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  Audio Ideas: Wrecking Radio 2 - The Sequel & The Growing Opposition

      Date posted: April 15, 2008

Radio 2 logo, detail
I was contemplating how to continue to address the ongoing events at the CBC with respect to changes to Radio 2, when an email arrived that summed up events so far so well, that I decided to quote from it at length. The release comes from Peter McGilllivray, radio2@petermcgillivray.com, as he says, “representing a group of people that were ticked off enough at the Changes at CBC to join a Facebook group to try and organize some action to stop it all.” Peter is a musician and an opera singer, and his group provided the excellent brief history below.On Friday, April 11th, noontime protests were held outside all of the CBC headquarters in the cities across Canada where Radio 2 is heard. That may have been a little like howling in the wind in this blustery early Spring, but in my view, the following summation of the activities of CBC management is much more than that, a concise and thorough look at what the “Radio 2 Wreckers” have been up to - read and weep:“Disappointment with the planned changes has been swiftly building and increasingly vocal since the CBC’s announcement of March 4th, where top executives including Richard Stursberg - head of CBC English services, Jennifer McGuire – head of CBC radio, and Mark Steinmetz – director of radio programming divulged that CBC Radio Two’s 40 year tradition as a primarily classical music broadcaster would be coming to a close. Weekday classical music programming is to be cut from 12 hours daily to 5 off-peak hours leading to the cancellation of many popular shows. Though listeners realize that shows and hosts come and go, most of the quality programming is to be replaced with pop music with sprinklings of light jazz and world music. Classical music fans and musicians feel as though they have lost a trusted and beloved member of the family – they feel like they are being punished for CBC’s inability to stay true to its history and mandate.Since coming into power, the current team of Programming Executives have been responsible for the fact that:

  • They have failed to transform the innovative Radio 3 into a national broadcast network, thereby necessitating, in their eyes, the gutting of Radio Two’s classical programming in order to satisfy their self-perceived mandate to be all things to all people.
  • The CBC Young Composers Competition and the CBC Young Performers Competition, have been suspended for the past four years. These two important domestic competitions had been instrumental in the development of some of Canada’s best musical talent including: Angela Hewitt, Ben Heppner, Jon Kimura Parker. The Canada Council provided the funding for the $10,000.00 grand prizes.
  • The CBC has, as of February, erased the classical music budget for CBC Records, precisely on the eve of their first Grammy win by Canadian violinist James Ehnes and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under Bramwell Tovey on the CBC Records label. Many artists, such as Measha Brueggergosman, launched their careers on a CBC Records label recording.
  • The commissioning budget previously devoted to commissioning new works from composers is now spread out to cover jazz, pop musicians, and some unspecified amount of contemporary music. CBC says they will spend the same amount on classical commissions – but their track record is not looking good.
  • The proposed cuts for the Fall of 2008 represents further reductions in classical music content, eliminating classical music 6am to 10am and 3pm to 6pm - reducing by over half the overall classical weekday programming from 12 hours to 5 hours, and shifting all weekday classical programming to inconvenient, off-peak times of the day when no one who works or goes to school can tune in.
  • The axing of the 70 year old CBC Radio Orchestra: North America’s last remaining radio orchestra and platform for countless premieres of new Canadian compositions. And then, one day after citing lack of resources as the reason for cutting the orchestra, buying an expensive full-page ad in a national newspaper to convince Canadians about how wonderful the evisceration of their national radio music network is - signed and supported by wealthy pop music recording industry executives and artists, the people who stand to gain monetarily from the demise of CBC’s classical programming


All existing and long-standing weekday classical shows on Radio Two are to be cut, including:

  • Music & Company - Tom Allen’s morning wake up show
  • Here’s to You - Catherine Belyea’s all-request show
  • Studio Sparks - due to the venerable Eric Friesen’s “retirement”
  • Disc Drive - Jurgen Gothe’s popular, 30 year old drive-home show
  • Sound Advice – Rick Philips’ extraordinarily informative and unique classical recording showcase and review

