Friday, December 13, 2013

Do we really need (or want) "Canada Live" on CBC Radio 1?

Many of us are Radio 2 refugees. What is a “Radio 2 refugee”, you might ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It is a former listener of Radio 2 who has had to turn to other radio stations for their daily classical music fix.

I discussed alternatives to CBC Radio 2 in other posts. I did not mention in those posts, however, my almost traitorous decision to start listening to CBC Radio 1. Yes, I am a recidivist CBC radio listener.

I listen to CBC Radio 1 in the car, while working in my basement workshop, while painting walls. Any place where I require radio entertainment.

Yet I notice recently that the boys and girls in short pants that ruined Radio 2 seem to be trying to work their magic on Radio 1. What, specifically, am I referring to? Funny you should ask. It’s “Canada Live”.

“Canada Live” was first introduced on Radio 2 to replace “In Performance”, if I recall correctly, in 2007. Who was the bright light at the CBC who decided that what Canadians really, really wanted was to listen to mediocre performers performing across Canada, live and in performance? Well, not live, really. Recorded. But they were live when performing. We think.

Now the CBC, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that what CBC Radio 1 listeners really, really, REALLY want is to listen to mediocre performers performing … well, you know what I’m going to say next. Yes, CBC Radio 1 now has “Canada Live” on its schedule at 2:00 PM on Friday afternoons. Why? Why, I ask? Did I ask for this? Did you ask for this? Wouldn’t you really rather have another segment of “Ideas”? Or, God forbid, at least another episode of “Rewind”? But no. You have to listen to “Canada Live”. And if you’re not willing to listen to it on CBC Radio 2, well then, by God, you will damn well listen to it on Radio 1!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"Joy to the World", the annual broadcast from the European Radio Union, Dec. 22 2013

One of the few remaining quality broadcasts remaining on CBC Radio 2 is "Joy to the World", the annual broadcast from the European Radio Union of Christmas music.

This year the broadcast is on December 22 2013, beginning at 9:00 AM.

I notice in the spirit of modern-day political correctness, the CBC does not refer to this broadcast as being one of "Christmas" music; instead, it is "holiday music" for the "holiday season". Sigh. One wonders how much longer this musical tradition will endure until the boys and girls in short pants who run the CBC decide that such a program is not sufficiently "inclusive".

Sunday, Dec. 22

9 a.m.: Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, Zagreb, Croatia

Your morning begins with the Croatian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra and conductor Tonči Bilić in the nation’s capital city. They’ll perform Ottorino Respighi’s Gli Uccelli (The Birds) before being joined by the Croatian Radio and Television Chorus and soloists for a performance of J.S. Bach’s glorious Magnificat.

10 a.m.: St. Martin in the Wall Church, Prague, Czech Republic

Czech baroque specialists Ensemble Inégal give a concert dedicated to the music of Bohemian composer Samuel Capricornus. Known for his vast output and short life, Capricornus is one of the most important composers of the 17th century. Ensemble Inégal, led by Adam Viktora, is giving the world premiere on period instruments of Capricornus’s Missa Nativitatis Domini.

11 a.m.: Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, Budapest, Hungary

On Mahler’s copy of the score for Bruckner’s Te Deum, he scratched out "for chorus, solos, orchestra and organ ad libitum" and wrote "for the tongues of angels, heaven-blest, chastened hearts and souls purified in the fire!" Hungarian Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra join together to perform this jubilant work under conductor Gregory Vajda. The performance continues with the scherzo from Bruckner’s Symphony No. 1 and concludes with evocative music from Hungarian composer Miklós Kocsár entitled O wunderbare geheimnisvolle Nacht.

Noon: Barbican Hall, London, England

The hectic streets outside London’s Barbican Concert Hall are packed with last-minute shoppers, but we’ll travel inside the hall for Hector Berlioz’s reflective and luminous retelling of the Christmas story. The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus are led by François-Xavier Roth and joined by Trinity Laban Chamber Choir and four soloists for Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ oratorio.

1:45 p.m.: Blauwe Zaal, deSingel, Antwerp, Belgium

Enjoy an all-Bach program from Belgium, with festive music from the Ricercar Consort and soloists led by Philippe Pierlot. You’ll hear two less famous Christmas cantatas by Bach. The icing on the cake is the bombastic and exuberant opening from a third cantata, which features dazzling timpani and trumpets.

3 p.m.: Kallio Church, Helsinki, Finland

It’s off to the heart of the Finnish capital for the eight-voiced Lumen Valo. They’ll be performing unaccompanied music from the Middle Ages right through to present day. Included on the program is music by Gabrieli, Palestrina, Praetorius and a new Christmas carol by composer Matthew Whittall, who came to Finland from Canada some 10 years ago.

