Thursday, October 30, 2008

Are the CBC Radio Two programming changes successful?

So, you may be wondering, have the programming changes that the CBC implemented on Sept. 2, 2008 been successful? What is their definition of success, anyway?

Well, in numerous statements to the press and to concerned citizens, CBC management has stated that the programming changes introduced on March 19, 2007 (the cancellation of 'Music for a while', 'In Performance', the 'Arts Report' and the 'World at Six' news broadcast on CBC Radio Two) and on Sept. 2 2008 (too numerous to list here) were intended to make CBC Radio Two more relevant to Canadians and to attract a wider, 'more sustainable' audience. CBC have thus defined one of the criteria upon which they are to be judged: number of listeners. Ergo, an increased number of listeners means success, a decreased number of listeners means failure. Dismal, abject failure. Has the CBC been successful, according to this criteria?

For an outsider, it's hard to tell. One source of data is the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement, which makes 'Top Line Radio Statistics' available on their web site. What are 'Top Line Radio Statistics', you ask?

The BBM 'Top Line Radio Statistics' is a list of the radio stations in a given market (called the 'Central Market Area' by the BBM) and the number of listeners who have tuned into that radio station 'for at least one quarter hour during the week'. The time period that the BBM releases to the public is Monday - Sunday, 5:00 AM to 1:00 AM. So, if you tuned into a given radio station sometime during the day, on any day of the week, you could be counted by the BBM as having listened to the station.

I realize this data is not sufficiently detailed enough to draw many conclusions, but it's all we poor plebes have. Has Tom Allen's new show, from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM, drawn more listeners, for example? Is Rich Terfry's new show, 'Drive', a roaring success? We listeners don't know. We have to rely on the CBC to tell us.

But we can start to draw some conclusions, even with the limited data that we have. Did CBC increase their audience after the March 19, 2007 programming changes? The BBM stats can give us some indication. The BBM Top Line data is now available for the third survey period in 2008, which includes July 7-20 and August 4-31. The second set of CBC programming changes, of course, took place on Sept. 2 2008, so are not covered by this survey. It will be interesting to take a look at the S4 2008 data once it's available.

Let's take a look at each major CBC market, starting with Ottawa, which I have a particular fondness for. The BBM Top Line data is available here, but I have put this data into the form of a graph to make it easier to digest. What are the results? Well, as it turns out, CBC Radio Two has lost 13,300 listeners in the Ottawa market, comparing pre-change listenership (before March 19, 2007, using S1 2007 as the last data point) to post-change listenership (using S3 2008 as the final data point), or approximately 20.8%. Not surprising, given the crap that is being played on CBC Radio Two these days.

"But", you may be saying to yourself, "if the total number of radio listeners in the Ottawa market is down, then it would make sense that CBC Radio Two listenership is down, wouldn't it?".

Yes, that is very true. However, as no doubt your investment advisor is telling you right now, if your mutual fund's value has declined, but less than the overall market, then that's a Good Thing. If your mutual fund's value has declined more that the overall market, then that's a Bad Thing. And what happened to the radio market in Ottawa during this period? It declined 4.5%, making the 20.8% decline in listenership for the CBC Radio 2 station in Ottawa a Very Bad Thing indeed.

How about Toronto:

Listenership for CBC Radio Two in Toronto decreased 29,100, or 14.0%. The total market in Toronto is down 2.6%. Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

Vancouver? Listenership decreased 49,100, or 21.4%. (Vancouver is a noted hotbed for CBC Radio Two listnership. It must be the Jurgen Goethe connection.) The total market was down 1.6%. Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

Montreal? Listenership is down 16,400, or 32.6%. The total market is down 9.7%. Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

Winnipeg? Listenership is up 3,100, or 8.3%. The total market is also up 4.8%. Good Thing for CBC Radio Two. (What's going on in Winnipeg, you might wonder? A bad mosquito season kept everyone indoors this summer, listening to the radio?)

Calgary? Listenership for CBC Radio Two is down 9,100, or 13.9%. The total market is down 5.5%. Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

Edmonton? Listenership for CBC Radio Two is down 19,200, or 34.2%. The total market is down 1.3%. Very Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

So, success, or dismal, abject failure? If you are from Winnipeg, as Mr. Chris Boyce is, you might call this a success. However, if you live in any of the other urban centres surveyed by the BBM, you might consider the CBC programming changes a dismal, abject failure.

