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

20 comments:

  1. Instead of changing programming maybe change managers! Keep pestering them to answer your questions Nick emphasizing who pays their salaries.

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  2. The CBC management is still dominated by Conservative appointees who could easily be accused of sabotaging the future of the CBC. Start there.

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    1. Alberta's ND government is now rid of the conservative "old boys." Contracts have to be honoured, I guess. Maybe someone should have a chat with Rachel...?

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  3. I wrote to every one of those people and didn't copy to you, saying much the same thing. I also twittered Tom Clark to suggest the management board should be replaced ASAP, and to the minister, who I don't trust to appoint the best of the people suggested. These middle managers should be fired. ALSO I have peppered everyone with complaints about CBC News wall to wall coverage of Houston and the white house, and none of the BC wildfires. Where I live everyone has friends and relations in BC. There should be an inquiry into this and maybe into the rotten programming and decisions made about Radio One. For fifty years living in remote places I have relied on good CBC radio programming and I feel abandoned. And really furious.

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    1. Ditto: after 12 yrs as CBC North's only TV media librarian I was sad to see the arctic portrayed stereotypically to the main network over & over, ignoring its harbinger of global warming & its rich cultural indigenous life & peoples. Retired & Back in T.O.I cringe at the ignorance of the so-called "sea-to-sea-to-sea" monicker. (And don't get me started on TRC coverage...)And I tell anyone who will listen, about CBC's arctic bureauz...)

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  4. And also I would like to say my children and grandchildren listen to CBC radio and they are young people. At least they are younger than me.

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  5. so sad to see the decline of Canada's flagship. BUT quite frankly ANYONE who countenanced the hiring of Ghomeshi/Shad/1/2 the scruffy reporters/and so-called interviewers/hosts should be replaced. The dumbing/slumming down must be stopped. Reporting on items around Canada must be emphasised...when did Torontonians hear anything about day to day happenings in the rest of Canada...and I'm sure that is true about the ROC with Ontario.Plus move the TV news/etc to the internet, why should cable have the exclusivity of our public broadcaster

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  6. Michael Enright used to be more cutting edge, but he needs a partner to bring a more youthful intellectual audience. And he has also been totally condescending towards anyone who brings up the reality of corporate corruption affecting the promotion of vaccines. He does not address any concerns and mocks anyone who doesn't believe 100% in vaccinations. In spite of the fact that many academic researchers are coming forward with hard science questioning the power of Big Pharma over such issues. This is an important issue and to have CBC and Michael Enright just scoff over it is depressing.

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  8. Echoing Sionna's comment above, in my view there is an attitude at the CBC that is totally inappropriate, ill-informed and "...totally condescending towards anyone who brings up the reality of corporate corruption..." in general. At a personal level I have found this to be the case - beyond doubt - in the case of SNC-Lavalin Inc. and the corruption that they have been directing at me personally for over 30 years - and been contriving to totally cover it up, as far as any mainstream media are concerned including the CBC. But back in 2011/2012, one of their reporters - Judy Trinh - did the exact opposite by trying very hard to get my story investigated and reported, and among other things she passed the information that I gave her to the CBC Investigative Unit, but they never did anything and in fact didn't even ask me one question about it. I have this documented, like everything else that I say in public whether it's here, on Facebook or anywhere and everywhere else that I post things about this and related matters. I had met Judy Trinh in the first instance at Confederation Park in Ottawa in November 2011, the morning after the Ottawa Police and the RCMP had just cleared out the Occupy Ottawa tent camp. The Occupy Ottawa protest back then was fully justified because - among other things - there is some really disgusting and utterly stupid stuff going on "behind the scenes" that nobody seems to me to want to deal with. Robert T. Chisholm - Associate Member, OSPE.

