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Wednesday: Seven versus thirteen.

I got back from America to discover that the top of the hour had changed.

CBC Radio One, for as far back as I remember, has followed this patttern:

[musical sting]
"Here is the CBC News. I'm [announcer name]."

And then they would read the news.

The music itself would change. Not too long ago, the radio news themes were all changed, each aligned to a single motif. Prior to that, there had been chimes, and those were related to an even earlier set of chimes, for the hourly newscasts. I had no complaints. The underpinnings were the same. The pattern was the same.

When the last round of music was phased in, Radio One listeners became accustomed to a seven-note theme melody on the hour, with varying counterpoints depending on the hour, or the half-hour. (World at Six got a three-note variation which harmonized just so with what you'd heard the rest of the day.)

It wasn't so hard. Whether or not the music appealed, one got a sense of the structure involved: music, identification, news. A regular listener rapidly developed a series of subconscious associations with routine, and knew when to pay attention. "This is the hourly news. That is the half-hourly news. This is the national news appropriate to the morning or the evening. The weather will be on in [x] minutes. The program will resume in [x+ 30 seconds] minutes."

Usability.

In recent weeks, the CBC has moved to a consistent, five-note mnemonic across all of its news broadcasts, over all of its radio and television stations. This is part of a move to unify CBC's radio, network television, and Newsworld resources into a single CBC News division and brand. Flagship television show The National carries this mnemonic just as prominently as each province's hourly regional radio news.

I can't speak to what it does for television, although it seems to work for the new National theme. For Radio One's news, across the board, it doesn't work. This is why:

[one-TWO-three-four-five]
"Here is the CBC News."
[one-TWO-three-four-FIVE-six-SEVEN]
"I'm [this person].

Or, if you're a flagship show [EDIT: At least until now -- this morning, World Report fit the above pattern, suggesting things are more uniform now, but it wasn't always thus]:

[one-TWO-three-four-FIVE]
"This is [important radio news show]. I'm [announcer]."
[theme!]
"In the news: [headlines]"

It was even worse during the first couple of weeks, when not even the national newscasters had the beat quite down.

The Royal Canadian Air Farce, a television comedy troupe which first built its career across over two decades of radio, spoke unintentionally to this sort of situation when parodying the current affairs show Impact. [Scroll to the bottom of the page, where the 17 November 1995 sketch is linked; alternatively, stream or download the RealVideo-encoded sketch.] At various points, saying the word "impact" is meant to trigger the appearance of the show's logo, with an accompanying sharp noise; the announcer, in this sketch, can't quite get the timing to work. It's been rather like that for a few weeks, and is only just sorting out at the regional level. The first few national newscasts I heard along these lines had the same problem. (There's nothing quite like hearing major CBC hosts scramble to the mark.)

The system works a little better for CBC Television. You get a logo with the mnemonic, and that serves the same function as a station ID. CBC Radio, however, has always had distinct station identification spots, associated with different types of pacing. Even when integrated with Promo Girl's quirky program spots, they were very plainly keyed to the same rhythm held by standalone spots; before Promo Girl, one would hear a standalone show promo, then a station ID, then turn to the news. (That said, I like Promo Girl a lot better now that she's just doing the spots.)

The mnemonic introduces an additional concept layer for the listener to absorb, and forces redundant identification of exactly which type of news we're listening to on top of that:

"This is a production by CBC News."
"I am now telling you what show this is. [If this is a national flagship show, I am identifying myself as the anchor.]"
[Musical sting/theme associated and identified with the program in question.]
"[If this is a regional newscast, or a national newscast in offpeak hours, I am identifying myself as the newsreader.] Here are the headlines..."

By altering the structure of how news identifies itself to the listener, CBC Radio One throws off how the listener identifies that news, and its relevance at any given time. Further, it shaves extra time off of the content, however negligible. While that time is just enough to identify any given reporter, or barely sufficient to sandwich in a few more words, every word counts.

