Saturday, January 17, 2009

CBC Radio 2 drops classical music - good or bad?

I have deliberately not written about the big changes to CBC Radio 2 last September, as I wanted to give it some time to develop and see if I could grow accustomed to the new format. Now, after a few months listening off and on throughout the day, I have a few thoughts to share...

Many of my clients for A Web of Fine Music ( have commented to me on the changes and the loss of another quality outlet for classical music in Canada. Most appear resigned to the change; yet few if any are happy with it. To be sure, the loss of more classical music on the radio is unfortunate, and from our national broadcaster makes it seem all the worse. As a retailer of classical music, I find it more difficult to do business, as there are fewer and fewer outlets for clients to become exposed to new releases they might want to buy. The loss of Sound Advice on Saturday afternoon was a particularly unfortunate move for that very reason.

As a listener, I gave it my best open-mind approach and tried to like what I was hearing. But the more I listened, the more it all started to sound the same to me, and after awhile I would become bored and tune out, either literally or figuratively. I know it is good to expose us to new and less-familiar artists both from our country and elsewhere in the world, but not a constant diet of same, which is what much of what I have heard sounds like. Rather than plant a few seeds at a time, over time, we have a dump truck unloading an entire load each and every day.

The loss of Jurgen Gothe's eclectic Disc Drive on weekday afternoons was a great loss insofar as he had become for me, and likely many others, a constant companion for three hours each afternoon five days a week. Nothing else would compare over that time period. Curiously, if you look at the playlists for the show before it went off the air, much of the content could not be considered core classical material; there were a lot of other musical genres explored, and frankly I liked that variety and the approach Jurgen took to the music. The afternoon show that replaced it just appears so bland and colourless by comparison. I try to catch Jurgen's Sunday afternoon show Farrago at 5 pm, but I am not into the routine yet of tuning in at that time, so I often miss it if I am not in the car at that hour and think about it when I look at the clock.

It's not all bad. Although I rarely have a chance to hear Tom Allen in the morning due to my work schedule, when I do I still find him to be an engaging morning companion with wit and wisdom to share, and the music appears to have a little more variety to it. I do enjoy the mid-day show Tempo, which is predominantly classical, but I have to remember to turn it on now, as I don't always have the radio either at home or in the car tuned to CBC 2 on a regular basis, as I once did. That, frankly, will be the real hurdle for CBC to overcome with this change: presenting one type of music at one time of the day and another type at another time of the day rarely pleases everyone and you run the risk of alienating many of them.

Two ladies relatively new to CBC Radio 2 airwaves are proving to be most engaging and I must admit to becoming a fan of both even if I don't always like all the music they play: Katie Malloch and Molly Johnson both convey an intimate sound to their shows that manages to draw me in every time, and that is the way it should be. Both voices are sexy in their own way, but the personality from each wins you over. But those are the only two hosts I try to catch with any regularity any more.

So, what's the verdict on the changes? I hope it is not CBC management's plan to sit back and say this is it; more work needs to be done on fine-tuning the product and make it more palatable to more listeners, new and old. I will give it a year before I seriously look at the changes and the ramifications of same; but for now, there is some good and not so good on the CBC airwaves at the moment. So in a way, not much has really changed at all!

January 17th, 2009.

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