Tuesday, December 07, 2010

November in Review (Caution: Huge)

Perhaps -- I am not presenting this as an absolute, but perhaps -- that month was not the most productive November I have ever logged on this site.

I'm a busy guy! I don't really have a whole lot to elaborate on, on that point; I have just been a very busy dude. In addition to the term position I am going full-force on -- there are staggeringly few prospects for permanent employment in my field, right now, so I have to make the most of work when I can get it -- I also have four different projects on the fly at the moment. Two of those are rather labour-intensive, one isn't quite in season yet, and one I refuse to go into detail on because I'm convinced that I'll jinx it if I do. But I figure I owe you guys some kind of post, in the meantime, so you don't assume I just took the month off and spent my time on the couch eating cookies and yelling at the television set.

Which is not to say I haven't occasionally looked like a schnook; why, just a couple of weeks back my little brother celebrated his birthday, and the stuff I'd ordered online for him completely failed to show up on time because Canada Post had changed their sorting methods and driven their employees to walkouts. So that, uh... that could have gone better.

I was just as dismayed as he was, if not more so, I assure you -- by which I mean he was not dismayed in the slightest (I threw other presents at him, from trustworthy local vendors, to tide him over in the meantime) whereas I was actively grouchy while I waited both for his items and for something I'd ordered for myself.

I am a big old dork.

Anyway! It's been a month or so since the last post, for which I apologize, and I will do my best to rustle up some content for you folks in short order. Some people around town are doing this, and it seems to be going well for 'em, but I never feel much of an urge to put out daily posts on single subjects for some reason.

(Can you believe the Winnipeg Cat site turns one year old on Thursday? Holy crow.)

So I'd missed out on a few of the stories and goings-on in the past month, and if'n it please the court I'd like to burn through a bunch of them right now and wrap 'em all up into one post. All good? All good.

Firstly, and inevitably:

Obligatory Uptown Column Plug

Uptown Magazine!

My most recent column was here, and it was about as strong an endorsement of the Chris-a-mas season as you're ever going to get out of me.

It's a lot easier now than it used to be, really, the whole seasonal rigmarole. You can track down and purchase presents online (although with the caveat that you should order 'em as early as you can, not to end up a casualty of Canada Post unrest like me), or slip out into the clandestine darkness for the quiet convenience of the Walmarts and Superstores and whatnot that switch to 24-hour shopping around this time of year. You can prerecord your holiday television programming, fast-forward through the wack-ass Christmas commercials that drive people batshit, or bypass the medium entirely because nearly everything is available online now. The ubiquity of lightweight personal music players goes a long way to blotting out the previously inescapable drone of mandatory seasonal jingles, unless you're the kind of undesirable who willingly leaves Jingle Cats in your earbuds all year round. And if your television service provider dares stand between you and your seasonal digital fireplace entertainment, holding hostage your beloved video log (...pun unintended) for the King's ransom of one dollar for charities? You rise up with your fellowminded citizens and YOU SHOUT THAT SHIT DOWN.

(Enjoy your rare moment of Shaw actually recognizing and acknowledging that they have handled customer relations poorly; you will come to understand it as a Christmas miracle.)

Strangely enough, there are actually some choice bargains out there for this time of year; retailers are competing ruthlessly for your skinflint Winnipegger holiday dollars, suits are half-off at Moore's for no immediately apparent reason, and there's always some local shenanigans and goings-on that warrant investigation. I would like to draw your attention in particular at this time to the Celia's Jewellery closing sale, offering (last I checked) 37% off everything still left in the store; this information may or may not be of any use to you, but I figure there is a reasonable chance that someone out there might feel inclined to entertain the prospects of price-reduced jewellery during prime giftgiving season. Hell, some of you might hide some away for birthdays, too. I'm not here to judge.

There's really only the one aspect of the Christmas season (or "holiday season", if you prefer, although that always seems to play out as just "Christmas plus Dreidels") that gets my dander up, one sinister irksome subscript of the festive programming language, and that is -- without question, and almost without exception -- the Christmas music. Boy howdy, the Christmas music.

This may be why I'm so comparatively zen about the season; I do my best to get the majority of my shopping done early enough that I can limit my exposure to the crap they play in the stores. The criminally underplayed exception is Leontovych's Carol of the Bells, which is straight-up badass and always puts me in a worldbeatin' mood, but other than that I have serious trouble thinking of any Christmas songs I legit enjoy. White Christmas? Silent Night? Winter Wonderland? Passssss. O Christmas Tree? Jingle Bells? Jingle Bell Rock? Jesus Christ but the concept of "rock" aged poorly, didn't it just.

No, the Christmas music I am willing to truck with is a short list indeed; Carol of the Bells, Christmas in Hollis, I guess everything in the Grinch special, and maybe Snoopy's Christmas by The Royal Guardsmen. But that's it. The rest of the season I'm various degrees of cool with, but as far as I'm concerned, the less exposure to the music the better.

Hey, speaking of not liking Christmas music:

Curve FM, or: The Surrender Sounds of Sleigh Bells

You may recall another Uptown Magazine column I'd written, some time ago, explaining why the then-new K-ROCK FM would be doomed to bottom-dwelling in its current format. And now it is, although I can't pretend it was a particularly difficult prediction. Still, though -- K-ROCK is actually doing worse than it did as HANK, and HANK was the basement to begin with.

But somehow Q-94 FM looked at this and deci--what? "Curve"? What in the hell is a--okay, somehow "Curve" FM looked at this and decided that this looks like a winning strategy. Cheap canned broadcasts? Overplayed music? No on-air talent save for a token morning show? Genius! Quick, fire some people!

If you're like me, maybe you had this reaction. I am totally exposing my continued childlike naiteve by admitting this, but I actually had this thought go through my mind -- I read the headline about CURVE switching to Christmas music, and I thought to myself, "Oh, good! They can put their employees back on for the holidays."

I had actually thought this. This actually entered my head, the idea that the ownership conglomerate would show its employees the good faith of keeping them paid and working through the Christmas season while the new program director and powers-that-be planned the reorganization. And this lasted at least -- at least! -- ten seconds until I finished reading the news release and realized that, wait, no, wow, what was I thinking. Of course their workers are all still in limbo until at least the New Year. I am obviously not cut out for the intricacies of commercial radio.

Then the news dropped that the station would be switching to an Oldies format, "FAB 94.3", ostensibly to cover the void left when then-Oldies station 1290 CFRW AM switched to an all-sports format back in September. It remains to be seen what their concept of "Oldies" encompasses, but I'll tell you what -- I intend to be right pissed if the new format just happens to overlap substantially with the content already available on the city's non-profit collective nostalgia radio station.

Though, perhaps I'm just being an overly pessimistic sort. Mainstream media outlets would never exert undue pressure on non-profit alternative radio stations to further their own goals, right?


Whither Pegoslavia?, or: How to Start a Great Canadian Shitstorm

Now, yes, I'm aware, I am late to this party. I'd been laying off this topic until I thought I might have it straight in my head, but then every time I thought I had a handle on this thing some other completely ludicrous plot point busted out and I had to start over again.

It isn't particularly difficult to explain why I've been paying close attention to the whole thing; I worked for Red River College as recently as six months ago, my one career appearance on radio thus far was on The Great Canadian Talk Show mere days before it got yanked, and I write a regular column for one of the papers published by the ownership group of the Winnipeg Free Press. Soooo... there's an awkward Venn Diagram.

There's still very little about the whole mess that makes any coherent sense, and the really interesting part is that everybody known or stated to have been involved has come out worse for it. I'll do my best to summarize the whole thing, if you'd missed it, so bear with me here. (I mean, feel free to skip it if you've been paying close attention to the whole shebang; I won't hold it against you if you've felt overexposed to the topic in recent weeks.)

The most notable foreshadowing that something curious was behind the decision-making process came as about a day and a half's worth of complete silence from KICK FM, the Creative Communications program, and the larger Red River College after the news first dropped. Had they been dismissing him and terminating the program on standard or formal grounds -- be it listener complaints, regulator instructions, thorough discourse between stakeholders, what have you -- I guarantee you that they would have taken the time to handle the dismissal properly. Fair warning in advance to program staff and volunteers following the decision, all necessary written complaints and previous disciplinary notices kept filed and properly organized, a press release ahead of time announcing and explaining the restructuring, a series of documents specifically detailing the related decisions as codified and reinforced by existing protocols, and basically everything that you would normally associate with a significant decision by a large organization. Institutions of this size generally -- generally -- do not have the luxury of snap decisions. You're telling me an educational institution that teaches public relations -- and well, I might add -- wouldn't do its due diligence under regular circumstances to make sure it gets ahead of the story and controls the message? C'mon, son.

So given an unopposed head start to speak his piece and establish himself as the sympathetic underdog in this dynamic, Marty Gold -- and you know I love the guy, but his is not a public persona known for nuance -- Marty Gold decided that the best defence is an all-out offence and went with the opening gambit of directing his audience to a Facebook group entitled "Red River College Kills Free Speech on 92.9 Kick FM". Which, though internally consistent with the signature bombast of the Show, may not have been a wise opening salvo in the hearts and minds campaign.

And though well-written, rational people from all political stripes stepped in to provide heartfelt supportive statements, the less measured reactions emerging from other listeners--

"I guess free speech isnt allowed,92 kick fm and there management can go to hell. Marty gold s show was the only show i listened to because he told the truth. So maybe all along rick the boss was a politician butt kisser."

"This reminds me of how the cbc & the libzbollah telecom regulator (CRTC) refused to allow government funding and full t.v. distribution to a new 24hr news station dubbed "Canada North". Apparently they only want us listening to their leftist bs...total bigoted fascists this bunch."

"Gold’s show was canned because his audience was getting too big and he was a consistent critic of the Selinger government and the Establishment/Stalinist “Left” in Manitoba."

--had me gritting my teeth and continually muttering "stop helping stop helping stop helping Jesus Christ stop helping" under my breath. Well-intentioned as I'm sure the comments were, sometimes discretion is the better part of not making everyone slap their foreheads.

Red River College, now with the next move, tried to gloss over the whole thing and hurry along to something else. The KICK FM website waited a day to make a purse-lipped statement about refocusing its student experience (notably for Tristan Field-Jones, who had his student experience hastily shuffled to fill Gold's old time slot) and then retroactively deleted all mention of The Great Canadian Talk Show -- which, even besides the knowledge that no other show experienced similar treatment, is just kind of a dick move. The overall College, meanwhile, wanted to steer the discussion points towards more favourable topics; shortly thereafter, they made a point of announcing the renaming of the Princess Street Campus to the Roblin Campus. It was also highlighted as an initiative of the NDP Throne Speech, which... may not have been the most prudent time to publicly tie NDP decisions to RRC outcomes.

Still, though -- sigh of relief, right? Phew! Good to establish something else for people to talk about, a discussion topic more flattering for the Red River College brand. There's no way that the previous little bit of unpleasantness would resurface and dominate the discussion again, would it? Especially not around the same time, in one of the largest newspapers in the nation. Right?

Boy, would that ever... would that, uh... oh, god damn. What are the odds.

Now, here's where everything starts to get a little silly. (Yes, here. Forget the above, that's just preamble.) The National Post jumps into the story eight days after its original outbreak, and everybody in Winnipeg has to read it online because the Post doesn't actually deliver a daily paper here, making the Post's selection of the story even stranger.

And the online comments section of that article somehow produces this glorious masterpiece of 21st-century literature, which... well:

"theres a very big difference between freedom of speech and freedom of untruths and ignorance in the most vivid form , and a continuos pro right anti left hate mungrering message from a orporate controlled facist radio talk show hosts puppets of the corporate right and protay the real feelings of a conservative ,a me me attitude and the heck with everyone else, and they are harpers mouthpeices accross canada wheres our democracey and they are supporters of private health care and dismantling or privatizing cpp welfare uic social security , and there job is too brain wash people into believing and accepting it ,this aint no scare tactic this is how real torries think i know lots of them .ect ect.we have too boycott the sponsors"

I swear to you that not a single character of that has been altered, and attempting to read it aloud as written makes me laugh despite myself every time.

But, I digress. The really notable part of this story was that Red River College Dean of Business and Applied Arts Graham Thompson chose then to volunteer some new information, unmentioned until then, not even hinted at in any of the College's previous communiqués on the subject:

"'As I understand it, the president did get a communication from the Free Press,' he said, later adding that he believed the communication came from editor Margo Goodhand. 'There were some concerns about Marty having taken shots at the Free Press ... I believe that the concern about the show was voiced by the president to one of our vice-presidents who is on the board.'"

Oh, geez. Great. Good! Let's just... is there anybody else we can cram into this story to further ruin everything? Stuff in the Peak of the Market guy, a couple of rogue Manitoba Hydro workers, maybe get a polar bear in there somewhere too? Just so nobody feels left out.

Goodhand emailed the National Post to deny it had been her contacting the Board, so if we take her at her word -- and I realize I'm veering into logic riddle territory here, but we have to roll with the information we're given -- if Thompson says it was a Free Press member and potentially Goodhand, then Goodhand says it wasn't her but does not rule out other Free Press members, and both are understood to be telling the truth, then... something, something, solve for x. See, this is the problem, we're still left scrawling "NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION, IMPOSSIBLE TO SOLVE" underneath everything for now and hoping the rest of the clues roll along later.

This may or may not be where Marty Gold re-enters the picture, you see. The Great Canadian Talk Show blog has been steadily active since the cancellation, posting up a pair of podcasts and reprinting every bad word written about incoming President Stephanie Forsyth in the last few years or so. (Again, I'm not sure if this is a strategic decision I would have recommended, but I doubt I'd have much success trying to talk anybody out of their chosen courses of action.) There have also been several intimations, then several outright statements, that the real truth is forthcoming and to be unveiled at the special live edition of the Great Canadian Talk Show tomorrow tonight at the Norwood Community Centre.

Tickets are listed as $20, which is... admittedly kind of steep by Winnipeg standards, but if the ChrisD info is right and there are tickets at the door I figure I'll pop in and see the show. Why not, right? Whether or not the big reveal pans out this evening, I'm willing to believe that there are still even stranger details and accusations set to emerge in the days and weeks and months to come.

I'm sure we all have our own ideas about the outcome, but let me tell you the twist ending I want to see. If the whole sordid mess -- the cancellation, the fallout, the schisms, the arguments, the hurt feelings, the whole kit 'n' caboodle -- if the whole affair began as an anarchist comic agitprop prank by funnyman Doug Speirs, I would LOSE MY SHIT. Speirs leaning back on his couch with his pets, eating potato chips, laughing at the world as his diabolical machinations throw the city into chaos? SOLD. Here is my money, spend it as you must to make this world come true.

My original feelings on the whole cancellation fiasco remain unchanged, which is to say that it came out of left field and really shouldn't have gone down the way it did if indeed it should have gone down at all. I'll freely admit that I rarely agreed with all of the content on the Great Canadian Talk Show; I'm not even sure if I agreed with any measurable majority of it. (I haven't missed any sleep over losing Tim Ball off my dial, for example -- although it must be noted that my Uptown column alternates with one by David Suzuki, so I am technically considered The Enemy here.) But the vicious and vitriolic postmortem internet debate over the merits of the show, between two intensely polarized camps of mostly anonymous people with increasingly terrible language skills, is missing the very important point that you aren't supposed to listen to something because you expect to agree with every single point it expresses. Disagree with the presentation, alright, I can respect that; I enjoyed his delivery style, you may not have, and both are reasonable conclusions to draw. But there were a lot, a lot, of issues and opinions coming through that show that would (and do) go completely unrepresented on the airwaves otherwise.

The long and the short of it is -- I don't know how anybody looks at the state of broadcast radio in this city, carefully evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the scene, and then decides "I think we need fewer options."

And for all the discussion and debate around the impact of the incoming President, Forsyth, I think the more critical trick to understanding the origins of this meltdown is considering the impact of the outgoing President. Jeff Zabudsky, who served as the Red River College President for five years, is a former radio host with a degree in Broadcast Journalism; if anybody was capable of weighing the pros and cons of Gold's association with the College, from both the student experience and public relations perspectives, it would have to have been him. So I wouldn't doubt for a second that Zabudsky, who also appeared on The Great Canadian Talk Show during his tenure, played a large role in keeping the Show where it was; for all we know the Free Press editor(s?) may have tried their (alleged) gambit before, any number of times, and happened to luck out this time around by finally getting a different answer from a different person.

Take a second to consider the disparate natures of the main players in this whole unfortunate mess. An educational institution in upheaval, trying to balance its historical working-man connections with its aspirations to higher status; a newspaper of record (albeit for lack of competition) whose editorial board and flagship columnist are very, very, very touchy about any criticism; a radio announcer who'll gladly have you hate him if it means you pay attention to issues at hand, the archetypical wrestling heel who treats everyone well backstage and then goes out to try and incite some riots. Now think about the balancing act it would take for a single person to keep all three of these entities satisfied and on board, on top of working partnerships with other area schools and good relations with all three levels of government. No easy trick, right? But damned if he wasn't pulling it off, and somehow making it look easy on top of that. I can't say I've yet personally met Forsyth, so I can't speak to her operating style or personal magnetism, but if you ever had the opportunity to talk to Zabudsky you know he made a point of being the smoothest and most capable guy in any room. (And if this had broken out on his watch, I suspect he would have had it covered by now.)

This is the crux of my argument, and I want to make sure I express it as accurately as I can: Jeff Zabudsky was our Josip Tito, and his Yugoslavia in his absence is being torn apart by our Balkanized little intellectual subcommunities. So whether it was his leadership style and personal charisma keeping the united whole together, or whether his continued presence was just masking the eventual and inevitable outbreak of hostilities between otherwise incompatible and irreconcilable actors, the new reality is that everything we took for granted under his tenure is now divided into a series of small but distinct piles of rubble.

Not that I need to tell you this as any great surprise, but there ain't no going back to the way things were; those fields between Marty Gold and Red River College are thoroughly and furiously salted. And if there was a particular recent episode or date range of the Great Canadian Talk Show that you'd hoped to copy for posterity... well, I think that can be arranged, but make it quick. (Not knowing how the removal permissions work on that site, I can't guarantee the longevity of these files.)

And where, now, on the physical radio dial are we able to turn for legitimate and insightful discussion of local civic issues and outcomes? Well--let's just leave that question hanging there conspicuously for a while. We can pick that one up later.

A few other things went on during the month, but you and I are probably close to agreeing that this post is running a tad long. So, to close, I'll leave you with some completely unrelated local brilliance:

Unofficial Winnipeg Slogans

So, this happened. It was pretty great.

I had written another column for Uptown, way back in the day -- far back enough that they lost it during the last website redesign, so I really should pay out for webspace and archive all my own material at some point -- at the time when the changeover actually went from "One Great City" to "Heart of the Continent". Weighing the available options, and balancing the city's simultaneous instincts for desperate self-promotion and ruefully honest self-deprecation, the best I could come up with at the time was "Winnipeg: You Have Family Here". (Why else are you here? No, seriously, why else are you here.)

I should have known, however, that my best efforts would easily be outdone -- because this flyer for a recent show at the Royal Albert contains perhaps the most accurate, and certainly the greatest, potential unofficial slogan the city has to offer. The relevant text is at the bottom right, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety for the full effect:

In fact, forget civic slogans entirely -- if I die anytime soon, let it be known that I want "ALSO FEATURING BEER AND YELLING" as the epitath on my tombstone.

I'm not dead yet, though! With any luck I should have better, more substantial content coming down the pike shortly, so watch this space and I'm sure something of interest will emerge. Stay tuned, true believers!


Outlaw said...

A simply terrific read.

L.L. said...

I could handle a month off to eat cookies and yell at the television. Hell, I'd skip the cookies and just watch Maury all day.

Colin said...

+1 for "Also Featuring Beer And Yelling"


Now, to come up with something even *more* down-market for the second biggest city....

The Great Canadian Talk Show said...

I forgot to congratulate you on the shirt, I have pics somewhere of Lars and Buddy wearing the originals.

cshandyman said...

Welcome back and I hope your brothers present finally made it to him.

Ben Century said...

So I'm listening to Fab 94. It's like listening to 92 Citi, but with added intermissions. Heart's Barracuda, Steely Dan's Do it Again, and then.... GORDON LIGHTFOOT!

Their format is supposed to be the 60s and 70s, so Why are they playing The Honeydrippers? That's from 1982!