Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Producers of "Q" Just Don't Get It


The CBC is re-launching "Q" on Monday October 24 with the new host, Tom Power. In fact, it would be more correct to say that this is the re-re-launch of "Q" (or is it "q"?) since the program was re-launched in 2015 with the now-departed host, Shad.

In this article from the October 22 Globe and Mail, it is said that the audience for "Q" has declined by 28% since October 2014 when Jian Ghomeshi was still the host of Q. (Interesting note: Jian Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC on October 26, 2014. So the re-re-launch of "Q" nearly two years to the day of Ghomeshi's firing is eerily appropriate. Or not.) Even worse, only 120 U.S. radio stations feature the program, down from a high of 180 stations when Ghomeshi was host.

Why did the audience fall so far, so fast? Quite simply, the CBC just doesn't understand the audience for Q.

When Ghomeshi was host the program consisted of a mix of programming, ranging from books to theatre to music to political commentary to sports. There was always something interesting to hear.

In contrast, since Ghomeshi's departure, the program has focused ad nauseam on "new music". Tune in on any day of the week and chances are that you will hear some obscure group from Tickle Cove, Newfoundland expositing on their new album, followed by a live performance of their latest song. (Nothing against Tickle Cove, mind you. Just an example.)

The thing is, we're just not interested. Just. Not. Interested. The audience decline might seem to confirm this.

So what are the plans for the new-new "Q"? More new music! Yeah, right, it didn't work for the last two years, so let's just double-down and make an even heavier bet on "new music". To quote the new executive producer:

“You know how sometimes you have talk programs that are blocks of interviews – and some of them are terrific, but that’s not what we’re going for here. We want layered use of sound throughout the show, so that sonically it really does jump out.”

Oh, great. Watch for the re-re-re-launch of "Q" in two years time.

Since newspaper articles have a habit of disappearing from the internet, here is the entire article:


CBC starting with ‘clean slate’ as Q relaunches under Tom Power


It would be tempting, as CBC Radio’s flagship arts and entertainment show takes yet another shot at relaunching next Monday with new host Tom Power, to focus on what is missing from the mix rather than on what is present: No Jian Ghomeshi, the ignominious original host who hasn’t been seen in public since his second trial for sexual assault was called off last May after he signed a peace bond; no Shad, the collegial rapper-turned-broadcaster who debuted to high hopes in April, 2015, but then limped along for 16 months before getting the vaudeville hook last August; no full-throttle two-hour live relaunch at the Glenn Gould Theatre in front of hundreds of invited guests, featuring appearances by Tanya Tagaq, Chilly Gonzalez, Marc Maron and a white-man rap by Peter “P. Manny” Mansbridge.
Also gone? The theme song penned by the musician Bahamas which was unveiled at that April, 2015, relaunch; a raft of regular contributors; and just about all of the show’s standing features, including both the pop culture and sports panels.
Many of the behind-the-scenes crew have left, too: About two-thirds of the show’s current staff of 18 were hired only within the past two months, after CBC summarily announced Shad was out in favour of Power. Still, focusing on what is gone may mean overlooking the intriguing process of reinvention that is underway.
“We started with a clean slate,” explains Jennifer Moroz, the show’s new executive producer, who comes to Q after well-respected stints at both The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos and CBC Radio’s The Current. Sitting in her second-floor office at CBC’s Canadian Broadcasting Centre on Front Street earlier this week, she adds: “It’s not a new show, but it is a new show.”
“We have a new host who’s very different from the other two hosts in the last 10 years. We have an opportunity to build something – not only to [Power’s] strengths, but we really have a chance to play with the format a bit. Which, after 10 years, frankly – regardless of what was going to happen – is time to do it.”
Power, 29, is a St. John’s born-and-bred folk musician (he still plays with his Newfoundland-based band, The Dardanelles, though he has lived in Toronto since 2012) who has been a charismatic presence on CBC’s airwaves for the past eight years, first as host of Deep Roots and, since 2011, as host of Radio 2 Morning.
He was on the short list of prospective hosts when Shad got the nod, but may have been lucky that he wasn’t tapped for Q’s first post-Ghomeshi iteration, given the pressure at the time for the show to prove it could regain its footing so quickly after the crisis. Now, with the audience bottoming out, there is nowhere to go but up: The show’s average-minute audience last June was 168,000, down 28 per cent from two years earlier; only about 120 U.S. stations carry Q, down from a high of about 180.
Within the CBC bureaucracy, responsibility for the new-new Q has been moved from the Talk department to Music, reflecting a desire for a tighter focus on arts and entertainment rather than the broader notion of “culture,” Moroz says. The overall sound of the show will be “more musical,” with greater effort put into creating a distinctive sound that will stand out on the radio dial.
While she doesn’t want to single out any particular influences on the new sound, Moroz acknowledges that slickly produced podcasts such as NPR’sInvisibilia and RadioLab, as well as CBC’s Out in the Open, hosted by Piya Chattopadhyay, are kindred spirits.
And while the long-form interviews that were mainstays of Q since the beginning aren’t going away, there will be fewer.
“You know how sometimes you have talk programs that are blocks of interviews – and some of them are terrific, but that’s not what we’re going for here. We want layered use of sound throughout the show, so that sonically it really does jump out.”
Still, she hopes Q will be able to react to breaking arts stories as they unfold. “In a live daily show, everything can’t be really highly produced. But, to the extent possible, I’d like to sort of marry those two worlds, and bring in the layer of sound and production that you hear on those weekly podcasts that have high, high production values.”
The goal is to produce a show that is both accessible to casual listeners and still meaningful to hard-core fans of the artists who appear. Moroz says that, when the new staff conducted a “blue sky” brainstorming session last month, “one of the terms we came up with is, we want to be like an inclusive record store clerk.”
While she’s speaking, Power pops into Moroz’s office for a few minutes, on his way up to the studio to record an interview with members of the Sam Roberts Band, which will air in the first couple of weeks. He admits he’s not an expert in all of the subjects Q will cover, but then, he’s only the face of a large team behind the scenes.
“I felt some insecurity about my knowledge on certain things, walking into the show,” he says. “But I’ve surrounded myself with real experts here. The level of expertise on this show, in various forms, in various genres, is really remarkable. Creativity as well.” His job, he says, is to “ask questions that people will want to have answered: ‘Why does this matter to me? And what’s the humanity behind it? Why should I feel something and why should I listen to it? And why should I read it?’ ”
Moroz and Power head up to the studio, a secondary space that is normally used by CBC Music’s First Play Live recording series, with better acoustics than Studio Q. From now on, this is where they’ll do many of the interviews with musicians who come in to perform.
Power is in his element here, a quick-witted charmer who has an easy rapport with the guests. As the band plays, he stands off to the side of the studio, nodding his head in time to the music while glancing at the pages of prepared notes he holds in front of his chest, looking like a cross between an earnest undergrad debater and a boy-genius record producer. Every so often, a producer in the control room speaks into Power’s headset, and the host nods almost imperceptibly.
In between tunes, Power probes the band’s leader Sam Roberts on the development of the new album, and the need for an artist to keep evolving; it sounds as if Power could be thinking about Q itself.
After three songs, it’s time to wrap up the segment. “Sam, I had such a great time talking to you,” Power says.
Roberts replies: “Same here. Good luck with this – the next chapter for you.”

“Yeah, Shelagh Rogers does The Next Chapter,” Power quips, and the control room dissolves in laughter.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

New music! New Music! New Music! New Music!

New Music! New Music! New Music! New Music! New Music! New Music! 

After following the downhill trajectory of CBC Radio for the past seven years I've finally figured out where CBC Radio went wrong.

If you listen to the announcers and read the pronouncements of CBC Radio executives you will come to realize something. Everyone currently working at the CBC is a failed musician, record producer, music industry has-been executive, music industry wanna-be or music industry groupie. Sorry to tell it like it is folks, but it is true.

So what does this mean for CBC Radio? When the Jian Ghomeshi fiasco first erupted a newspaper article quoted a CBC Radio employee. The employee described how enjoyable it was (at first) to be working on the new programming at CBC Radio. The employee was quoted as saying that they would rather be programming shows with the so-called "new music" instead of programming classical music for seniors living in Saskatchewan. Yes, that's precisely what this person said. "Instead of programming classical music for seniors living in Saskatchewan." I would quote the newspaper article, but unfortunately Google is not co-operating with me in my search for the original article.

There you have it, folks. At one time if you were a failed musician or music industry groupie and were otherwise unemployable, you could find yourself a job at Sam The Record Man or an HMV outlet. With those venues no longer being an option, what is the failed musician with no other marketable skills to do? Why, join the CBC, of course!

