Montreal Radio Blog

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is the News Depressing?

I try to look at the bright side when preparing my weekly news review, but the news just seems to be terribly bleak most of the time. I guess it's true what they say about no news sometimes being good news. There is just so much negativity and fear and pessimism...

It may seem hard to believe, but bad things have been happening for all of human history. I keep looking back at the week in history and see nothing but wars, floods, earthquakes and plane crashes - just to name a few sad occurrences. We are led to believe by some people in the media that the world has never been worse than it is today, and we are doomed.

We in the "West" who consume all the hype, are pretty well off compared to those who came before us. There were no "good old days" - that is a myth. The only difference now is that the things that were once hidden or never spoken of are out in the open. We seem to have determined after many struggles, what is no longer morally or collectively acceptable behaviour.

The worst message of all is to think that if we somehow turned back the clock and started living like we did 100 years ago, that we would be happier or better off. There is no doubt that the industrial revolution has caused a lot of harm, but without it we would be living in horrible conditions and dying in our 30s. There is a reason a good portion of the world wants to develop into what we’ve got - so that they can escape poverty and misery. The ways and means are an entirely different story. The point is, we are really fortunate to be living in North America in the year 2010 instead of 1810 or even 1910. It is also an example of extreme human arrogance to believe that our collective time on this Earth is meant to be infinite. And I’m not even speaking about religious prophecies...

Another factor that contributes to hysteria is the instant access to misery. Like I mentioned before, history books are filled with natural disasters and tragedy. I'm not talking about interpretive history, but even then we probably weren't as good at collecting accurate facts as we are now. With technology being what it is today, when something happens anywhere in the world, you will likely see it within minutes. Once upon a time, you might not see the images for weeks or even at all. Images are the most powerful communicator, after all.

Or maybe I should just keep looking for a bright side. There may be something to those old Y2K bunkers filled with swine flu vaccine...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Joan of Arc Lives...

I have to admit that I can't remember the last time I went to the theatre, and so I'm not going to pass myself off as an expert... But I'm always ready to try new things - to a point... Last week, I was fortunate enough to be given a chance to attend a theatre premiere in Montreal. I was in the opening night audience for The Second Coming of Joan of Arc at the Freestanding Room in Montreal. The FSR is quite an intimate venue, to put it mildly. If you've never experienced theatre from that kind of proximity, you will certainly find it a new kind of experience.

What impressed me most about this play was that it was a one woman monologue. That meant the actress had to recite about an hour and a half's worth of monologue. With this play, it was also done with practically no distractions whatsoever. The way Caitie Parsons pulled it off flawlessly just made me appreciate even more the incredible poise and ability it takes to pull that off. The fact that she's going to perform the same play in french is all the more amazing.

On television or in film, you never have to remember 90 minutes in a row worth of lines. Even if you did, unless it were being done live (unlikely), you always have a safety net. In live theatre, you have no safety net, and if you are out there alone, you have nobody to play off of who might be able to "save" your mistakes.

For what it's worth, live radio is a bit like that. You make a mistake and you just wish you could turn the clock back 30 seconds and try again. Unfortunately, it's too late. Of course, there are no 90 minute memorized monologues in live radio! I'm hard-pressed to think of anything more challenging than performing that kind of show in front of a live audience. Those with true talent make anything look easy!

I won’t be reviewing the play itself, but I will say that I found the performance to be very intense. When I took film classes at McGill, they thought us that when watching a film, you will almost certainly subconsciously suspend reality, if not only for a split second. For that time, you will believe what you are seeing is real. I know I felt that way subconsciously while watching this performance.

By the way, you can still catch the play in french later this week. I understand the play will then be going on tour.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Expos on the Radio in 1994

When MLB went on strike 16 years ago last week, it left a terrible void for flagship stations. Nowhere could it have been more painful than it was here in Montreal. The Expos were always the underdogs, and they always seemed to fall short. In 1994, for a few months they were the talk of the town, and on top of the baseball world.

On August 12th 1994, CIQC lost something that was sure to be a huge ad revenue generator through September - and probably beyond. Everyone wants to be associated with a winner, and no doubt advertisers would have been willing to pay top dollar for a spot on an Expo broadcast down the stretch in 1994. It's quite amazing considering how less than a decade later, the Expos' value to advertisers would be set at zero. Even on television, ratings were tremendous by the time the strike hit, and there were plans for the first pay-per-view Expos games to be shown in September. It must be added that they never revived the idea of pay-per-view ever again.

