CBC Radio walks on wild side by Murray Whyte

May 7, 2004

Source : Toronto Star

Online mandate is emerging artists; Hosts culture fest at the Drake Hotel

At a glance, the poster, featuring an oblique image of a topless woman framed by an otherworldly green glow, meshs rather nicely with the occasion it seeks to promote: Connect The Dots, an independent culture showcase that lands this weekend at the Drake Hotel featuring such bands as The Unicorns, Controller.Controller and I Am Robot And Proud alongside a display of edgy photography and new media art.

What might not intertwine so smoothly, perhaps, is the event's promoter: The CBC.

"Yes, I know," said Rob McLaughlin, sighing at the suggested incongruity. "For a long time, the idea at CBC radio and television seemed to be, `Everyone will get old someday, and when they do, they'll come to CBC.' And that's not what we're about at all."

The "we" in question is CBC Radio 3 and McLaughlin as its executive producer. CBC Radio 3 is an online radio network launched in 2000. In four years, the virtual station has gone through several iterations to arrive in its present form: An international, award-winning site and one of the country's premier filters for independent art and culture.

Its programming includes Connect The Dots, a tour that has put on similar showcases across Western Canada and will move on to Montreal and the Maritimes later this month.

To say the tour is a departure for the CBC is something of an understatement.

"We prefer to think of ourselves as unique within the CBC, rather than completely separate," McLaughlin said. "We do speak to people who might not pay attention to other parts of the CBC, but I think they do know us as a CBC product."

Which, of course, can only be a good thing for a public broadcaster that has spent decades chasing notions of how to reconfigure itself to appeal to a younger audience — a holy grail that has brought several token efforts and few results.

Radio 3, says McLaughlin, has become part of the antidote by shifting that focus.

"In the last two years, not once did we refer to ourselves as a youth service," he said. "We're not pursuing a demographic. We're interested in talking to smart people about emerging artists and emerging culture. Does that make it seem fresh, or young? Absolutely. But pointed exclusively at youth? Not at all."

The Web site, http://www.cbcradio3.com, is a storehouse of culture portals for roots and folk, live music and emerging artists, with a link to Brave New Waves on CBC Radio 2.

This late-night indie music show was the CBC's first foray into independent culture, kept caged at midnight to 4 a.m. Now, under the umbrella of Radio 3, it is just one component in the public network's embrace of the emerging culture scene.

This weekend's event is also part of that embrace. A handful of up-and-coming indie bands, paired with a provocative, broad-ranging photo exhibition, are a manifestation of what CBC Radio 3 is: A virtual community centre for the nation's independent culture.

"All of a sudden, we have this relationship with a whole community of artists that the CBC never had before," McLaughlin said. "You know, it's really easy to screw it up, and come across as earnest and preachy. But thankfully, we haven't. It's taken a while to get here, but it's got some forward momentum now. We'll keep it going."

For Nick Diamonds of The Unicorns, who play at Connect The Dots on Saturday night, Radio 3 is an essential. "The CBC is all about promoting Canadian culture, but there was always this gap. Radio 3 definitely fills that in. It's nice to see the CBC tapping into that without coming across as clueless."

Connect The Dots is today and tomorrow at the Drake, 1150 Queen St. W. For more information, go to http://www.cbcradio3.com.
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