These changes come on the heels of last year’s round of cuts to vital programs such as:

  • Danielle Charbonneau’s much-loved Music for a While;
  • Larry Lake’s new composer showcase Two New Hours;
  • Symphony Hall - Canada’s live orchestra recording showcase;
  • The Singer and the Song - Catherine Belyea’s excellent Classical vocal program;
  • Northern Lights - the overnight Classical program beloved by Night Owls everywhere;
  • The reformatting of In Performance- a primarily classical live performance show into the unfocused Canada Live - a uniformly non-classical and completely confusing mix of World music, soft pop, and lounge Jazz;


The CBC claims financial constraints drive these cuts, yet spending in other areas, and support from the commercial recording industry suggest otherwise.

Canadian classical music fans and musicians and Radio Two listeners have had enough of this “concerted” and unprecedented campaign against classical and art music programming and infrastructure. Though their numbers may be relatively small compared to commercial radio, Radio Two listeners are among the most engaged and loyal in the world. They feel the have been betrayed and belittled by the current management team entrenched at the nation’s public broadcaster.”

So that’s what the organized classical music lovers of Canada think of the Radio 2 plans and their implementation so far. Here are more specifics of the plans as articulated after an interview with the aforementioned Jennifer McGuire by Globe writer Guy Dixon: “The new weekday morning show from 6 AM to 10 AM will be a mix of much less classical and much more pop, leaning toward established musicians such as Joni Mitchell and Diana Krall, with around 50% Canadian content.”

“The midday show weekdays from 10 AM to 3 PM will be entirely classical, playing both CDs and live performances, with around 40% Canadian content. But the drive-home afternoon show will be the biggest departure from current programming. [It] will ignore classical entirely and instead air a wide variety of genres from contemporary pop and world music to blues and roots, with an emphasis on newer songs and artists such as Feist and Serena Ryder.”

Dixon then paraphrases McGuire thusly: “..overall ratings haven’t dropped as significantly as anticipated, as some listeners tune out and new ones tune in”, a rather telling comment to my ears. I did study the recent BBM numbers for Radio 2, and when you have between 2 and 3 percent of overall listenership in most major Canadian markets, there’s not much down to go. I didn’t find any significant trends, with only a small increase in female listeners in the East, and lower overall listening in the West. I think the Spring ratings may show more definite trends, but if the attitude at the Corpse is that ratings don’t matter, either, then it’s clear this whole house of cards is based around ideology and some mystical crusade for Canadian music, which, from what I’ve been hearing on Canada Live, is heavily based around non-Canadian “genres” of music.

In other words, there is an undercurrent of wide cultural diversity of music, clearly intended to reflect our country’s multicultural makeup, and in particular the contributions of recent immigrants to Canada. One might also call it “African Guitar Summit” gone wild. Is this what Canadian music lovers want from the service they support? And more important, do they want it all mixed together in what I have already called “a sausage-making machine”? It’s already being done on Radio 1, though in mono, and as part of a heavily talk-based format.

And what about the quality of this music, diverse or otherwise? In one of the recent full-page ads for the new Radio 2, this assertion is made: “CBC Radio 2 presents live recorded concerts from every genre and every part of Canada, 7 days a week. That’s over 750 concerts recorded in the past year.” Of course, this claim is patently false, as most of these concerts, bad or good, are recycled at least 3 times on air, and many are also available as podcast downloads. Even at an average of 2 concerts a night on Canada Live, they would all have to be different, that is, first-time broadcasts over the full year. That is far from the case.

And it’s no surprise that most of the artists cited in the ads as supporters, are ones who have been recorded for broadcast already. They know where their bread is buttered. Less encouraging is the list of record company hacks who’ll sign anything to sell a CD, also listed in this orgy of self justification in the Globe’s Saturday, March 29th edition.

