Live music broadcasts fall victim to federal cuts

Justin Brake
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Arts community initiates response to news CBC Radio N.L. could lose its recording facilities

Glen Tilley, executive producer of arts and entertainment at CBC Radio Newfoundland and Labrador, says the St. John’s bureau was recently notified its mobile recording unit and Studio F, the two primary means of recording and producing live musical performances within the province, have fallen victim to federal cuts. — Submitted photo

No one was more shocked than Glen Tilley by the federal government’s recent announcement it would cut funding to the CBC and what that would mean to Newfoundland and Labrador.

“After 30 years working inside this area of the CBC it was a kick in the teeth for not only me, but for all of us who work in live music recording,” he says. “It was as sudden a shock to us as it was to everybody in the community. Nobody saw it coming.”  

Tilley, executive producer of arts and entertainment at CBC Radio Newfoundland and Labrador, says the St. John’s bureau was recently notified by senior management at CBC of the impending decommissioning of its mobile recording unit (mobile truck) and Studio F, the two primary means of recording and producing live musical performances within the province for regional and national broadcasts.

Among the other regional CBC bureaus slated to lose recording facilities are Ottawa, Regina, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary.

Tilley says CBC’s recording of live music in the province will likely be reduced by 75 to 80 per cent, which would threaten the continuation of programs such as “The Performance Hour” and “Musicraft,”  which broadcast performances from St. John’s and around the province.

With the mobile truck and Studio F equipment likely to become part of an asset capture, the means by which CBC will record live music remains to be seen.

“Most of the recording would take place in St. John’s because the chances of travelling across the province and picking up festivals on the west coast will just be reduced,” says Tilley.

On Monday, after catching wind of the imminent losses, local musician Duane Andrews started a Facebook group called “Sad Times for Newfoundland and Labrador Music,” which garnered nearly 800 supporters as of Monday evening.

The group is also serving as a forum where musicians and supporters provincewide have initiated a discussion on what the cuts will mean for music and musicians in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The CBC’s mandate is to create culturally relevant music,” says Andrews. “That’s where they do make a difference for most musicians in the province — they will give you an opportunity that I think would be practically impossible to get anywhere else.”

Celebrated Newfoundland guitarist and former Wonderful Grand Band member Sandy Morris, who also served as musical director and producer for CBC Television’s “Land and Sea,” says in addition to the province losing its ability to share its music with the rest of Canada, he is worried about the change in quality and diversity of the content of future broadcasts.

“What concerns me is that, if we lose the means of producing live performances and studio performances by up and coming musicians, what fills the content on CBC Radio shows?

“The reason I tune into them is because there’s so much music happening in the province and there’s  so much diversity of music happening here.”

While job losses and the future of regional programming are still enshrouded in a cloud of uncertainty, Tilley says the most drastic consequence of the cuts will be the “loss of a regional voice, both reflecting the region to itself, which is part of the CBC mandate, and reflecting this region to the rest of the country.”

Decision far-reaching

In addition to the obvious immediate effects of CBC’s loss of its recording facilities are others, for both the artists and the province.

“I know a couple years ago music was the second or third largest industry economically in the province,” says Andrews, “so it even makes a lot of sense on a financial level to be supporting the arts.”

Musician Jean Hewson, a longtime volunteer with the Folk Arts Society and a former organizer of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, says the cuts will have far-reaching, negative effects on the province’s music festivals and the artistic community as a whole.

“It’s about the whole thing,” she says. “I’m quite astonished. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that they intend to do this.

“The whole idea that none of these events, none of these musical moments will be recorded, and what that means for Folk Night and the Folk Festival and all of the other festivals and events around the island — it’s horrifying.”

But a groundswell of opposition similar to that in the Pairies, where there’s significant public outcry over the impending loss of the CBC recording facilities in Saskat-chewan and Manitoba, is building here in the province.

St. John’s musicians Rozalind MacPhail and Mark Wilson are working to initiate a petition to the federal government, and MusicNL president David Chafe is organizing a news conference at 10 a.m. on May 15 at Memorial University’s D.F. Cook Recital Hall.