This gets even worse when one considers the regional newscasts during the daytime. Those come in at the half-hour, and top out at ninety seconds. There is no time to go through the rigamarole involved with the extra identification layer and to use the standard seven-note newscast theme. As a result, they're using what we already know. CBC Radio One has gone through the trouble to have us identify "incoming CBC news" with this mnemonic, only not to use it for a subset of newscasts.

I don't mean to be the sort of listener who bitches when things change at Radio One. I'm pretty screwed up by that standard. I like Promo Girl a lot. I found valuable the national morning split between current and cultural affairs. I'd rather see a beloved personality well applied elsewhere (e.g. Bill Richardson filling in for Shelagh Rogers during her recuperation; Peter Gzowski's Some Of The Best Minds Of Our Time) than have an institution-level show artificially sustained without that personality (e.g. The Roundup at the end of Tetsuro Shigematsu's tenure, much as I enjoyed Shigematsu himself). And I think Brent Banbury's pretty bloody nifty.

That said, those changes which have worked with listeners have followed structure to some extent, and worked best when phased in gradually. Weekday/daytime shows make good examples. Freestyle is pop-culture banter and mosaic-format music; it covers the content expectations that The Roundup maintained to a certain extent, just as both versions of The Roundup maintained some level of the interviews which were Vicki Gabereau's mainstay in that timeslot. The Current triggered the full-on split from one national current/cultural affairs morning show to two, but did so as Shelagh Rogers' cultural half transitioned from This Morning (which acted much like Morningside in very may ways) to Sounds Like Canada (which failed horribly in its outre, cacophanous anthology format, then reverted to something closer to This Morning). Even This Morning floundered until it shed its worldly, jaded slickness and backslid partway into the warm Morningside nature.

(Let's not even get into the extent to which comedy shows hold domain in legacy weekend timeslots, or how programs like Go or -- if not so much -- Simply Sean serve the same function as Basic Black did.)

In other words, changes to CBC Radio One -- which often functions best in the background and the rhythm of a Canadian's daily life -- tend to soak in best when they accomodate extant underpinnings. The segues need to be fluid, even in a microcosm. Keep that fluidity up and you can phase in pretty much anything, but you need to get there in the first place.

The news mnemonic is not fluid. It comes from television, it reflects television branding, and it assumes a unified experience that not everyone getting their news from the CBC is going to have. The mnemonic has a visual equivalent on television; I'm guessing that one is meant to have something of a ghosted synaesthesic experience moving from television to radio. One hears the mnemonic, one sees the associated animation in one's head, one thinks, "this is the CBC News." It's not a complete branding experience, but they haven't figured out touch, smell or taste yet.

Now, I actually have a mild form of synaesthesia. (No, I have no idea why. I'm not sure that it matters.) Mostly, this manifests with sound. Some of it's visual (colours and patterns at the edge of vision), and some of it's tactile (lots of pokes and jabs, mostly). It doesn't interfere with my day-to-day life, but it does underscore points like these on occasion. Not counting the misplaced human voice, instead of seven taps at the top of the hour, I have thirteen, and they're in really weird places all of a sudden.

And they're way too slow to signal, "Hey, sit up and listen to me now;" I've usually experienced hourly news report themes as rapid shoulder-pokes. "HEY! LOOKIT! NEWS NOW! NOW!" That music's supposed to get your attention. This audio gets your attention, then tries to do so at least two more times. It's a bit disorienting -- in fact, it's not unlike having a kid keep tugging at your sleeve (or, in my case, sharply poking my upper back) after you've acknowledged him. Suddenly, the news is all out of order. (Also, it's in a funny key, but you get used to that.)

The pacing's all off. It doesn't work. It's as off-paced as the announcers getting used to it.

"Impact...! IMPACT!"

"Oh. You mean Impact." Clang.

Posted by Wednesday Burns-White at February 8, 2006 4:10 AM

Comments

Comment from: Canuck-Errant posted at February 8, 2006 8:19 AM

Geez, they already changed it once last year. Can't they just leave things lie?