Globe columnist Russell Smith, their guru of male fashion and language, has become something of a bellwhether for the protest, and I laud him for it. I particularly liked his most recent column that had the sub-head, “Molly Johnson versus Prokofiev”, where he raises the “time test” for musical merit: “We wait 100 years and see which forms are still being studied and enjoyed. This test doesn’t help us in the Molly-Johnson-versus-Prokofiev debate, as we can’t see into the future. We have no way of knowing if 100 years from now, music students will be poring over the scores of Molly Johnson. Perhaps they will be.”

It’s always nice to see an egalitarian thesis about art reduced to its most ridiculous conclusion. There is art, great art, and crap, with a lot of dreck in between, all of which the CBC Radio 2 commissars want us to hear. Listen up, Canada!

CBC president Richard Stursberg’s essay in the Globe is particularly revealing in this respect. Here are his concluding remarks about the new music mix on Radio 2: “Contrary to the naysayers, none of it will be pap; none of it will be schlock, and, most assuredly, none of it will be dumbed down. By September, we will have increased our overall Canadian content by approximately 20 per cent.”

“Let’s not confuse quality of music with style of music. CBC is committed to introducing Canadians to quality Canadian music. This is the key value that drives our decision-making. We’re going to go deeper and expose a tremendous amount of Canadian talent that deserves to be heard.”

There are a few hidden agendae, and coded confessions in just these words. Let’s start with the latter, the first of which is the admission of the failure of Radio 3 on Sirius satellite radio, and the attempt to bump it over to Radio 2 to reach a larger, possibly more captive audience. There’s also a reciprocal swap, with the new token classical and jazz channels to be added to the pay radio service. It’s a kind of broadcasting flip unprecedented in Canadian radio history that shuffles what has been public radio paid for by us into a venue which will cost any Canadian who wants either classics or jazz unbastardized a monthly fee. Otherwise, it will be largely inaccessible to those who already pay for it.

And if we do, we hear it in second-rate MP3-quality sound! And here I will note that I did considerable research into the satellite radio services for a feature that never saw print for the simple reason that Audio Ideas Guide is about audio quality as well as good music. And Sirius sounds even worse than XM - compressed, sterile, lacking in digital resolution, you name it. Frankly, this CBC strategy is an insult to those of us who really cared about and valued the quality of Radio 2’s signal. It’s an insult to the engineers who have maintained this signal quality over many years, some of whom are longtime friends of mine.

And Stursberg, in my opinion, is already shown to be shading the truth or hiding the real agenda (or just ignorant in his top-down management style) by the mediocre quality of too many of the concerts already broadcast on Canada Live, some repeatedly. The ones from KingFest, which I attended much of, since it was a major festival just up the road, were especially crappy in broadcast sound. And it seems they have already also proven that there’s simply not enough quality music and performance to sustain 7 days of concerts every week; or that they have specifically excluded much of the better music in the quest to broaden their “genres”.

After all, there was always plenty of quality classical and jazz live music on Radio 2 before Canada Live, but the emphasis on pop and world music has simply exposed us to too much (to use Stursberg’s words), “pap” and “schlock”, as well as a lot of mediocre country musicians and bar bands having not-so-good nights. If by September we are going to be force-fed more of this, it’s a tragedy of mediocrity in the making.

“This is the key value that that drives our decision-making.” But, unfortunately, it’s a key value driven by a bogus ideology, supported largely by the commercial side of the Canadian music industry. Is that what we deserve from our public broadcasting? If the letters I’ve seen on the subject say anything as summary, it’s that this is not the mandate of any public broadcaster, let alone the CBC.

As one writer to the Globe noted, “Graham Spry must be rolling over in his grave.” Having worked with Graham on the executive of the Canadian Broadcasting League for several years, I must agree. Does Stursberg, as de-constructor of CBC Radio, even know who Spry was? I wonder.

f you want more sanity on the subject, read this excellent piece from the Vancouver Sun published April 14th at http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/editorial/story.html?id=bcfd320d-41e6-42b4-a890-95ea4c485bab

Andrew Marshall

May 14th/08: Here’s another essential link in the ongoing CBC Protest Movement, courtesy of friend and Canadian composer John Gladwell: www.standonguardforcbcradio.ca

COMMENT:

I avoid the growing CBC problem by resorting to Buffalo PBS (94.5) thoroughly audible in Toronto, and occasionally to Moses Znaimer’s 96.3.

I see the decline of serious music as part of a general decline of Western civilization, seen in the decline of the English language today, the decliine in social cohesion in the forms of all voluntary associations, and the failure of politics in several Western democracies to attract the best people into public life.

Alex Langford


AM Adds:

I wish it were true that WNED were easily received in Toronto, but one of my closest friends at Summerhill and Yonge finds the station totally blocked by Radio 2 at 94.1 because he’s in sight of and a mile or two from the CN Tower. And he has a classic Sony tuner that I had aligned for him to try to receive it!

Your other point is well taken, but in recent years young people have been flocking to concerts of classical and jazz music in general, so I do not personally see this decline in the appreciation of better music by our younger generation. What I do see is an agenda at the CBC to “educate” us with more contemporary indigenous forms of music, driven by a disdain for the creations of DWMs (Dead White Men or, in this case, Musicians), and a nationalist attitude that transcends and debases (as well as preventing) the appreciation of the greatest musical art in the process.

As far as your comment about people in public life is concerned with respect to Radio 2, I can only reiterate the comment of my ex-producer friend that, “at the CBC the milk rises”. In the case of Stursberg, it appears he was parachuted in to make changes for the sake of change, with a goal of popularizing all the services, not just Radio 2. An article about him in the 25th Anniversary Ryerson Review of Journalism is quite insightful in this respect.

More Response..
Dear Mr. Marshall,

I have continued to enjoy AIG since its days as a print magazine.  Recently, I have taken note of your articles on CBC Radio 2 and the challenges of receiving WNED FM in or near Toronto.  As a Radio 2 orphan, I have written to CBC and signed petitions requesting a return to classical music.  I am not hopeful.  I wonder whether WNED could modify its signal to make it readily received without a roof-top antenna in the GTA.  I wish to write to WNED with a reasonable suggestion.  Any thoughts on what would be needed?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Regards,

Allan Waters

 AM Replies:
Hi Allan,

Thanks for being with us for so long. The problem with WNED is the scandalous licensing of the alleged “Jazz” station in Hamilton at 94.7, which made sure that WNED would be blocked out in much of the Hamilton/Burlington area, as well as western GTA areas. Hedged in on both sides, frequency-wise, WNED cannot expect approval of a power increase from the FCC. And these days, with inferior-sounding satellite and online radio, the consensus seems to be that this is the way to go, as well as subcarrier broadcasting like HD Radio, which is definitely not High Fidelity, and has a very limited range. They all sound like shit to me.

I recently got one of my writers’  tuners realigned, a Sony ST-5000FW, so he might have a chance in the Yonge/St. Clair area, but not a hope!  The  CN Tower simply overwhelms other signals, and 94.5 is swamped by 94.1, so if you’re downtown, there’s almost nothing you can do, even with a highly directional antenna.

It’s the same up here in King with VHF TV, even with less intense signals. On my outdoor antenna for TV, channels 2 and 4 cannot be received off air, and 7 is a problem, too (by the way, the FM band is situated between channels 6 and 7 in the spectrum). That’s because we’ve got 3 in Barrie up the ass of our big Yagi, and 5 coming in from the Tower, as well as a quite strong Global repeater near Paris on channel 6. There’s so much splatter from these signals that I am looking forward to the end of VHF TV next year in the US, though not with respect to TV reception.

However, the saving grace is that all the digital TV channels, in the UHF band, come in fine from the Tower and from Buffalo. But the end of the VHF channels can only help FM reception, as long as we can keep our little niche between channels 6 and 7, which is not a given. FM can sound quite exceptional with a good signal, and the current digital radio systems are, simply put, crap, not much better than MP3. That is to say, in radio the future is unfortunate, and the past is golden.

We live in a time when sound quality has been largely thrown out in bundles of bits, and a whole generation may never hear true High Fidelity. It does not please me, as my ears inevitably approach MP3 quality hearing. So it goes.

