🕔Jan 29, 2009

I first listened to CBC in the womb, I think. Like many stay-at-home mothers, mine was addicted to the dulcet, chronic-smoker’s rumble of Peter Gzowski’s voice. When I was four, I remember the theme song to ‘This Country in the Morning’ coming on just as my mother’s hand started flapping, ushering us out of the kitchen, away to the family room and the CBC TV mainstay, ‘The Friendly Giant.’

For a long time, radio belonged to my parents. I listened to tapes and then cd’s of my own chosen music. I thought I’d be bored if I actually tuned in and heard what the voices on “my parents” station were yammering about. But then I got a job in the bush, and I learned what the loggers and camp cooks and long-haul truckers know: that things are happening on the CBC that are interesting and immediately relevant to almost all of us.

First introduction
It was my brother who got me hooked. In the summer of 1994. I covered his days off at Paarens Beach Provincial Park on Stuart Lake, maintaining sites, collecting fees and generally taking care of the park. He said, “Jill, you should take the portable radio with you on rounds. There’s a program on at two I think you’ll like.” I doubted it, but I packed along the radio anyway—and that’s when I met Bill Richardson and his nutty ‘Round-up’: a mix of crazy music, Canadian and classic, wild guests from across the country, and a reverence for all types of literature. I heard Ella Fitzgerald for the first time on his program. I learned that what they call ‘nanaimo bars’ here are known as ‘miracle bars’ in New Brunswick. I understood that at any time of day there are people who share my country looking to connect, to discover and to reinforce our culture.
CBC Radio 1 saw me through cleaning outhouses, driving cross-country, into university and out the other side. It has always been a place to make a closer friend: “Hey, did you hear that thing on the radio?” It has seen me across the province of BC too many times to count, and I have lost the frequency and freaked out far too often to mention.

My favourite programs have come and gone; some, like ‘Richardson’s Roundup,’ are gone for good, and some have lost their appeal due to my changing interests or changes in the program. In my twenties I couldn’t bear Michael Enright’s officious manner, but now, in my thirties, I look forward to Sunday morning because I’ve discovered that behind the slightly pompous voice is a man truly enamoured of the things that humans come up with and the great things they get up to. I was delighted by his series on appreciating poetry mostly because he admitted he knew nothing about it; because of his humility his words rang true.

There is an art to radio that amazes me. The North’s own Betsy Trumpener is an excellent radio documentary-maker. She has a knack for getting people to tell their own stories with their passion streaking through, and that’s rare. There are also documentaries that fall flat despite exceptional execution. But like Enright, Trumpener’s curiosity is great, and that makes for good radio.

Connected by radio
In northern BC we rely on the radio to keep us connected locally, through our morning shows and through public announcements broadcast across the top half of the province. We also depend on weather reports to warn us of the wind or sleet or storms coming our way. At the same time, the provincial broadcasts show us a reflection of ourselves, at once humbling and inspiring.

Once, on the provincial afternoon show, after a list of accidents and delays on the highways and bridges around metro Vancouver, a man called in from Endako. He said we should watch out for cows on the highway outside of Burns Lake, but aside from them it was smooth sailing as far as the highway reached. I loved that the lower mainland caught a glimpse of some of the goodness up here; I pictured that beautiful country outside of Fraser Lake, where the swans fly low, and if your timing is right, the evening light shines off the lakes on either side of the road.

The CBC takes us unexpected places, like golfing in Pangnirtung and moose-hunting in northern Ontario. But it also takes us home, reinforcing our convictions that home is a good place to be.
I have a confession to make here: my taste in programming is undergoing a surprising shift these days. I have usually favoured arts shows with a smattering of music, and little forays into politics and science. For a long time ‘Sounds like Canada’ with Shelagh Rogers fit the bill. Now that it’s been replaced with Jian Ghomeshi’s ‘Q’, a show just about the arts, you’d think I’d be happier than ever. Recently, though, I’ve been visiting the dark side: I’ve been listening to Radio 2. I know!—Cover your ears! But bear with me and I’ll take you down the road that I’ve been traveling.

Classical barnyard
Radio 2 has traditionally been for chickens and milk cows. I would guess that their highest ratings are due entirely to the dairy and poultry industries in Canada. My dad, a veterinarian, explained it to me when I was little and staggering after him with a bucket of chicken feed on our way to the henhouse: chickens lay better listening to classical music. Cows give more milk to the strains of Stravinski than they do to Nine Inch Nails. Canadian animals, it seems, are a discerning bunch. But what I usually did best, listening to Radio 2, was fall asleep—or drown out the noise of bickering children.

These days, however, Radio 2 has me and my demographic in its cross-hairs. They recently revamped their programming and offer two stellar music programs at prime times of day: ‘Radio 2 Morning’ with Tom Allen, from 6 to 10 am, and ‘Radio 2 Drive’ with Rich Terfry, from 3 to 6 pm. We’re a one-car family and it is during these times I’m grateful that we can all mellow out when we go to pick up Dad, listening to good music and clever commentary. Radio 2 has reeled me in and has me hooked—and I’m not complaining!

CBC radio continues to offer me stimulation and comfort, and it also represents a line of continuity in my life. Last December I visited my oldest friend in the hospital after she had had her first baby. Outside, the snow was falling and the roads were awful, but inside her room it was warm and dry. I teared up looking at her and her husband and their new daughter. The CBC played softly in the background: ‘Vinyl Tap,’ with Randy Bachman.

“I love this program,” her husband said, and I held the tiny baby and felt like a hen on a nest. The baby was just starting her journey, and CBC, ever ubiquitous, was there as a soundtrack…just like it’s there for her mum, my mum, me, and all of us, on the highway or in our kitchens, all across the country.