The event will aim to “involve as many arts organizations as possible uniting with one voice to express our feelings with respect to the drawdown of live music recording services at CBC NL and its impact on performing artists,” Chafe wrote in a post to Andrews’ Facebook group.

“At least now we’ve got some solid momentum going with the awareness of what’s happening,” says Andrews. “The next question is, what can we actually do?”

In 1990 “Land and Sea” host Bill Kelly led a campaign to reinstate the popular television show, which was put on the chopping block in another series of cuts to the CBC’s budget.

Morris is optimistic that with enough support, the reinstatement of CBC’s recording facilities could become a possibility.

“I think we have to be loud, ‘I want my CBC,’” he says. “I think we have to make it known, we have to be public, strongly vocal and just let people know this is not right, not good enough, and we’re not going to take it.

“I think the whole general tone of cuts to the arts is a big mistake. I mean, the arts is us, the arts is people. It’s a reflection of our lives and our times — it’s just who we are,” he continues.

“When you take that away then you become totalitarian. All the most repressive regimes in the world have tried to stifle the arts.”

“The loss of regional voice both within the province and to the nation is something that everybody should be concerned about,” says Tilley. “It’’s a climate that the Conservatives have created in this country.”

Organizations: CBC Radio, Newfoundland and Labrador Music, Folk Arts Society Conservatives

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa, Regina Winnipeg Edmonton Canada Saskat Manitoba

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Recent comments

  • janet davis
    May 17, 2012 - 13:23

    you can sign the petition at my studio...

  • Kaliyan
    May 08, 2012 - 18:25

    @John,... You are so wrong in everything you've said that its not even funny

  • karen
    May 08, 2012 - 09:26

    funding cuts to cbc harper dismantling them now

  • Edie Hippern
    May 07, 2012 - 13:10

    @John We Canadians are in a unique position in the world in that we live next to a media behemoth which floods our airwaves with their mindless drivel and lowlife culture. We are a small country population-wise but large in land mass and to counter this onslaught we need a focused and vibrant broadcaster that can help us to maintain our much better identity. The only other country even remotely like ours is New Zealand and they feel about Aussies much the same as we feel about American culture. Overwhelmed. We do not need another commercial broadcaster pandering to the lowest common denominator and ignoring our Canadian values. We need the CBC in ways you cannot fathom. I, for one, am deeply distressed at this news and the raping of the CBC by a government that lied to us by promising no cuts.

  • Justin Brake
    May 04, 2012 - 13:31

    Mr. West, thanks for your feedback. I spoke with Denise Wilson, managing director for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, to follow up on your question, 'Why was live music determined to be disposable rather than other activities within the CBC(?)' In a nutshell, the decision to decommission the mobile truck and studio was made at the network level and we don't have the precise rationale in terms of weighing the pros and cons of live music recordings versus other possible things to cut. Here's what Ms. Wilson said:   “Based on the amount of the budget cuts, there were tough decisions to be made and one of those decisions was to cut  in the music area. The decision on decommissioning of facilities was made by the network level within CBC. “It really comes down to tough choices, choices that nobody wants to make.  If it wasn't music, it would be other regional programs.  It gets to the point where you don't have many options in terms of what you cut.” She also disclosed that the NL mobile truck is being decommissioned at the end of May and the studio "a little later than that" -- but the exact date is unknown.

  • true north
    May 02, 2012 - 19:06

    way to go john.. eliminate the CBC and we can all listen and watch American TV and American values which at most times have "lack" of values, certainly not Newfoundland or Canadian values, not even world values, just American values. we have someone in the highest office in the land who seems to have your values john or should i say "american values". when we become the 51st state will we celebrate the 1st of July and 4th of July or just the 4th of July? remove your hat, put your right hand over your heart and sing " star spangled banner"

  • Mainlander
    May 02, 2012 - 15:19

    I'd much rather my tax dollars go to the CBC, not bank bailouts, subsidies for big oil & tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. Wonder how Canadians would answer if they were given these 3 choices?

