Sunday, March 30, 2008

CBC: Smells like 18-35 demographic

There's a bit of a rhubarb going on now about the proposed
changes (again?) to CBC Radio 2 programming coming this September. Radio 2, the classical music wing of the Mother ship, is fiercely guarded by its loyal core audience. As it should. Those who prefer Bach over Bublé have few other options when it comes to air play.
But this latest brouhaha is the same argument we've heard about making the CBC more 'accessible' to younger and/or more diverse audiences. What this means for Radio 2 is a reduction in programming hours devoted strictly to classical music (Radio 2 is currently about 85% classical). Now there will be a daily 5 hour afternoon slot, and a few weekend slots, such as Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. The rest of the airtime, namely the drive-in and drive-home shows, will be shared by an 'eclectic array' of jazz, folk, Joni Mitchell, world music, R & B, more Joni Mitchell, and probably a lot of Michael Bublé. This, apparently, is the end of civilization. Now scores of Radio 2 fans are whingeing about it, hugging their hi-fis like mother bears ready to slap the CBC management heads who keep messing things up. I don't blame them for complaining. Whenever the CBC decides to shake things up a bit (which seems to be, oh, about every 10 months or so), they move toward the same changes every time. It's frustrating. People get attached to their programs. You live with this stuff every day, then suddenly it's like someone you don't know is moving in and chucking out your favourite chair because they don't like it. In this case though, the change stings a lot more because classical music is already a marginalized and hyper-specialized form of music, only truly, fully and deeply appreciated by a slim portion of the population. Radio 2 is all they've got! I may not listen to it that much, but I like knowing it's there.
I feel their pain.

In the March 29 edition of the Globe and Mail, staff writer Jeffrey Simpson ("Mr. President, will you fight for a CBC of intelligence?" page A19) claims that these proposed changes signal yet another dumbing down of CBC content, as epitomized on the TV side by programs like The Hour (weeknights at 11pm): "The CBC has forgotten, or at least marginalized, its statutory mandate to 'inform, enlighten and entertain' by reversing the order of priorities, such that instead of appealing to intelligence, the cardinal rule for public broadcasting, it has insulted that intelligence on the television side with programs such as The Hour."

I can see how he would think this. It's hard to get past the Much Music-ness of the program. From the opening theme song (by Canada's own The New Pornographers - and they have NOTHING to do with skin mags, ma), to its seizure-inducing video graphics, to its just-a-bit-too-cool host, my boyfriend George Stombou (hang on...) Stroumboulopoulos, the show reeks of the 18-35 demographic, which Jeffrey Simpson seems to have rather little faith in. But does this mean it has no substance? Why do classical music and opera always trump all other forms when it comes to 'intelligent music'? Do all people who listen to classical music really have such narrow taste? Are they really completely intolerant of Joni Mitchell? (She paints, you know.)
But the point is, The Hour is not trying to be The National, or Ideas, or The Sunday Edition. It doesn't need to be. The Hour, however, is the CBC's 18-35 dream come true. Yes, it has stupid features that probably make more people cringe than they realize (i.e. "The Greatest Thing Ever" segment. NIX IT!), but it also has Desmond Tutu, Roméo Dallaire, Elizabeth May, Ricky Gervais, Debbie Harry, and hey - Peter Mansbridge! (They had a rollicking good time on that one. I've never seen Peter so relaxed. He even wore a black mock turtleneck for the occasion.) Plus hundreds of other interesting guests you've never heard of who are doing amazing things with their lives.
In all of my TV news-watching life, no matter how many times Peter tries to explain it to me, I can barely wrap my head around what's going on in Iraq. But 3 minutes with George and it all makes sense. Does this mean I can't understand complex warfare unless it's broken down into manageable bits of information? That after missing a few episodes of The National I've been left in the dust of ignorance? (just like what happened with Twin Peaks). Not really. But so what if The Hour is the Coles Notes of The National. Maybe people will accidentally learn something.

But TV is a whole other thing (and I have a whole lot to whinge about myself in that regard). When it comes to radio, though, I've long thought the CBC's preoccupation with that ever-elusive youth market was a misguided obsession. CBC radio is something you mature into. You grow to love it for precisely the same reasons you hated it when you were 14. Because your parents listen to it, because it reminds you of home, because it's good for you, because it goes down well with dinner, because it's familiar, intelligent, always there, and you can listen to it with your grandma.

So stop panicking. There's room for everyone on this Mother ship, even if we don't all get along.

P.S. (June 11/08) I've gone back to watch some more of The Hour in recent weeks, and I fear my tolerance for George has crashed. Aïe aïe aïe. I think his too-tight pants may be impeding the flow of blood to his head.

* * *

An informal poll with my friend Donna recently revealed who's hot and who's not on our CBC radio list of hosts. Voici la liste:

Jian Ghomeshi (Q. We were actually split on this one but since it's my blog he gets the HOT vote. I know I am alone on this one.)
Patti Schmidt (Inside the Music. AND she plays hockey)
Eleanor Wachtel (Writers and Company. Her liquid honey voice makes my guy friends weak in the knees)
Paul Kennedy (Ideas)
Jonathan Goldstein (Wiretap. Marry me.)
Tom Allen (Music & Company)
Rex "perspicacious" Murphy (Cross Country Checkup/catchup/ketchup)
Ian Brown (Talking Books. Marry me if Jonathan is unavailable.)

Shelagh Rogers (Sounds Like Canada. "how did you feel?" ad nauseam)
Stewart McLean (Vinyl Café. Drunk on the sound of his own voice, methinks)
Gregory Charles (In the Key of Charles. SHUT UP!)
Randy Bachman (Randy's Vinyl Tap. Drunk on the sound of his own guitar noodling. Forgive me for dissing a Canadian rock n' roll legend and fellow former 'Pegger)
Sook-Yin Lee (DNTO. "Celebrities on helium"?!? Come ON)
Brent Bambury (Go! The cool, sharp edge he'd honed on Brave New Waves was lost forever when he co-hosted CBC TV's Midday. Now he's just a butter-knife. /cry)

Ian Finkleman (Finkleman's 45s'irascible old crank)
Peter Gzowski (Morningside's irascible old crank. R.I.P.)


Anonymous said...

Yeah...Simpson is bang on about the CBC, but his ire is misdirected at The Hour. It's a good show, despite its iritating much-music stylings. He'd do better to level criticism at the many reality shows that have emerged on the CBC, or the gawd-awful prime time shows (Jpod, The Border, etc.), or even the watered-down shadow-of-its-former-self National. I am sick of the National running commercials for drugs instead of news stories on illness, and of treating the issue of war in Afghanistan as a platform to "support the troops" instead of engaging it critically in any way. I've lost hope in CBC TV, and have put it all in the radio. While I don't really listen to CBC Radio 2 much (more of a Radio 1 kinda guy), I lament the new changes.

I like your comment, Joanne, at the end. I never listened to radio when I was young. I grew into it, just as you described. Great article...


Anonymous said...

Oh more thing. Jian Ghomeshi - NOT hot, but certainly a great improvement over last year. I'm warming up to him...

Brent Bambury...while Midday was a terrible fit for him, his show Go! is a good time had by all, even if a bit goofy. HOT, definitely.


n3rd said...

I miss David Wisdom and "Pearls of Wisdom". I only got into it in the last year :( . He had a great eclectic show that was unique and fascinating (anyone remeber RSVP with David Lennick?). Good thing I recorded a year's worth to remember Pearls of Wisdom by.

cultural flotsam said...

Oh yeah! I forgot about David Wisdom and 'Pearls of Wisdom'. I loved that show too. So sad it's gone.

Anonymous said...

Ok, Jian NEEDS TO BE REMOVED FROM THE "HOT" list. A man so lukewarm on every issue that matters, so nauseatingly politically correct, must be banished to the realm of NOT. It is a tragedy that the CBC cancelled Freestyle, and replaced it with Q. I’m still not over it.

Also…the woman who does the weather at 11pm needs to be added to the HOT list. She forecasts the weather as though she reading erotica. Now that’s hot.


cultural flotsam said...

Hmm - I wonder if listening to Q at 2pm instead of 10pm makes any difference? Perhaps you'd be more tolerant if you listened to Jian in the dark under a cozy duvet, in a state of semi-consciousness.
Yes - I agree about the weather woman here in QC. I think her name is Jackie Cherney (sp?). I love that she ends her forecast with "A good evening to you." Although I always felt her voice was more motherly (in a comforting way) than erotic. Hmmm - calling Dr. Freud...

meandbilly said...

Hey you, I disagree re: Brent Bambury - Brave New Waves in the 80s saved my life. The voice, the looks, the tunes. He interviewed me a few years ago - very surreal. Hotness doesn't go away.

Jian has a great voice and Q is awesome, but have you seen his website with "glamour" photos? Dear Lord.

cultural flotsam said...

Well I would probably flip with glee if I were interviewed by BB, but I just can't listen to GO anymore. Yeesh.

regarding Jian: I heard about his personal website and I refuse to look at it. I fear it will brand my brain with some horrible image I can't erase and ruin my CBC listening pleasure forever. Losing Brent was bad enough.