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To save CBC Radio 2, we must destroy it

This Magazine Staff

CBC Radio 2 Posters
Today CBC Radio 2 launches its new format, a controversial repositioning of the national broadcaster’s commercial-free, all-music station. The overhauled lineup of programming reduces the amount of classical music and adds more jazz, pop, rock, folk, hip-hop — enough of a jumble, essentially, to make the station not really listenable for anyone.
The changes have irked many listeners, who accuse the CBC of dumbing itself down and chasing trends to try and snag listeners who won’t tune in anyway. Take, for instance, this Globe and Mail comments thread, or the 16,000+ members of the “Save Classical Music at the CBC” Facebook group. And while I agree with those who complain the new format is schizoid and unfocused, I would actually argue that the changes don’t go far enough.

Most of the criticism around this change has focused on the reduction in classical music. Classical music, the thinking goes, is inherently refined, educational, and aesthetically superior to contemporary music. Even if that were true &mdash which I don’t concede &mdash it’s beside the point when talking about the CBC.
Why do we have a national broadcaster in the first place? To provide Canadian perspective on world events, showcase Canadian artists, and tell Canadian stories. If the CBC really wanted to live up to this mandate with Radio 2, it would play nothing but Canadian music, instead of material written by dead white European men centuries before the invention of radio. Classical music is obviously part of every well-rounded musical diet, but there is no logical reason that the CBC must be its ordained provider in this country.
The truly daring move, and one that would shore up — instead of erode — the CBC’s mission to provide Canadian programming, would be to transfer Radio 2, classical music and all, to satellite radio and online streaming, and move CBC Radio 3 onto Radio 2’s slot on the FM dial. Radio 3 has been building a substantial and devoted audience for years now, airing new Canadian music 24 hours a day, on satellite radio and over the web. It’s doing everything that a CBC radio station should be doing: it plays music by living, working Canadian musicians; it makes room for unique programming that can’t be found anywhere else on the broadcast dial; and it eschews vapid, Americanized top-40 pablum.
This move would undoubtedly provoke even more teeth-gnashing and garment-rending than the current programming change has done. But it would give the number-two station a real and meaningful mission, and save it from the anonymous irrelevance toward which it is aimlessly drifting.
Image: CC-licensed “CBC Radio 2 Posters” via Flickr

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