by carl wilson

CBC to Indie Culture Fans: Chill Out & Love Up Big Brother


As the sad final issue of CBC Radio 3's web magazine bobs in the ether, many, many, many bloggers and discussion boards out there have been talking, mourning and even stirring to protest over the situation, particularly the potential cancellation of Brave New Waves, the CBC's pioneering overnight underground-music-and-culture program. (As Zoilus reported a week ago.) The Globe also ran a general report on the Radio 3 reorganization.

It's tempting to swallow the Kool Aid, and accept the CBC's assurances that mommy and daddy aren't getting divorced. But all indications are otherwise. Radio 3 is spending the summer getting reorganized - ie., firing everybody and either hiring them back or replacing them - so the likely cut-off for BNW is in the fall, when some new Radio 3 "product" will probably squat its real estate. (One of those products could be named Brave New Waves, without actually being BNW.) The big question is whether the CBC's satellite application gets approved by the CRTC in the fall; if it does, Radio 3 will probably move toward becoming a reality as a paid digital station (a model that seems much more suitable to the current Radio 2, with its affluent middle-aged audience, than to a youth network, which could combine an accessible broadcast model with an interactive Internet model rather than something young people either can't afford or won't control in their family's household, but the CBC isn't up for that much change). But management has made known its intention to proceed with Radio 3-ish activity, "satellite or no satellite." What they haven't done is give any clue as to the kind of content it will carry. Pseudo-hip news a la George Stromb? Do-it-yourself tedium a la Zed? Or just tidied-up college radio, Arcade Fire on rotation 75 times a day? (The figure "75 per cent CanCon" has been bandied about.) The few hints that have been dropped suggest that Radio 3 may be very MuchMusic-in-a-cardigan, rather the way it happened at Radio Canada - get rid of challenging new-music programming, turn it into catch-all "emerging artists" smorgasbord and hire Mitsou. I've heard they are sniffing up Nardwuar's tree, which would be awful. There's a time and a place for Nardwuar (it's called "spring break") but leading the way on your alternative public radio programming ain't it.

Strangely they're undertaking all this moving and shaking even before a high-level study of Radio Two programming and direction that they have commissioned comes out in the fall, which is almost certain to tell them that almost everyone in the country under 50 violently dislikes Radio Two, that Radio Two takes "boring" to new literal plow giant hole through your skull heights. So my question is why mess with one of the few lively successes on Radio Two, the overnight BNW, now, rather than wait until the inevitable revision of Radio Two as a whole comes? Why must BNW be considered part of Radio Three, which doesn't actually functionally exist, just because its audience skews young?

One thing the CBC has never understood about BNW is that it is not really a kids' show. And it's not even exclusively a music show. It's an alternative-culture show. I don't remember hearing the Pixies on it when I was growing up - though I certainly must have - but I sure remember hearing Laurie Anderson and Kathy Acker and Todd Solondz and poet Bill Bissett and other creative non-musicians whom BNW recognized as part of the same kind of networks and projects that underground music was about. It's the same thing now, when BNW is playing noise music from Alien8 in Montreal and interviewing the guys who run the label, or getting Hal Niedzvecki to talk about zines or (as they used to do) Jonathan Goldstein to talk about whatever Jonathan used to talk about when BNW was the first to put him on the radio. That was and is the show's great revelation, that there's a whole other way of thinking and challenging and talking out there which you can be a part of - music is only the bridge it offers so the audience can cross. But it's what the music implies and connects to, that's why BNW changes lives. It's also why an all-CanCon-all-the-time mandate is a bad idea - intellectual, non-profit, artist-run etc etc culture - whatever you want to call it - is an international network and you can only really get what's happening in Canada if you have the reference points and context of what's going on elsewhere, of course in the States most of all. And it's also why Vancouver's not the most promising base - it's too new a place, too isolated - sure, it's got some great artists and musicians, but not in the multi-layered and -leveled way Montreal does (and Toronto does). And incidentally it is also why BNW should not just play more straight indie rock. I realize that many of us Bambury- (and, god help us, LaPaix)-era BNW listeners tune in wanting to hear that material, those familiar touchstones. And to some degree they're still there. (How "obscure" is this, or even this?) Sidebar to my cohort: We're aging, and that stuff has gotten much more mainstream - you want indie, go watch The O.C. - but it's BNW's job to go where the new ideas are, and that's an ever-moving target. (Be honest, are you even up at 1 a.m.?)