Some of my youngest memories involve listening to Peter Gzowski in our family's old white two-door Ford Taurus, the Morningside theme, hearing Gen. Dallaire talk about Rwanda on the news, Bob Mcdonald on Quirks and Quarks - even Sheila Rogers in the voices of memories in my mind.

Radio has had far more of an effect on me than television, frankly. The two media (mediae? medias?) are completely separate entities - but no, apparently it's only a difference in branding, we can fix it so easily since how many other companies have television and radio stations?

The biggest influence television has had on me has come through Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. Geez, they should bring that back, just so American kids know the difference between Australia and Austria, Georgia and Georgia, Afganistan and Africa. I miss Greg, I miss the Chief, I miss Rockapella.

But radio... don't touch that dial. Please.

Comment from: cencithomas posted at February 8, 2006 8:51 AM

Media = plural. Singular = medium. From Latin, I think? Neutral gender.

Wednesday, I know this blog is aimed (more or less) at webcomics, but I've got to say that the radio posts are some of my favorite on Websnark.

Comment from: KennyCelican posted at February 8, 2006 9:04 AM

Y'know, I'm not afraid of change, but I'm not enamoured of it either. What annoys me is change for the sake of change, rather than to achieve some particular goal.

Of course, the other thing that pops to mind is part of the modern marketing paradigm - it's more important to get new customers / clients / listeners than to keep the old ones. Who cares if you've got ninety eight percent market share, it's that last two percent that's important. Gah. Annoys me to no end.

Comment from: Jason posted at February 8, 2006 10:26 AM

People still listen to the radio and the talking heads on TV? Just get your news online like everyone else does. That way you don't have to interrupt your music (or whatever the news is interrupting) and get the news whenever you want it.

Comment from: Canuck-Errant posted at February 8, 2006 10:37 AM

That's not the POINT, Jason. Some people prefer a regular structure for their news and information - it's no interruption; it's something they've grown up with, something that's familiar and comforting. Of course, you have your own point of view, and if you see the news as an interruption - well, it's your own point of view and I respect it.

But we're not talking about "online versus offline" here; we're talking about changes in a Canadian cultural institution that's been around since dinosaurs walked the earth the advent of public broadcasting in Canada. It's a deeper issue than you see it as being, I think.

Comment from: Canuck-Errant posted at February 8, 2006 10:38 AM

Er, "dinosaurs walked the earth" was supposed to be struck out, but it looks like that HTML tag didn't work.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 8, 2006 10:43 AM

Actually... the amusing thing about Jason's comment is that Wednesday is getting her news online. At least, the last I knew the Nova Scotia transmitters don't actually reach the United Kingdom.

As for me, I've discovered the joy that is NPR's news summary podcasts, so whenever I have a couple of moments, I launch iTunes and just listen to the news.

Comment from: Archon Divinus posted at February 8, 2006 10:51 AM

Man, I should know these things, but as of late, the only CBC I've been listening to is CBC Radio 3. Before University I would listen to Radio 1 while driving, but I have no car, and thus no radio.

Comment from: Canuck-Errant posted at February 8, 2006 11:11 AM

You do know you can listen to Radio One and Two on the Internet, right?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 8, 2006 11:35 AM

Another note on the NPR podcasts: like the CBC broadcasts, they have a short series of notes at the front of every podcast, regardless of NPR program you're listening to. However, they seem to be in a minor key instead of a major, and are soft and cheerful. So they fail at "Hey! Listen! News!" Instead, it's more "when you have a moment, we have some stuff you might want to know." Which is odd in a news broadcast.

NPR also lacks Promo Girl.

Comment from: jason posted at February 8, 2006 11:37 AM

I have yet to hear the wonder of Promo Girl...

Actually I believe I've yet to experiance the wonder of a lot of things.

Bloody farking North Dakota.

Comment from: jason posted at February 8, 2006 11:39 AM

Ah, and for the record, there appear to be two "Jason"s on here.

Comment from: Archon Divinus posted at February 8, 2006 11:47 AM

I knew, but it never really occured to me.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at February 8, 2006 11:58 AM

I get all my news from All Things Considered. Which has the coolest variations on their theme ever.

