An Answer to One of my Protests

OK, I realize that I’m becoming a bit of a broken record, and I promise that these postings about the CBC are reaching an end. After all, each of us have to ‘get a life’.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist posting this, because it shows just how the blather the CBC spouts about multiculturalism and other BS is being used so that these people can get their way, a commercial-style radio network with next to no challenging or intellectual content.

Here’s the background: In addition to my letter to the CBC, I left a submission at the ‘Contact Us’ form on the CBC Web site, and here’s what I got in today’s email :

Dear David Drucker,
Thank you for your email about upcoming changes to the weekday schedule of CBC Radio 2. We’re enthusiastic about the changes being planned. It’s good news for all Canadian performers and all Canadian listeners. However, we know some people have misconceptions of why we are making these changes and how the new schedule will look.

The question facing CBC is whether we use Radio 2 to reflect excellence in all Canadian music and musicians or just a part of the industry; and whether we serve a broad spectrum of Canadian listeners or just of a portion of the audience.

Allow us to provide you with a little background to the proposals.

First, we recognize the quality and public value of “serious” music. Classical music will remain the most broadly represented form on Radio 2 while we expand the spectrum to include other forms of music for adult Canadian listeners.

Next, it may interest you to know that Canadian performers of all stripes release about 30,000 pieces of music every year. Less than 1 per cent of those receive regular airplay on commercial radio stations. The rich diversity of Canadian music and musicians is clearly not being heard on Canadian airwaves. Music genres for which Canada is famous throughout the world currently have little exposure on CBC Radio’s music network.

Since CBC’s mandate charges us to “reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, (and) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression” as well as “reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada” the public broadcaster’s adult music network must be a home for these artists and this music.

Finally, we also believe there will still be some listeners who desire nothing but classical, or jazz, or adult singer-songwriters. So, this fall, CBC Radio will be launching three 24-hour-a-day web radio services to serve each niche exclusively. Obviously we would rather have a full FM network for each genre, but since that is not possible, the online solution is another option for Canadians.

Radio 2 is now and will be remain a music network for adult Canadians. Our values of thoughtfulness in presentation and excellence in performance remain intact. Our commitment to offer an alternative on the dial continues. The kind of listening experience will not change; the music highlights will just come from a broader spectrum.

We’re passionate about Canadian music. Radio 2 will be the only place to truly reflect the incredible breadth and depth of talent that exists in this country.

Again, thank you for writing. We look forward to your feedback when the new shows are introduced in the fall.

Ray Rusk
Communications Officer
CBC Audience Relations

I’m getting the standard party line I’ve seen in other media: Classical doesn’t represent true Canada; We’re not cutting out Classical music (or now an even better subtle insult: ‘Serious’ music; gee, why don’t they call it ‘Long-hair music’ or ‘Egghead music’); we’re just making sure that everyone is represented, so Classical Music has to go to make room for the other Canadian artists. That bit about ‘30,000 pieces of music’ is, I suspect, plucked from thin air.

Never mind that the mythical ‘audience’ they are talking about (instead of ‘portion of that audience’) doesn’t exist. The people who listen to Radio 2 by definition listen to Classical Music because if the CBC didn’t broadcast that, they wouldn’t listen to Radio 2. The alternative to Radio 2 is, let me see…Oh right: nothing.

Never mind that Canadian composers and Canadian Classical Music are going to continue to be phased out of the airwaves. The biggest bald-faced lie in the email is this one: Classical music will remain the most broadly represented form on Radio 2 …

Sorry, popular light classics from the hours of 10AM through 3PM, when no one but home-bound seniors will hear them is not ‘most broadly represented’.

To understand just how much the opposite of ‘most broadly represented’ is, here are some facts not mentioned in the letter:

The CBC Young Composers Competition
has not been held since March 9, 2003. It, as well as the CBC Young Performers Competition have been suspended for the past four years. The Canada Council provided the funding for the $10,000.00 grand prize.

The CBC set the classical music budget for CBC Records to 0 in February 2008, 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. That’s right; the first Grammy win, and these guys get rid of the recording label. Many Classical Music performers 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 classical music.

