I mention in some of my other posts, most private corporations survive by being responsive to their customers. The CBC ignores their customers, or even seems to be determined to antagonize them. The result has been a declining audience for CBC Radio 2.


John Russell said...

I have been a CBC classical music listener most of my life having grown up across the lake from London, ON. We missed CBC 2 and Disc Drive after relocating to the desert SW, but fortunately found it again on the internet stream. Since its demise, alternates have been CFMZ and WFMT, Chicago. WFMT's classical programming and announcers are excellent. Their upscale commercials are almost painless. Before the internet stream, WFMT provided classical music to remote regions of the US via its audio presence on cable tv networks.

James Wooten said...

Thanks for the comment, Mr. Russell. I also enjoyed KING FM from Seattle on the internet. As I mentioned in this post, Radio New Zealand and the Australian Broadcasting Commission are also current favourites.

For local Canadian flavour, I like Classical 96.3 (CFMZ) from Toronto. The commercials may not be to everyone's taste, however. (Too many)

oh said...

James Wooten - About 10yrs ago, I listened to an Aussie classical station. They spent too much time on a local color report that I can not recall now. To quote Newton Minow, driving between Albuquerque NM and Oklahoma City is a vast wasteland devoid of classical music. Eastern NM Univ, Portales, NM, started a public radio station w/ classical music format which helped on the drive. The station changed format to some kind of easy listening crap. The station director told me he does not like classical music when I complained to him. I have a friend who taught violin at ENMU and when the lesson was finished she would whip through some country sheet music the student brought. They could not understand how she played it so easily never having seen the music before. John Russell

Paul M said...

A 2-year-old post -- hope I can still comment. Years later, I still grieve over the loss of radio 2. I don't listen to anything CBC anymore (after listening to nothing BUT CBC for over 30 years!!), but it still really feels like somebody died -- folks like Jurgen Gothe and Eric Friesen and Danielle Charbonneu really felt like friends.

How I listen to classical music now is a little laboured, and I wouldn't recommend it to everybody, but here goes. I mostly listen to radio in the morning, and I love BBC 3's radio hosts and musical selections. So I have the show recorded automatically on, then download it to my Android phone, then listen to it on the car or at home, wherever I am. It works, somehow. Thanks for providing a little refuge on the web where we can grieve together!

James Wooten said...

Sorry Paul, I haven't checked my blog for a while.

I agree, the demise of the old CBC Radio 2 has left a hole in our lives that is difficult to fill.

For me, Sirius satellite radio and dedicated Wi-Fi radios have filled the void!

Brian K said...

CBC R2 is on a steady path to becoming intolerable. When Rich Terfy's Radio 2 'Drive' starts - the radio goes off. As of Oct 1st, when the obnoxious ads come on - the radio goes OFF!!

With the exception of a few programs, CBC Radio 2 is becoming almost indistinguishable from it's commercial radio counterparts. I'm afraid to say which programs because I fear those will become the next targets - it seems it's the quality programming that gets the axe.
I've been an enthusiastic CBC listener for over 25 years, as have my parents since they arrived in Canada 60 years ago from Holland. My parent's gave up on CBC several years ago around the time when Jurgen Gothe's 'Disc Drive' and Danielle Charbonneau's 'Music For Awhile' were replaced with shows like 'R2 Drive'. Fortunately my dad able to receive Classic King and NPR from Seattle. I on the other hand must resort to streaming NPR or the BBC online, or listen to cd's.

The dumbing-down of CBC Radio 2 is a profound loss to many Canadians.
Apparently the entire CBC network costs 65$ per person, per year - Radio 2 would represent a fraction of that. Seems like a small price to pay for quality radio programming.

James Wooten said...

Thanks Brian for your comment.

I very much agree with you. CBC Radio 2 has become indistinguishable from commercial radio.

I highly recommend a "Wi-Fi" radio as an alternative to CBC Radio 2, or the Sirius/XM Satellite Radio service. I use both as my substitute for CBC Radio 2, and have been doing so since the changes were made to CBC Radio 2 in 2007.