announcement was characteristically brief. CBC Radio announced that after seventeen years, Barbara Budd's last day as co-host of the long running "As It Happens" would be April 30.
AIH is a Canadian institution. (Full disclosure: I was responsible for AIH when I was M.E. at CBC Radio in the 90s). The program in all its depth and quirkiness is also heard in the US on American Public Media and is hugely popular. When I lived in Washington, DC, heading home late from NPR, I often heard it on a taxi radio. The drivers always explained that it was one of the best ways to hear news from their various and respective homelands.
Barbara, whose voice is distinct, to say the least, and whose humor can be sharp, was often recognized by Somali cabbies in DC as soon as she opened her mouth to say where she wanted to be taken.
The announcement of her departure comes as a shock to many of her friends and fans. Barbara, true to form, was not quite so sanguine. Quoted in the Toronto Globe and Mail, she was gracious but did not disguise her disappointment:
“I would never, never, ever walk away from a show that I still truly love. This is difficult for me,” Ms. Budd said. She paused, then said, “If there is something they see that they want in the program that requires other skills, then I understand that. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not sad to leave.”
This comes as a number of longtime CBC Radio voices are being shifted. Bernie MacNamee was the longtime co-host of the flagship newscast, "The World At Six." He was recently told that he would henceforth play second banana to Alison Smith who came to radio after being CBC TV's Washington correspondent. Peter Armstrong, another CBC television reporter has taken over the main morning newscast on CBC Radio - World Report, replacing Judy Maddren, another longtime radio person. If past is prologue, then Barbara Budd will likely be replaced by another TV "name."
The ostensible reason for Barbara's dismissal is because the CBC says it wants to replace announcers with journalists. But good announcers and good journalists are not mutually exclusive. They may have been at one time, but not of late.
Barbara started out as an actor - and a good one too. She did commercials, voice-overs and other gigs that kept food on the table while she also worked as a reader on the CBC hourly news. When I was her boss, I asked her to choose: commercials or CBC Radio. She made her choice and dropped the lucrative gigs and became an indispensable part of the Radio family.
After seventeen years on the job, Barbara is a journalist, as far as I am concerned. Her co-host on the show is Carol Off has burnished her reputation as a fine journalist and foreign correspondent. But Barbara's past seems to have finally caught up with her and she couldn't shake her non-journalistic rep - at least not enough to satisfy CBC management.
It's easy enough to second guess management (it was done to me enough times) so here's my working theory on what management is thinking:
"Barbara has been around a while (aka, she's older) and more expensive. Radio is a good place to road test some of the younger, up and coming television people. Once they prove themselves, we'll move them back into television news where they can also claim the mantle of radio-ness, thus proving how well "bi-medialism" works."
Two problems with that: 1) It undervalues the willingness and ability of CBC employees to gain new skills and re-invent themselves and indeed, it just reinforces the outdated management view that older employees can't change. 2) It feeds into the notion, already rampant, that CBC Television staff are fungible and that CBC Radio staff are expendable - aka, the junior service, only there to be a training ground to sustain the failing TV side.
Which television "personality" will replace Barbara Budd? Watch this space...