As I mention above, the stats are available on the BBM web site. You don't have to take my word for it - look at the data yourself. As Mr. John Gordon used to say, "let the numbers speak".

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Scenes from a protest: CBC Radio 2 Protest, April 11, 2008

OK, I know it's been six months since the nation-wide CBC Radio Two protests that were held on April 11, 2008 and that I've been remiss in not sharing this video earlier. But what can I say? I've been busy with other things; namely, work, travel, home renovations and just generally trying to keep my head above water.

Now that the protests over the 'new 2' seem to have died down and the election and corresponding controversy surrounding the plans of the Harper government to cut funding to the arts is over, I thought it would be appropriate to remember that we can still get out in the streets and protest.

On this cold, snowy, early winter day we can remember another cold, rainy, late spring day in the Nation's Capital when Canadians marched in the streets to protest the high-handed actions of CBC Radio management.

I took this video at about 12:30 PM. By this time the crowd had thinned out since it was raining and quite cold - too cold to be staying out too long on the Sparks Street Mall. And I assume people had offices to go back to, lunch to eat, kids to be fed.

Note the police car early on in the video. Yes, the police were present for this protest! What did the CBC think was going to happen - raging grannies, moms and dads, music students, lovers of classical music were going to storm the gates of the CBC?


Friday, October 10, 2008

This just in! Responses from all four candidates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills!

Just as I was beginning to lose hope of ever receiving an answer to my question, I received my copy of the Kanata Kourier-Standard, a community newspaper serving the community of Kanata, this afternoon. I had also sent the same question to the Kourier-Standard on Sept. 24 since the newspaper was soliciting questions from Kanata residents, to be submitted and answered by the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills. And, wondrous to behold, my question had been submitted to the candidates and the candidates responded!

The question as printed by the Kanata Kourier-Standard, read as follows:

"There has been considerable controversy in recent months concerning the recent programming changes on CBC Radio 2. Could you please tell the voters of Carleton-Mississippi Mills what you intend to do, if elected, to ensure that CBC management is made more responsive to the wishes of it's audience, the Canadian taxpayer."

The responses were as follows. First, from the incumbent, Mr. Gordon O'Connor, of the Conservative Party:

"The government finances the CBC each year, but we don't tell the CBC what to broadcast. They are bound by CRTC rules and we will not interfere with what they broadcast."

Well, this was the kind of answer I expected from Mr. O'Connor. Short, succinct, rather arrogant, and obviously neither he nor his staff has made any attempt to understand the issue or why Canadians are so angry at the CBC. I would expect Mr. O'Connor to be defeated in the next election, were it not for the strong support he receives from the rural residents of this riding. Mr. O'Connor gets an F, a failing grade, for this response.

From Mr. Jake Cole, of the Green Party:

"Our principle is grassroots democracy; Canadians should have a say in what affects them. Any changes should reflect what people want."

This is considerably better than Mr. O'Connor's response, although Mr. Cole does not state what he would do. However, I give Mr. Cole a B+ for this response, for having the right attitude. It is not surprising that the Greens have come from nearly nowhere to become a serious contender in some ridings.

From Mr. Paul Arbour, of the NDP:

"Our government has acted in the past through an order council to change the practises of Canada Post because they weren't serving the Canadian public and I am prepared to move an order in council, if necessary, so that the CBC can continue to serve Canadians."

Much better. I don't know if what Mr. Arbour says is correct; i.e. an order in council can be used to change the CBC, but I give Mr. Arbour full marks for having the right attitude and being prepared to act. Mr. Arbour receives an A-.

And finally, from Mr. Justin MacKinnon of the Liberal Party:

"The CBC is a Canadian institution and they have to respond to the needs of the country. You have to give them some flexibility, but if they are ignoring the wishes of Canadians, I would stand up and address that."

Well done, Mr. MacKinnon. You get full marks for having the right attitude, although your response is lacking specificity. Consequently, Mr. MacKinnon also receives an A-.

I note that three of the candidates did not feel it necessary to answer my e-mail as well, and were only moved to answer the question since it has been posed to them by the Kanata Kourier-Standard. However, I realize that they are all busy and forgive them for this lapse. Mr. Arbour gets full marks for courtesy, having answered my question in an e-mail that he sent to me, with substantially the same response as appeared in the newspaper.

