Friday, March 27, 2009

 

DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS

Granted this was back in the idealistic late sixties when those of my generation thought that nothing was impossible.

The CBC: The Mother Corp., created in 1936 by a Conservative Government, was gripped with a serious dilemma. Facing the growing popularity of television, 'AM' Radio was undergoing a radical makeover. The emergence of Top 40 formatted radio stations catering to the young, hip, population bubble of my generation: The "Boomers".

CBC Radio remained pretty much stuck with its block-programmed broadcast schedule which first brought it to prominence during World War II. When men like the late Lorne Greene, The Voice of Doom, had read stale dispatches from the European front.

The CBC's Board of Directors realised that the radio service would die as audiences frittered away to listen to the "Motown Sound" on their just invented battery powered transistor radios. The medium had become mobile. Doubtless in a rare stroke of genius, (Painfully not seen since) the Corporation's Directors called upon two of their own young visionary radio producers: Doug Ward and Peter Meggs to develop the framework which would rescue the middle aged Mother Corp. out of its menopausal doldrums.

To those of us who were around then, and the thousands of CBC Radio craftspeople who have followed in its footsteps: The "Ward-Meggs Report" is legendary. Forty years later, still it remains the template for the information based non-commercial mixed national, regional, local format of CBC Radio One stations. Most of those are the top choice of listeners in their respective communities, broadcasting iconic all-Canadian programs: "As It Happens", the "World At Six", "Information Morning", "Radio Noon" and the dozens of others. Each: A direct result of the "Ward-Meggs Report."

After an entire career spent at the CBC, I yearn for the visionaries of my era to rescue our dear "Mother" from the death of a thousand cuts it now faces. In my chagrin, I hold responsible the managers and the Board Members of the present generation for their failure to call on the talent, vision, ideas and ideals of the hundreds of individuals who labour within the CBC, and whose jobs the Board has now jeopardized.

The CBC's financial dilemma; the fragmentation of television audiences, and the broken-down model for conventional broadcasting should have come as no surprise to the Corporation's managers. As for the Board of Directors, it has wasted almost 20 years of corporate practices, opportunities and memory during which workable solutions should, could and would have been crafted from within. The Board failed the CBC's wonderful craftspeople and the people of Canada because it provided no direction, no motivation, no support and no venue for the solutions to bubble-up from within its own educated, insightful program makers.

The cost-cutting measures now being implemented will strip the CBC of its soul. Sadly nothing was learned from the lay-offs, the cuts the "repositioning" which followed the obviously failed budget decisions of previous Directors in 1990 and 1995. Then, successive Federal Governments (Mulroney's and Chretien's) hammered the Corporation to get its spiralling costs under-control.

In the ensuing period the CBC wasted a 20 year window of opportunity to plan and develop an essential, perhaps unconventional framework for what should, could, and would still be Canada's dominant cultural institution. Fooled once in 1990, fooled twice in 1995, is there any wonder this time many Canadians just shrug and wish for what could have been?

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Comments:
Spot on , Mr. Akerley. A managemtn trend in my later years at the CBC was to adopt the not-quite-latest business school buzzwords such as "one stop shopping", "silos" , "platforms" and so to broadcasting. The meetings and jargon ballooned and the quality of the news declined/
 

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