The Longest Dash of All

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One of several DIY T-shirt designs available to CBC lockout supporters.Eventually, as with everything else, the time signals were corrected. Only not quite.

The National Research Council's official time signal is a venerable institution at CBC Radio One. It's been there ever since Radio One was just plain old CBC Radio (as opposed to CBC Stereo). It's probably older than I am. It's the one thing which was always guaranteed to work the same way forever (one of my most comforting memories is of my dad coming back from an NRC research trip, telling me he'd seen the time signal computer). Across Canada, at the same absolute time every day (with the announcement adjusted according to region, of course), the sound of the long dash following ten seconds of silence would indicate one o'clock, Eastern time. Ten o'clock, Pacific. Two thirty, Newfoundland. Your life would go to pieces, but the time signal would remain. The world might crumble, the oceans might rise, and the bombs might fall, but the National Research Council's official time signal would always follow up ten seconds of silence at the same time every day. Archaeologists would discover it, still ticking. Alien archaeologists. From another universe.

Not now. Now, it's one. One everywhere. Except Newfoundland, where it's one thirty. The last time I wrote about this, it was one thirty in Newfoundland several times a day -- the feed, shifted across time zones, was identical for everyone in Canada save for news reports. This, among other things, was a sign that the center simply couldn't hold at Toronto's broadcast centre; it was a rough, jagged edge.

It was the work of management, doing a job it was never meant to do.

The lockout of CMG-affiliated employees at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as I write this, is about to enter its fifteenth day. Management is prepared to settle in and do the work of producers, technicians, journalists and announcers for as long as it takes (just not very well), no matter the effect it has on public relations.

And they already have ensconsed themselves for the long haul. Radio One now isn't dissimilar to a relatively well-polished student station. The nasal, whining apology has become an almost pleasant, customized continuity voice between shows. The news reports are competent enough for people who don't do this sort of thing for a living; sometimes, the tapes run in the wrong places, or the announcers stumble, or the style guide seems to be an afterthought at best, but it's not egregious. It's not overwhelming. An iPod playlist shuffles through Cancon music for over twelve hours a day. Susan Marjetti and Rob Renaud, though lacking in significant chemistry or rapport, are at least technically comfortable behind the morning show controls at this point.

Put it this way: it's good enough for a random local station just trying to get by. The problem is, we're talking about the CBC here. "Good enough" simply doesn't fly. It doesn't work. It doesn't count.

The best example of this, so far, actually comes from television. Already, a CFL match has aired on CBC Television with no commentary whatsoever, just ambient stadium noise and a score counter in the corner. This didn't really impress the football fans.

Or the CFL.

And there have been more gaffes than that.

Even as Radio One (bafflingly!) dropped the Radio Overnight programming segments, all of which are sourced from overseas public radio services, they replaced World at Six with news from the BBC World Service. A similar move took place on CBC Television and Newsworld. The BBC's unions weren't particularly thrilled by this move -- the BBC itself didn't wish to be seen as taking a side, and the unions, if anything, sympathized with the CMG's desire not to have permanent positions largely superseded by casual contracts.

Much of Radio One's programming now consists of slightly aged reruns, which is fine from the casual listener perspective, but probably not long-term workable. In the afternoons, in place of Tetsuro Shigematsu's version of the Roundup, we're hearing 2003 editions of Richardson's Roundup. This didn't impress Bill Richardson, who stated his piece eloquently and succinctly in a Studio Zero podcast. He's angry -- "pissed off," actually -- that they've retroactively made him, the other people who worked on the Roundup, and those involved in other rerun CBC shows, into scabs. (To be fair, he does concede that the CBC is well within its rights to rerun these shows, since it owns them. But even so.)

And goodness only knows what Shelagh Rogers thinks of the Sounds Like Canada reruns. Probably not much; CBC Unplugged reports that Rogers is about to start her own podcast, touring Canada much as she did in the first incarnation of SLC. Difference being, this time, she's not simply talking to regular Canadians -- she's also going to the picket lines.

The podcasts from the picket lines have been one of the most remarkable aspects of this lockout. While Rogers may arguably be releasing the first of these to truly be accessible to casual listeners (others will undoubtedly follow), CMG workers across Canada have been hard at work getting their side of the story out and available this way. The CBC Unplugged feed is the second most popular one at Canada's iTunes Music Store (right behind CBC Radio 3, amusingly enough), and this is the best way to keep up with as much as possible if you only have so many hours in a day. While much of the podcast content has been preaching a bit much to the choir, that's fine at first; the troops need to support one another, and the early adopters from the outside are inevitably going to be those of us who are firmly behind the CMG's cause. There's been some argument that CMG workers shouldn't be putting their energies towards creating programming independently of the CBC, of course. I disagree; if these people can show us, show the CBC, show Canada, and show the world how brightly they can shine without the public broadcaster's support, I think they'll do a much better job of capturing the population's hearts.

And, really, it's not the devoted among us the CMG needs to captivate; we're already reading the blogs, scrutinizing Ouimet's entries, writing essays, writing letters, co-producing podcasts, and ironing things onto shirts. It is the casual listener, the alienated listener, the disillusioned listener, that they need; the satellite radio convert, the commercial television aficionado. They need Joe out in the middle of nowhere, who might not have cared for the CBC, but that's all his region's got.

They need everyone.

'Cause the CBC, the way it is right now? This just isn't going to work.

EDIT: Above and beyond the podcasts, Toronto's Metro Morning staff is moving to a community radio station. Meanwhile, negotiations resume on Wednesday.

11 Comments

Why is the CBC Radio 3 podcast still updating? Not that I'm complaining Û I loves me some Grant Lawrence Û but I'm just surprised that it's still up.

The CFL was so upset they moved the broadcast of the Labour Day classic game between Hamilton and Toronto to TSN. This game being usually the highest rated TV game during the season, and has always been on CBC.

Here's hoping that a settlement comes before hockey starts or the CBC will find itself with a sudden jump in interest by the general populace... and it won't be pretty.

"retroactively into scabs"?

You know, I very much disagree with this point of view, and I've been seeing it far too much lately.

The point of view that Some Other Person can change your beleifs behind your back. It happens far too often in webcomics, and I guess it's happening to the CBC too.

The point of view that Some Other Person can change your beleifs behind your back. It happens far too often in webcomics, and I guess it's happening to the CBC too.

I'm not sure I follow. I mean, I see what you're saying about Richardson (I don't think in his place it'd occur to me to have the objection he has). But how does the same phenomenon manifest in webcomics? Could you provide an example, actual or hypothetical? Thanks.

I don't think it's so much about changing their beliefs as misrepresenting what they are to begin with.

I'm torn. On the one hand, the CBC is in no position to generate entirely original programming at this stage of the game (and if it's all going to be on the level of CBC iTunes Playlist Overnight and CBC Radio Morning, I hope they never get there); on the other, Richardson's position isn't entirely unlike the Beeb's here. It's an awkward impression to give the potentially uninformed listener or viewer, who might not realize what rights the CBC holds over any given program, say. It'd be something else again if other disclaimers were running with the continuity-apologies.

God only knows, say, what impression folks are getting from Simply Sean -- that show does seem to be running straight through without repeats (I assume Sean Cullen taped it all in one fell swoop).

This is one of the reasons why I'm curious as to why the management hasn't delved significantly farther back into the archives, actually. "Best of the past three or so years," maybe, "except for the stuff from this year, because those folks are visibly out on the lines -- oh, wait." It's an odd message to be sending. I half wonder what's going to happen to the SLC reruns when Shelagh Rogers' podcast starts up hard, and I'm curious as to what would happen if Bill Richardson or Bob McDonald started putting out similar programming. (Now I want to hear rogue Outfront. I really, really do.)

I'm not sure how you mean this as regards webcomic politics, I'm afraid. Strikes me as something of a different ballpark.

Webster always seems to know more than he lets on...

People in webcomics get upset when sites that they dont agree with even link to them, because they're afraid it counts as associating. People in webcomics also get upset when comics they dont agree with have a chance of ending up on the same syndicate as them. A lot of keenspotters don't like having newsboxes they dont agree with (even htough it's pretty well understood that the newsbox isn't put there by the cartoonist)

I'm sorry I linked your comic from my site and said I liked it because of it's pro-facism positions. :D

webrunner: Well, I would consider letting somebody advertise on your site a moral sanction. It's one reason I personally would avoid Keenspace: I wouldn't be able to avoid sanctioning sites with which I may have strong ethical disagreements.

I wrote:

I mean, I see what you're saying about Richardson (I don't think in his place it'd occur to me to have the objection he has).

Wednesday wrote:

It's an awkward impression to give the potentially uninformed listener or viewer, who might not realize what rights the CBC holds over any given program, say.

After I'd written what I had written, I thought of the scenario Wednesday suggests. It wouldn't occur to me of my own accord, but it could be that I'd hear people misconstruing and 'd wish to set the record straight.

The other thing, which Richardson points out in the article now linked above from his name, is that it's not impossible for a casual listener to assume that this is new programming. The CBC are doing their part to make sure you know it's a rerun now, but they weren't in the first week, and there's still always the person skimming through between 7 and 29 or 31 and 59 past the hour.

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