How would I have answered this question? This is my response, assuming that I had sent the answer directly to the sender:

Dear Mr. Wooten,

Thank you for your e-mail. It is always a pleasure to receive e-mails from the voters in Carleton-Mississippi Mills and to be able to address the issues that are of concern to the constituents of Carleton-Mississippi Mills.

I agree with you that the CBC has acted in a precipitous manner in instituting the programming changes on CBC Radio 2. While they have not violated the letter of the Broadcasting Act, 1991, or their license as granted by the CRTC, I believe they have certainly ignored the CBC Radio 2 audience in implementing these changes and have therefore violated the spirit of the Act and their license. At this moment, however, the programming changes have been implemented and it would be disruptive to reverse them.

If elected, therefore, I would work to implement the following actions:

  • The CBC would be required to report on the success (or lack thereof) of their initiative by displaying audience share statistics, according to time slot, comparing audience share for programs available before the changes and after the changes on the CBC web site for all to view. The audience share statistics that are presented would be those available from the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement, an independent firm. This market share data will also be included, by time slot, in the Corporations annual report.

  • The CBC would be required to establish a Listener's Council, one each for CBC Radio 1 and CBC Radio 2, to participate in the strategic decisions of the Corporation. The Listener's Council would be made up of volunteers from the CBC audience, cultural organizations and performers. The Council members would be remunerated for expenses only, as this is a volunteer position. Volunteers would be appointed from a list of applicants by the Minister of Heritage's office.

  • The CBC would be required to display all comments from CBC listeners, screened only to remove those comments that include profanity, racial slurs or irrelevant comments, on the CBC web site for each program.

  • The CBC would be required to apply for funding each fiscal year, using a zero-based budgeting approach.

I believe these actions, if implemented, would result in a CBC that is more responsive to Canadians and an institution that we, as taxpayers, could once again be proud of.

The CBC would be given a suitable period - I suggest a year - to show that the programming changes have in fact revitalized CBC Radio 2 and have resulted in a larger, sustainable audience. If the market share data does not show this, then the CBC would be directed by the Minister of Heritage to review the programming to ensure that the interests of Canadians are better met. This could, of course, also include a return to the programming that had previously existed on CBC Radio 2.

I thank you for your support and look forward to serving as your Member of Parliament in the next House.


etc., etc.

Now, that wasn't difficult at all, was it? I whipped that off in - let's see - under ten minutes? Why couldn't all of the candidates have done the same?

Oh well, perhaps I'll run in the next election - which I predict will be in another two years time.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

7 Days Later: Only the NDP has responded

Seven days have passed since I sent my original question to the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi, Mr. Gordon O'Connor (Conservative), Mr. Justin MacKinnon (Liberal), Mr. Paul Arbour (NDP) and Mr. Jake Cole (Green). Only Mr. Arbour replied to my question, for which I thank Mr. Arbour.

I'll continue the conversation between Bob and Ted from the other day:

"So, Ted, how's the response to that Wooten guy coming?"

"Still working on it, Bob."

"There's only one work day left before the election, Ted. Think you'll get it finished before the weekend?"

"Yeah, no problem. But it's a bit more involved that I thought at first."

"Oh, yeah? How so?"

"Well, I've been digging into the history behind the CBC programming changes a bit. Seems this has been going on longer than we thought. It seems the first programming changes went back all the way to the summer of 2006. The CBC first replaced the Friday evening time slot of "In Performance", which had been all classical music before then, with a version of the current "Canada Live". At first, everyone thought this was just a summertime replacement for "In Performance" on Friday evenings - you know, to give the host, Eric Friesen, a bit of a break. But come September, "In Performance" did not come back to the Friday evening time slot and "Canada Live" was there permanently."

"Didn't the CBC announce this programming change?"

"Not as far as I can tell. It seems they tried to slip it in, under the radar so to speak, hoping no one would notice."

"So it was a bit of a trial balloon. To see if any one complained."

"Yeah, it seems so. Probably people noticed, of course, but maybe very few complained. After all, it was just one evening out of five. Perhaps they thought it was only for the summer at first and then, when they realized it wasn't, just decided to live with it."

