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Do some callers abuse the CBC Radio Talkback line?

The CBC Radio Talkback line performs a valuable public service. Listeners call the line to leave recorded messages; usually to express dissatisfaction with a story, or how it was covered, and sometimes to congratulate the broadcaster on a job well done.

But the line is also open to abuse. Some individuals call on a regular basis which is fine but they ramble on ad nauseam. This is not a major problem you can count on one hand the number of feedback hogs on CBC but if ten or 20 people did this, the situation would not be sustainable and the airwaves would be dominated by a handful of voices.

The personalities changes, but there is always at least one person who frequently calls the Talkback lines. This, in itself, is perfectly okay.

But I ask you, is it not possible to make your point in one minute or less? Is there any need for unfocused rambling and pointless asides that make for a bloated, tiresome comment? I have heard some Talkback calls that went on a full three minutes, which is as long as some guest interviews. This does not make for good radio.

I think everyone is entitled to speak their views, no matter how radical or bland they may be, but there must be a time limit imposed. I would suggest a maximum of one minute, for all callers. They could change the recorded Talkback greeting to include this rule: Please limit your comment to 60 seconds.

If the callers cant focus their messages, CBC should do it for them. Fast forward the tape to the substance of the comment, and edit out the rest. I know, this is not easy, especially when the caller meanders all over the place, but there is usually a summary statement in there somewhere.

I sent off an email to Ted Blades, host of On The Go, as well as Kathy Porter, Executive Producer for Radio with CBC NL. I pointed out that some Talkback calls were as long as a short interview. I find them annoying, most of the time, I wrote, and they eat up too much program space, in my view. Have you considered imposing a time limit on them? Or rejecting (certain) calls altogether?

I received brief replies from Porter and Blades.

There is no hard and fast CBC policy re how often to use frequent callers, either on phone-in shows or talkback machines, Porter said. But we always retain editorial control, and certainly dont automatically put every call to air. We judge them on accuracy, relevance, etc. Like other broadcasters, we sometimes limit phone-in callers to one on-air call per week, or something along those lines, if we feel its needed. And if we have regular talkback callers, we usually ration their appearances on-air, so they don't dominate on-air debate. We want the on-air debate to be as wide and varied as possible.

Heres what Blades said: We don't play every call from our more loyal callers. We edit many calls for time and content, especially the longer ones... But we are happy to hear from our loyal listeners as they are willing participants in the ongoing debate that is On The Go.

And fair enough. But there are still extended calls that apparently are aired in their entirety, from people who seem to call at least once per week. Perhaps the most frequent such caller these days is Patrick Keating. His last call to CBC Radio that I heard was on June 17. I recorded the call, and offer a transcript below. I missed the first 15 or 20 seconds, in which Keating talks about the heavy media coverage that has been devoted to the Gulf oil disaster.

every other documentary type of show. Im amazed, Im amazed at the amount of born again environmentalists that have come out of the woodwork. Everybody is scourging big oil, as the pastime of the day. Now of all these born again environmentalists, I would say it wasnt too long ago they were driving their Dodge Charger, Barracuda and 69 Mustangs around. Now theyre all holed up in Maine, New Hampshire and the islands off B.C., and all kinds of neat little places with their mortgage free 300,000 - 800,000 dollar summer homes, and all that, flying around the world to all kinds of environmental meetings, scourging anybody thats got anything to do with oil or coal. Ive never seen a story go so out of whack. And nobodys giving anybody credit for what theyre trying to do down there. All these born again environmentalists couldnt even change the air filter on their car, not to mention fixing a problem a kilometer and a half down on the bottom. Theres 11 lives lost too. People forget about that. A platform sank. And itll probably come down to human error. Ive been captain on oil rigs and I can almost make a statement today that when the inquiry is all over, it will come down to human error, compounded maybe by mechanical failure, after mechanics was put under extreme stress. But, uh, anyway (sigh) Im going out now and Im going to use my lawnmower. Ive got to put gas in it, and that came out of a refinery. I dont know if it was BP or not, but Ive got to use my lawnmower to get rid of dandelions today. And I dont have a car, but if I was driving Id be pulling into a gas station tomorrow. Theres no (inaudible) services; no place you can plug into anything in Newfoundland yet thats green. But anyway all the best, on this story. And Id love to see somebody come out with a valid view of all this. At least question - question the amount of trash journalism thats being generated by every talking head, from the north pole to the south pole, on this particular issue, to come up with some alternative to push the government away from hydrocarbons. Thatd be a start. Thanks very much.

I think I can discern Keatings central point here, to wit: Everyone who criticizes the disaster in the Gulf is a hypocrite if they use hydrocarbons, we need to explore and develop alternative energy sources, and the media are missing a fundamental aspect of this story. Fair enough. That's his opinion. And he could have made those points in a minute, easily. But this call went on for close to three minutes. As I said, if even a dozen listeners did that, the show would be overrun.

My purpose here is not to offend Keating. I would expect he has a pretty thick skin and expects to hear contrary views, as one who makes such frequent and outspoken use of the airwaves.

I defend his and everybody elses right to use our public broadcaster as a soapbox.

But if these people cant focus their comments, perhaps CBC should do it for them.

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  • Megan
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    Odd. When I worked for CBC Halifax as an AP for the noon show ten years ago, part of my job was to edit Talkback for broadcast. We definitely got repeat callers, the same guys who called CBC shows all over the Maritimes. Usually they had very little to say, so their comments never made it to the show.

    For the most part, Talkback that's longer than 60 seconds just isn't any good. I wonder how awful the stuff that ISN'T getting to air is!