Audio Ideas: The Noo Radio Tiew - Amateur Radio, Paid For By You!

      Date posted: September 23, 2008

CBC Logo

Letter to the Globe and Mail:

“When I was growing up, bodily functions were discreetly referred to as number 1 and number 2. In this vein, the new programming for CBC Radio 2 is definitely number 2.

Sandra Levy, Victoria”

That’s the most succinct and pungent comment I’ve seen about the completion of what I previously called “the Wrecking of Radio 2“. Were he a little more than 2, my oldest grandson would say, “Radio 2 is pooh!” Another writer noted that the late Bob Kerr must be rolling over in his grave. But I decided to temper this next rant about it with some serious listening.

After a couple of weeks with the “noo Radio Tiew”, I must say that I’ve never seen such a complete sabotage of a great radio service in my 45-year career as broadcaster and writer. Just about all the core values have been thrown away, starting with professionalism. Listening to these groping amateurs on the air takes me back to my days of running the Queen’s University radio station, CFRC, in the late 60s and early 70s. As a student there in the 60s I learned the traditions and values of a station that is one of the oldest in Canada (having gone on the air in 1922), and I then passed them on as Station Manager between 1968 and 74. I also served on the executive of the Canadian Broadcasting League, working with CBC co-founder Graham Spry during those years.

So, to watch our national broadcaster throw out the talent with the programming is very distressing to me. The new daily classical block, called coyly, Tempo, is a prime example. Gone is one of the most thoroughly professional and engaging female voices to be heard on CBC Radio 2 in recent years, Kathryn Belyea (the best since Shelagh Rogers, who was one of my students at CFRC in the late 60s). She’s been replaced by a giggling, crackly-voiced, chit-chatterer who sounds right out of a kitchen we don’t want to know about (Desperate Housewives, perhaps?). Her name is Julie Nesrallah, and she may be a very fine singer, but as a speaking communicator she doesn’t have a clue, and sounds like a lady who excitedly pulls out all her favourite CDs, and calls it a radio program. Is there a producer in the house?

And that leads me back to the programming: at Queen’s Radio, we had a “Potboiler List”, popular Classical selections that we played maybe only once a year. I think in the first two weeks of Tempo, I’ve heard most of them already. This is fresh, new programming? No, it’s natter and splatter radio, your classical hits with tits, with a few “just-between-us” giggles along the way, and a potpourri of potboilers. The amateurs are clearly behind the mixing board and in front of the microphone. And, Julie, you don’t have to tell us who you are every time you turn on your mike! Or is that part of a secret subversive attempt to make us all tune out? If so, it’s working!

The following weekday program, Drive (how original!), features Rich Terfry (pronounced like “stir-fry”, which pretty much sums up his musical mix), who is less giggly and slightly more articulate, but lacks the professional skills most of us worked on for years before hitting the big time in broadcasting. I think I can safely and fairly say that, having worked both at the CBC in its better days, and for CKFM Toronto for 13 years, when it was Canada’s most-listened-to FM station.

I could go on about the weekend changes, too, but what can I say about the merits of Molly Johnson that the Globe’s Russell Smith hasn’t already. Having her on as a program host is an even greater slap to previous Radio 2 listeners. In sum, if this is public radio, you’d never know it, and to make it sound like campus broadcasting is an insult to all Canadians, especially those who value all the arts, but especially to taxpayers who expect their public broadcasting to provide a standard above that of private operators. And we pay for that right!

That’s certainly what my correspondents tell me, these more recent responses appended to the previous articles on Radio 2, and the missives are continuing almost daily. There is a distinct sense of loss out there, of old friends gone: Eric Friesen, Jurgen Gothe, et al. You may want to look at the more recent comments appended at the end of those articles.

