18 Apr 2015

CBC's Q aimed at U.S. youth while
most Canadians given back seat

When CBC management announced following the dismissal of Jian Ghomeshi last October that the radio program Q would be re-launched, I hoped that we might see a revival of true Canadian arts and culture programming in radio’s morning time slot.

I and tens-of-thousands of other Canadians yearn for the return of programming similar to some of the greatest radio broadcasting in the world that found its home on CBC Radio going back to the mid-1970s – programs such as This Country in the Morning, Morningside and This Country.

I’m talking about the high calibre of Peter Gzowski’s Morningside. Gzowski was a master of radio, capturing the spirit and substance of Canada perhaps better than any broadcaster before or since.  And there were outstanding hosts such as Don Harron, Michael Enright and Shelagh Rogers.

Those programs could safely allow CBC Radio to live up to its recently abandoned motto: “Canada lives here.” They explored both the lives of Canada’s greatest citizens, our cultural quirks and the lives of small town folks who had interesting things to say.

CEO Herbert Lacroix : The real problem behind the CBC. 


Unfortunately the run of great morning programming ended with the rude intrusion of Ghomeshi and Q in 2007. While Ghomeshi was excellent when interviewing Canadian stars, much of the other Canadian content was missing. Instead, we were fed interviews with pop music stars, authors from The New Yorker or some other U.S. magazine, as well as live pop music.

The likes of Q and other mediocre programming was foisted on us by the pro-Conservative Board of Directors and President Hubert Lacroix, who seems happy to orchestrate the CBC’s decline.

The CBC fusses over Q, but the pop nature of the content has meant its ratings are mediocre. During Ghomeshi’s peak period, Q reached an average of 270,000 people, according to CBC Audience Relations. In comparison, The Current, the program that proceeds Q, is heard by 371,000 listeners.

Interestingly, in an effort to distance the show from Ghomeshi, CBC management has changed the name of the program from “Q” to “q”, effective Monday. I’ve not figured out how q sounds different from Q when spoken on the air.

At one point I was quite optimistic that the morning time slot might leave the Ghomeshi formula behind. Cindy Witten, executive director of CBC Radio Talk, said they sought a “good conversationalist who is witty and fast on their feet” and steeped in arts and culture. (My emphasis.)

Secondly, I knew that Daniel Richler, a widely experienced journalist and broadcaster with a vast knowledge of arts and culture, was in the running for the host position.

Richler’s long list of credits include host and producer of City-TV’s Much Music, chief arts correspondent for CBC’s The Journal, and executive producer of Book Television. Most recently Richler has produced and written television documentaries for British networks, and he desperately wanted the job.

I thought Richler would be a shoe-in.

New Q Host - Shad
But after spending big bucks on what it called “an exhaustive search” that included considering more than 200 candidates, the CBC selected charismatic rapper Shad and not the greying old Richler to host the program.

The hiring of Shad was a clear signal that Q will not attempt to return to radio’s past. Thirty-two-year old Shad, who was born in Kenya and raised in Canada, is a heart-throb rapper with a Juno award and two university degrees to his credit. His music and youth orientation will suit him well in hosting the kind of program CBC management wants.

Q will be officially re-launched on Monday, April 20.

Some of the reasons behind the CBC’s decision to put out a mainly entertainment program in this time slot are rather disgraceful.

First of all, the CBC wants greater exposure on social media and as that’s a youth-oriented domain where they are trying to build audience. Okay, except that largely pop Internet programming will fly right over the heads of most folks over 35.

The bigger problem for me is that the CBC plans to have Q appeal to many thousands of young American listeners as opposed to a general Canadian audience.

Q is heard in many U.S. stations, but since the departure of Ghomeshi and the appearance of so many fumbling hosts, several American stations have stopped carrying Q.

The cancellations are a problem because American stations pay the CBC to broadcast Q, and although the amount is not very big (the CBC won’t say how much), the loss is a decrease in revenue for the already cash-starved corporation.

Secondly, based on the popularity of Q in the U.S., the CBC is able to trade for other programs, such as the popular BBC-PRI program, The World, which is broadcast nightly by CBC Radio One. The CBC also exchanges programs with the BBC.

Another factor: when Q has a large audience in the U.S. it increases the program’s ability to snag prominent people for interviews.

So, given that Shad is fairly well known in the U.S. because of his music, and because he is hip and young and into the popular entertainment scene, instead of giving the job to someone deeply immersed in Canadian arts and culture, CBC managers gave Shad the job.

An executive at Public Radio International is quoted as saying that with the hiring of Shad, he’s hopeful that some of the stations that dumped Q will pick it up again.

For these reasons, Q content will be targeted even more to appeal to an American audience.

Shad will no doubt interview high profile Canadian personalities, especially those from the field of entertainment. However, items on the fascinating stories of little known Canadian artists and characters and small towns will be few and far between. Q producers are much more attuned to coming up with entertainment and youth-oriented program ideas rather than off the beat Canadian ones.

I now better understand why I’ve not taken a liking to Q. Given the fact that with Shad we can expect more Americana-style content, I, along with tens-of-thousands of Canadians interested in our country, won’t be tuning in very often.

-30-

14 comments:

  1. Why does quality on CBC Radio have to equal an overdose of Canadian content? I suspect many Canadians, even CBC listeners, like to hear about great artists, wherever they come from. And frankly, for better or worse, Ben Affleck is far more relevant to the average Canadian than the star of, say, Camp X. What's Camp X, you might ask? One of the most hyped new CBC-TV shows, seen by a tiny fraction of the nation's population. CBC is wall-to-wall, good-for-ya Canuck; why can we not allow one show to stretch a little further afield?

