Montreal Radio Blog

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Remembering Neil McKenty

Neil McKenty was probably the most popular English-language talk show host in Montreal radio history. Whatever you might have thought about his opinions or the way he dealt with callers, the fact is that his legacy is still evident over a quarter of a century after he left the radio business. It was definitely personality-driven radio, as was the case with many of his Montreal contemporaries of the time. There were no e-mails to read and no text messages - it was talk radio in its purest form and it was highly entertaining.

My recollections of the content of McKenty’s “Exchange” are limited, but my memories of his voice are rock solid. When I was young, like in so many other households, the radio dial was set in stone. I was introduced to the medium of radio by hearing the voices of George Balcan, Ted Blackman, Gord Sinclair and Neil McKenty. I can't recall what they were talking about during the early 80s, but I remember their voices as if it were just yesterday. As I got older, I learned that there were other frequencies on the dial and I discovered some great stuff on differing stations local and far away.


Someone who is old enough to remember McKenty’s program told me that at first his tolerance for a caller’s dissenting opinion was pretty limited. It seems that stance mellowed a bit later on however, especially with his online presence. That person also recounted a story of a particular program in the early 1980s where the seal hunt was the topic of the day. Mr. McKenty was aparently very much against it. In the hunt's defence, one caller pointed out that for some native peoples, seal meat was also used for food. McKenty responded that he’d have to try some of that “flipper” meat… Then there was the time a young girl called up and used what McKenty seemed to think were very “big” adult words. He asked her where she had learned them. “From listening to you” was her response.

Neil McKenty hosted a TV talk show for a brief period in the late 1980s, but then seemed to leave broadcasting for good. From then on, he expressed his opinion in print. Less than a year ago, I discovered his relatively new blog entitled - what else - “Exchange”. It was clear that despite being in his late 80s, McKenty had overwhelmingly accepted and embraced the new digital age.

Neil McKenty was another Montreal radio figure who had a lasting influence on others. His passing is another reminder of a time in local radio that has come and gone and can never be repeated.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Radio Musings: Texts, talk shows and RCI

Call me old-fashioned, but every time I tune into a radio talk show and hear what seems to be half the program devoted to reading text messages and e-mails, it irks me. The radio talk show was traditionally the only truly interactive medium before the Internet. The tradition is spoiled when someone spends half their time reading comments instead of engaging callers. The conversation between host/guests/callers is what always made radio call-in shows entertaining. The radio talk show as we know it is unfortunately gone forever, replaced with a phone/text/email hybrid monster.

It’s even worse on television, which was never designed to be interactive in the first place. They have too fallen into the Twitter/Facebook trap that has already dumbed down many a newscast with segments devoted to reading tweets and comments. All this is being done to make TV seem like a natural extension of the online world. It isn’t and never will be. You cannot have a two-way conversation between one side and hundreds of thousands or even millions of others. It is difficult enough to have a meaningful, coherent discussion with large groups of people when it is entirely done online.

As for the RCI saga, most of their employees recently found out they will soon lose their jobs. On June 26th, just a few days before Canada Day, Radio Canada International - a broadcaster that reaches far more people than the CBC brass will admit to or even care to know about - will be silenced. The historic Sackville transmitter will be shut down and a “new” RCI will launch as a web-based service.

This decision is wrong on so many levels, particularly because even the budget they had before the 80% cuts was very meager even by CBC standards. CBC brass and supporters like to make a big deal about how important the Corporation is for the country as a national institution. Therefore, it is strange that they would decide to cut the one department that actually fulfills the role of displaying Canada and its news and culture to people who would never otherwise know anything about it. But here lies the problem, the CBC itself. It is a public institution that behaves as if it were a private one. This is not new. They don’t believe in transparency, even when the Feds dare to touch their budget.

It seems funny how within mere days of the announcement of the government’s budget cuts, the CBC already had a list of its cuts prepared. Strange that they seemed to be able to prepare such a detailed list in a matter of a few days… More likely, CBC brass had their chopping block prepared and were waiting for the right pretext to assign blame elsewhere…

The only thing that can save RCI now is direct government intervention, ideally removing it from CBC clutches. It probably won‘t happen though, since there is no political will to save something most Canadians don’t know anything about. Foreign pressure has done little to save international services elsewhere because there is seemingly no money to be made in shortwave. It may seem that way, but the promotional value of having a service like RCI is far greater than governments seem to realize. Furthermore, the vast majority of people who will lose access next month do not have the Internet available to them. For them, Canada will just simply no longer be heard, period.