Live music broadcasts fall victim to federal cuts

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

Published on May 2, 2012
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.”