CBC cancelled Two New Hours, a multiple-award winning program that was aired for two hours a week in the incredibly prime time slot of Sundays 10pm to midnight. This program was dedicated to the music of living Canadian composers. It was cancelled in March 2007 in its 29th year.

CBC cancelled Music For A While, which aired classical music daily from 6pm to 8pm.

CBC cancelled In Performance the flagship Classical concerts program.

The CBC disbanded the CBC Radio Orchestra: North America’s 70-year old last remaining radio orchestra and platform for countless premieres of new Canadian compositions citing lack of resources. The next day, they ran a full-page ad in the Globe and Mail costing an estimated $30,000 to convince us of the same party line that I was read in the letter. It’s worth noting that there was not a single classical music (composer or performer) listed in the ad. Instead, the representation was primarily from commercial recording labels and others involved in popular music.

That bit about a ‘web’ station is utterly ridiculous as well.  Will I be able to listen to the web station in the car or on the Skytrain? Will I have to rig up a computer in the bedroom so I can wake up to it in the morning? Will kids in school who have never been exposed to Classical Music discover their Internet-based station?  Maybe in 5-10 years we’ll have pervasive Internet connectivity so that streaming audio is available at all times, including while traveling at decent quality, and is next to free for all, but not today. Like magazines that stop printing paper editions and only publish on the web, putting most of the CBC’s Classical Music solely on the Internet is pretty much getting rid of it from mainstream listeners.

It’s sickening to be read a party line that is disingenuous at best. That bit about multiculturalism is a smoke-screen.  Do you think they are going to be playing a lot of Pakistani and Chinese music? ( And isn’t ironic that so many Chinese are huge fans of Classical music and are building concert halls like mad in China while the CBC takes it away from listeners in Richmond?).

If the CBC says that people like me ‘just don’t get it’, that ‘The kind of listening experience will not change; the music highlights will just come from a broader spectrum’ and should simply listen to web radio, what they really mean is that they are simply interested in making more money — just like they do on TV by airing ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ — by pretending to be ‘multicultural’, and then running a commercial Easy Listening station. The pattern they’ve followed from the last 3 years plainly shows it.

10 Replies to “An Answer to One of my Protests”

  1. I’m pleased to see the first federal MP, NDP Culture Critic Bill Siksay publicly criticize the destruction of our national orchestra and the disintegration of Radio 2 into a mediocre adult contemporary station. I wish the other MP’s would speak up as well. I’ve e-mailed Hedy Fry, my Liberal MP and the Minister of Culture. I think we should also write to Senator Larry Campbell as well as I think he has the weight to get the attention of the brass. He is from Vancouver and we Vancouverites are really getting the brunt of the hammer blow here with the orchestra based here, Disc Drive being torpedoed and the lack of alternate classical stations etc.

  2. when i first arrived in canada in the early 80s, i couldn’t believe how little classical music was played here on the radio. now i wish we were back to those times.

    a little while ago, i came across an article entitiled, “how to avoid the emergence of another leonardo davinci.” looks like we’re also working hard on making sure we won’t have another glenn gould or oscar peterson. yes, oscar peterson, too – because without chopin and liszt and bach, he wouldn’t have gotten to where he did in jazz.

    the sad story, of course, is that CBC doesn’t get it that marketing for the masses has gone the way of the dodo bird quite a while ago and that by alienating their dedicated niche audience, they’ll probably use ALL audience.

  3. You are absolutely right, Isabella. This idea of ditching the audience that they have in search of a new one has all the logic (and possibility of success) of Coca Cola’s ‘New Coke’. I wonder if, like the soft drink company, they’ll see how wrong they are in time?

  4. By shocking coincidence I received the identical email. This is my response to it. My ID is Music4Life. Apologies for length.

    Rusk: Thank you for your email about upcoming changes to the weekday schedule of CBC Radio 2. We’re enthusiastic about the changes being planned.

    M4L: Your enthusiasm about the proposed changes leads me to believe that I have not made myself clear about the importance of restoring CBC 2. I apologize for my lack of clarity. Let me try again.