Comment from: quiller posted at February 8, 2006 1:55 PM

Imagine how jarring it would be if ATC actually changed their theme!

Of course, I'm a bit of an NPR news junkie. Used to drive my ex-gf a little crazy when we'd go on longer car trips as she is more of a music person. A decade of listening to public radio (noting that I live in LA, so I actually have 4 different public radio stations I can listen to) almost exclusively has given me very low tolerance for the usual commercials in commercial radio. You don't learn anything new listening to classic rock stations, either.

Comment from: Kirath posted at February 8, 2006 6:54 PM

All Things Considered changing their theme would be like... well, I imagine it would be just like what Weds is talking about here. I'm not a fanatic listener, but I do on occasion and I certainly recognize the music when I hear it. Last year when I moved up to New Hampshire from Texas, it was on NPR that I learned one of the oddest things I have ever known... that being the propensity for the unattended maple tree to explode. Blew my mind.

We do actually have 'Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?' here in the States... or at least, we did when I was younger and lived in Texas. That was one of my favorite after school shows. I no longer own a television, so I haven't seen it in ages.

Comment from: Mazlynn posted at February 8, 2006 7:29 PM

I get all my news from All Things Considered. Which has the coolest variations on their theme ever.
We do actually have 'Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?' here in the States...

It's funny. I listen to All Things Considered... well, not quite daily, but several times a week. I know I like their theme. But when it was mentioned here, I can't summon it. I'm sitting here saying to myself "I should know that - what does it sound like again?"

On the other hand, two posts down I see the Carmen San Diego reference, and the theme song starts immediately blaring through my mind. This despite the fact that I haven't actually watched the show, or played the associated game, in about 20 years.

It's funny the way memory works. Hurrah for childhood imprinting!

(And in the time it took to write this post, I finally summoned the ATC theme - which will probably be stuck in a strange mish-mash with "Where in the World" running through my head all night long.)

Comment from: Jason posted at February 8, 2006 7:45 PM

"Ah, and for the record, there appear to be two "Jason"s on here."

Yes, there are. I originally did the TypeKey thing for another site, so I didn' know about another "Jason" posting here. (Actually, I'm surprised it allowed two such similar names.)

If there's any doubt, I'm the loudmouthed opinionated one :)

Comment from: Tyck posted at February 8, 2006 8:39 PM

I too fondly remember Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego. And Rockapella. I think I miss Rockapella more.

Wednesday, you make an excellent cultural commentator. Now, I have to go figure out how stop the marketing people at NPR from wanting to change the All Things Considered theme...does NPR even have marketing people?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 8, 2006 10:02 PM

Rockapella's still touring and still has CDs available.

But if you like them? You'll love Hookslide. For the record.

Comment from: Spatulus posted at February 8, 2006 10:53 PM

What ever happened to Promo Girl's big bash at Antigonish anyway? I haven't heard anything at all about it...

Damn the lockout. Damn it to heck!

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at February 8, 2006 11:28 PM

The contest got cancelled (I think the lockout was still running when the bash was due to take place, anyhow, so nothing could proceed). The last two mysteries were never played, if they were completed to begin with.

Where's Ouimet when you need her?

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at February 8, 2006 11:38 PM

I seriously wish I could remember "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" better. The only thing I really remember is that it beat the pants off "Where in time...". And the theme.

And honestly, yeah. If ATC ever changed their theme, I would probably cry. I still have hopes of sending in my own arrangement, if they do that sort of thing. Now THAT would be dang skippy.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at February 8, 2006 11:43 PM

Did you know they were going to do one on comparative religion, but it never panned out: Where in Hell is Carmen Sandiego?

Comment from: Thomas Blight posted at February 8, 2006 11:50 PM

You know, the scary thing is that I don't even know any of the CBC Radio frequencies... and I'm pure-blooded canadian. (not that you can be not pure blooded canadian as long as you live in Canada. Country of immigration and all that)

I have never listened to CBC Radio in my life.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at February 9, 2006 12:13 AM

Thomas: Easy to fix. The streams all play in VLC and such.

Comment from: Aerin posted at February 9, 2006 4:18 AM

Dude, I loved Carmen Sandiego. I was always a fan of the totally ridiculous case names for each episode. The best one I can remember is "Danube-doobie-doo". Brilliance.

I think "rockapella" is actually a genre of music now.

Comment from: miyaa posted at February 9, 2006 5:43 AM

Well, if they'd wanted to bring back Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (I'd enjoyed the trying to put the flashing light on the country or state bonus game) they would have to find another Chief, as it was played by Lynne Thigpen, who died in 2003. I remember because they had a tribute episode on a not so good cop show called The District.

Anyway, I'd like it better than the cartoon version. The computer face looked waaaaay too much like Eagon from the Ghostbuster cartoon.

Last I saw, Broderbund (the company that originally came up with Carmen Sandiego) returned her to her geography stealing ways after an unsuccessful attempt to get her to steal English (okay, typing). It was probably the Chicago Manual of Style that styimed her.

As for the public radio, I'd prefered As It Happens to All Things Considered. However, the Kansas City public radio stopped airing As It Happens and I kind of feel that ATC isn't as good as it used to be. Sadly, I listen to public radio these days only for the show Car Talk. Okay, so I have an affinity for annoying Bostonites.

Comment from: Canuck-Errant posted at February 9, 2006 9:37 AM

Ooh, cool, they sell CBC t-shirts!

And yeah, I thought I'd heard the Chief had died, but it still sucks to have it confirmed. Sad. She did love her souvlaki, she did.

Comment from: larksilver posted at February 9, 2006 12:35 PM

I like All Things Considered. B. J. Lieberman (spelling?) wrote their theme, so they say, and apparently all 4,000 variations. Also, the theme to Morning edition, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, and who knows what else. All Things Considered still has the coolest variation thing goin' on, though.

My personal favorite NPR programming must be the Saturday morning shows, particuarly "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me," although "Car Talk" is way up there. They just amuse the heck outta me, in a way that most sitcoms, well, don't.

As for Carmen Sandiago - I loved that show - there was so much tongue-in-cheek humor about it. Rockapella just added to that quality. I was sad to hear that the Chief had passed on.

Comment from: Tyck posted at February 9, 2006 6:37 PM

Rockapella's still touring and still has CDs available.

But if you like them? You'll love Hookslide. For the record.

Thanks for the tip. Sadly, I'm not likely to ever act on it, for I am outright bad at buying music. I've got a list of ten or so (..make that eleven, now) albums to look for on that mythical Some When that I step into a store that has any chance of carrying them.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at February 9, 2006 8:41 PM

"Car talk" and "Wait wait" are definitely awesome. So are "What do you know?" and "Prarie Home Companion", but I suppose the latter goes without saying.

Comment from: Darth Paradox posted at February 10, 2006 4:04 PM

I wake up to "Wait Wait" on Saturday mornings. Literally. I've got my clock radio set to NPR, and my Saturday morning alarm is usually 10 AM or so. Which generally results in me lying in bed for an hour, answering trivia questions. And laughing.

Comment from: larksilver posted at February 11, 2006 2:27 AM

One of these days I'm going to sign up or whatever so I can have a chance at getting Carl Castle (sp?) on my answering machine. That'd totally freak out my mother when she called...

Comment from: miyaa posted at February 11, 2006 3:48 AM

Carl Castle could read out of the MLA Style Manual, and I'd be eager to listen. And I hear he's a great children's storyteller.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at February 13, 2006 12:36 AM

For some reason I've always thought of Carl Castle's name being spelled with K's. (Karl Kastle?) Not that I would've ever actually believed it was spelt that way, but that's just what I visualize when I hear his name on the show. Maybe it's 'cause he just Rocks that hard.

After actually checking the "Wait, Wait" page at npr.org, it turns out his name is "Carl Kasell" which, I think, is just as cool, if not cooler.

Comment from: larksilver posted at February 13, 2006 10:29 AM

Well, cool, now I know how to spell it, thanks O Plaid one. It never occurred to me to, y'know, look it up or anything.

