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December 4, 2005

On the radio

I enjoyed Kate Taylor’s article on the CBC in The Globe this weekend. I must disclose that I’ve only been listening to the CBC since the strike ended this Fall, after reading so much about this invaluable national network that makes Canada Canada I thought it was time that I got in on the action. And I love it. I like Metro Morning, As It Happens, anything about books, The Current, Quirks and Quarks and Definitely Not the Opera is a splendid way to spend away my Saturday afternoon. We also like “The National Playlist”. A part of me regrets I’d been missing CBC Radio my whole life, whiling it away to crappy middle of the road station soundtracks. But it’s never too late. Further, as a result of continued exposure to CBC radio (after all he is unemployed), my English husband knows everything about Canadian politics and current events there is to know. So that is my background.

Now debate is currently centred around the new CBC Radio One afternoon show, Freestyle. I am home in the afternoon two or three days a week (I’m about as busy as my unemployed husband- we’re a household of go-getters you can see) and have listened to the show a number of times and my concensus is this. The format is potentially good. Problems lie in two places. 1) A stupid over-reliance on the internet and the weird wonderful world of the web. It’s very late 1990s and boring now. Perhaps a more thematic format would be too demanding for a daily show, but something must be done. 2) The hosts are unequivocally dorky, awkward and have no chemistry. Perhaps something will develop between them, but now listening to “Kelly and Cameron” makes me cringe.

The problem in no way lies with the music, or with CBC’s movement toward playing pop music. I am an unabashed pop lover, and it’s this movement that has made the CBC so accessible to new listeners like me. Playing popular music doesn’t relegate the CBC to the (low) status of commercial radio, but rather the music in amongst the other fare offered makes for a varied and interesting listening experience. This is the possibility of radio, which commerical stations fail to live up to. I discovered this for the first time when I lived in Britain, and listened to BBC Radio 1, and realised that a top forty station didn’t necessarily have to be Eagle Eye Cherry on repeat and commercials for “Sleep Country Canada”. Before the BBC, radio had been for me an irritating aural experience. Now BBC Radio 1 has its own problems, but it was a pleasure to come home to Canada and see that so much of what I had enjoyed about British radio was present here. By this I mean actual programming. Radio is an amazingly engaging medium, far more potent than television which is purely hypnotic. I don’t think that playing popular music undermines that. Yes, you can hear popular music on commerical radio but not in the context of actual programming, and the context is what matters.

Of course the debate is complicated. This site loves pop more abashedly than I do, and their problem lies with a lack of Canadian content as well. But in her article, Kate Taylor was decidedly wise. She said, “Personally, I think there should always be room for new Canadian music of any kind on CBC Radio One and Two. What I have never been able to figure out is what is distinctively Canadian about Bach and Beethoven. For years, Radio Two has played the music of dead Europeans. Why can’t Radio One now play the music of living Americans and Britons?” Exactly.

And the UK Christmas Number 1 race is off and running. North Americaners, be jealous you can’t be a part of the madness and learn about it here. It’s this tendency for the stupidest obsessions to sweep the UK that I miss here mega-regionalised land. I have fond memories of being swept along with the rest of the nation. The first year I lived in England, Girls Aloud beat out One True Voice (oh the hysteria). The next year, much to my chagrin, Mad World beat The Darkness. I was gutted. This year I am hoping the Pogues get it with their re-release of “Fairy Tale of New York”. But of course I can always get behind Robbie.

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