La Scena Musicale

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Letter to the Editor: Classical Radio

Dear Mr. Wah Keung Chan,

Several years ago I wrote two articles that were published in your publication. Since then, I’ve witnessed the demise of classical music on both the CBC’s TV and Radio Networks. There is now precious little in the way of classical and jazz programming on the TV airwaves. Why aren’t there any live or recorded remotes from such events as the Montréal Jazz Festival and the Festival du Lanaudiere? I have read your articles concerning the CBC Radio Two in the May and June issues of your publication. I recall stating in one of my articles that in 1992, Ms. Margaret Lyons, then a manager of CBC Radio stated: “There is too much classical music on CBC Radio!” Her statement is rapidly becoming true, much to the chagrin of classical music lovers across this country. I confess that I am becoming annoyed at what is being executed by CBC Radio management. As a result I am tuning increasingly to WNED-FM at 94.5 MHX in Buffalo, New York, as well as the various classical and jazz channels on my XM satellite radio tuner. Additionally, I have re-discovered vinyl records. This January I started employment with a new CD re-issue company in Toronto, called Heritage Choice Records, founded by Marc Berstein. The company’s mandate is to re-issue cantoral, opera and classical 78 RPM recordings onto CDs, for sale to any interested parties.

While in Montréal for the Festival du Son et Image in April, I visited Le Colisée du Livre on rue Ste. Catherine E. Their second floor is a treasure trove of old LPs. In Kingston, there is a record shop called Brian’s Record Option at 382 Princess Street. They have more classical and soundtrack records than I’ve seen in a long time. I noticed that vinyl records and vacuum tube amplifiers are making a big comeback in Montreal. I counted no less than seven high-end audio retailers. Toronto electronics retailers seem more oriented to mass-market audio and home theatre installations. I like the warmer sound of vinyl and vacuum tubes, since they evoke memories of my childhood in Montréal. During that era, I started my serious listening habits with classical music. Even though I was bitten by the rock bug for a few years, I’m now returning to classical, jazz and blues music as much of the current popular roster has no interesting material (at least, not to me). Have you ever tried ‘returning’ to vinyl? If so, beware. It can become addictive.

Also, while in Montréal for this year’s Jazz Festival, I noted that Radio Couleur-Jazz had made tremendous improvement in its transmitter coverage. I can now receive a clear signal in Point Claire, about 15 miles from the transmitter on Mount Royal. I am also pleased the CJPX's sister station CJSQ-FM is on the air in Quebec City at 92.7. In Burlington, WVPR-FM 107.9 is now all news and talk programming from NPR and the BBC. This leaves Montrealers with no over-the-air access to NPR classical programming. NPR’s program, Music Through the Night, is always a welcome relief to nighttime listeners. Toronto readers can receive this program over WNED-FM 94.5 in Buffalo, New York. I would recommend that your readers investigate the XM Satellite Radio Service, as it really fills a void left by the demise of classical and jazz programming in CBC’s Radio Two and Espace Musique.

I still look forward to each new edition of your publication. It is still an important link in coverage of jazz and classical music events in Québec and Canada.

Dwight W. Pole
Toronto, Ontario

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

CBC Radio 2 Changes Programming - Less Classical More Pop

Yesterday, timed to coincide with Canadian Music Week, the CBC announced changes to its day-time lineup for CBC Radio 2 that will begin after Labour Day 2008. According to a story on CBC News,

The changes were announced Tuesday by Jennifer McGuire, executive director of English programming for CBC Radio.

Radio Two will remain a music station, with an emphasis on classical and boosted Canadian content after the final phase of the redesign, she said.

The plan for weekday programming on CBC Radio Two is:

  • 6-10 a.m.: A music program dedicated to a range of genres, including classical, pop, jazz and roots music.
  • 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: A classical program that will emphasize the most popular and accessible classical music, including Mozart, Beethoven and other favourites.
  • 3-6 p.m.: A drive-home show focusing on vocal music, including many new artists.

The format for the morning program also will continue on weekend mornings, with a different host.

This morning's Globe and Mail reports that

In September, Radio 2 will also launch separate all-day all-classical, all-jazz and all-singer-songwriter stations on the Internet. Radio 3 will remain an Internet- and satellite-based service. However, one petitioner among a vocal group of listeners, musicians and composers who have criticized the overhaul argued yesterday that even an all-classical Web-based service wouldn't rectify the fact that Radio 2's on-air, non-classical programs are moving away from what had been the network's core listeners.

While acknowledging that change always meets opposition, Jennifer McGuire, executive director of radio, said that overall ratings haven't dropped as significantly as anticipated, as some listeners tune out and new ones tune in. She also emphasized that only a tiny fraction - 0.8 per cent - of new Canadian songs get commercial radio play and that the Radio 2 changes will allow for much more Canadian music to be heard, from pop to experimental.

But, "people who like classical music can still find classical music on Radio 2. In fact, it is still the most represented single genre on the service," McGuire said.

The proposed all-day all-classical and all-jazz web stations, already in service on the French CBC, are red-herrings; if someone wants to listen to classical or jazz online, there are already thousands of web radio stations, and one or two more won't make a dent.

The announcement has stirred up passion amongst CBC Radio 2 listeners. Both reports were filled with comments (see G&M comments; comments to the CBC story is at the bottom of the page), mostly lamenting the lost of classical music.

The bigger question is what is the role of a public broadcaster. Supporters of the change put forth the argument that a public broadcaster should serve all of its citizens. The consequence of this argument is that the public broadcaster would end up chasing ratings, as this plan aims to do. Ratings are the currency to justify the broadcaster's existence to its political masters. Historically, the role of a public broadcaster is to offer quality programming rather than follow the motives of commercial media. Favouring quantity over quality is usual a passing fad. Hopefully, saner minds will prevail, one day. Let us know what you think in the comments section or by emailing

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