Canada’s national public broadcaster since 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was a big part of my life growing up in this country. CBC TV brought us Hockey Night in Canada, Wayne and Shuster comedy. We weren’t a CBC Radio family: my mother had the radio dial welded to CFRB Toronto, listening to Wally Crouter, Gordon Sinclair, and Betty Kennedy.
I came to CBC Radio as a university student, tuning into the “Radio Two” all-day classical music format when studying and on occasion listening to a “Radio One” news or interview program. I started using a clock radio with wake-up alarm set to the morning CBC news. In one summer job, I worked in an office and was doing the kind of clerical work where I could listen to the radio and still ably perform my duties: I listed to dozens of “Best of Morningside” broadcast repeats featuring the master interviewer Peter Gzowski, which filled the air those June, July, and August mornings.
When I moved to the Maritimes for graduate school, the CBC kept me anchored to the rest of the country. Local papers wouldn’t cover much of what happened outside Nova Scotia, but CBC Radio strove, to a greater or lesser degree, to cover what was going on across the nation. One year, I lived in Halifax for several months, Toronto for the next few, and then was off to Winnipeg. CBC Radio was my constant, no matter where I was in Canada. I did not have a TV for many years as a student and in my early working years, so CBC Radio became my source of news, information, and debate.
I was capable then of a kind of dedicated listening that may be beyond me now, in our multi-media and multi-tasking world: while sometimes I’d do something else while the radio played — dry dishes or, one time for several weeks, seemingly endless scraping and sanding and painting as part of fixing my fixer-upper first house — I could also curl up, close my eyes, and really listen to the radio.
I still was tied at the hip for many more years with CBC but the relationship started to drift. Morning radio news wakeups were replaced first by music and later by mobile phone beepity-bopps. Even though I worked in journalism and now communications, it was hard to find the time for radio, except on car trips. I did enjoy getting to know many journalists who worked in CBC across the country, particularly covering arts, in my publicist days for the Stratford Festival.
Recent years battered the CBC. Like all traditional media outlets, it’s finding its way in the new digital age. The CBC, particularly the radio arm, is a public service that needs public money to survive. Years of government funding cuts reduced programming and also created a corporate atmosphere that led to other negative things, including a pervasive culture of looking the other way when star broadcasters, considered crucial to the network’s survival, were abusive to colleagues. That particular issue crashed wide open with revelations around former star Jian Ghomeshi’s workplace behaviour —never mind his out-of-office activities. If you are reading this and have never heard of the Gomeshi saga, I invite you to Google and weep.
There is opportunity ahead for CBC to refocus. The current Canadian federal government in 2016 made a $675-million pledge to support the CBC, which included $75 million in new funds that year followed by an extra $150 million annually through 2021; that restores a budget cut by the previous federal government. And as commercial media outlets continue to shrink, a subsidized CBC could have a renewed mandate to ensure coverage of regional news, as well as national stories.
The CBC is chock-full, still, of great producers and reporters. I hope the path ahead supports them to do their jobs to the best of their abilities and ensure Canadians have the opportunity to know as much as possible about each other, now and in the future.
Main photo of CBC’s national headquarters in Toronto: Kelley Teahen