4 p.m.: Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, Germany 

The Bavarian Radio Chorus and members of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Radio Orchestra bring you two sacred choral works with orchestra: Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, preceded by Lauda per la natività del Signore by Ottorino Respighi. The performance will conclude with a rousing chorale by J.S. Bach.

5 p.m.: Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, Montreal, Que. 

A wildly popular Montreal tradition since 1980, the annual CBC Sing-In celebrates the season with your favourite Christmas tunes performed by the Choir of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, the Sing-In Brass, organist Jonathan Oldengarm, conductor Jordan de Souza and more than 1,500 carollers singing along.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Globe and Mail editorial on the CBC.

The CBC: What’s it good for, without hockey?

The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Nov. 29 2013, 7:30 PM EST

In the beginning was The Hockey. And The Hockey was with the CBC. And The Hockey was the CBC.

This week’s news that Rogers Communications will pay $5.2-billion for the main National Hockey League programming rights for the next 12 years, displacing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, marks the loss of the CBC’s most popular program. Hockey Night in Canada is one of the CBC’s biggest money-makers, and also one of its biggest expenses. Under the terms of the Rogers deal, CBC will continue to carry HNIC for the next four years, but Rogers is essentially just borrowing the public broadcaster’s airwaves. Rogers will pay the bills, have creative control – and keep the revenue. CBC head Hubert Lacroix put on a brave face, but he and almost everyone else who weighed in sounded as if they believed this is a crushing defeat for the corporation, and possibly a fatal one.

It is not. Losing hockey is the best thing that could have happened to the CBC. A national institution that long ago lost its way has been given the chance – possibly its last chance – to find its soul. NHL hockey, the most popular pastime in this country, doesn’t need the CBC. And the CBC, if it’s to be what a public broadcaster should be, doesn’t need the NHL.

If the CBC did not exist, would we create it? And to do what?

The strongest argument for the CBC goes something like this: There are some public goods that the free market will not deliver, or will not deliver well enough, and so we create public institutions to do the job. Think of museums, libraries and parks. These would be very different without public support, and in some cases they might not exist at all. There’s a compelling logic to taxpayer backing for the National Gallery of Canada or the Canadian War Museum, or hundreds of other cultural institutions and historical sites. The CBC is, in part, such an institution.

But what about the things that if we were designing a public broadcaster from scratch, we wouldn’t want it doing? Consider the following hypothetical: Should taxpayer dollars be spent building a national network of cinemas showing the latest Hollywood movies? The private sector already does a pretty good job of running multiplexes.

And yet the CBC has often seen the television equivalent as a core part of its mandate. Popular American programs already filling the private airwaves – Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, reruns of situation comedies like The Simpsons, and lots of Hollywood movies – became a network staple. And hockey? Oh yes, and hockey.

Hockey is just about the most stereotypically Canadian thing you can put on television. It’s also the most popular. That’s not an argument in favour of hockey on the CBC – on the contrary, it’s the best argument against it. That Rogers was willing to pay $5.2-billion for the rights testifies to the fact that NHL hockey is a ridiculously successful business, and putting those games on the nation’s screens is the most competitive, in-demand entertainment in the country. If the CBC didn’t exist, there would still be NHL hockey on TV; in fact, Rogers appears to be intent on showing far more hours of hockey, on more platforms, than the CBC ever did. The market works! NHL hockey needs a taxpayer-supported public broadcaster like a fish needs a goalie mask.

Hockey reveals what should have been obvious all along: Popular programming doesn’t need taxpayer support. We don’t need a CBC to compete with the private sector. We need a CBC that goes where the private sector isn’t, doing important things that are necessary but may be less popular.

Consider arts and cultural programming – something that CBC television used to do a lot more of, and then in recent years stepped back from. Or educational and children’s programming. Documentaries. Regional programming. Producing intellectually ambitious Canadian dramas and movies. CBC TV has, in recent years, overwhelmingly focused its efforts on competing with private broadcasters, going down-market, and aiming the same sorts of programs at the same audience. The strategy is an expensive dead end.

And as part of the quest to bring in more money, the CBC has also introduced advertising to radio. Over time, that step will likely push the often excellent CBC Radio One and 2 into making programming decisions that ape the moves of private broadcasters – just like the considerably less excellent CBC TV.

So here’s a radical proposal to ensure that the CBC retains the spirit of a public broadcaster: Get rid of advertising. No ads on radio, no ads on TV, no ads on the website.

