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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I'm finally done listening to CBC Radio

For more than twenty-five years, I've had my radio dial more-or-less permanently set to CBC Radio 2, as it's now known, or CBC FM, and then CBC Stereo, as it was called when I started listening to it.

It's primary use for me was as the music that would go off in the morning when my clock-radio is set to wake me up. But as I'm the sort of person who finds each morning a startling new experience which requires lingering in bed for at least half an hour before actually crawling out from under the covers to face it, that entailed quite a bit of listening over the years.

Only coincidentally, unless there's a subliminal element, yesterday I made a decision that comes around the same time as the recent scandal involving Jian Ghomeshi and allegations about his sexual battering of women. However he was a host on CBC Radio One, with which I almost never bothered.

Finally, after years of frustration with its decline, inanity, and tedious biases, I am done with CBC radio forever.

The reason I had begun regularly listening to CBC FM in the first place in the 1980's was because of its mostly classical music, with some jazz, format. Then as now, there was no shortage of radio stations playing golden oldies or crappy contemporary pop. Which isn't to say I'm not a fan of rock music. But the intricacy and elaborateness of great classical music has appealed to me from the time I was a kid watching Warner Brothers cartoons that used such phenomenal scores as a backdrop. While I had my own extensive library of classical music, the mix of someone else's choices, plus the opportunity to discover unheard of (by me) tracks, were of particular appeal.

CBC FM's hosts, back then, were also outstanding broadcasters, including the late, great Bob Kerr, whose 1 to 4 pm daily show also featured "Organ Thursdays." I was dating a CBC FM producer for a few years in the late 80's/early 90's ( no, this was long before Jian Ghomeshi worked there, so any sex scandals at CBC radio of which I'm aware and not telling don't involve him.)  I heard from her how the CBC administration actually despised Kerr's devoting an entire day, once a week, of his show to organ music broadcasts. But Kerr was such an institution at the Ceeb and he insisted on it, so he got his way, and I, like many other aficionados of organ music, was grateful for his perseverance. At that time, I was working for the provincial civil service and would have the radio in my office fixed on CBC FM, and those Organ Thursdays made the end of the second last day of the work week so much more enjoyable.

But following the heyday of great announcers like the curmudgeony, but encyclopedic Kerr, the eclectic Clyde Gilmour, and the erudite Richard Ouzounian, there was, beginning in the mid 1990's, a precipitous decline in the quality of announcer introducing the music on CBC Stereo/CBC 2.

From the time of the retirements of Kerr and Gilmour until now, mixing that civil service trait of simultaneously being obsequious and condescending, an onslaught of tedious announcers were blathering over CBC 2's airwaves. The next generation of announcers didn't just briefly introduce music, or perhaps also provide a bit of historical trivia about the composition or composer, as one would want from music radio. The new crop evidently felt that any asinine thought that popped into their head, or any mundane personal detail, like providing a prolonged account of their last "mature men's" hockey league game, was something that needed to be shared on air.

Making things worse was that the hourly news reports were being treated by CBC's "journalists" like it was the NDP's radio broadcast service. In 1993, we had a Liberal majority government, and the NDP was the 4th party with a meager 13 Parliamentary seats, behind the Liberals, the Canadian Alliance and the Bloc Quebecois. Yet is seemed whenever there was a government policy announced, the hourly news reports on CBC 2 didn't feature a government spokesman or even a member of the Official Opposition, but would only have a comment from an NDP member.

It became so outrageous and irritating that I complained to the CBC Ombudsman. As one would expect from the CBC, that process was totally useless. Rather than reviewing the Radio 2 hourly news broadcasts about which I complained, the CBC Ombudsman instead reviewed only CBC Radio One's World at Six program and rejected the complaint as "unfounded." Fortunately, in the aftermath of the complaint, at least for a few months, CBC 2's hourly news reports shifted somewhat away from giving NDP exclusivity of coverage to actually giving the government and Official Opposition some air time.

Back in 2005, CBC announcers were off the job for almost two months as part of a labor dispute. It was back when CBC 2 was still all classical. Management took over announcing duties and during the lockout, CBC Radio 2 listeners were treated to an announcer briefly introducing music by the name of the piece and the composer. It was the best time in the entire history of CBC Radio. If only they could have kept that format permanently!

