5 Sep 2017

Angry CBC listeners demand fewer mindless personal-story programs

Note from Nick: Because I worked with CBC for more than 25 years and have great loyalty to quality public broadcasting, I regret that I need to take CBC Radio One management to task in an aggressive manner. But when considerable damage is being done to the network and managers refuse to answer basic questions, I feel I have no alternative. 

Long-time CBC Radio One listeners upset over summer programming that featured a dozen shows about personal concerns and peoples’ problems will be listening carefully this fall to see how many of those kinds of programs are in the line-up.

Hundreds of traditional Radio One fans strongly agreed with my blog of two weeks ago, in which I blasted CBC management for broadcasting the mindless and banal programs.

Hmmm ... then why are people turning it off ?
More than 75 people took the time to write protest letters to CBC management and more than 400 people registered their concerns on social media. CBC Audience Services has always said that one protest represented the views of perhaps 1,000 people, so it’s likely that many thousands of regular listeners are opposed to the personal-oriented programming.

Hundreds of people said they no longer listen to Radio One, while other said they turn the radio off as soon as they hear one of the selfie-like programs.

Here’s a sample of the letters to CBC Managers Susan Marjetti, Executive Director, Radio and Audio, for English Services, and Heather Conway, executive vice-President of English Services:
  • “I am a huge fan of the CBC. I listen to CBC Radio One exclusively, practically 24/7, and have done so for 40 years or more”, writes Penny Tomlin of Victoria, B.C. “I have been so disappointed with the programming this summer — most especially with Out in the Open, Sleepover, Seat at the Tableand Love Me .” 
  • “I used to recommend CBC Radio to anyone who would listen – no more” says Diane McLeod. “I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I still listen at all. I suspect that you are losing listeners.  Given the rambling and shallow nature of most current CBC Radio programming, in another three months, you will have lost me, as well.”
  • From Judy Waytiuk, Words, Ink: “As a one-time journalist with the CBC, later with private television, than as a veteran print journalist and freelancer, I beg you: please bring current affairs programming at Radio One back to its roots: intelligent incisive interviews on serious issues of the day, provocative documentaries about matters of genuine social significance (and no, methods for hair removal on personal body parts is not socially significant in any way).”  
  • “This kind of programming is not what we should be getting from our public broadcaster,” writes Tusia Kozub. “We need political analysis, programming about current issues like climate change and immigration, in-depth Canadian and international stories and interviews. The young, intelligent people that you are trying to attract will be interested in these subjects.  CBC radio is dumbing down; loyal listeners will leave. Please, CBC, don't become anti-intellectual. We need you more than ever.”
  • “When will you bring back the thought-provoking programmes you once aired?” asks Isabel Hinther. “When will you realize that you're losing loyal listeners with these new shows? As a long-time listener, I feel abandoned, with fewer and fewer intelligent, interesting shows to listen to. I've always fought to keep the CBC but unfortunately, am feeling less inclined to fight for the new format.”
Many people noted that the same type of personal-interest interviewing is showing up in some long-time programs, particularly The Current and As It Happens.

Others took the CBC to task for not having a radio program devoted to climate change and the environment. CBC Vancouver produces an excellent podcast, 2050: Degrees of Change with weather expert Johanna Wagstaffe. However, managers of Radio One do not promote the Wagstaffe podcast and have not added it to the regular radio schedule.

One sure thing is that, no matter what plans they have for the fall, CBC managers made a serious mess of the summer schedule by broadcasting so many storytelling programs.

People want Dispatches back

Several people wrote that they miss Dispatches with Rick MacInnes-Rae, which ran reports about issues in many parts of the world.

Programs for the fall season will be introduced over a period of a few weeks. One bright spot for  traditional listeners is the fact that The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright is expanding from two to three hours on Sunday morning. The program has been given additional producers.

Also back is Out in The Open with Piya Chasttopadhyay, which received mixed reviews. It moves to 12 noon on Sundays.

Another bit of good news for many radio listeners is that the controversial program Someone Knows Something is coming back only as a podcast. in the fall but  -- unless the CBC can be convinced otherwise -- it's likely to run on radio next summer. The first series will explore the murder of two black teenagers in Mississippi in 1964. The second one will look into the murder of an Ontario man – by an exploding flashlight – in 1996.

Two other podcasts have been announced:
  •  Alone: A Love Story is described as being “a memoir about love and the fallout from cheating.” Experienced CBC producer Michelle Parise “believes she was sold a dream and she bought it. But one day, nine years later, she woke up to an empty bed.” Ten exhilarating episodes!
  • The Fridge Light, which CBC says “offers a fascinating look at the hidden stories of food”, will be hosted by food writer Chris Nuttall-Smith. “Each episode is devoted to exploring one story, with all its twists and turns.”
I asked Susan Marjetti in an e-mail if CBC has research that shows the public wants this kind of personal-oriented programming. I also asked her to explain how well Radio One is making the transition to broadcasting on the Internet.

Marjetti declined to answer my questions.

Many of the people who wrote to the CBC asked serious questions, but received what amounted to a form letter in response

When CBC managers are secretive – as they are about personal-style programming – they usually are up to something they don’t want to share with the public or critics. Management is in the practice of circling the wagons and holding meetings during which they tell each other how great a job they're doing.

CBC managers have big dreams

It appears the managers are on an end run to increase empty-minded personalized storytelling programs because they believe they appeal to young people much more than to traditional information-oriented programming. Advertising now accompanies some podcasts, and the CBC may have visions of hundreds of ads raking in hundreds-of-thousands of bucks that would help solve the Corporation's funding gap.

Knowing the CBC well, I’m sure the Corporation has some self-serving research that says they can do great things with the podcasts. But I doubt this will end well for listeners or the CBC.

Dozens of media organizations and individuals are out there fighting to see who can get the most clicks. CBC Radio One’s podcasts are not doing particularly well. CBC places only seven podcasts on the iTunes list of 100 most popular podcasts. Only two of the summer programs made the list – Someone Knows Something at 26 and On Drugs at 36.

In the meantime, it appears that the cynical radio managers have little concern about the integrity of Radio One broadcasting and the fact that they are losing thousands of loyal listeners.

Instead of putting huge resources into personal-interest journalism, CBC should be developing substantial programs and have faith that all age groups will listen to high-quality programming.

Research compiled by Statistics Canada shows that young people pay attention to news more than is generally believed. In 2013, 35 per cent of people age 15 to 34 followed the news daily. Seventy-eight per cent of the group followed the news several times a month or several times a week.

The CBC has experienced numerous disasters in the past. The expansion of this embarrassing and mindless programming must be pulled back before Radio One is damaged permanently.

After much of the fall schedule has been introduced, a citizens’ committee will conduct research and issue a report if the programming is judged to be sub-standard.

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Thanks Nick