Once there, the failed musician - let's call him or her FM for short - decides that the old CBC is, well, boring. The CBC is programming Classical Music for seniors living in Saskatchewan! They know nothing about the indie bands erupting all over the country! They know nothing about the New Music! New Music! New Music! New Music!

So what does the FM, now an aspiring programmer/producer/CBC executive/music industry has-been, do? Change the CBC, of course! Program more new music! Show Canadians what they're missing! Who cares if Canadians don't want it! They will learn to love it! The new programming on CBC Radio Two will "find it's audience", as CBC executives said many times.

In 2007 the CBC justified their programming changes with the elusive "Arts and Culture" survey, which purportedly found that Canadian seniors living in Saskatchewan didn't want their old CBC, but wanted a new, vibrant, culturally-aware CBC that programmed more new music. New Music! New Music! New Music!

Of course the CBC refused to release the infamous "Arts and Culture" survey to the great, unwashed public. But the survey found what the CBC Execs said it found. Trust us on this, they said. We know what's best.

And so we all know what happened. Programs were axed, veteran announcers were let go, new programming was introduced and the CBC's market share slid. If you don't know about all this, start reading my blog entries beginning in 2007. You can read the whole sorry story there.

Which brings us to my latest rant. There's a new show on CBC Radio One on weekdays from 1:00 - 3:00 PM. Whereas previously this time slot was occupied by a variety of interesting programming, such as "Ideas", "Rewind" and even "Vinyl Cafe", it is now occupied by a program that can only be described as "Q Lite". And yes, it is chock-a-block full of New Music! New Music! New Music! And yes, I find it impossible to listen to.

New music! New Music! New Music! New Music!

New Music! New Music! New Music! New Music! New Music! New Music! 

After following the downhill trajectory of CBC Radio for the past seven years I've finally figured out where CBC Radio went wrong.

If you listen to the announcers and read the pronouncements of CBC Radio executives you will come to realize something. Everyone currently working at the CBC is a failed musician, record producer, music industry has-been executive, music industry wanna-be or music industry groupie. Sorry to tell it like it is folks, but it is true.

So what does this mean for CBC Radio? When the Jian Ghomeshi fiasco first erupted a newspaper article quoted a CBC Radio employee. The employee described how enjoyable it was (at first) to be working on the new programming at CBC Radio. The employee was quoted as saying that they would rather be programming shows with the so-called "new music" instead of programming classical music for seniors living in Saskatchewan. Yes, that's precisely what this person said. "Instead of programming classical music for seniors living in Saskatchewan." I would quote the newspaper article, but unfortunately Google is not co-operating with me in my search for the original article.

There you have it, folks. At one time if you were a failed musician or music industry groupie and were otherwise unemployable, you could find yourself a job at Sam The Record Man or an HMV outlet. With those venues no longer being an option, what is the failed musician with no other marketable skills to do? Why, join the CBC, of course!

Once there, the failed musician - let's call him or her FM for short - decides that the old CBC is, well, boring. The CBC is programming Classical Music for seniors living in Saskatchewan! They know nothing about the indie bands erupting all over the country! They know nothing about the New Music! New Music! New Music! New Music!

So what does the FM, now an aspiring programmer/producer/CBC executive/music industry has-been, do? Change the CBC, of course! Program more new music! Show Canadians what they're missing! Who cares if Canadians don't want it! They will learn to love it! The new programming on CBC Radio Two will "find it's audience", as CBC executives said many times.

In 2007 the CBC justified their programming changes with the elusive "Arts and Culture" survey, which purportedly found that Canadian seniors living in Saskatchewan didn't want their old CBC, but wanted a new, vibrant, culturally-aware CBC that programmed more new music. New Music! New Music! New Music!

And so we all know what happened. Programs were axed, veteran announcers were let go, new programming was introduced and the CBC's market share slid. If you don't know about all this, start reading my blog entries beginning in 2007. You can read the whole sorry story there.

Which brings us to my latest rant. There's a new show on CBC Radio One on weekdays from 1:00 - 2:00 PM. Whereas previously this time slot was occupied by a variety of interesting programming, such as "Ideas", "Rewind" and even "Vinyl Cafe", it is not occupied by a program that can only be described as "Q Lite". And yes, it is chock-a-block full of New Music! New Music! New Music! And yes, I find it impossible to listen to.