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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 14, No. 2 October 2008

CBC Radio 2 Introduces: New Unlikable Format

by Paul E. Robinson / October 16, 2008

Groans were heard coast to coast when CBC Radio introduced its new Radio 2 format in September. The groans grew louder two weeks later when CBC announced that they’d appointed Denise Donlon, long time vice-president and music director of MuchMusic, as the new executive director of the English-language radio division.

As far as music programming is concerned, CBC Radio hasn’t figured out what it is doing. With rapidly changing technology providing new ways of delivering music to listeners, CBC Radio has become even more disoriented.

There are now many options for music lovers. Listeners have access to hundreds of radio stations online. They can download virtually any piece of music or performance they want. Who needs CBC Radio? The CBC bureaucrats have responded by radically shaking up the old on-air mix. The result hit the airwaves on September 2; a mishmash of block programming unlikely to satisfy anyone.

Classical music on Radio 2 is largely confined to Tempo, a five-hour block between 10 am and 3 pm with host Julie Nasrallah. The other weekday hours are blocks of pop, rock and jazz music. Radio 2 is also experimenting with internet programming. It now offers four 24-hour internet channels devoted to classical, jazz, Canadian songwriters and Canadian composers.

In order to attract listeners, a show of that length needs a compelling and unique mix of music with a strong host who can create a following. Tempo and Julie Nasrallah do not meet the criteria. She is self-conscious, affected and has a long way to go as a professional broadcaster. It is surprising that the CBC handed over a five-hour block to such a neophyte.

For listeners who grew up with the old CBC, the new mix sounds like commercial radio without the commercials. Enough with the slogans already! At least once an hour we have to hear that Radio 2 is “Everywhere Music Takes You” and “Canada Lives Here.” Radio 2 is working very hard to make itself both ridiculous and irrelevant. I suspect that classical music listeners will soon find alternatives to Radio 2, if they haven’t already.

Paul E. Robinson was music director for CJRT-FM in Toronto 1972-92. He is also the author of Sir George Solti: the Man and his Music, and Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar. His website is www.theartoftheconductor.com

(c) La Scena Musicale