CBC has no immediate plans to move its Radio 2 programming exclusively online, but says the move is inevitable.
“Will that happen over time? Yes it will, just as it likely will with every other radio station across the industry,” said spokesman Chuck Thompson on Friday, adding the decision is “years away.”
On Thursday the independent watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting said executives at CBC were planning to move Radio 2 from the airwaves to the Internet, and that the cuts would likely be announced at a board of directors meeting in Ottawa on June 17 and 18.
Ian Morrison, spokesman for the group, said Friday he was still “very skeptical” of CBC’s assurances, citing “well-placed” sources.
The music-oriented Radio 2 garners about 3 per cent of Canada’s listening audience. Radio One’s share as of the most recent quarterly report was 12.5 per cent.
Radio programming costs the broadcaster $273 million per year, less than a quarter of its $1.1 billion television expenses. Radio 2 costs about $7 million to run annually, Thompson says.
“Why pick on Radio 2?” Morrison said. “In my opinion, it could only be because someone, a politically appointed person, thinks it’s not important. A person who doesn’t have an understanding of the importance of arts and culture to creativity and identity in a country.”
At a rally outside the CBC’s Front St. W. headquarters Friday, avid CBC listener Pam Mulligan said she would never listen to the radio on her computer.
“It’s not convenient, it’s not in my car. I’m in my 50s and I don’t tend to stream music. I tend to listen to it when I’m sewing, when I’m travelling in my car, when I’m cooking dinner,” she said, listing off her many favourite programs: classical music on the Tempo show, Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap, The Vinyl Café, blues on Saturday night, the afternoon Drive show and Radio 2 Morning.
The claim that CBC is irrelevant is a false one, said NDP MP and heritage critic Andrew Cash. Support for the CBC generates more mail, phone calls and emails than any other issue for MPs in the Toronto caucus, he said. Second is Canada Post.
“It’s the No. 1 issue for many, many people,” Cash said. “This issue around Radio 2 just going online speaks to a very troubling trajectory for the CBC.”
A former musician, Cash’s record label in the 1980s wanted to get him on commercial radio.
“Today that is completely turned around. Now, to the music industry and bands and artists of all sorts, CBC Radio is central.”
The station was revamped in 2008 to add more popular and adult contemporary music, and four minutes per hour of advertising were permitted by the CRTC in 2013, to widespread listener outrage.
Radio 2 was formerly the home of classical music in the country, with little competition, said McMaster University communications professor Philip Savage, who has studied the CBC.
He predicted a similar situation if the service becomes web-only. According to his research, two-thirds of Radio 2 listeners also listen to news and current affairs on Radio One.
“They weathered a storm from the constituency. It was crazy. Almost never has there been that many people angry at the CBC, and this is the core of the CBC’s supporters,” he said.
Savage pointed to a survey now active on the CBC corporate website, which asks listeners for thoughts about children’s television, regional programming and the relevance of music on the radio, as indicators of the network’s potential changes in direction.
The survey question states that while “over 70 per cent of music listening in Canada is done via radio,” there is a move toward listening online instead.
Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the CBC/Radio-Canada branch of the Canadian Media Guild, said he wants to see the data.
“I can’t see how the CBC could actually believe that you’re driving in your car and you’re trying to find CBC on the internet when you can just turn the radio on,” he said.
“I’d like to see the studies they have that would support a move like that.”