by carl wilson

Tepid New Streams: RIP Brave New Waves, 1984-2007

Ex-Brave New Waves hosts Patti Schmidt, Brent Bambury, Augusta LaPaix.

I've put off long enough discussing the upcoming programming shuffle at CBC radio, and specifically the official anti-climax of the long, slow, choking death of Brave New Waves (and the rather sudden demise of the broadcast version of Radio 3). In part, that's just because I've written about it at such length in the past. That last link includes a column I wrote about BNW in 2004, and it sums up most of my feelings; the one before that is my screed about CBC "youth strategies."

It's worth saying that, as CBC revamps go, this round overall is one of the least asinine so far. It doesn't arrest the decay that's been eating away at the network(s) for years, but in the single stroke of removing the horribly misconceived Freestyle show it has at least killed off a national embarrassment. It also wisely defines the people they're trying to attract as between 35 and 50, more than 20 to 35. The kind of 20-somethings CBC can attract will be attracted by the same programming a 40-year-old will; its attempts to aim at people in their 20s have always been condescending and messed-up.

And while I strongly feel that Brave New Waves had the potential to remain vital, and even be a flagship program for a smarter Radio 2, I also see rationales not to carry it. There are very few people who would have been BNW fans in high schools and universities today who really need the show the way we did in the '80s and '90s. The Internet, mainly, makes discovering alternative, experimental and avant-garde music much easier and more probable. Yes, there are going to be kids who lose out, who don't have the internet access or the cultural reference points and might have discovered them through BNW, but it's a small number and I can't strongly argue that the CBC had to keep the show going for their sake. (Contrary to some misreadings, by the way, BNW is not becoming a podcast or a satellite show - that's the Radio 3 fate. All indications are that BNW is just dead.) What's irksome is the abuse and disrespect the show got the past couple of years: It should have ended in a week's or month's grand closing with a media publicity campaign and celebration of the role it played in Canadian cultural life the past 20 years. The network's never understood what it had on that level. Instead, as far as I can see, it dies with a whimper. That's undeserved and insulting.

As for Radio 3, it's harder to say. Certainly they've made a mockery of all the promises and promotion around it by shuffling it over to satellite. Yeah, the podcast is nice, but that's not radio - as far as the mainstream of CBC listeners goes, R3 is apparently over, for now. But ever since the demise of its distinctive web project, R3 has just been a polished version of college radio, and again, while that's enjoyable, I'm not sure how vital a service it is, for all the reasons given above. If anything, the BNW model, as an explicitly intellectual take, makes much more sense, if we consider the CBC's purpose to be to provide what commercial radio cannot.

The cumulative effect, though, is that the CBC is backing off of post-boomer pop-based music, and reinstating a lot of the high-low divisions that always made Radio 2 seem stuffy. Glad that jazz is being given a prominent berth, and to see Matt Galloway's name on the live-music show, but, well. We'll see what the new evening show with Laurie Brown, whom I admire, involves. They haven't defined the term "contemporary" music in this context, so I'm not sure if they just mean contemporary concert music (are they really going to play three hours a night of new composers? That's kind of awesome, but weird) or if it is in some broader sense that would incorporate popular music (which is more Laurie's ballywick, no?).

(Addition: A CBC employee in the comments section to this post clarifies "contemporary" in this context: "While I stress that this is still being worked out, the original idea was to have all sorts of contemporary music--from new composers to modern classical to experimental. Some examples of artists that could fit on the show, and that were tossed around during an earlier development phase, are Final Fantasy, Polmo Polpo, Arvo Part, Gavin Bryars, Hard Rubber Orchestra, Sigur Ros, John Oswald, Omar Sosa..." So that's actually very very good news, and obviates some of my sniping above.)

Meanwhile, aside from the first hour, BNW's old slot is taken over by the ill-defined "Overnights" - why BNW couldn't have filled this position just as ably is an apparent mystery. CBC management has just had it out for the program, no matter what. And Patti Schmidt ends up off the national airwaves (she currently has a regional show in Montreal).

Otherwise the most upsetting move is the elimination of The Arts Tonight, which is probably the most consistently intelligent regular block of arts coverage in any mass medium in Canada. (Including newspapers.) I have no issue with Jian Ghomeshi's afternoon show - he gets more flack than he deserves, and will do fine if the show's well-planned and produced - but shunting his reruns into the Arts Tonight timeslot is a shoddy, cheap decision. Fortunately, we'll still get Eleanor Wachtel, the country's best broadcast interviewer, on Writers & Company - but that's just once a week, and in a very specific format, no substitute for the wide-ranging cultural conversations on The Arts Tonight.

Here's one very cogent response with a long-range view, and if you want to plunge deep into these debates, check out the comments section on the Ceeb's official blog. Personally, I will mourn and move on. I think most of the damage was done to CBC radio before now; it's going to be a long time till it fully recovers, if it ever does. Most of my radio listening in recent years has been to NPR via the Internet, to pop radio of various stripes whenever I'm in a vehicle, and to podcasts. But I'll turn an ear to some of the new programming when it begins. Even a hopeful one.

Meanwhile, speaking of BNW, check out this lovely piece of writing from Helen Spitzer, recent temporary host of the show, describing the Arcade Fire's secret show at one of their old high-school alma maters in Ottawa last week.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 23 at 7:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (10)



Sad sad sad...

I new it was bad news when the CBC crippled BNW over the summer. It was also painful having to listen to some of the fill in "hosts".