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    1. I feel strongly that CBC most return to roots - real or imagined - as a national voice of Canada. To me that means a critical, investigative and creative radio covering people and communities throughout Canada. Much of this has been lost. I can remember in the 60's early 70's we would hook into the CBC network as citizen journalists bringing in stories from various communities, issues and causes. Alas all gone.
      I work now with community radio - CFCR 90.5 FM in Saskatoon and area - a weekly show for over 20 years. Community radio should not be forgotten as a legitimate part of public radio. And with what has happened to CBC it is or can be an important voice for the public voice.

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  10. I'm saddened that none of the comments on your piece in CANADALAND found their way here. Your critique lacks research or objectivity. Did you receive my letter to the producer and Jesse regarding your article?

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    1. Hi Ian -- no, there's no way for them to get here, unless I copied all of them and pasted them here. And I don't do that because all of the comments on Canadaland and Facebook total to some 400. If you go to this blog and click on the link to the comments you might find your comments.

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  11. The decline at CBC I first noted was Radio 2's cutting back on classical music about a decade ago. Never seen so many upset customers at our audio emporium. Now they have out-of-breath know-nothings like Amanda Paris hosting R&B shows that barely make Air Canada grade rubbish.

    To go along with "personal-oriented" programming dreck on Radio One, CBC TV has that mind-bendingly awful show where some donkey interviews obliging nitwits at Pearson airport waiting for relatives to arrive.

    I complain all the time about Radio One, and get only form responses. Nobody at CBC gives a damn what the actual listeners think - they're off in their own make-believe world.

    Annoying. My 1983 radio has been stuck on Radio One since I bought it. Now I often turn it down when the rubbish programs air. Sook Yin Lee - there was a reason Definitely Not the Opera was canned, something I actually agreed with, and SleepOver is no better.

    BM

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  12. Could the underlying problem be the financial cutbacks to the CBC? Just a thought.

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  13. Hi Marilyn -- Not so much. Those 12 shows I complain about employed 30 fill-time and part-time producers, some hosts, and included travel money. The problem is that CBC thinks that youth stuff can build ratings -- they've become anti-intellectual.

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  14. On behalf of Tim Wilson . . . .

    Nick, even as a former Sunday Morning colleague, and a producer at most of CBC Radio’s major News and Current Affairs programs of our era (1980s - 90s), I have to say that this protest of yours, worthy though it is, comes off as ever so slightly fogey-ish.

    It’s pretty clear that we’re not going back to those days, and in my view, that’s not altogether a bad thing.

    There’s no question that the Corporation’s current approach has disastrously dumbed down, and gone cravenly after an audience that it mistakenly believes does not care for “serious” content. And I am one of the thousands, I suspect not all of us seniors, who find little on the radio these days to stir our souls and minds (Ideas, The Sunday Edition and Books and Co. being signficant exceptions).

    There are, no doubt, several explanations for this tilt towards a shallow, selfie style, the most obvious being that it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than sending pricey producers to sniff out stories in Sarajevo or San Salvador. CBC’s managers must have a hard job doing the triage of which bureaus, contributors and programs to keep alive.

    But I also think that there’s been a tectonic shift in public narrative style, borne out by radio programs like This American Life and The Moth, shows that make for intelligent interiority, artful craft, and critical zing. Poetry is properly enjoying a resurgence, and radio is the medium par excellence for it. And those of us who are long in the tooth but still strong in in our other parts have, I’d like to think, a major part to play now.

    Tim Wilson

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  15. Extremely tactfully written.. thanks for the info. subscribed.

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  16. It's a sad state of affairs i'll tell you that. Identity politics to the max and if you don't support the party line you get hosts which talk down and are rude to some of the people they interview (i.e: google employee, the defunct sun news host with carol off on "as it happens" - which was a good interview because he didn't take it laying down :P)

    My conservative relative would say CBC is liberal propaganda. At first I immediately dismissed it since he usually takes pot shots on the left but since i'm a regular listener to CBC i'm starting to realize he wasn't too far off. I used to love and promote the CBC - now its just complete trash. The BBC and ABC put CBC to shame as a public broadcaster.

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