Also, I'm not opposed to change in itself. Hell, the show has had a good run, and if the CBC wanted to try something new, something specific and vivid and exciting, that would be different. CBC has to evolve as radio evolves. So far no such thing is on offer, and instead they are discarding the resources they have. (Most likely including most of the show's staff, although that's still in negotiation and none of them will talk publicly about it yet.) You don't let CBGBs die unless you've got a good reason. Which is basically why former Radio 3 head Robert Ouimet quit - he wasn't about to just trash what he'd built and fire good people for the sake of yet another vaguer-than-vague youth strategy. (As people are beginning to discuss.) As he told The Globe this weekend:

"I'm sure the new unit is going to make great items for traditional CBC audiences, but they're not going to be attracting a new audience. And now you have this whole community of freelancers [at Radio Three] who were making really interesting art and stories and editorial positions on everything from Kyoto to new music and they will be gone. They'll be picked up by new-media companies and ad agencies and the whole vision will be lost. ... The private sector is totally into this stuff now and it makes me sad that the CBC doesn't realize the gem they developed. They could carry it so much further, but that would require a vision outside of their traditional fence."

That lack of vision is carrying over into their current stonewalling - I've been told that if you ask you will get a canned answer from the CBC that "there are no plans to cancel Brave New Waves at this time" (bureau-boilerplate for "it will last at least till the end of the week"), and there's the CBC's usual rigid and paranoid fear of any leaks and loss of control (remember the Sook Yin Lee cinematic-sex-scene scandal last year? that kind of paranoia). Rather than communicate with fans of the web magazine, Brave New Waves etc - that is, the very audience they are attempting to entice - and rather than treat their employees, the people who have expertise in creating this kind of content, with any courtesy and respect - the CBC is cooking up its next grand horizon in a focus-group and white-paper microwave, no doubt blasting all the juice and tenderness out of it, and will be right back with a heaping plate of chopped hipster rubber chicken with a squeeze-bottle of insult-your-intelligence sauce. The kids as usual will run screaming from the table. Stuart Maclean will happily sop up the leftovers.

Of course I could be wrong. I may be too alarmist. We'll see. Meanwhile it can't hurt to shout FIRE in a few crowded CBC managers' seminar rooms, can it? Send notes of concern to executive programming director Jennifer McGuire, vice-president of English radio Jane Chalmers and Steve Pratt, the new director of Radio 3.

News | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 08 at 6:33 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)



It's true, us older BNW fans are mostly working full time jobs and finding it more and more difficult to stay up for this. But I'm not one of them. Yes, I do have a full time job, and yes, I'm tired when I get home at around one in the morning. And yet, I beeline to the computer to listen to the stream. I do it as often as I could because my feeling is that living in the states, I find it always fascinating to be able to hear a public broadcaster that could pull off what the CBC has for years with BNW.

I know that they should change with the times and keep being relavant or whatever, but BNW was my very first taste of the CBC about 15 years ago. I think they are just using a short term fix to a long term dilemma, which isn't really one. Of course I got on the Corp about this yesterday, so I better remind them....

Posted by Jacqueline on March 10, 2005 12:34 PM



I think its an insult to the intelligence of Nardwuar to discard him like some sideshow freak. The man is brilliant. You can't write the kind of questions he writes and do the amount of research he does for interviews and not be a very bright individual. Personally, I think Brave New Waves has gotten old, stale, boring, bloaded and pretentious over the years. Its run its course. They have nothing interesting left to say. It doesn't blow your mind anymore, it just puts you to sleep. As for not conforming to the current standards of indie rock, half of the shit they were playing 2 years ago is the kind of shit an OC fan listens to today. Not only would Nardwuar provide better ratings (probably would double the audience in BNW's timeslot), he would provide much more interesting content that wasn't nessecerily relegated to the kinds of interviews he's famous for. Have you paid attention to the content of his interviews before? The man is a walking encyclopedia of music. Good music. CBC realizes BNW's audience are getting older and probably don't stay up past midnight anymore. They have full-time jobs on salary, visit art galleries and will probably take to going to the symphony orchestra on a regular basis pretty soon. They are the next Bay streeters, the wine tasters, the palm piloters. In other words, they've moved on, gotten older and become everything their parents aspired to be. They've outgrown grassroots indie culture and the CBC knowns it.

Posted by assface on March 10, 2005 9:24 AM



Of course it's expensive. If the line were "we can't afford it, period," it would be more comprehensible. It's these guttings disguised as strokes of genius that irk.

And besides I am not really on about the whole Radio 3 thing so much as I am about BNW, which may seem tunnel visioned but somebody has to yell, "Hey, there's a BABY in that bathwater!"

Posted by zoilus on March 10, 2005 5:37 AM



Here it is: 2:54 a.m. and I'm still up and listening to ... guess what? :)

I hate to shift the conversation for a second, but in the TV sphere, don't you folks find The Hour to be hipster TV as conceived by upper-middle-aged CBC programmers?

Now that I've planted that seed, back to this thread ...

In terms of the cost of CBCRadio3, good multi-media online content is expensive to create -- that's why you see virtually no private-sector companies doing it.