"So what happened next?"

"Well, then, things went on as before. Then, in March 2007, CBC went whole hog and replaced 'Music for a while' with a jazz program, 'Tonic', and the remaining four evenings of 'In Performance' with 'Canada Live'. They also cut the evening newscast, 'The World at Six', from thirty minutes to five minutes and cut the 'Arts Report' out of the morning broadcast."

"Did the CBC announce these changes beforehand?"

"They did, sort of. A few weeks before the changes the announcers of the programs that were being cut had to announce that they wouldn't be there after March 19 and that there would be new programs."

"That's a bit cruel for the program hosts, isn't it? Having to announce your own cancellation?"

"Yeah, I guess it was."

"And no big press releases? No announcements on the CBC web site? No big hoop-lah to announce a major shift in strategy?"

"Nope, nothing, nada, nicht, zip, zero. Tried to fly it in under the radar."

"You've got to admit they're smart. Learned a thing or two from the government. Release bad news on a Friday afternoon, before a long weekend, in the hope that no one notices it or that it gets minimal coverage from the press. Better than the stealth bomber for flying in under the radar."

"Yeah, but in this case people did notice. Petitions were started, a few newspaper articles got written, this Wooten guy started his blog. But once again, the CBC got away with it."

"Then this Sept. 2 thing happened?"

"No, this time the CBC announced their changes well in advance, early in 2008. They also announced that the CBC Radio Orchestra was being disbanded. That's when the shit really hit the fan."

"How so?"

"Well, this time people really sat up and took notice. The evening schedule for classical music had already been decimated, but now classical music was being canceled during the daytime schedule. Classical music was going to be relegated to the 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM ghetto. The morning and evening time slots were given over to more contemporary music - supposedly, to showcase Canadian artists that were not being heard elsewhere."

"Interesting. Was there any evidence that Canadians actually wanted to hear 'Canadian artists that were not being heard elsewhere'?"

"CBC points to an 'Arts and Culture' survey that they say they did that supports these changes, but refuse to release it."

"Interesting. Sounds like the technique of the 'big lie'. It reminds me of the prelude to the second World War - no one objected when Herr Hitler annexed Austria - "it's only Austria, and after all, they're both German-speaking countries" government leaders in Europe said. And when Germany invaded the Czechs, everyone thought that Herr Hitler would be satisfied. But when Germany invaded Poland, then, people took notice. But by then it was too late."

"That's a little extreme, isn't it Bob? Comparing the CBC to the Nazis?"

"I'm not comparing the CBC to the Nazis, not at all. There's no comparison at all, of course. It's just the technique seems similar - take a small bite, see if any one notices, take another bite, see how much you can get away with, then take it all."

"Well, I agree, as an exercise in change management it was either an extremely poorly executed example of how to implement change in a large organization. Or else is was extremely devious, and extremely well done."

"So which was it?"

"The former, I think. You remember, I worked as a consultant in change management before taking this job."

"Was that your uncle, the candidate's company?"

"No, that was my other uncle, on my mother's side."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot."

"Well, getting back to the CBC. People did take notice, and they did object. There was a national day of protest on April 11. CBC listeners protested in most of the major cities in Canada - there's a Facebook group devoted to the protest. Can you imagine! Raging grannies on the streets of Canadian cities! But, in fact, it wasn't just grannies out protesting. It was students, the middle-aged, moms and dads with their kids, as well as the older folks, as you might expect."

"Come to think of it, I remember being on the Sparks Street mall last winter and seeing a crowd protesting outside the CBC building. But it was raining hard at the time - a combination of rain and sleet - so I didn't stick around."

"Remarkable, isn't it, that Canadians would feel so strongly about anything that they would get out into the streets and protest? Well, that wasn't the last of it. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage got involved and held a special hearing on the CBC changes."

"No kidding? I must've missed that one. What happened?"

"As you might expect, there was a fair amount of blustering questions by the MPs, evasive, self-important, self-congratulatory answers from CBC management, a few non-sequiturs from some of the other MPs, and finally the whole thing just petered out. I saw the broadcast on the web. That Wooten guy also did a synopsis of the hearing, but of course his view is a bit biased."

"So what's the situation now?"

"It seems both sides have retreated into their corners. The listeners have done all they could but no one has taken up their cause. The CBC has bulldozed ahead with their master plan to change the face of public broadcasting in Canada."

"And is it working?"

"That's just the thing! Is it working? How do we know? The only way we could tell if it's working or not is by looking at audience market share, both before and after the programming changes. And market share data isn't available to you or me - it's only available to the broadcasters themselves, such as CBC."

"Sweet. Makes it easier to maintain the 'big lie'. You can claim your strategy is successful, because only you have access to the data to show that it is, or is not. And your competitors aren't going to challenge you - they don't necessarily care to make it known that the CBC's strategy isn't successful. After all, it's in their best interests to see CBC's audience share decline."

"I think you're the one that's been reading too many thrillers now, Bob."

"Maybe. Anyway, I'm impressed, Ted. You've been doing your homework."

"Well, you know, you can only get so far on nepotism alone."

"Right you are Ted."

6 Days Later: Conservatives, Liberals and Greens still silent in Carleton-Mississippi Mills

Six work days have elapsed (Oct. 1 - 3, Oct. 6-8) since I sent my question to the candidates in the riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills to ask the candidates to explain their policy on the recent programming changes on CBC Radio Two and, more importantly, how they would reign in a Crown Corporation that no longer listens to the wishes of it's owners, the Canadian taxpayer.

Only Mr. Paul Arbour, the NDP candidate in Carleton-Mississippi Mills, has responded so far. I'll keep readers of this blog posted on responses that I receive - but with only two days left before the election (today, Thursday Oct. 9, and tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 10) I'm not optimistic that there will be any responses. (I'm assuming that the candidates and their staff will take the weekend off for Thanksgiving. If they're not planning to, they should.)

Bob and Ted were out distributing leaflets door-to-door yesterday, but will continue their conversation later today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

5 Days Later: A response from the NDP, still no responses from the Conservatives, Liberals or Greens

Shortly after I posted yesterday's blog entry, Mr. Paul Arbour, the NDP candidate in Carleton-Mississippi Mills, sent a reply to the question I sent concerning each candidate's position on the recent programming changes on CBC Radio Two. Bravo, Mr. Arbour! Now, I still have to receive responses from Mr. Gordon O'Connor (Conservative party), Mr. Justin MacKinnon (Liberal party) and Mr. Jake Cole (Green party).

I have not posted Mr. Arbour's reply here since he did not explicitly give me permission to do so. I will post it if Mr. Arbour sends me another e-mail giving his permission.

I'll continue my imaginary discussion between Bob and Ted, two members of one of the campaign staffs, from yesterday. In case there are some who have not realized this yet, Bob and Ted are fictional characters. Any resemblance to any persons, either living, dead, or CBC management, is purely coincidental. However, at least we know now that they're not NDPers.

"So, Bob, how's the wife these days?"

"Carol's fine, Ted. How's Alice?"

"Good, good. Carol's still home with the kids?"

"Yeah, that's right. Bobby's four and Britney's three."

"Must be tough to be at home all day with two pre-schoolers."

"Yeah, it is. I couldn't take it. Carol claimed that listening to CBC Radio Two kept her sane. That was, at least, until CBC made their changes to the daytime programming on September 2nd."

"So what did she do?"

"Well, she tried listening to the 'new 2' for a while, but the new programming drove her up the wall. She told me that if she wanted to listen to middle of the road crap, she could tune to any of the other commercial radio stations that are out there."

"So that's where you got that 'middle of the road crap' statement."

"Yeah, I guess so. Anyway, I told her to listen to CDs instead. She tried that, but she said she was constantly having to go back to the CD player to put on another CD and, anyway, it didn't seem spontaneous, having to select your own CDs and make up your own playlist. And then Bobby put and end to that."

"What did he do?"

"Put apple sauce in the CD player and pushed 'play'. He'd heard us talking about the Apple iPod, Apple iPhone, Apple iTouch so much that he thought apple sauce might have some innate musical qualities."

"Must take after you. So why didn't Carol listen to streaming audio on the internet instead? CBC says they're playing just as much classical music over the internet now as they used to play over the air."

"Well, that's fine for you and me who are tied to our desks most of the day and glued to our PCs. But Carol, she's running all over the house. She's not near the PC that often. And we can't put a PC in every room."

"I guess not. So what's she doing now?"