I would imagine he would be a terrific children's storyteller, he totally has the vibe for it.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at February 13, 2006 11:46 AM

Right. So, is this Mr. Kasell pretentious as fuck, or just creepy as fuck?

(My home town, while I was growing up -- it may still do this; I don't know -- hosted some sort of children's storyteller festival every summer. They'd blanket the town. OH MY GOD. I'm officially convinced that, if you're too much of a self-involved wanker to become a proper actor, but too conservative in all the wrong ways to take up performance art a la JJ Caucus, you become a storyteller. I'm surprised that any of the children so exposed didn't have their souls sucked out through their noses in the process.)

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at February 13, 2006 12:23 PM

Right. So, is this Mr. Kasell pretentious as fuck, or just creepy as fuck?

???

Um, neither? He's just a familiar and beloved NPR Radio Announcer Voice — you know, just like the CBC and BBC ones you entertainingly natter on about from time to time.

Color me confused.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at February 13, 2006 12:30 PM

Ray: I don't think her comment is supposed to relate to the man himself--I think she was relating her general (horrific) experiences with Storytellers and that they all tended to fall into one of two categories and therefore facetiously asking which of the two disastrous categories this one belongs in--which is a way of responding to things mentioned in the thread (storytelling) with "man, my town used to see a ton of people who called themselves that and they were SO WEIRD." In other words, as far as I can tell, it's a tangential thing, not an attack on ths one guy.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at February 13, 2006 12:42 PM

Yeah, I can see that now. I'm sure that if I were a bit more on top of things today, I would have gotten that the first time (alternately, a blockquote of "I would imagine he would be a terrific children's storyteller, he totally has the vibe for it." would have probably doofus-proofed her message).

On the other hand, at least my computer is booting up again.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at February 13, 2006 3:12 PM

Right. Sorry. I tend not to blockquote material when the relevant post is directly above me, on the grounds that it drives me batshit to read redundant material without cause and I figure other people aren't too keen on it either.

Yeah. I've never heard of Kasell, but storytellers *freak me the hell out.*

Comment from: larksilver posted at February 14, 2006 10:09 AM

I'm kind of with Wednesday that a lot of "for children" performers are creepy. I mean... look at, oh, The Wiggles (eeep) or Barney (eep again). Even Raffi, for all that he actually made (makes?) good music and the kids adored him, was a little.. odd.

However, Carl Kasell just has an awesome, warm, and very genuine voice. I can hear his mellifluous tones reading "When We Were Very Young," while children everywhere sit quietly, raptly listening to their radios... and their parents do the same.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at February 14, 2006 3:55 PM

I didn't say "for children" performers, I said "storytellers." That said, children's entertainers do overlap the creepy zone considerably.

I can hear his mellifluous tones reading "When We Were Very Young," while children everywhere sit quietly, raptly listening to their radios... and their parents do the same.

...

That would have had me under the table freaking the hell out in short order. Gah. Just the thought of someone reading "When We Were Very Young" out loud itches.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at February 14, 2006 6:08 PM

There are parts of When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six that I can recite from memory. And the passage of In Which Eeyore Loses A Tail, And Pooh Finds It from "Owl lived at The Chestnuts" to "'Owl! I require an answer! It's Bear speaking.'"

Comment from: miyaa posted at February 14, 2006 10:58 PM

Children performers maybe be freaky, but it's not so bad as long as they aren't wearing a costume (like Barney).

What's really freaky is someone making a character based off of Captain Feathersword. That's freaky.

Another well-known NPR voice (and political commmentator), Daniel Shore, has done a lot of children's storytelling. I think he has like two or three children's books. He also has a very distictive voice that I like. And he looks a lot younger than his voice.

Comment from: larksilver posted at February 15, 2006 12:24 AM

Wait. A character based off of Captain Feathersword?

That's the scariest thing I think I've heard ... well, in a bloody long time. Like years. Maybe ever.


I like Daniel Shore's voice, too.. but Carl Kasell's is friendlier.

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