Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Public Radio

It is now nearing the deadline. I like listening to classical music on the radio, but soon after 2:10pm CBC Radio Two starts broadcasting something else. That's when I turn the radio off. It is my misfortune that I belong to an undesirable radio demographic: I am white male over 60 with post graduate education. I would understand the logic of this if the CBC were a commercial station, but it isn't. Apparently there are not enough people in Canada who like listening to classical music to broadcast it all day every day.

I find it hard to believe. For one thing Seattle - our nearest neighbour - has a classical station. It used to be commercial, it is now listener supported. Public Radio is available all across the US. In Colorado, where I was recently on vacation, I could listen to classical music on the car radio in most places - despite the mountainous terrain. Actually CPR runs two channels, one actual music (as opposed to mere noise)  and the other talk/news/current events. The United States of course has no such thing as a state broadcaster, nor any tax based funding.

As I am sure you will be aware I spent the first 40 years of my life in England and when I first became aware of radio the BBC was about the only option. It was possible to pick up Radio Luxemburg - which was commercial, but broadcast in English - and stations like Hilversum, which broadcast in Dutch and wasn't. The BBC used to get its funding from mandatory radio licences. Now it is only tv in Britain which needs a license. BBC funding has long been an issue - but Auntie has got much better at finding new sources of revenue. One of the best being selling "quality tv" programs to PBS. Like Masterpiece.

When I got to Canada I fully expected the CBC to be BBC like - only bilingual. Boy was I disillusioned quickly. But there was then at least all day classical music, not just on CBC Radio 2 but also stations like CJRT. And yes I know I can get music over the internet but my laptop has really tinny speakers and I have this really good hifi system - with way to connect to the web. NOr have I ever owned an iPod, dock or anything similar.

There has long been a general assault on public services of all kinds. Health, education, transit,  you name it it has had its funding cut, service reduced and all sorts of fees and charges introduced. The private sector and profit making is now seen as more important than any other consideration. We truly know the price of everything and the value of nothing. PBS tv programming now has commercials - not within the program (yet) but in between them. And of course regular fund raising drives. The CBC has not sunk that low yet, but tv advertising is just as intrusive as on any other commercial station. While the radio is free of adverts and fundraising appeals, the quality of programming is steadily being replaced. What is good gets shunted aside in favour of what is popular.

You have probably never heard of Lord Reith. "Broadcasting as a way of educating the masses" really does not sound very attractive - but then we seem to distrust education as a concept. In a way that we do not distrust commercials. Enough people believe them that companies keep on making them and making profits. There even seemed to be some regret the Joel Matlin lost his job. Even though home alarm systems in reality do nothing to make you safer - but do a great deal to destroy communities and their sense of peace and quiet. Essentially a protection racket. Usurious money lenders advertise widely - yet their practices are actually contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada.

To be fair, only the CBC seems to take seriously the task of defending the public interest. They do investigative journalism seriously - even when commercial interests are at stake. Marketplace for instance. But they also give a bully pulpit to people like Kevin O'Leary, Don Cherry or Rex Murphy. There does, it seems to me, need to be more of a sense of balance. I have never understood why the Conservative Party thinks that the CBC is a nest of commies. If only it were, it would offset the rest of the broadcast spectrum!

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