"Well, the whole thing finally came to a head one day when I came home and she greeted me at the door with a bottle of Wild Turkey in her hand."

"Jeez, no! She didn't start drinking home alone with the kids?"

"No, of course not! She was just waiting for me to get home so that I could look after the kids. Then, she poured herself a drink."

"What about her parents? I thought they lived nearby."

"Yes, they do, and they're pissed off at CBC too for changing the programming. Vern, as you may remember, used to be a minister and wouldn't normally even say the words 'pissed off', but he's royally pissed at CBC right now."

"No, no, I'm not talking about the CBC, I mean, don't they help out with the kids from time to time."

"Well, sure, they used to, but since Vern retired they've been hard to pin down. They're either at the cottage, driving to or from the cottage, or on vacation somewhere. Just this summer Vern and Martha drove out to Vancouver. Then, when they came back, they went out to St. John's for a couple of weeks. Vern described it as 'listening to CBC Radio Two, coast to coast'.

"So, they're big CBC Radio Two fans too, huh? Must run in the family."

"Well, they used to be Radio Two fans. CBC Radio Two was always a big part of their daily lives - they always had a radio going on in the house, tuned to Radio Two. Until, that is, CBC replaced 'Music for a While' and 'In Peformance' with 'Tonic' and 'Canada Live'."

"What, that happened sometime back in 2007, didn't it? In March or April of 2007? I've been reading this guy Wooten's blog, and he's been harping on this ever since then."

"Yeah, that's right, Vern first mentioned it sometime in the spring last year. This summer, he finally got so irritated by the crap (as he puts it) that they feature on 'Canada Live' that he threw the radio into the lake from the cottage porch. And that took some throw - must've been 30 yards or so. He used to QB his high school football team, y'know."

"Well, that's impressive for an old guy."

"Yeah, and the even more impressive thing is that he spent the whole next day diving to find the radio. Martha said she didn't want the radio polluting the lake, because of all the lead and whatnot in the radio."

"So what are you going to do about Carol. Wild Turkey is no replacement for CBC Radio Two."

"Well, problem solved. I went out the next day and bought her three Sirius satellite radio receivers and put one on every floor of the house. Now, she can have Classical music from 'Symphony Hall' or Opera from 'Met Opera Radio' 24/7."

"It's a bit expensive, isn't it, to have a subscription for three receivers, not to mention the three receivers in the house?"

"Well, yeah, it's not as cheap as having a $29.95 radio in every room of the house and receiving music for free over the air. That's one of the things that bugs Carol and me so much - now we have to pay twice - we support CBC Radio with our tax dollars, but don't use their service, and have to pay for satellite radio."

"CBC is one of the owners of Sirius, isn't it? Maybe the programming changes were a clever plot to promote Sirius satellite radio subscriptions."

"I think you've been reading too much Grisham, Ted. But I'll look into it once I'm an ADM."

Monday, October 6, 2008

4 Days Later: Still no response from the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills

It has now been four days since I sent my question asking the candidates in the riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills their policy on the recent programming changes on CBC Radio Two, without having received a response from any of them.

As I stated in my original question: I realize that some may think this is a small issue, but it has affected the lives of many people, more so than many of the other issues that preoccupy politicians and candidates for the riding. As such, it deserves some thought and response since, if the incumbent or candidates can not address this issue, then why should we vote for them? And, as I mentioned in my Sept. 10 2008 blog entry, we should hold the Conservatives responsible for these changes since the changed occurred during their minority govenment, even if the changes were carried out by CBC management with no direct involvement of the Parliament, Minister of Heritage or minority government.

I continue to speculate on what could be going on in the various candidates offices. I imagine a scene such as the following in one of the candidate's offices:

"So, Ted, you haven't forgotten about that question from that Wooten fellow, have you?"

"No, Bob, I haven't. I've just been so busy on our Afghanistan policy. Then, after that, I've got to work on our South Waziristan policy, our policy on trade relations with Kazakhstan and Uzbehkistan - all these 'stans are killing me, man."

Ted starts singing softly to himself: "Make a new plan, Stan. No need to be coy, Josée, don't listen to CBC! Hop on the campaign bus, Gus. No need to discuss much! Just drop the writ, Steve, and get yourself free!" Ted chuckles silently to himself over his wit.

"Where did you get that, Ted?"

"Just a bit of classical music from the '70s that I heard on the 'new 2'. I've been doing some research for my response to that Wooten guy. I'm not, like, totally ignorant, y'know."

"Ted, you're a living example of the point I was trying to make the other day concerning the value of Classical music on the old CBC Radio Two."

"Whatever, Bob" (Ted rolls his eyes.) "Speaking of points, I didn't get the point you were trying to make the other day about parliamentary and government oversight of the CBC. Surely, as a Crown Corporation, the Parliament and Minister should have no influence over the day-to-day operations of the CBC, right? The CBC should be completely independent of government influence, right? If it wasn't, well, the government of the day could influence the CBC in inappropriate ways - for example, to support it's own policies. Right?"

"Right you are Ted. The CBC should be independent of government influence. We're not going to give them, for example, playlists and tell them to play this or that. But we shouldn't treat them as a sacred cow, either, and adopt a completely hands-off policy. As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, the CBC should serve a public need that is not met by other, commercial organizations, much as other public institutions do - libaries, or the Museum of Civilization, or the National Gallery. The CBC should fill a role that commercial radio does not - not to just simply become another commercial radio station wanna-be, playing the same middle of the road crap that commercial radio stations play."

"Well, Bob, your 'middle of the road crap' is someone else's music, music they happen to enjoy."

"Yes, I'm not denying that, it's just that Canadians already have a wide range of commercial radio stations that play middle of the road crap to choose from. The CBC doesn't have to join them."

"So what are you suggesting, Bob."

"OK, it's this. The CBC has made their choice. There's not much we can do about it now. But, the fact is, they have stated that they have made these programming changes to boost their share of the radio audience. So it's clear that the success or failure of their changes should be measured by the audience share that they get. And it should be the responsibility of the government and Parliament to monitor their success or failure. After all, this is just good governance - you want to see some sort of return on your investment, in this case, the taxpayer's dollars. If there's no return, then what's the point? You might as well cut them loose and use the money somewhere else."

"Bob, you shock the hell out of me! Are you suggesting that the CBC should be privatized? That's what you mean by 'cut them loose', isn't it?"

"Well, no, not really. I'd hope that if this latest venture by the CBC isn't successful, we can redirect management back to what was previously successful; i.e. providing an alternative to commercial radio that features classical music."

"Yeah, right, as if that's ever going to happen. I'll see the Rhinos in office before that's going to happen. Whatever happened to the Rhinos, by the way."

"Merged with Reform. But the point is, Parliament and the government should be monitoring the impact that the CBC programming changes have had on their market share. And, as far as I know, no one is doing this."

"And just how to you propose to do this, Bob?"

"Simple. Market share data is available from the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement. Just compare maket share before the programming changes, for specific time slots, against market share after the programming changes for the same time slot. An increase in market share is success, a decrease is failure. Simple, no?"

"Do you want to be an ADM, Bob?"

"Sure, Ted. But let's get this election over with first, though."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

3 Days Later: Still no responses from the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills

It has now been three days without receiving any responses from the candidates in the riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills to my question concerning their policy on the CBC Radio Two programming changes. (For the record, I am only counting weekdays - I sent the original question on Tuesday, September 30, so three working days have elapsed without receiving a reply.)

I imagine a scene in one of the candidate's offices. Bob and Ted, two of the candidate's staff, are at their desks:

"Hey, Ted, have you answered that question yet from that guy, Wooten?"

"Lemme check. (Ted thumbs his Black furiously.) Woodhead? The guy that believes that flatulent Beavers are a major cause of global warming and wants to develop GMO Aspens with Simethicone in the bark to relieve the Beaver's excess gas? I forwarded that question to the Green Party - more their territory."

"No, not Woodhead. Wooten. It came last Tuesday."

"Let's see. (Ted continues to work his Black.) How about this one, from the Reverend Woodside, who claims that all the members of his congregation are "his children" and wants to be able to claim the child tax credit for all 352 of them. Is that it?"

"No, no! Wooten! W-O-O-T-E-N!"

"OK, here we go. Wooten. The guy who's complaining about the CBC Radio Two programming changes. Is that it?"

"Yeah, that's the one."

"What, he doesn't like Jian Ghomeshi?"

"No, no, that's CBC Radio One. He's talking about CBC Radio Two. Y'know, the one that plays Classical music. The dead white Europeans. The three B's. The music that shaped our culture."

"What, the Dead Kennedys? The Beastie Boys? The early Stones, Led Zep, Aerosmith? I listen to that stuff all the time." (Ted starts to jive in his chair, moving to an imaginary rhythm.)

"No, no! Classical Music! The compositions of Brahms, Beethoven, Bach! Mozart! Sibelius! He's complaining that the CBC has gone commercial, and taken away from Canadians the only nation-wide source of Classical music! He says that the CBC did this without consulting Canadians and, what's more, that Canadians are the owners of the CBC and should have a voice in the direction of the CBC!"

"Hah! What drugs is he on? The CBC is a Crown Corporation! As such, it's day-to-day operations are hands-off as far as Parliament and the Minister are concerned."

"Yes, but the government of the day has the responsibility to ensure that the taxpayer's dollars are being spent responsibly. That means providing some oversight over the Crown Corporation, to make sure they're not doing crazy things! To make sure that they live up to their mandate! To make sure they're serving a useful purpose, not just emulating popular culture! Right?"

"Ah, taxpayers, shmackpayers. What are they good for? Just vote for us and don't worry."

"Ted, how did you get this job again?"

"The candidate is my uncle. Remember?"

"Yeah, yeah, I remember."

Friday, October 3, 2008

2 Days Later: Still no responses from the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills

It's now been two days since I sent my question asking the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills (the Honourable Gordon O'Connor, Jake Cole, Justin MacKinnon and Paul Arbour) their policy on making CBC Management more responsive to the wishes of Canadians, and still no reply.

Some may consider this a small, picayune issue - but how many other issues are there that (a) affect your lives directly and (b) the members of Parliament and government of the day can actually do something about?

Sure, health care and the lack of doctors is an issue - but will this issue be fixed overnight? No, it is the result of 30 years of neglect of health care that has led to the present crisis.

The price of gas? Candidates may posture, make promises, bluster in aggrieved tones, but again, there is no simple solution and, the fact is, the price of gas is determined by global market forces and can not be controlled by the government of the day.

The war in Afghanistan? Once again, there's no easy solution. Of course, promises can be made to end our involvement - I believe the latest date is 2011 - but the truth of the matter is that Canada's role in NATO and our relationship with the U.S. will determine our policy here.

Food prices? Again, prices fluctuate due to global demand, the cost of production, the impact of market speculators, the weather - once again, for the most part factors that can not be controlled by the government.

Making the CBC more responsive to the wishes of its shareholders, the taxpayers of Canada? Restoring funding to the CBC Radio Orchestra? Reversing the cuts to the Arts programs that have recently been instituted by the Conservative government? Now, these are things that can easily be done with a telephone call and several meetings between the Minister of Heritage and CBC management.

Is this still such a small issue that it can be ignored? Will voters care? Or will voters rise up in righteous wrath and vote for a candidate and party that will actully reflect their wishes?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

1 Day Later: No responses from the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills

Nine seconds after sending my e-mail question to the Honourable Gordon O'Connor, Member of Parliament for Carleton-Mississippi Mills, I received this reply from Mr. O'Connor's constituency manager, Mr. John Aris:

"On behalf of Gordon O'Connor, thank you for your e-mail message. Mr. O'Connor always responds to correspondence from constituents first. In order to prioritize inquiries, we ask those wishing to receive replies to provide their complete name and mailing address.

If you have not done so in your original e-mail, please send us a quick note indicating this information.

Thank you again for contacting Gordon O'Connor, your Member of Parliament for Carleton-Mississippi Mills. We value your opinion, and will make note of your comments."

So, I dutifully sent a reply e-mail to Mr. O'Connor's office with my mailing address within the next 30 minutes.

So far I have not received any replies from Mr. O'Connor, Mr. Cole, Mr. MacKinnon or Mr. Arbour.

Oh, well, I know they're busy with only 12 days left before the election. Although this is an important issue to many Canadians, as it is a fundamental question that we should consider in a democracy - how do you ensure that proper oversight and controls are put in place on a Crown Corporation which is spending your tax dollars and which should be reflecting your wishes as a taxpayer?