    Rusk: It’s good news for all Canadian performers and all Canadian listeners.

    M4L: No, actually. It was the work of just a few minutes to come up with over seventy extraordinary Canadian musicians, composers, ensembles and music festivals, all with international careers and reputations. World-class, you might say: Glenn Gould, Jon Vickers, Maureen Forrester, Lois Marshall, Ben Heppner, Elmer Isler, Alexander Brott, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Richard Margeson, Michael Schade, Measha Brueggergosman, Russell Braun, John Kimura Parker, James Parker, Angela Cheng, Janina Fialkowska , Healey Willan, Giles Bryant, Boris Brott, Luc Beausejour, Karina Gauvin, Suzy Leblanc, Isabelle Bayrakdarian, James Campbell, André Laplante, Richard Raymond, Angela Hewitt, James Ehnes, Denise Djokic, Shauna Rolston, Mario Bernardi, Ofra Harnoy, Tracy Dahl, Bernadine Blaha, Corey Cerovsek, Guy Few, Alain Trudel, Dennis Brott, Anton Kuerti, Tafelmusik, Cor Leone, Electra Women’s Choir, Festival of the Sound, Orford String Quartet, St. John String Quartet, Scotia Festival of Music, Canadian Children’s Chorus, Indian River Festival, Winnipeg New Music Festival, Eckhardt-Grammate Competition, Raffi Armenian, Cristos Hatzis, Alexina Louie, R. Murray Schafer, Srul Irving Glick, Jacques Hetu, Vancouver Chamber Choir, Nexus, John Grew, Music Royale, Oscar Morawetz, John Weinzweig, Boxwood Music Festival, Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, Les Voix Humaines, Gryphon Trio, Harry Somers, Susan Platt, Benjamin Butterfield, Murray Adaskin, the Lafayette String Quartet, Stewart Goodyear, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Joshua Bell…

    We know their names and enjoy their music only because of CBC Radio 2, when it was at its best.

    I wonder if you recognize all the names on this list, Chris Blake or Ray Rusk. If you don’t, I am very sorry to say that CBC management has decided that you will not easily be able to find them on your radio in the future. Too bad. It’s your birthright, and it is being stolen from you.

    Rusk: However, we know some people have misconceptions of why we are making these changes and how the new schedule will look.

    The question facing CBC is whether we use Radio 2 to reflect excellence in all Canadian music and musicians or just a part of the industry; and whether we serve a broad spectrum of Canadian listeners or just of a portion of the audience.

    M4L: The broad spectrum of Canadian listeners is admirably served by all the commercial radio stations, whose advertisers know that their messages will be heard by a broad-spectrum audience. The CBC’s mandate is to reflect the best of Canada to Canadians, and CBC 2 has, in the past, done that job admirably and cheaply.

    Rusk: Allow us to provide you with a little background to the proposals.

    First, we recognize the quality and public value of “serious” music.

    M4L: I would dispute the depth of your recognition of quality, but let that go.

    Rusk: Classical music will remain the most broadly represented form on Radio 2 while we expand the spectrum to include other forms of music for adult Canadian listeners.
    Rusk: Classical music will remain the most broadly represented form on Radio 2 while we expand the spectrum to include other forms of music for adult Canadian listeners.

    M4L: With respect, would you just listen to yourself? The argument you are making is that CBC management has chosen to alienate the audience you have in order to serve an audience you don’t have, a phantom audience apparently that does not exist in sufficient numbers to make an impact on commerical radio. Would it not be wiser, more prudent, to serve this audience on web-based radio, and count ears for a year or two, to assure yourself of a new improved audience that will replace the one you no longer want? This is a serious question and I would like a serious answer.

    Rusk: Next, it may interest you to know that Canadian performers of all stripes release about 30,000 pieces of music every year. Less than 1 per cent of those receive regular airplay on commercial radio stations. The rich diversity of Canadian music and musicians is clearly not being heard on Canadian airwaves. Music genres for which Canada is famous throughout the world currently have little exposure on CBC Radio’s music network.

    M4L: Indeed. Those musicians and that audience could be served by an FM service called Radio Three. Was that not the original plan? What happened? This is also a serious question for which I request a serious answer.

    Rusk: Since CBC’s mandate charges us to “reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, (and) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression” as well as “reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada” the public broadcaster’s adult music network must be a home for these artists and this music.

    M4L: Look at the names on the list above — Gould, Vickers, Cheng, Fialkowska, Glick, Schade, Beausejour, Armenian, Brueggergosman, Cerovsek, Nezet-Seguin, Butterfield, Bayrakdarian, Trudel, Braun, Brott, Weinzweig, Hetu, Gauvin, Leblanc, Bryant, Hornoy, Djokic, Ehnes. Sounds like Canada to me.

    Rusk: Finally, we also believe there will still be some listeners who desire nothing but classical, or jazz, or adult singer-songwriters. So, this fall, CBC Radio will be launching three 24-hour-a-day web radio services to serve each niche exclusively. Obviously we would rather have a full FM network for each genre, but since that is not possible, the online solution is another option for Canadians.

    M4L: This is a non-solution solution, that is, it looks like a solution on the surface but it is nothing but a drop-dead afterthought. First, CBC 2 listeners listen to the radio through real radio speakers, not tinny computer speakers which are scarcely worthy of the name. Second, we move around when we listen, from the kitchen to the office to the car, to the hardware store. We also talk to each other from time to time. With all the gee-whiz new media – podcasts and concerts-on-demand, you seem to fail to get the key point that while listening to the radio can be a splendid solitary experience, it is just as often a wonderful shared experience. Two or three people in a kitchen, or a car, or a corner store can suddenly stop their conversation, and listen until the end of a particularly beautiful piece. Afterwards we talk about it. Together. With each other. In the past, we have often finished the exchange by remarking on what a gift CBC 2 is, and how proud we are that Canada continues to value it. Well, that’s what we used to say.

    Rusk: Radio 2 is now and will be remain a music network for adult Canadians.

    M4L: This statement reminds me of a book talk I attended. The author’s historical research was about when and how the Roman Catholic Church shifted course, or changed its position on a variety of issues. The announcement of a reversal in policy apparently always finished with the words “Rome has spoken,” and that became the title of the book. The author also discovered that announcements of reversals of position were always prefaced by the words “As Rome has always said…” That is, the refusal to acknowledge a change in direction is the preface to a change in direction, in this case a shameful dumbing down.

    Rusk: Our values of thoughtfulness in presentation and excellence in performance remain intact.

    M4L: Unfortunately this statement is contradicted by the lamentable change in CBC 2 programming which has already taken place. CBC 2 is toxic after 6 pm weekdays.

    Rusk: Our commitment to offer an alternative on the dial continues.

    M4L: We do not seek alternatives. We seek mainstream serious music, such as presented by WQXR in New York, or Antenna 2 in Portugal.

    Rusk: The kind of listening experience will not change;

    M4L: the listening experience has already changed, and not for the better;

    Rusk: the music highlights will just come from a broader spectrum.

    M4L: Broad-spectrums are for antibiotics, not music.

    Rusk: We’re passionate about Canadian music.

    M4L: Actually, you’re ringing the death-knell of the only Canadian music that is likely to last, and which gives us standing in the civilized world.

    Rusk: Radio 2 will be the only place to truly reflect the incredible breadth and depth of talent that exists in this country.

    M4L: Sadly, that is no longer true.

    Rusk: Again, thank you for writing. We look forward to your feedback when the new shows are introduced in the fall.

    M4L: You are receiving my feedback now. If you persist in this unwarranted attack on the Canadian classical music community, when the “new shows are introduced in the fall” my radio and a million others will be turned off. You would do well to consider that the current firestorm of protest is a wake-up call to save your job, and to save you from yourselves. In a year or so, it is predictable that the government will discover that audience numbers are down, and will cut funding, and we will not be there to defend the CBC. The CBC is engaging in risky, self-destructive behaviour, and it is predictable that it will end badly. Pass it on.

  5. That’s spectacular, Barbara, and I couldn’t have put it better. I wish there were a way for such a good response to CBC’s cheerful and Orwellian letter. I particularly like the fact that you point out, at the end, that these people are apparently, cheerleading for the changes that will result in the loss of Radio 2 and their jobs. They should pass on such information internally.