And I wish I could say something good about the new “sop-to-us-aesthetes” CBC channels online, Classical and Jazz in particular, but the sound is so bad, I find them unlistenable, worse than most so-called internet radio because the audio levels are so low that they’re even more bit-and-sample-starved than such services as AccuRadio, who also do a better and more diverse job of programming. Even when I took a digital signal out of my computer and up-sampled it to 96 kHz in my Assemblage digital system, the sound was still crappy, missing sparkle, and having a very apparent lack of resolution and cohesion from note to note. I don’t have an iPod because I can’t stand to listen to good music in bad sound, and that applies in spades to the new CBC online channels, no matter how good the music, and how much of it is correctly Canadian.

So that is how we stand, bamboozled and buggered by our once-trusted public broadcaster. Fie and Shame!!

Andrew Marshall

Judy waddell

to andrew

I also am a refugee from CBC….on air in Montreal around 1958 or 9 I think…then here in Vancouver for about 20 years taking early retirement in ‘85….I am horrified but not surprised…it is purely political. The New Chiefs (there have always been more of those than Indians…oh I know. Not PC) are in bed with the Govt of the Day and set on dismantling the old Corpse. They are doing a fine job. It is becoming unlistenable and having become that and garnering no numbers on the chart (which is specifically for commercial radio), they will point and say, “There. You see? We tried. But the CBC is no longer viable and is a drain on the taxpayer. Therefore we say, off with its head”.  I also agree with the remarks about the voices wafting over the airwaves…no longer is there thought that this is a medium for the ear. Gone are those lofty souls, the Chief Announcers….and grammar be damned. I refuse to talk about this outrage with anyone, as it raises my blood pressure and at the moment my doctor says it’s fine….but if I keep this up I’ll have apoplexy, so au revoir, and thank you for the opportunity to speak my feelings…..oh, and what about the CBC Vancouver Orchestra?? Ye gads….we’re going to hell in a handbasket. I am now listening to the French network….great classical and jazz and delightful voices….don’t care if I can understand only 30% of what’s being said.

AM Replies,

Thanks for your supportive comments. This most recent critique of the Corpse (truly, as far as Radio 2 is concerned, and the writing is on the wall for Radio 1 with Denise MUCHMUSIC Donlan on board) was one of the hardest things I’ve had to write, and responds to the total insensitivity of the regime in the graveyard to listener response. Frankly, it can only get worse! It is the days of the undead at CBC Radio. Treasure your PBS/NPR station in Seattle!! Either that or brush up on your French…

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3 Responses to “Audio Ideas: The Noo Radio Tiew - Amateur Radio, Paid For By You!”

  1. Andrew Rodger c-ca Says:

    As a child in Edmonton I didn’t listen to CBC but for certain programmes (including such recondite things as Northern Messenger and John Drainie’s wonderful drama). No, I listened to CKUA, “stations [AM — clear channel with I think 10000 watts — and FM at about 500 watts] of the University of Alberta, owned and operated in the public interest by Albera Government Telephones”. This provided my musical education, and a chance hearing of Virgil Thompson’s score for the film Louisiana Story led me to the classic series of the Edmonton Film Society, which in turn led to a career in photography and film. All through the wonder of radio and broadcasts of music.
    Not that I really stinted listening to other musical forms, but my main interest has always been in listening to “classical” (My mother’s reaction when first hearing the Rite of Spring on a Woodward’s $1.49 day purchase which she had, at my behest, purchased for me: “Oh, you don’t want to be listening to that!”)
    On moving east I discovered the CBC’s three-city FM network(Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto), and that got me hooked on CBC FM, and, later, Radio Canada. One thing which has not been commented on by the couple of people who mentioned listening to RC as an antidote to CBC 2: RC used to have la chaine culturelle (which included many interviews as well as healthy doses of music)– but that is now espace musique (which includes a lot of variety music, occasionally interspersed with “classical”). The change was radical, and I think was done because of Montreal and Quebec and Ottawa “classical” programming by “classical” stations (couleur FM), which are worse by far than Julie Nesrallah. And the changes in espace musique continue: the early morning programme used to be hosted by Carole Trahan from Quebec and was straight classical but since last summer is hosted by a somewhat oleagenous person and the music is much the same as in the rest of the day. But at least it’s better than what Tom has been saddled with providing in his morning slot on CBC2. And there is at least an hour of serious music in the evening — as opposed to CBC2’s variety of world music, c&w, or whatever.