As noted in other places, the Corpse spent a ton on the content but virtually nothing promoting the site. Building an audience strictly on word-of-mouth is tough.

I also think there's some confusion at the Front Street edifice with respects to the Corpse's overall online strategy.

But since I work for a competitor, I'm not about to solve it for them. :)

Posted by Bill Doskoch on March 10, 2005 3:13 AM



I'm not sure people would be so upset about the demise of Radio3-the-webpage if they knew just how much tax money it cost. We're talking millions here, people.

Posted by ginny on March 9, 2005 11:03 PM



First, thanks for the links. You bring up a number of excellent points about the Corp that all seem to come down to a single issue:

The CBC has no strategy for to stay relevant with "younger" audiences.

Sad, really.

Posted by fatcitizen on March 9, 2005 6:56 PM



Yep, it's a Banksy.

Posted by zoilus on March 9, 2005 12:53 PM



touche on the final point, mark, and i agree with you in general. BNW may not have a flagship quality to it, but it should not be on the chopping block. i don't see it as a last bastion but its abscence would be difficult to fill and squandering of the talent available in patti schmidt and co.

Posted by steve on March 9, 2005 12:41 PM



total tangent, but carl, is that pic a banksy?

Posted by mark p. on March 9, 2005 11:30 AM



I don't know how valuable this FM airtime is from the BNW audience's POV--to wit, CBC launched a pilot podcasting effort yesterday. The politics of this particular situation are very specific to these times ... and the positioning of BNW strikes me as too stubborn to lead the transition as the sole weekday representative of indie culture radio. Maybe the CBC brass should've been paying more attention to the evolution of media (and the devolution of commercial music radio) over the past decade. Carve out several more hours a night for "Radio Three" programming on FM and this isn't an issue. And, not too further along, pervasive wireless internet will make this discussion seem awfully antiquated.

Posted by Marc Weisblott on March 9, 2005 8:09 AM



"limited FM airtime"...i get the feeling you're taking this limited air time for granted.

our limited airtime has been in crisis for nearly as long as the medium has been around.

radio, as powerful as it has been in the military and communication fields, has never won the hearts and minds of the public for longer than three decades. and even then, it always took second billing to print in the pre war years.

since the 1950's, radio has been at the bottom of an old fashioned schoolyard pile-on, starting with television and going right up to the internet. as a result it has, on a wide scale, degraded in quality (in both form and content) in order to keep pace with these hyperexpansive mediums. radio in the 1930's was a sophisticated art, but now?

the vast majority of the airwaves are loaded with meaningless, repetitive schlock that orson welles would have wretched at if his ears were here today.

most radio stations in north america fall under the influence of the convoluted corporate control warriors who own vast resources in industry and politics. radio is merely a blip on their imperial radar. thus, we see radio in its dumbest form yet. how many more times must we hear that same vomitous, burpy thunder voice that announces Q107 and all other stations like it? hundreds of times a day until we stop listening to the radio. how many more office workers have to be exposed to the bilious sugar of e-z rock morning hosts? or the AM talk radio experts who disgrace free speech by towing the line on every issue? every morning until we stop listening to the radio.

unless we do something about it, which we seem to be doing with brave new waves.

we need counterweights to these virtually unchecked excesses. without programs like brave new waves, which broadcasts, for twenty hours a week (about 10 more than peter mansbridge, i believe), some of the best arts/music/culture programming IN THE WORLD, we as radio producers have little from which to gain inspiriation, at least on a nationally syndicated level. we have no example of bleeding-edge programming to offer new upstarts on campus/community and state financed stations alike. we lose a work that gives the art form a life it rarely lives and a futre it could see more of.

airtime is just too valuable to squander it for the purpose of "finding a new beach head". we are in a new century and we must NOT let radio, the only electronic medium that requires you to LISTEN, fall into history as a vestigial modernist relic, and i'm afraid at this rate, we will.

Posted by Steve Birek on March 9, 2005 1:02 AM



What's wrong with "tidied-up college radio"? Who else is going to do that? The campus-community experiment in this country has mostly been a misguided disaster, partly due to the CBC hovering over it. (Which justifies the idea that CBC should partner with left-of-the-dial stations a la NPR in the U.S.) It's the CBC's responsibility to balance the scales a bit--tread into the rock 'n' rap realm that they've never really addressed on radio on the grounds that commercial stations are taking care of that, and we all know that's barely happening anymore, even where it once was. (The problem with pseudo-hip news and ungracefully aging Human Serviettes is a different matter, not sure why such gestures would be deemed necessary.) Do they need to eliminate BNW to move forward on this front? Probably not--but if it's a matter of prioritizing limited FM airtime to effectively establish a brand new beachhead ...

Posted by Marc Weisblott on March 8, 2005 9:12 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson