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The day the music died

CBC Radio 2 is kicking classical music off primetime in an effort to woo younger audiences

Significant programming changes at CBC Radio 2 have fuelled conflict between the national broadcaster and some of its most loyal listeners.

The ongoing controversy swirls around the January 17 announcement that the CBC will expand Radio 2 programming to include more jazz and “light pop.”

The station had previously been devoted to broadcasting primarily classical music, including a considerable amount by contemporary Canadian artists and composers. As part of the programming change, this content will be cut back.

Notable cancellations include the popular Studio Sparks and Jurgen Gothe’s long-running Disc Drive.

Since the announcement, a considerable online movement has formed to protest the new programming.

Peter McGillivray is a professional opera singer and lifelong CBC Radio listener. He is also the creator of the Facebook group “Save Classical Music on the CBC,” which has swelled to a membership of over 7,000 since mid-January.

McGillivray said that many of the members of his campaign rely on Radio 2 for access to classical music.

“They come from Calgary, Winnipeg, cities and rural areas where there is no alternative for classical music broadcasts. Even in Toronto, Radio 2 broadcasts the highest quality of classical music,” he said.

The fact that the CBC is the single source for classical music on FM radio in these areas has led some to claim that the CBC is abandoning its commitment to listeners.

CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay disputed these charges.

“The mythology out there is that we’re removing classical music from the schedule, which is categorically untrue. Classical music is going to remain the predominant genre on Radio 2,” he said.

“Five hours in the day on weekdays are going to remain classical programming.”

McGillivray, however, said that it wasn’t the amount of classical music that concerned listeners, but rather the time at which it will now be broadcast.

“They’ve taken classical music out of the time when people actually listen to it. It’s not going to be accessible. Who can listen to the radio from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week?” he asked.

Keay defended the changes by painting them as a necessary component of the CBC’s overall attempt to woo a younger audience.

“Our audience on Radio 2 skews toward an older crowd, sort of the 60 and up range. What we’re looking to do is to preserve that audience and also to expand into a younger crowd, by which I mean people in their thirties.”

McGillivray said that the existence of his group belies this perspective.

“We want them to consider that their basic assumptions are wrong, that there are young people, the ‘Facebook people,’ that listen to classical music.”

McGillivray said that his group planned to up the ante on their campaign in coming weeks.

“We’re now trying to figure out what the next step is going to be. It may involve taking out an ad in The Globe and Mail, or arranging demonstrations in front of CBC buildings.”

According to Keay, however, their efforts may be in vain.

“While it’s true that there are people who are objecting to what we’re doing, we’re quite comfortable that we’ve done our research and that [the new programs] are changes for the good.”

Visit or go to 93.5 FM to listen to CBC Radio 2’s current programming.