  • susan
    May 02, 2012 - 12:43

    They are planning to sell off the very equipment that allows them to make quality recordings in studio and in the feild - at the NL Folk Festival & Writers at Woody Point incl concerts & live recordings like from the LSPU Hall & Ship Inn that have been broadcast & rebroadcast nationally. Without the quality equipment & engineers, they just won't have the ability to record this impt aspect of NL arts & music. This is not just school choirs an classical & for that matter, we have a wonderful music school here - who do wonderful classical and other style recordings. The Performance Hr & Musicraft shows also talk with the artists & there is a wonderful interview component that blends seamlessly with the music. + CBC has a way of bringing wonderful new artists to the forefront - that's where I first hear of artists who I later check out in a live performance. & they don't forget well established artists either. Halifax is not close enough to NL & doesn't have the same culture - they can't represent us in live music. Look at what we lost when CBC TV Studio was cut - Wonderful Grand Band Series, Pigeon Inlet & before my time All Around the Circle. I pray live TV recording will be again done here - & CBC please keep live radio arts and music recording from NL - so many people learn of us through are wonderful vibrant arts culture. Our culture is very special & I'd like to see even more from around the island thr CBC.

  • Susan
    May 02, 2012 - 11:25

    I support & love live music recordings by CBC - music really is an important part of our culture & the new culture being made by many wonderful musicians. I am a regular listener to the Performance Hr & MusicCraft & they have captured wonderful performances that really represent us. Their sound recording is superb and they are a real asset to the CBC. They also give people throughout NL - an idea of what people are doing in other parts of the province. It has been fab that people could tune in from anywhere on the internet & hear live music. For goodness sake, CBC don't cut this tremendous part of our province - & an important record that people will/ should have access to for generations to learn what it was like in NL before their time.

  • Lionel West
    May 02, 2012 - 11:24

    It is correct "live" music recordings will be reduced but let's be clear here. It was not the Conservatives who told CBC what cuts to make. The CBC made this decision! The government reduced the CBC's budget, but CBC, in its infinite wisdom, decided how to apply the cuts. They chose, in part, to reduce live music recordings. As for the loss of a regional voice, that is yet to be determined. There is no reason why CBC NL can not retain the two regional programmes they have - Performance Hour and Musicraft - and play the CDs of NL artists. The artists who will most likely suffer the most from this reduction in live music will be from the classical community and "amateur musicians" such as school children and choirs who have not released CDs. Of the recordings that will be made, CBC NL will have to be very selective and ensure "regional reflection" is achieved. While I do not agree with the CBC's decision to reduce live music (and cut radio drama), it doesn't mean that here in NL the musicians can not be heard on CBC Radio. I don't know if the the author of this piece approached CBC management for comments but it certainly would have been interesting to have their reasonings for why live music was determined to be disposable rather than other activities within the CBC.

  • Michael
    May 02, 2012 - 11:16

    To the comment by John: I think you have misunderstood what "public broadcasting" means. The entire point is that there are some things that are worthwhile and important to civilization but that may not be commercially viable on their own. You know, to offer a slight bit of resistance in the race to the bottom.

  • redrantingtory
    May 02, 2012 - 10:00

    This what you get when you have a far right government in power who's only concern is the almighty dollar. They are stripping Canada of it's arts, culture and distinct identity. This far right Republican style government is against anything that smells of liberal ideas. We will soon be just like the USA. CBC is one of the things that makes us Canadian . It is giving our people a chance to make their own art, TV programs, music etc, rather than have the garbage pumped in from the USA. If we loose the CBC then we loose some of what sets us apart. I hope there is something left after this Awful RIGHT WING Prime minister and his cronies are through. Somehow I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that this government as only started to implement it's far right ideals of a small Republican style government where survival of the fittest rules the day. Lets hope that Canadians see fit to turf this bunch of bums out on their butts the next election and send a message that Far right ideals don't belong in this country.

  • John
    May 02, 2012 - 09:27

    CBC has been living off the public purse for decades. If they can't make it on their own like private media, fire the head shed and get somebody who knows how to make money like private media does. It's time that somebody took them to task. The next budget should give them 3-5 years to start making their own money with profits turned over to the federal general coffers. CBC is never known for high ratings because they cater to a very small segment of society. If they want CBC, let their segment of society pay for CBC.