    Like you, if these changes do go through, I will turn off my radios in the house and car, probably for good. I will rely on my music collection and the Internet for recorded Classical music, probably keep an iPod in the car for podcasts and music I’ve already gotten there, and look toward a day when these technologies are good and pervasive enough that terrestrial radio is indeed irrelevant, but that won’t be for as long as a decade, I think). I will also mourn the loss of a medium that could have served to promote the Canadian artists you mention (and others not yet discovered or even born).

  6. Hi David,
    It’s a small world. I linked to you while reading Rebecca’s live blog of Third Tuesday, and discovered your blog. I was sitting in the row of seats behind you. What I find interesting is that I was also one of those protesting the CBC cuts – although in Victoria as that is where I live. Re the cuts – your comments and those of Barbara are spot on. What bothers me more than anything is that there has been no public consultation on this. Hubert Lacroix does not appear to be accountable to anyone. That’s nuts! The Facebook group has helped to mobilize people. Is there anything more we can do through social media? I’d be interested in your thoughts and suggestions. Thanks. And if I’m able to make it over to the next Third Tuesday, I’ll tap you on the shoulder!
    Cindy

  7. Hi Cindy,
    I remember meeting you last night before we took our seats. I’ll look forward to seeing you again next month.

    As for what we can do, so far, as you know, there have been email writing campaigns, and twice I’ve picketed the CBC’s Vancouver office (the last time at the same time others were supposedly doing it around the country). Here in Vancouver the picketers are more passionate about stopping the disbanding of the CBC Radio Orchestra, but even though that’s upsetting to me as well, it won’t quite have the negative impact that removing Classical Music programming from the airwaves will have for me (and, I suspect, thousands more, at least).
    Not sure what else we can do – some have suggested enlisting the aid of prominent performers. I don’t know if this will help. I’d like to get some prominent politicians on board as well. The story on 60 Minutes last weekend about how Classical Music performance is transforming the country (by creating orchestras where poor children can participate from an early age) drove home to me the importance of the presence of great music in public culture, but driving that point home to a Harperite Conservative MP strikes me as a difficult road to hoe. Perhaps you can think of something as well.

  8. I think you should keep on about this. We all should. This decision is obviously about eventually turning the CBC into just another commercial broadcaster.

    There are alternatives – just not on the radio. And in recent months as Radio 2 has become infested with stuff that really belongs on Radio 3 (internet only and very limited indeed) I find myself listening to all sorts of other sources. The radio gets switched off and I use last.fm, or streamtuner – and, of course, NPR. And since they are not listening to us there will come a time when I am not listening to them.

  9. It’s hard to keep pushing when you reach a brick wall. There’s not been any indication from the CBC of anything but acknowledgment that the decision was ‘hard’ (particularly to disband the orchestra). I don’t believe a word of their bureaucratic babble.

    As for turning to the Internet, I’ve grimly accepted that this will be the way that I have to go this fall. It does not include the car (will plug in the iPod there and listen to podcasts plus my library if I want music). As for home, we have a very good setup, all in all, except for the bedroom. I’ve been looking into installing an Airport Express Router, a device to which I can stream audio from any computer in the house (including the one in my office). I can take the audio out of the router into our clock radio, so that at the time the alarm goes off, the source is no longer the FM tuner but the AUX (from the Internet). This all should work, but there’s no telling what the audio quality will be and frankly, it all feels a bit like a Rube Goldberg contraption of sorts.

    In the meantime, I get up every day at 6 AM on weekdays, mainly to hear Tom Allen. No matter what I end up doing, I’ll lose his enhancement to my morning. With the end of his program a few months away, he’s been taking more chances (what does he have to lose?) and the other morning I even heard him make fun of the way that other classical announcers do their job (with their grave, pompous, and boring intoning of piece titles and composer’s names). For my money, he’s the best at what he does in the English-speaking world. I plan to write a post describing why I think he’s such a unique treasure on the airwaves, and just what a loss he’ll be to the country.

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