FFWD REW

The insufferable CBC Radio 2

Last week Drew penned a provocative rant about eggs mouse shit and a vastly overrated breakfast chain in town. He called it as he saw it and made some people mad in the process. Good on him. He was bang on and breakfast lovers the world over love him for it.

In this spirit of constructive criticism I would like to offer a gripe of my own. Mine however doesn’t involve breakfast. It involves radio which like breakfast is extremely important in the morning. Radio is the first sensory experience of my day. I wake up to CBC Radio One — but that’s not where my complaint lies. Radio One is the CBC’s crown jewel (specifically the show Wiretap but that’s another story). My issue is with Radio One’s ugly stepsister the insufferable CBC Radio 2.

I started listening to Radio 2 during the day a few months back when I became a stay-at-home dad. Radio 2 you’ll remember used to play classical music all day. A nice change of pace from everything else on the radio dial. But thanks to a boneheaded revamp made by ratings-hungry CBC brass a couple years back the classical programming — the stuff that made Radio 2 distinct — is now scrunched into a five hour slot.

When I turn on Radio 2 during that time frame (the classical show Tempo is really quite good) I’m a happy man. But if I switch it on before or after that time I have to double check the dial before remembering — oh yeah CBC’s trying to woo a younger audience. That’s why I’m hearing Coldplay right now. After checking to make sure that the dial is in fact on Radio 2 I’ll hear Sarah Harmer (who I like but not every ten minutes) or some host prattling on inanely about what he just found on Google.

In other words I hear the sound of the Ceeb trying very hard to be hip. And nobody likes to hear that. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved. At times it gets laughably ridiculous. I’ve heard for example a CBC promo ad about how much afternoon host Rich Terfry (a.k.a. Buck 65) loves vinyl. A CBC host who loves vinyl. How cool is that?!

I’m no classical music aficionado. When the classical types were protesting the Ceeb’s decision to revamp Radio 2 in 2008 I thought the protest effort was somewhat elitist. The changes won’t be that bad I thought. But here’s the thing — they are that bad. Back in the day Radio 2 used to be distinct. You could get something on Radio 2 that you couldn’t get anywhere else on the radio dial. No longer. The weekday shows I find are indistinguishable from each other with the exception of Tempo just like the entire channel is mostly indistinguishable from other stations.

CBC must be aware of this on some level — why else would it keep running ads about being "a commercial free" music mix? Now that Radio 2 blends in with other stations this is the Ceeb’s main selling point for Radio 2 — being "commercial free." And how does CBC announce this fact over and over again? With endless commercials. Self-satisfied ads about how there are no ads.

I’m pretty sure Prime Minister Stephen Harper loves the new Radio 2 — and not just because he’s a Nickelback-loving Beatles-singing tryhard himself. It’s because most Canadians who come across CBC Radio 2 (the ratings show that very few people listen to it regularly) will think — wait why am I paying for a radio station to play Coldplay when every other commercial station is playing the same thing?

It might be overstating things to say that Radio 2 undermines CBC’s case for the public broadcaster’s continued existence. But its hollow hipness gives CBC critics plenty to work with. If CBC’s attackers are smart they’ll back off from the left-wing bias accusations point to Radio 2 and loudly ask: why the hell are we paying for this? Then Steve-o can just sit back and smile.

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