Thursday, June 26, 2008

Radio Two - Moving On

Russell Smith has again devoted his precious column space to the fight to keep CBC Radio Two overtly classical.

Smith's polemic is great reading, in addition to being absolutely right. What follows are merely some footnotes to what he's written, as well as my own meagre contributions to this "debate".

One of the amazing things about this whole debacle is the success of CBC's communications strategy. Whether we like it or not, there is a deep dislike of anything that smacks of elitism in this country, no matter how padded with straw, and the CBC has very successfully manipulated this feature of Canadian life to their advantage.

Moreover, the Canadian capacity for tolerance is being well abused by the CBC. No matter what anyone writes, the one thing people really seem to pick up on is this whole bit about "diversity". As Smith writes:

Perhaps the most irritating of the propaganda lines put out by the CBC is that such a limiting of available culture is done in the name of musical "diversity." If we do anything at all, we must at least loudly denounce this fraudulent line of argument. Let's be clear: Nobody is against a diversity of music on the radio. It is precisely because we desire a mix of freely available music that we want there to be one - just one! - national radio station that broadcasts music composed before the 20th century, and music from an intellectual tradition from that century and this. Without such a station, there will be no mix. Without a public broadcaster supporting this crucial but unpopular art form, there will be no choice.

Pretty solid counterargument, right? (If you don't think so, feel free to supply another) And yet, right there in the comments after his column, there are the parrots, squawking about how great it is that there's finally some "diversity" on CBC.

Why do people take the bait? I suspect there are a few reasons, some of which are partly the fault of the keeping Radio Two Classical side.

There has always been a diversity of music on CBC Radios One and Two, AM and FM. Does anyone remember the first wave of changes a few years ago, when CBC killed Brave New Waves or the Radio 3 website?

Actually, does anyone actually remember why Radio 3 existed at all? Back in the 80s CBC was going to have an entire Radio station devoted to all the other music out there in Canada - and even more importantly, and this is the real secret to CBC's past success, they were going to talk about it.

There's a question we should be asking - if this music is so pressing, if CBC needs to get it out there so badly, how about an entire radio station devoted to it?

Our collective memories are woefully short. If we want to look at the day things went south, it was the day CBC Radio 3 died.

So what about "diversity", then? There's a great book out there that talks about the trouble with diversity - it's called, er, The Trouble With Diversity. (I'm linking to a discussion on a literary blog so people can check out the discussion around it)

Walter Benn Michael's point is this - while the left has focused on "diversity", they've neglected inequality. And we can see here that in speaking about musical "diversity", the CBC is pulling the same kind of seemingly well-intentioned scam.

No one, and I mean no one, wants to be seen as somehow "repressing" voices, especially in a forum where public money is involved. But that's exactly what's happening here, and it's happening because classical music is seen as some kind of white male upper crust bastion. In other words, getting rid of classical music is about getting rid of "The Man".

What's the cost of "diversity", CBC style? It's taking the CBC and making it more and more like a private broadcaster. The diversity here is to create more inequality, fewer opportunities for classical musicians, hardly a wealthy class.

No, behind the diversity scam is the real "ity" - profitability. The Man is back, except it's not Beethoven, it's a music industry executive.

That is why no one at CBC talks about the real victim in all this, the whole idea that we can have conversations about music and the arts in a public forum.

No, Radio Two is now about the music, about listening to music, not about participating, it's about listening, passively, to the sea of "great" music out there, no discussion, just getting it all out there, and hey, maybe at some point, when you're used to listening to lots of popular music on CBC, you'll get used to something else - commercials. Or you'll buy CDs, celebrating CBC's "diversity".

So I ask all those angry classical music lovers, maybe our rallying cry shouldn't be "save CBC Radio 2", but instead start asking, "What happened to CBC Radio 3?"

That's the question I doubt they've got an answer for.


Anonymous said...

Radio 3 is alive and doing very well - it was never actually cancelled. Only the Radio 3 show on Radio 2 and the website magazine were cancelled - the unit itself remains strong with a new website, satellite and web radio stations, many podcasts, and tens of thousands of songs on-demand, uploaded from Canadian musicians. For the last 2 years, it's been nominated for a Webby award for Best Online Radio station in the world. And, in all this programming, they play a very broad variety of music, almost all of which is Canadian and almost all of which is completely ignored by private radio.

Andrew W. said...

Thanks for the comment, anon!

Just to be clear, when I ask what happened to Radio 3, I mean the idea of a full-time broadcast radio station.

You're right, Radio 3 is around, but it's the form of Radio 3 that has been compromised, and that compromise is a big reason behind the changes at Radio 2.

The other thing I want to emphasize is that it's not all about the music - the changes at CBC Radio 2 over the years have reduced the talk about music, something few seem to talk about, but which is the largest and most destructive change.

Andrew W. said...

Actually, having read your comment again, after my morning coffee, you sound suspiciously like someone who works for CBC...It's your comment about health of "the unit".

Hey, don't get me wrong, I appreciate the conversation, but I just want it made clear that although I know that CBC Radio 3 is around, it's not nearly what it could have been.

CBC Radio 3 is great, great enough for people across the country to be able to listen to it as easily as possible, which means FM transmitters and not satellite dishes. Wouldn't you agree?

And can you imagine how much more music would be out there, how much more diversity there would be, if there were 24/7 programming on a full-fledged radio station?