So, basically there’s not much you can say to WNED, who do their best, and their signal on a good day up here is a delight. Radio 2, taken over by the Philistines, is in a deep spiral, like the Sacrapogee Bird, which ends up flying up its own anus. I will be listening with dread on September 1st, having heard a sample of their lone weekday Classical host this week in a promo. She sounds like she’s into Classical Music For Dummies. All we can do is express our profound anger at all this, and then tune out and enjoy our own music collections.

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5 Responses to “Audio Ideas: Wrecking Radio 2 - The Sequel & The Growing Opposition”

  1. Jim Brock c-unknown Says:

    This is why I stopped listening to CBC radio when Peter Gzowski retired.

  2. James c-us Says:

    hello all. I am saddened, and not surprised, at the carnage.
    I (possibly) have the widest range of CBC experience that
    exists. in ‘52 (I was 10) I sang a solo on the first Xmas
    TV broadcast,in glorious B&W, since I was a ‘killer’ choir
    boy @ St Simons waaay back then. amusingly, I’m asked if I
    have a tape: no such thing then… my electronics hobby
    turned into a career. in TV maintenance in ‘68,9 I worked
    in Studio 1, where I was changing the P-audio connectors
    to XLRs. same studio! after being a Nagra film sound-man
    in documentary mode, I fixed the first 24 track in Canada
    and then, later, was the ‘designated old fart’ on the
    install of the Broadcast Centre. have never seen so much
    obscene excess. Glen Gould Studio micro-management of the
    install. misplaced, misunderstood and misbegotten nonsense.
    an Aphex ‘aural exiter’ in a classical studio. ya right…
    a Neve desk designed for remix/tracking/redux in a live
    environment. AES pres goof (couldn’t look me in the eye)
    insisting there be no fan on the Brystons which were almost
    red-hot in the tiny rack. they work best that way. ya, no.
    just talked to the troops who inform me that half the place
    has been turned into retail. no clue: escalates. hey, it’s
    our tax bucks in this thing! how do we respond/fight back?
    now, systematic decimation. may I please be invited to
    fight. I’m ‘armed’.
    jimmy
    llewellyn.j@netscape.ca
    let’s recover what’s ours.

  3. James c-us Says:

    just to reassure…
    by ‘armed’ I mean the pen rather than the sword.
    classicaly trained (music lessons from hell). I’ve
    played new jazz in Paris with Michael Snow, old
    jazz in Preservation Hall with Kid Thomas, traded
    sets with the ‘Dead, gratefully’ in NY, heard
    across Canada with my friend Luke Gibson live from
    Grossman’s on CBC (I’m the Apostle James from the
    Yorkville era) and have graduated to the ‘new’
    medium: this internet. no more physical media.
    I’ve been pro designing electronics for 45 yrs.
    I have very little concern for ‘quality’ except in
    my studio here in the woods. master with all the
    tools and realize that release is a ’scratchy 45′
    (MP3) and get on with art.
    jim

  4. Ingeborg c-ca Says:

    i notice that the last post on this site is july 2008.. and it is now feb2009.. does this mean that we have given up and admitted defeat????

    I still feel a profound sense of loss every morning when I have no Music and Company to wake up to…..and it continues all day.. I miss Catherine, Eric. Jurgen.. and so far time has NOT healed this wound….

    It really does seem that this is all part of a demise of western civilization as we knew it.. if what they play in Shoppers Drug Mart is referred to as “music” ..and now even CBC has fallen to that same lowest common denominator…..

  5. Andrew Marshall c-ca Says:

    Hi Ingeborg,

    I guess you didn’t notice that there is a further chapter to this ugly story, so go back to the home page and catch up! You wouldn’t want to miss my description of Julie Nesrallah! You can click on number 5 in the list above to go directly to it.

    Yes, the barbarians have breached the walls, Alexandria is burnt and looted, the pigs of (C)Rap running free gurgling, croaking, spitting, and belching their bass-laden barf.

    So we will have wait until licence renewal time and RISE UP!!

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