Unfortunately, the dispute was eventually settled and the incessantly irritating, mundane and seemingly endless droning of CBC's on-air personalities resumed.

Then came the change of format, when instead of the classical music which made CBC 2 worth enduring, despite all its flaws, the programming was changed to consist of contemporary garbage with a particular emphasis on crappy Canadian adult-pop music.

I've always thought Ron Sexsmith's music was boring and uninventive. But his awful music was almost welcome when played alongside, untalented drivel from the likes of Joel Plaskett and the completely inane Sam Roberts. I swear, I'm absolutely convinced Sam Roberts has only written one song in his life and he just changes up the lyrics for them. Every one of his terrible songs sound exactly the same.

Making it worse, far worse, was having the lame-assed CBC host proclaiming that every piece of garbage about to be played on air was "great."

"Great" was the Beethoven that they used to play before they changed the format to be dominated by sound pollution calling itself "Canadian Adult Contemporary Music." And having some smug CBC host telling me that a piece of feces smells like lilacs doesn't make it so.

Even the one redeeming feature of CBC radio was an illusion. The absence of commercials wasn't really that at all. It ran plenty of commercials, only they weren't for commercial products or services, they were for other CBC programs. But that made them no less, and actually quite more obnoxious than the regular sort.

So the other day I finally had enough. I have switched my radio dial over to Classical 96.3 FM.

I wish I had done that years ago!

The announcers are professional, intelligent and capable. Just like the sort CBC FM had 20 years ago. The news reports are relevant and are actual news, not the biased propaganda that is a trademark of CBC news.

And even the commercials are comparatively tasteful and relatively brief - certainly no less painful than the tiresome, self-congratulatory exposition to which the CBC regularly subjects its listeners.

The only positive thing CBC 2 had going for it in recent years was the sexy, silken, sultry voice of the wonderful Molly Johnson. But she left at the end of 2013.

My morning radio has found a happy new home at Classical 96. Goodbye CBC radio - we had one of those relationships that lasted too long and became toxic at the end, leaving nothing but bitterness and resentment. perhaps some day I'll look back at the good times more fondly and forget the bad. I won't, for one second, miss hearing Stuart McLean's banal screaming into the microphone, extending his Garrison Keilor impersonation for years past the point where people even remember who Garrison Keilor was.

Still, there will always be affection for the days of Bob Kerr and Organ Thursdays and of Clyde Gilmour's Eclectic Circus. But those days are never coming back to CBC Radio 2, and neither am I.


N.B. This blog post was originally an experiment by which readers of Eye on a Crazy Planet could observe how I sometimes come to create these posts. The above is the now complete version.


Dance...dance to the radio said...

I remember when I used to listen to CBC radio after hours when Ralph Benmergui hosted Brave New Waves and David Wisdom hosted Night Lines.
Awesome shows.
My one regret is lending a friend the tape I made of Deja Voodoo's Hallowe'en show in 1990.
He never returned it.

Anonymous said...


Didn't know Ralph preceded Wisdom's Night Lines. I always wondered where Ralphy boy got his start before his brief time on morning CBC TV. Last I heard Ralph was hosting Jazz radio about 8 years ago. He was going on about someone pilfering his Baby Bell cheese balls from the staff fridge.

Night Lines in the 80's introduced me to the Beast of War's soundtrack by Mark Isham.


Darel Herb

Unknown said...

From Mar. 7/2013 this bit of sad news "CBC Radio personality Max Ferguson, best known for his long-running programs Rawhide and The Max Ferguson Show, has died.He was 89 " I loved his program ,I never knew about his passing... Too bad

Cher said...

I'm sorry. I posted previously but have no idea if my comment actually got in. I am sure that the hosts for Brave New Waves, of which I was a long time listener was Brent Bambry and not Ralph Benmergui.

Dance...dance to the radio said...

Cheryl they both hosted the show.
Ralph was first and Brent followed.
I can't remember the what the next host's name was but she was good, too.