    There are points that no one appears to have made, either in the newspapers or in responses here: the move from “serious” or “classical” music to what we have now (on both CBC2 and RC Espace Musique) is not simply a change from one sort of musical content to another but is a change of both time and voice. Let’s call current content “popular” and what we had on CBC2 “classical”. Popular music selections are generally short, no matter what the interior pattern might be (verse, refrain, verse, refrain; or no refrain; or rhyme, or no rhyme; etc.) They are perhaps 3 -4 minutes in length (remember the FM stations that played _all_ of Alice’s Restaurant? It was generally announced as an “event” because that song/recital was a lot longer than the average space between the ads). And they are songs. They are vocal. They have lyrics. They are sung. They may include instruments, but they are rarely solely instrumentals. What is generally of greatest interest is the interpreter’s voice and vocal abilities/mannerisms. But songs have taken over the popular definition of a piece of music: no longer is it a piece of music, but it is a “song” — ask iPOD and Apple. Classical, on the other hand, includes pieces which are short and pieces which are long; it includes vocal (soloists, small groups, and choral) and a great deal of purely instrumental. And as opposed to much (not all) popular, it includes material from many centuries of creation.
    For me this is one of the factors that grates: I’m not terribly interested in listening to vocals — possibly because I’ve never gotten deeply into poetry, possibly because I have trouble following many voices and remembering the lyrics. Unlike my children, who can often sing back a song after one or two hearings, pop songs don’t cut it for me. And too often I have the impression that the music is secondary to what is being said in words. So I’m interested in instrumentals — in the myriad ways in which composers and interpreters can create sound spaces through their activities and say something in music. Aural commentary, I suppose, rather than oral.
    Does CBC2 support this interest? Very little. I do enjoy much of Sunday afternoon’s programming; and Laurie Brown’s 10 pm show regularly brings me interesting material worth listening to (as well as a lot which doesn’t grab me), but I can’t give up my sleep as well. “Tonic” is generally a disaster, and I immediately switch to Radio Canada, which has (to my ears and taste) a better jazz show at the same time. In fact, jazz is better served on RC than on CBC2.
    And mornings, which previously used to be spent with Tom Allen or Carole Trahan on RC, are spent with the local CBC1
    or RC station while I’m preparing breakfast; and with silence and a newspaper while eating it.
    I don’t know why CBC management has made its choices. When does the CRTC have its next licence renewal hearings for the network? Perhaps we ought to invoke the spirit of Graham Spry and spring to a close invigilation of CBC management.
    Yours sincerely,
    Andrew Rodger

  2. Andrew Marshall c-ca Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Andrew,

    The latter is what my close friend and former CBC colleague, Bob Oxley says, but a mandate is a sometime thing, as we have seen in commercial radio, with frequent format changes that clearly stretch the conditions of licence. The CRTC will always regard the Corpse as a hot potato because of political considerations.

    I hope the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting will mount an intervention at licence renewal time, and that may be the only way of bringing sense back to the Corpse, aside from getting all the executives responsible fired. But with Stursburg bringing more people of like mind (emphasis on the”like” and not the “mind”, of course), such as Denise Donlon.

    I, too, feel sad for Katie Malloch, who is a great broadcaster and a true professional, perhaps the only one left on Radio 2 among the daily and weekend hosts; the rest are rank amateurs, some ranker than others, such as Molly Johnson. Who said singers could talk? But Katie, at least has shown in the past a consummate knowledge and taste for real Jazz, and has always had the respect and affection of musicians, which was always clear in her interviews on Jazz Beat. Now she just has to play a Shepherd’s Pie of music that includes (and ultimately degrades) Jazz, much of the Pie coming from musical sheep and goats of all cultures.

  3. Radio Junkie c-unknown Says:

    Actually, those of us who remember the old CBC Radio, should check out the new Canadian Music Centre website. There are some bits of old programmes up there to listen to. The voice of Larry Lake is quite welcome after you get your fill of Nesrallah…

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