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I sat down by the CBC and wept by Marie Wadden

Jun 28, 2014

My time with the “corpse,” as some of my colleagues have taken to calling the CBC, is up. It started 37 years ago in 1977.

Source: The Telegram

That’s a long time to be with one company, and it’s given me an informed perspective on where this country’s public broadcaster may be headed.

The variety of work and experiences I’ve had with the CBC, in both television and radio, has kept the work challenging and interesting.

My job was declared redundant 16 months shy of my retirement goal.

Network producer positions have also been cut in Saskatchewan, Ottawa and Edmonton. We supplied content from our provinces to national shows, most of which originate in Toronto. I like to think our job was to knit the country together for CBC radio listeners. My counterparts in other locations are concerned because they know more cuts are coming.

There’s a pervasive sense of impermanence at the CBC these days, and it’s not conducive to creativity.

We hear the cliché “death by a thousand” cuts a lot when the CBC is mentioned.

It’s an apt cliché. Canadians might not care now, but they will, and then it may be too late.

There will probably always be a CBC, but it will become just a trusted news brand, a symbol the politicians will bring out when it’s convenient to present Canada as a civilized and advanced nation.

What is being squeezed out of the public broadcaster, drop by drop, is creativity.

Creativity makes culture. You can’t mandate creativity, you have to nurture it.

I joined CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador at the height of its creativity, and have watched it being whittled away, cut by cut, in the last two decades, until now I hardly recognize the place.

When I started my CBC career in St. John’s, there was an art deco radio studio downtown, and the ’60s-era architecturally designed building on Prince Philip Drive. I was hired in the summer of 1977 as a TV news reporter.

News was a small operation compared to the drama and music departments that had their own makeup artists, set designers, accountants, production assistants and local stars.

The ceiling of the big studio is still studded with heavy lights, but they are rarely used.

The studio where so many original productions were staged is empty most of the day, until the lights come on for “Here and Now.”

The set designers, costume and makeup departments are long gone, as are the stars.

Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Greg Malone, Andy Jones, Ray Guy, Tommy Sexton. They all started their careers at CBC in St. John’s. We’re no longer an incubator for that brand of local talent. We’re strictly a news operation now.

The radio building has been sold for condos. Radio and television staff work together from cubicles in a large room on the second floor of the TV building.

It’s hard to concentrate when mixing audio, I find. Harder to have an original thought.

But then, there’s less call for that.

In the old building, I used to have a small office, with an antechamber that contained two computers for making radio programs. Numerous freelancers used the facility, and, with my help, contributed important work to the radio network.

“Outfront” — now defunct — invited pitches from ordinary people who got paid to tell their stories on national radio. Then CBC had the luxury of focusing on diversity of voice and opinion. Those were the mantras.

We can no longer afford them. Clearing out my desk is like watching my work life flash before my eyes.

These days I avoid the arts wing of the building.

Our magnificant recording

Studio F is shut down; the remote recording mobile was last seen driving west on the TCH, and the baby grand piano was given away.

There used to be such a vibrant arts department at the CBC in this province. It produced, amongst other things, two hours of original music programming each week.

One of those programs is gone, the second will eventually be an amalgam of content from all of Atlantic Canada.

Those music programs fostered much of the rich musical talent in this place. Emerging musicians will have fewer occasions to be heard now.

Regional television will never be as well funded as it was when I started in the late ’70s.

Television viewing has changed, that’s true. I admit to being a Netflix binge watcher myself, but Canadians still cherish the collective experience of watching something in real time.

It’s happening now with World Cup soccer.

But to compete with what’s on Netflix we have to deliver content that’s important, distinctive and only available on the CBC.

The way forward is to fund creativity at the CBC, and remove from it the need to compete.

CBC should be setting the standard, and doing what other broadcasters aren’t doing.

Showcase the arts as well as headline news, foster the new generation of stars.

CBC radio, in particular, should continue to be the place that reaches into the country’s far corners to give voice to people with something important to say. People who are this country’s past, present and future.

The Canadian Media Guild is asking the federal government to reverse the $115-million deficit reduction action plan cuts that have come into full effect this year.

That will stem the flow of creative bloodletting currently underway.

Then the federal government should establish an independent panel with the mandate to advise within a year the best funding model to use for the CBC in future.

That panel can compare public broadcasters worldwide to come up with the best formula for Canada.

We’re not a poor country.

We’re a big country in size, with a small population.

We need the production skills and infrastructure already in place at the CBC to keep this country together and make it socially and intellectually the place we are proud to call home.

Canadians have an opportunity to let politicians know they care through a survey that CBC is circulating.

It’s worth filling out because you can see the direction in which we’re headed, if people don’t put up a fight for their public broadcaster now.

Regional operations like the one I joined 37 years ago may never be what they once were, the top shows in their markets.

They risk disappearing altogether.

It’s easy to blame the Harper government for what’s happening now, but where are the voices of dissent from the Liberals and New Democrats?

My colleagues need to hear, loud and clear, that Canadians do care about what happens to their public broadcaster.


Marie Wadden is an award-winning broadcaster and producer. Most recently, her work earned a silver award in New York City at the World's Best Radio festival.

After 37 years with the CBC, her last day is Monday.

© The Telegram