The bulk of the CBC’s funding already comes from the taxpayer: Last year, it received a subsidy of $1.1-billion from the federal government. Only $330-million of the corporation’s revenues came from advertising. And yet the chase for dollars consumes the CBC’s energies, generates new expenses and compels it to produce programs that shouldn’t be on a public network, undermining its public-service mission.

The CBC needs a rethink. Rogers and the NHL did it, and us, a favour. What if it stopped being a public broadcaster with private tendencies and became instead a pure public service? The CBC’s most recent annual report is titled “Challenging the Status Quo.” If only it would.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Radio-Canada "Ici" controversy: Why all the surprise?

The latest controversy to engulf the beleaguered CBC is the “Ici” debacle. For those who haven’t been following this soap opera, the CBC announced on June 5 2013 that the French radio news and broadcasting arm of the CBC would be re-named “Ici Première”, replacing the venerable “Radio-Canada”.

Alarmists nation-wide saw this as the work of péquistes within the French-language CBC to distance the French-language service from Canada. A firestorm of controversy ensued. A mere five days later, the President and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Hubert Lacroix, apologized to the nation and announced that the CBC was reversing its decision to rename the French-language service. Instead, the radio service will be called “Ici Radio-Canada Première” and the television service will be called “Ici Radio-Canada Télé”. Once again, the nation has been saved!

The only surprising thing about this minor episode in the life of the CBC is that anyone was surprised. The CBC has an unfortunate history of imposing decisions on an unsuspecting public who, after all, are the owners of the CBC. An unfortunate history that goes all the way back to the summer of 2006 when the CBC, in a stealth attack on the CBC radio audience that even a hardened terrorist could appreciate, replaced the Friday evening broadcast of “In Performance” with a mish-mash of unlistenable pop/folk/country/rock/hip-hop concerts. One might have thought that this was just a summer-time replacement, a bit of vacation for Eric Friesen, the host of “In Performance” at the time. But no, it was the sly method of the CBC of imposing change on the listening public. Introduce a small change. See if anyone complains. If they don’t, then forge ahead with a blitzkrieg attack on the listening public at a later date.

Long-time CBC watchers will remember that this blitzkrieg attack came on March 19 2007 when “The World at Six” was removed from CBC Radio Two, to be replaced by a five-minute news broadcast. “Music for a while” with Danielle Charbonneau was replaced by the crapulent “Tonic”. “In Performance” was replaced by the even more repellant “Canada Live”. “The Arts Report” with Joe Cummings was axed from “Music and Company”. “Two New Hours”, “Northern Lights” and “Brave New Waves” were consigned to the dungeons of the CBC recording vaults, never to be heard from again.

The CBC didn’t announce these changes in advance. They didn’t ask the owners of the CBC, you, the listening audience, whether they approved of these changes. No, they simply foisted these programming changes on the listening audience, much in the same way as the CBC has, six years later, charged ahead with the CBC Radio-Canada re-naming. The CBC claimed that there was an ultra-secret “Arts and Culture Survey” that purported to support the programming changes. However, this survey was never released to those who paid for it; i.e. the owners of the CBC, you and me. It remains secret to this day. Perhaps languishing in the CBC dungeons, next to ancient recordings of “Brave New Waves”.

But wait! There was more to come! In September 2007 “Symphony Hall” was cancelled. “The Singer and the Song” was cancelled. Howard Dyck was unceremoniously dumped from “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera”. It seemed like the CBC was conducting a purge of its most venerable programs and announcers that would have made Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin blush. Once again, all of this was done without any public consultation, prior notice or fanfare. Simply imposed upon the listening audience.

If Radio Two had not already been sufficiently decimated, the CBC had even greater plans for its destruction. In September 2008 “Music and Company” was replaced by “Radio 2 Morning”. “Here’s to You” with Catherine Belyea was cancelled. “Studio Sparks” was cancelled. Eric Friesen was put out to pasture. The much-loved “Disc Drive” with Jurgen Goethe was replaced by the irritating “Radio 2 Drive”. Jurgen Gothe was exiled to the Siberia-like time slot of 5:00 PM on Sunday with a new show, “Farrago”, but this was short-lived. “Sound Advice”, with the excellent Rick Phillips, was soundly trounced, not on the advice of its listeners.

Once again, all of these changes were imposed on the CBC Radio Two listening audience, without consultation, prior warning or any pretence at being interested in the opinion of their customers, the CBC Radio Two listening audience. And the CBC has gotten away with it for the past six years.

So is it any wonder that no one should be surprised at the “Ici” controversy?