CBC's program q aimed at U.S. youth while most Canadians given a back seat

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When CBC management announced following the dismissal of Jian Ghomeshi last October that the radio program Q would be re-launched, I hoped that we might see a revival of true Canadian arts and culture programming in radio's morning time slot.  

I and tens-of-thousands of other Canadians yearn for the return of programming similar to some of the greatest radio broadcasting in the world that found its home on CBC Radio going back to the mid-1970s -- programs such as This Country in the Morning, Morningside and This Country.

I'm talking about the high calibre of Peter Gzowski's Morningside. Gzowski was a master of radio, capturing the spirit and substance of Canada perhaps better than any broadcaster before or since.  And there were outstanding hosts such as Don Harron, Michael Enright and Shelagh Rogers.

Those programs could safely allow CBC Radio to live up to its recently abandoned motto: "Canada lives here." They explored both the lives of Canada's greatest citizens, our cultural quirks and the lives of small town folks who had interesting things to say.

Unfortunately the run of great morning programming ended with the rude intrusion of Ghomeshi and Q in 2007. While Ghomeshi was excellent when interviewing Canadian stars, much of the other Canadian content was missing. Instead, we were fed interviews with pop music stars, authors from The New Yorker or some other U.S. magazine, as well as live pop music.

The CBC fusses over Q, but the pop nature of the content has meant its ratings are mediocre. During Ghomeshi's peak period, Q reached an average of 270,000 people, according to CBC Audience Relations. In comparison, The Current, the program that proceeds Q, is heard by 371,000 listeners.

At one point I was quite optimistic that the morning time slot might leave the Ghomeshi formula behind. Cindy Witten, executive director of CBC Radio Talk, said they sought a "good conversationalist who is witty and fast on their feet" and steeped in arts and culture. (My emphasis.) 

Secondly, I knew that Daniel Richler, a widely experienced journalist and broadcaster with a vast knowledge of arts and culture, was in the running for the host position.

Richler's long list of credits include host and producer of City-TV's Much Music, chief arts correspondent for CBC's The Journal, and executive producer of Book Television. Most recently Richler has produced and written television documentaries for British networks, and he desperately wanted the job.

I thought Richler would be a shoe in.

But after spending big bucks on what it called "an exhaustive search" that included considering more than 200 candidates, the CBC selected charismatic rapper Shad and not the greying old Richler to host the program.

The hiring of Shad was a clear signal that Q will not attempt to return to radio's past. Thirty-two-year old Shad, who was born in Kenya and raised in Canada, is a heart-throb rapper with a Juno award and two university degrees to his credit. His music and youth orientation will suit him well in hosting the kind of program CBC management wants.

Q will be officially re-launched on Monday, April 20. Interestingly, in an attempt to break the identification with Ghomeshi, when the program re-launches on Monday, it will be known as "q" and not "Q."

Some of the reasons behind the CBC's decision to put out a mainly entertainment program in this time slot are rather disgraceful.

First of all, the CBC wants greater exposure on social media and as that's a youth-oriented domain where they are trying to build audience. Okay, except that largely pop Internet programming will fly right over the heads of most folks over 35.

The bigger problem for me is that the CBC plans to have Q appeal to many thousands of young American listeners as opposed to a general Canadian audience.

Q is heard in many U.S. stations, but since the departure of Ghomeshi and the appearance of so many fumbling hosts, several American stations have stopped carrying Q

The cancellations are a problem because American stations pay the CBC to broadcast Q, and although the amount is not very big (the CBC won't say how much), the loss is a decrease in revenue for the already cash-starved corporation.

Secondly, based on the popularity of Q in the U.S., the CBC is able to trade for other programs, such as the popular BBC-PRI program, The World, which is broadcast nightly by CBC Radio One. The CBC also exchanges programs with the BBC.

Another factor: when Q has a large audience in the U.S. it increases the program's ability to snag prominent people for interviews.

So, given that Shad is fairly well known in the U.S. because of his music, and because he is hip and young and into the popular entertainment scene, instead of giving the job to someone deeply immersed in Canadian arts and culture, CBC managers gave Shad the job.

An executive at Public Radio International is quoted as saying that with the hiring of Shad, he's hopeful that some of the stations that dumped Q will pick it up again.  

For these reasons, Q content will be targeted even more to appeal to an American audience.

Shad will no doubt interview high profile Canadian personalities, especially those from the field of entertainment. However, items on the fascinating stories of little known Canadian artists and characters and small towns will be few and far between. Q producers are much more attuned to coming up with entertainment and youth-oriented program ideas rather than off the beat Canadian ones.

I now better understand why I've not taken a liking to Q. Given the fact that with Shad we can expect more Americana-style content, I, along with tens-of-thousands of Canadians interested in our country, won't be tuning in very often. 

Nick Fillmore is a Toronto freelancer journalist and a frequent contributor to rabble. He considers himself very fortunate to have worked in several editorial capacities with the CBC from the late 1970s into the 1990s -- at the height of the Golden Age of CBC Radio.  Nick supports media development projects in Caribbean countries by volunteering with the Association of Caribbean Media Workers.

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