So what happened to the Expos' broadcasters when the strike hit? Well, first of all, they were sent down to cover the AAA Ottawa Lynx (now also long departed) franchise for a while. I believe they did the same thing in 1981 with Denver. Only that time, the strike did have an end to it. Sure it's a little intriguing to follow the farm club for a while, but that soon gets old.

After they stopped covering AAA, they did an odd thing. And I can't remember if this came before or after the season was wiped out... Maybe someone else remembers this better than I do... Members of the Expos english broadcast team joined the Jays' voices for a computer simulated World Series. I’m pretty sure the Expos were facing the 1993 Jays. They even added sound effects. It was more than a bit peculiar. Kind of like when they used to recreate ball games a long long time ago, I suppose. The only thing is that these games were never actually played. And in case you were wondering, the Expos won.

Here's another great memory: The NHL locked out it's players prior to the start of the 1994-95 season. In this town, all major sports just ground to a stop for what seemed like an eternity.

Anyway, for those who doubt the greatness of the 1994 Montreal Expos team, just take a look at their roster and at their stats when the strike began. In Montreal's long sports history, never before or since have the words "what could have been" ringed truer...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Brockman Rule...

There’s this funny scene from the Simpsons where Kent Brockman can’t pronounce Kuala Lumpur, so he replaces his script’s text with France instead. It’s just no fun to mangle the English language, and not only the words you may be expected to have trouble with, but the ones that you’d never otherwise have a problem with. From now on, I think I’ll adopt the Brockman rule, and avoid the unpronounceable!

In reality, reading from a prepared text is an art. Ad libbing can be so much easier than having to read something on the air. It makes you appreciate the people who make it seem so seamless. Think back to the old radio announcers who could flawlessly deliver the news in a voice that made you stand up and take notice. Not too long ago, I listened to some vintage radio clips from the long-gone CFOX. The newscasters were impeccable in their perfection. Hopefully, it took them a while to perfect their art, and therefore there is still hope for me…

Practice makes perfect, but I find the absolute worse thing you can do is read the thing over and over again until you get it right. That’s what many of us did at radio school… When you are on live, you’ve got your one shot at getting it right. If that wasn’t bad enough, the podcast will record your mistakes for anyone who was fortunate enough not to have heard you the first time! Another art is the ability to recover from the mistake you might have just made. Still, I find it far more disturbing to make factual errors than grammatical ones. Anyway, that is why they call it a learning experience…

Sunday, August 8, 2010

English Radio Outside of Montreal

It’s no secret that there aren’t too many English-language radio stations in Quebec, especially outside of the Montreal area. Of course, the CBC has a presence - if not at all local, all across the province... Outside of Montreal, there is a community radio station serving Lac Brome - CIDI 99.1 FM. They offer broadcasts in both official languages.

There used to be a few English stations scattered around the province, some of them seem to have done pretty well for themselves. For example, there used to be a decent English-speaking population in Quebec City. It was decent enough to keep a radio station up and running. That is not the case anymore. CFOM 1340 AM was the only English-language station in Quebec City until it closed up shop in 1976. They had been forced to run CBC programming because of the lack of an english CBC station in the area. By the early 1970s, they tried to change their format to attract more listeners, but were forced to stop and go back to the CBC non-commercial stuff by the CRTC. That was the beginning of the end for them. The station had been around since 1949, under several different call letter combinations.

CJMQ 88.9 FM is Bishop’s University’s community radio station. They came on the air in 1995, and can be heard in Sherbrooke and the Eastern Townships.

CKTS 900 AM had been in Sherbrooke since the 1940s. They tried to appeal to more French listeners during the 1980s, but were told by the CRTC that they had to remain a 100% English station. They ended up simulcasting CJAD programming during the final years of their existence. The station was shut down by its new owners in 2006.

There is no doubt that the CRTC frowns at the idea of purely “bilingual” radio stations. That would probably be the only way any English radio could ever possibly be viable outside of Montreal nowadays.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

CRTC Power Is Real

The CRTC has actually revoked a license! This is a pretty rare occurrence for Canada. You hear about a lot of complaints and warnings and fines, but to pull the plug - that doesn’t happen very often. The last time that a station had its license yanked was in 2004, when CHOI in Quebec City was shut down.

The station in question is CHRC in St. Catharines, Ontario. According to the CRTC, their broadcasting of a “third-language” was what did them in. They weren’t mandated to broadcast ethnic programming. It seems they were aiming many of their programs at Toronto’s Italian community. According to CRTC regulations, the station could not accord more than 15% of its program schedule to a third language. CHRC attempted to obtain waivers, but were refused.

CHRC will be forced off the air at the end of August.