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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Challenge for Shad and the CBC

Shad - New CBC Host
Much is being made of Shadrack Kabango, aka Shad, a 32 year old rap artist who is now the replacement host on the CBC pop culture and chat show "Q." And he's obviously talented too.

Mainly a radio program, Q is also on television and on more than 150 public radio stations in the US. It's done reasonably well, considering that the show airs at 10 am when most of its sought-after target audience may not quite be paying attention...It's not the highest rated show on CBC Radio but it does well in that time slot.

Despite its relatively small audience, Q has developed a cult following in the media. That it has an overwhelming media presence is due to the over-large profile of the previous, now disgraced host, Jian Ghomeshi, charged with seven counts of sexual assault and one charge of "overcoming resistance - choking." His trial begins in two weeks on March 27.

The CBC has placed a lot of emotional and corporate investment in Shad, not only to continue the success of Q, but to put the embarrassment of Ghomeshi behind it. Gone and forgotten, must be the fervent wishes of management.

Shad is Rwandan born, Canadian raised and from the fulsome accolades of an overwrought CBC publicity machine, the next great national treasure. A combination of Glenn Gould, Maurice Richard and Marshall McLuhan doing rap and hip hop...

If the expectations are huge, it's hardly Shad's fault. The CBC has been increasingly desperate to demonstrate its relevance to an audience and to the government of the day that keeps funding it, albeit begrudgingly.

The problem at the CBC is that despite every effort, like other broadcasters, the TV ratings continue to shrink.

Its flagship news program "The National with Peter Mansbridge" consistently runs third after CTV and Global. In the weekly listings for most the 30 most-watched television shows in Canada, (the vast majority are American) the CBC is conspicuously absent. Canadian shows that do make it to that list include CTV's local supperhour newscasts which have larger local audiences than does CBC's "The National." *

Meanwhile there is CBC Radio, which has proven to be a pillar of popularity and growth on this shifting media San Andreas faultline.

While CBC TV has less than a 5 share of the national TV audience, CBC Radio is up to a 15 share and growing.

And now with Shad on Q, the CBC is doubling down that this is a possible bright spot that will work for both Radio and TV.

But will it? Making a successful radio program is neither an art nor a science. It's most alchemy, in my experience.

You need a host with potential, some terrific ideas, a few great producers and a willingness to tell management to bugger off. Mix well and assess in six months.

My worry is that CBC's obsession with television values (aka, celebrity culture and ratings) will make the program sound just wrong on the radio. And CBC Radio's powerful uniculture - as good as it can be - can also act as a gag on creativity, creating a kind of blandifying, public broadcasting porridge that will make Q sound like, well...like just another CBC Radio program.

And that would be the worst outcome of all.

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* thanks to Barry Kiefl for pointing out the distinction.

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