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    1. Ummm....because non-Canadian content is available everywhere else? CBC's mandate is to reflect Canada back to Canadians, and although its management would love to believe that young, hip Shad is that reflection, they are unfortunately kidding themselves. But I do agree that Q (or q!) should stretch further afield. And it can do that by including a wider range of Canadian voices.

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    2. Camp X is Xcellent! 8-)

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  3. Rage, rage against the changing of the guard.

    I listen to a number of NPR programs via podcast. Q (or q, I guess) is ahead of the American curve, not following it... Pushing theCanadian public radio medium forward, just as Gzowski did in his day.

    The interest of American syndicates is a consequence of the unique nature of the show, not the inverse.

    I question several assumptions that underpin this column:
    - What is a "general Canadian public"? (How old is it? How white is it? Is it really so underserved by CBC programming that it must also be better targeted during these 90 minutes every morning?)
    - What is the qualitative difference between appealing to a younger Canadian public and appealing to a younger American public?
    - Since when is Shad well known in the US? He's only just become a somebody in mainstream Canada!

    q broadens the quality and appeal of CBC programming--it does not narrow it. The central premise strikes me as just plain wrong.

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    1. I could have been more clear that I object to that morning timeslot being devoted to pop entertainment. The content at that time should appeal to a wider audience and focus more on our country's art, culture and who we are. Something like q, but with a greater percentage of Canadian entertainment, etc., could run in an evening slot. I get tired of q interviews with folks who have written in some U.S. magazine about a topic that has absolutely no relevance to Canadians. -- I'm not saying that some interviews are not justified, there's just too much q staff "inside" stuff. Having worked at the old Sunday Morning for 10 years, I know how some producers peddle weak stories.

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    2. I actually turn off the radio between the current and radio noon here in NS. I try to get up early enough to catch the morning show. I listen to CBC to hear Canadian and local stories. If it's international I feel it should effect me in some way. Land and Sea is the only cultural program on offer in the entire maritimes when it comes to CBC TV (or any other network for that matter). It need not be all local all the time but I don't give two hoots about the latest pop star.. And I'm young.

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  4. While I agree with you that the CBC is under attack by Harper and his minions - and the damage is being inflicted by its very Board and CEO Lacroix - aka Harper Minions - I don't agree with you about Shad. Perhaps I am a different demographic - but I seldom listened to Peter Gzowski. I never bought his avuncular tone - it never felt sincere to me - and if it was, it was only intended for those insiders who were part of the Canadian intelligentsia. And while Daniel Richler is a very smart man - or at least sounds like he is - his brand of intelligentsia insider I find wearing. Shad is something new, fresh, almost squeaky clean - and he loves music, people and Canada. He is thoughtful (I heard him speak at a TEDX talk at Capilano U), with a political analysis and life experience that makes him acutely aware of the world beyond CBC. He is more like my Canada: eccentric, dare I say multicultural, hip, cool, but with some good old-fashioned class consciousness yet respectful of all. He is well liked in his Eastside, low-income neighbourhood in Vancouver, gives back to the community and even goes to church with his Mom (from what I hear) but he carries no dogma or agendas. I think you should give him a chance. I think you will find he has more in common with you and those tens-of-thousands of Canadians who believe in a fair, just, beautiful country than you realize.

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    1. The point of the article was not about Shad, though I think the CBC is taking quite a chance by putting a person with absolutely no experience as a broadcaster/journalist in that prominent role. He could have been trained on a regional CBC show, but the fools who manage the CBC these days aren't very smaert when it comes to broadcasting, believe it or not. My point is about the pro-American, pro-youth entertainment broadcast policy for that time period.

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  5. Cilla Alstrom-Rapaport20 April 2015 at 17:01

    Why would you think that Daniel Richler born in 1957 would be the obvious choice for this type of programme. It already feels as if CBC is run for and by senior citizens like yourself. Or, is Daniel Richler a friend of yours and your judgement is clouded. Plus, Daniel Richler has not lived in Canada since 2004 so what can he contribute today? In your blog your are pointing out that Shad was born in Kenya. I don't see the relevance, Donald Trump . You fail to mention that Daniel Richler was born in the UK. I am completely against all the financial cuts that has been done to CBC but that doesn't mean that all programming was better in the past. I dont think that you are able to able to be objective in this matter given your background.

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  6. Q rebranded as q after caps lock button is laid off in latest round of CBC budget cuts

    http://www.thebeaverton.com/culture/item/1826-q-rebranded-as-q-after-caps-lock-button-is-laid-off-in-latest-round-of-cbc-budget-cuts

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  7. Framing this as pandering to a US youth audience seems to be some kind of racial code. This is really a sad column pining for a very boring, insular, self-satisfied, and homogeneous old anglo Canada (cue the fiddles!). It's time to get over that already. Jian Ghomeshi was an unpleasant person to work for and, it would appear, a sexual predator, but his show was way more interesting than anything that has been on CBC in a long time. He also engaged politics that are relevant to a lot of people who never heard their issues represented on CBC radio much before, namely race and (ironically) gender.

    Anyway, you've already rushed to judge the choice of Shad without giving him the chance to grow into the position. Why don't you wait a month or two before making up your mind?

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