By Frank Moher
Jian Ghomeshi admitted at the top of a recent broadcast of the new CBC Radio arts show “Q” that some listeners were finding it a bit “Torontocentric.” Gosh, what a surprise. The CBC appoints yet another young man from Toronto as host of a program produced from Toronto, and it turns out the young man (and his producers) have a circumscribed view of the nation.
Ghomeshi’s idea of making up for this was to interview Albert Nerenberg, co-director of the satirical documentary Let’s All Hate Toronto. Before he could get to Nerenberg, though, another guest felt compelled to express his pique about the very idea of such a film: “Why would anyone hate a place? What a stupid thing to hate.”
But of course it isn’t the place that the Rest Of Canada hates; it’s the power its citizens wield over the country, for no particular reason other than historical inertia, as well as Toronto’s tendency to elevate mediocrities to national celebrity status. Does Mr. Ghomeshi, for instance, realize that he holds his job not because of his talent or good looks or intellectual aptitude or whatever, but because of where he lives? There are Jian Ghomeshis all over the country; Jian Ghomeshis are common coin. But it’s only the Jian Ghomeshis who live in Toronto who end up hosting national radio and television programs, and — along with the backstage Jians who produce the shows — deciding who’ll end up on the air.
Ghomeshi is one among a number of such recent hires at the CBC, which seems to want to return to the glory days of Front Page Challenge, when Pierre Berton and Gordon Sinclair, fresh from the rooftop bar at the Park Plaza, ruled the broadcasting roost. By way of illustration, consider this abridged litany of CBC hosts, some of them terrific, some of them not, but all of them living in The Right Place:
Anna Maria Tremonti
CBC even parachutes Sook-Yin Lee into Winnipeg to host “Definitely Not the Opera,” because, apparently, there isn’t a single person within vicinity of the Red River competent to host it. Nope, not a one.
By contrast, the list of hosts living elsewhere includes Shelagh Rogers, Katie Malloch, Randy Bachman and a handful of others, which indicates that you may have a show and not live in Toronto if a) you have clout, b) can at least be trusted to play music, or c) are Randy Bachman.
CBC Radio used to be the network you could turn to for programming that was genuinely national — or at least more national than what CBC TV offered. That’s why the radio service is still more popular nation-wide; you have to dig hard to find an enthusiast for CBC TV (which is a bit unfair, as TV has actually made some good strides in decentralizing over the last few years), but CBC Radio has legions of supporters, even in those places that supposedly hate Toronto. Not for long, though, if CBC Radio management continues to treat the network like it’s 1960 all over again.