And then there was one

Michael
Michael Johansen
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The ether is crowded in most of the world, with the AM and FM bands packed with signals from dozens of broadcasters in any given area, but in Labrador - like, as you would expect, in many remote regions - the airwaves are almost empty.

Almost empty, but not completely barren of good choices: Labrador's Inuit audience is ably served by the OKalaKatiget Society, which broadcasts news and music on AM radio and puts together a current affairs television show for APTN; Sheshatshiu and Natuashish each have a radio station run by local staff and volunteers, as do many towns; devout Christians have their own station on the FM dial, while country music fans have a place over on AM. Otherwise the only home for the general listener (and, in fact, the only other choice on the airwaves) is provided by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.


The ether is crowded in most of the world, with the AM and FM bands packed with signals from dozens of broadcasters in any given area, but in Labrador - like, as you would expect, in many remote regions - the airwaves are almost empty.

Almost empty, but not completely barren of good choices: Labrador's Inuit audience is ably served by the OKalaKatiget Society, which broadcasts news and music on AM radio and puts together a current affairs television show for APTN; Sheshatshiu and Natuashish each have a radio station run by local staff and volunteers, as do many towns; devout Christians have their own station on the FM dial, while country music fans have a place over on AM. Otherwise the only home for the general listener (and, in fact, the only other choice on the airwaves) is provided by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Until now at least (and hopefully still into the future) the CBC has been an excellent choice.

Because of it the airwaves have not seemed so empty in Labrador, since just about everything - news, current affairs, weather, sports, new and old music of all styles and all manner of arts and performance - could be found on CBC Radio.

At least it all used to be found there - as well as plenty of local content and local voices. The strength of that choice is now fading steadily away, spoiled by neglect and contempt from the highest levels.

At one time not so long ago - up until the late 1980s, that is - the CBC had a staff of more than 30 people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay alone, with others living and working in western Labrador and all along the coast.

Labrador had its own news broadcast on the radio and its own slot on the provincial supper- hour TV news program. The Labrador reporters never had any trouble filling both, since the region always produces a heavy surplus of news.

Nor did they have any difficulty finding topics for the cultural and current affairs shows that they broadcast daily from and for Labrador - morning, noon and night.

Then started the era of fiscal restraint and the relatively modest golden age of Canadian public broadcasting came to a slow and painful end. Politicians in Ottawa ruled that the CBC was too fat - in fact, over the years they decided it didn't need any flesh at all. Governments (red, blue and a mixture of the two) declared they wanted the taxpayers' money for other things, so they ordered the CBC brass to cut operations and services to the bone.

Now there are only four or five full-time reporters (who must produce stories for both radio and television) for all of Labrador, as well as two hosts and producers and a couple of support staff. It is the definition of a bare-bones operation, but even so it manages to tell many stories that wouldn't otherwise be heard and to help connect the varied and distant parts of the region together.

Now, because government after federal government has failed to fund the CBC up anywhere near the level provided to other public broadcasters (like the BBC) and because the current Lib/Con alliance refuses to loan the CBC the relative pittance it needs to bridge a temporary budget shortfall, the corporation has been left to deal itself another devastating blow - not the coup de grÂce, perhaps, but close.

When the dust settles one reporter and one host will be left to cover all the important news that happens in Labrador and to serve the region in all the other ways a public broadcaster should. It is difficult to see how they can in any way fulfil what will be required and expected of them.

CBC Labrador has already been cut to the quick and scraped clean.

By making the cuts that will take effect this summer the management (carrying out what is obviously the federal government's desire) will be cracking the corporation's bones open and digging out the marrow.

No body could survive an operation like that, but maybe that's the point. Maybe people in Labrador should get used to the public airwaves becoming a little bit emptier.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador

Organizations: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, OKalaKatiget Society, CBC Radio BBC

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Ottawa

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