Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hey Gzowski! Are you Paying Attention Up There??

I grew up falling asleep to the sound of the typewriter my Mom pecked away on at night, and I awoke to the sound of the radio. Radio was a cornerstone at my house. It was on all day when we were at home............not the TV............the radio. Mornings in particular......our news, both locally and beyond was brought to you by.................. How do those two activities come together? My mom worked in the media field. She was a copy writer and a salesperson of airtime. Often waiting for a piece that she had written, we had the dial tuned to whatever radio station she was working for.

When I moved away for the last time, I found my own station. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.....CBC. Living in Toronto, surrounded by dozens of options, sick of the barrage of bad jokes, loud talk and annoyingly incessant commercials (some of which still take up space in my cerebellum unfortunately.......I'll sing them for you one day!!!), I was looking for an alternative on my car radio. It was a time in my life when I happened to be in the car a lot, commuting to and from work, driving home on weekends etc. So, good that didn't compete with the busy noise of traffic congestion, was definately on my radar. When I first learned of the CBC and found the wavy transmission for the first time, I felt like I had struck gold.

When I moved to the Maritimes almost 19 years ago, the CBC became more of a cornerstone for me. It connected me to my new surroundings, and more importantly it connected me to my family far away. CBC helped keep the homesick adjustment blues at bay...............

No one was a bigger flag waving fan of our National public radio station than I was. Interviews, political analysis, homegrown music, international stories, dramatic readings, storytelling, comedy sketches, were all thrown into the mix. I quickly found my favourite programs, and in particular grew to love Peter Gzowski's Morningside. He was a weekday morning fixture..................with a unique baritone smokey voice, a quirky sense of humour, an unrelenting curiosity, a passion for this country, and a maple leaf shaped heart big enough to draw Canadians in from coast to coast. This scruffy lookin bearded guy in crumpled clothes, big clunky glasses and an unfiltered Buckingham cigarette glowing in his hand at all times was a charmer. He used to say he had a face for radio. He surely had the voice.....................and the ears of many listeners. During the Morningside years, many a conversation would begin with.............."Did you hear so and so on Morningside yesterday..............?"

I have tried to find a comparison to Gzowski, but there isn't one. He was one of a kind. And when he was at the peak of his career, this national treasure did more to helping Canadians understand eachother across this vast country than anyone. How did he do this? He asked the questions we wanted to ask. He treated everyone with a sense of respect.............well, except for Conrad Black, a pompous ass from way back and who is now in the news for being a fraudulent scumbag, but I have no opinion on Lord Black of Cross Harbour :) Well, not in this post.........

Peter Gzowski never lost sight of his roots. He never developed a "big famous guy" persona. In fact, whenever he was in town promoting one of his books away from the sanctuary of his studio, he seemed shy and withdrawn like he was unaware of the impact he had made on millions of Canadians like me.
Gzowski shared his feelings, and introduced us to regular folk interspersed with the more famous folk............ he had weekly regulars on his show that he was comfortable kibbitzing with, like Stuart MacLean (Canada's verson of Garrison Keillor) and the "the 3 Wiseman"........Keirans, Lewis and Camp who regaled and debated and postured over the political issues of the day, and Sheilagh Rogers, whose genuine enthusiastic talkativeness blended in well with Gzowski as she read some of the mail from the listeners.

He was a strong proponent of reading and literacy issues............and though he has been gone for a while now (the Buckinghams finally got the best of him), his annual golf tourney to raise awareness and money for literacy intitiatives still carries on. He also left a legacy of radio people who carried on after he left.....for a while. Though some are still on the airwaves, the Senior Management turkeys at the "mothercorps" have messed around with the dial tone so badly that the whole station has lost it's way.

Since the days of Morningside, CBC radio has attempted to "redefine" itself. They have failed miserably. More concerned with "attracting" a younger demographic, they have tried funky and flippant and have fallen flat. Political correctness turned it into tunnel vision, and except for a few holdouts...............leftist views took over, glossing out any form of healthy debate and questioning. The attitude emanating from the airwaves was that the CBC had decided it was their role, for example, to replace the Senate as the "sober second thought" to Parliament. And as Ottawa cutback severely on the corporation's budget, the quality of the programming tanked.

There are a few shows I'll go out of my way to listen to. Michael Enright on Sunday mornings still catches my attention. Rex Murphy on Sunday Cross Country Check Up, asking the questions of the day in a phone in format............usually it's on while I'm making dinner. In fact, the line-up for Sundays is still pretty intact, though some of it is getting a little long in the tooth. Stuart MacLean, for example, was once a "never miss" for years, but his schtick has lost it's gloss. Every now and then, though his Vinyl Cafe stories can still make me laugh out loud. But, the bulk of the weekday programming is pathetic. Instead of starting the national programming with a combination of light fare and current event fare, the CBC wiseasses start us off with "The Voice;" a supposedly funny guy with a voice like the brother on "Everybody Loves Raymond" (not my idea of funny) throwing out a glib editorial for the day to kick start a newsy journalistic hour and a half of doom and gloom. Oh, please pass the arsenic.

Squeezed into mid-morning for an hour is Sheilagh Rogers, one of the logical replacements for a "Gzowski-like" morning. She has been see-sawed and mistreated for years now, as the powers that hold the power figure she ain't hip enough for the 20 year olds that they expect to tune in.... Now, I don't think the lady even has a budget, though every now and then I hear her interviewing someone somewhere other than her studio in Vancouver, but how can she establish any kind of reputation and following if the only give her an hour airtime? The afternoon show is so awful that I don't even turn it on anymore............two talking heads, who don't even have a good rapport with one another re-hashing the bizarro bits in the news and giving their opinion........LIKE I CARE?? The afternoon programming used to be smart and interesting.............longer and interesting interview led by Vicki Gabereau is long gone. For the most part, sadly so am I.

An aside..............a couple of years ago, I was driving to a meeting in Moncton listening to Sheilagh Rogers talking with Mark McKinney from Kids in the Hall. He was debuting in a one man show in Toronto that evening. Sheilagh asked him about how he keeps his focus and manages his nervous jitters while doing live theatre. McKinney explained that he pretends the audience is one person. Then, he turned the question to her. Sheilagh stated that she is aware of her audience and her "demographic." She then went on to describe her listener......... a middle aged woman, most likely living in the Maritimes who drinks tea. I almost choked on my tea and drove off the highway. So, if I am obviously a key player in the whole CBC radio world, then how come the "suit people" keep forgetting that???

CBC radio has lost it's way. Though it still has a few gems interspersed here and there, the way they have scheduled things, all couched by a really irritating girl voice named "Promo girl" whom I'd like to stuff into a pillowcase.............., it is difficult to be a consistent listener.
There are many Canadians who have walked away from this treasure, and there are many who would argue that it's time to pull the plug on it all together...........that the political posturing so evident on the airwaves is a disgrace...............that it's a waste of taxpayers money etc, I still believe that CBC radio still has a key role in our Canadian fabric. I just wish that the people making the decisions came down from their insulated ivory towers and spoke to the longtime supporters who are ready to walk away, about what would make it great again....AND quit worrying about the youngin' demographics. If they're interested, they will find their way.

Oh, and Peter? If you're paying attention up there...............can you please make your voice heard again, get behind your microphone and give them a good blast??? Thank you.

Tomorrow......................CBC TV. That's a whole other story............................and a completely different perspective.

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