I really think that BNW is as important today as it was when it started. To my knowledge there hasn’t been another program on the planet that was able to do what BNW did.

These are the things about BNW that I’m going to miss most:
1. Actually hearing new music, not reading about it.
2. The quality and diversity of music.
3. Having 4 hours of new music 5 days a week in one tight bundle just by turning on my radio.

Only a large organization like the CBC has the resources to pull this kind of thing off. College radio is OK sometimes but I think its more about empowering local communities and DJs.

It’s a bit ironic that BNW gets scrapped at a time when podcasts could have made the show more accessible.

Anyway, enough griping. I’d like someone to prove me wrong and suggest an internet site that can fill the gap.

Posted by jeff on February 4, 2007 11:25 AM



I agree with the "just because I have the fricking internet" comment. We spent years putting our trust into that program and were (personally) rarely let down.

Posted by dizz markie on January 26, 2007 11:41 AM



Carl, I know you're a friend of the Waves. I was just a bit upset about your air of resignation, I guess.

Dacks, I do sometimes listen to college and community radio, but I really do appreciate the professionalism of BNW, the researched artist profiles, the extended interviews, etc. And while indie rock might be well covered by college radio, I wouldn't say the same for more obscure electronic / ambient music. BNW is replaying a Loscil profile tonight. Where else but BNW would I hear an hour or two of ambient electronic music?

Anyway, what's the use in complaining. There's no turning back.

Posted by foobar on January 25, 2007 2:32 AM



My feelings about the mothercorp and the film board are very similar. They make me proud of being Canadian. There has always been a sense of dysfunctional family at play there. With the dried up parents and the rebellious teens crying out for some understanding of the new world in front of them, that tension has helped us all to find some balance. BNW is certainly old enough to be somebody's out of touch parent by now. Let's let the kids have a go. It seemed to go pretty well with radio 3. That doesn't mean kill every show over thirty. It just means every show with "new" in the title.

Posted by Half on January 24, 2007 9:27 PM



Just a clarification. (I am a CBC radio music employee--which doesn't make me an apologist, but I thought I'd answer a couple points...) Patti Schmidt will be the weekend host of this new performance program from 8-10pm. And that's a national show. (Matt Galloway will just host the Mon-Fri version.)

The "contemporary" show is still in development, but to sort-of answer Carl's question, no--it will not just be new composers or concert music. While I stress that this is still being worked out, the original idea was to have all sorts of contemporary music--from new composers to modern classical to experimental. Some examples of artists that could fit on the show, and that were tossed around during an earlier development phase, are Final Fantasy, Polmo Polpo, Arvo Part, Gavin Bryars, Hard Rubber Orchestra, Sigur Ros, John Oswald, Omar Sosa...

I'm actually quite excited to see what the contemporary team comes up with.

Posted by caitlin on January 24, 2007 3:56 PM



This is a completely self-serving comment, but it's not like college radio hasn't existed for the same span as BNW and delivered the same goods and much more.

The quality of BNW and the expertise of Patti Schmidt and all those who worked with her is indisputable. And the CBC's availability throughout Canada made it all the more vital. But it's not like college radio is hard to find - nor has it been in cities and university towns since the 80s - but it's always been treated like the sad sack of mass media. Although college radio hosts are frequently and rightly criticized as "amateur" and "unprofessional", is that a bad thing? I mean, aren't these qualities part of the charm of the indie rock??

I've always appreciated the casual, anything-goes approach of college radio - and I exploit that to the fullest in my own endeavours. How many other mass media can boast spontaneous programming generated by a single individual?

BNW listeners, it's still happening on the FM dial. Foobar, if you're in Toronto, make a left turn at Radio 2 and keep going...

Posted by dacks on January 24, 2007 3:26 PM



Point taken, foobar. What I was trying to say was that not long ago, I would have argued that BNW was an irreplaceable, culturally crucial institution and that it would be irresponsible of the CBC not to sustain it. Now, I think it's a regrettable loss but not so much a fatal one - because the people to whom it meant most, I think, are quite willing to go trawling. (Staying up all night listening to BNW was a pretty similar level of commitment.) But if you look back at my posts from last year (linked to in this one) asking for people to help save the show, I don't think you'd mistake me for having a BNW death wish. But as I became resigned to its inevitability, I realized that it was probably not as disastrous as it felt at first. That's all.

Posted by zoilus on January 24, 2007 4:28 AM



Patti Schmidt hosts Cinq A Six, a Quebec cultural program, on CBC Radio One in Montreal. Saturdays, 5-6pm.

Posted by foobar on January 23, 2007 10:32 PM



Just because I have the fricking internet doesn't mean I want to spend all my time trawling through blogs and review sites and file sharing services just to hear new music.

You seem to be saying is "BNW is an institution, but it's time has come". Just because you don't listen to it anymore / use it as a source of new music doesn't make it obsolete.

I mean, you could use your argument to rationalize getting rid of CBC radio altogether. We got the internet, who needs radio?

Posted by foobar on January 23, 2007 10:30 PM



And here I was holding on hope that Brave New Waves would continue on Satellite Radio or as a podcast...thanks CBC for keeping things vague, rather than coming out and saying BNW was dead in the water.

And even though I'd never formed an attachment to Radio 3, the few times I'd listened to it on Saturday night were great as it showcased a lot of good Canadian indie rock. A shame that it's now marginalized to Satellite radio.

So what's this regional program you mentioned Patti Schmidt is currently doing? Can I access a stream online?

Posted by Mike on January 23, 2007 10:24 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson