The CBC as a “cultural conduit connecting our coasts”? That’s so 1986!
May 20, 2010 2 Comments
It was a debate that divided the community, pitting Winnipegger against Winnipegger. The newspapers covered every development, radio talk shows took passionate calls from both sides, and even U.S. television stations sent reporters to Winnipeg so that their viewers could find out what all the fuss was about.
It was the great North Dakota vs. Detroit debate of ’86.
It all started when Videon, the cable company that then served the western half of Winnipeg, proposed dumping the four North Dakota TV stations it carried — PBS affiliate Prairie Public TV, CBS affiliate KXJB, ABC affiliate WDAZ and NBC affiliate KTHI — and replacing them with four stations via satellite from Detroit.
The pro-Detroit camp in Winnipeg argued that Videon’s plan would mean better picture quality — no more problems with the U.S. network stations becoming barely watchable every time a blizzard or thunderstorm crossed Interstate 29 — along with more movies, more sports and 24-hour programming. The pro-North Dakota camp argued that we were cutting our ties to our peaceful Red River Valley neighbours and threatening to corrupt our youth with Detroit’s “if it bleeds, it leads” newscasts.
In March 1986, a compromise was announced: the weaker Fargo NBC and CBS signals would be replaced by the Detroit equivalents, while the stronger Grand Forks ABC and PBS signals would stay put, government regulators decreed.
It was an eventful year in local broadcasting. In the midst of the North Dakota vs. Detroit debate, Winnipeggers were also investing in rabbit-ears antennas in hope of picking up Star Trek re-runs and Madd Frank’s Saturday night horror movies following KNRR-TV’s Jan. 1, 1986 launch from Pembina, N.D. And in May, Winnipeggers weighed in on whether or not the unassigned channel 13 licence should be awarded to a Portage-based commercial station called CPLP-TV (renamed 13 MTN before it launched the following October) or a Winnipeg-based educational station called Manitoba Public Television (which obviously never made it to air).
It was also the first full year in operation for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, an interest group formed the previous year in opposition to the Mulroney government’s funding cuts to the CBC.
“How you can fight back to restore the CBC to its former glory,” reads one of their fundraising letters. “The CBC is a cultural conduit connecting our coasts, carrying thousands of expressions of our diverse national heritage each year — as important to our country as the St. Lawrence Seaway, the national railways and the Trans-Canada Highway.”
This quaint, flowery prose certainly sounds like something that might have been written in 1986. It actually wasn’t written all that long ago — it just arrived today, a six-page essay labeled “Exposed — Stephen Harper’s secret plan to destroy the CBC”.
Coincidentally, this missive arrived on the same day as an announcement which could have a far more profound effect on Canadian broadcasting than the $200 million CBC funding cut, CBC Radio 2 format changes and the pre-emption of Marketplace in favour of Jeopardy!, among other things the Friends essay bemoans.
The CBC’s Mrs. Brady — a cultural conduit since 1957
This far more important announcement? Yes, Google is getting into the TV business.
Not as a broadcaster or producer, of course, but as a search engine that will allow users to “look through live programs, DVR recordings and the Web, delivering a relatively compact list of results that can be accessed with a push of the button,” according to Reuters.
The real test of the technology will be this fall, when Sony will introduce a line of Internet TVs and Logitech International launches an adaptor that will bridge the gap between the Internet and existing high-definition TVs.
Internet TV is already a reality in some ways. If you can tolerate the small screen, you can watch Michael Moore’s latest movie online for free, glamorous people reading the evening news from Paris or even the first few minutes of the Feb. 24, 1992 edition of The National.
This, however, is a mere preview of what’s to come when a wireless router in your home will allow you to bypass the traditional broadcasters, cable operators and regulators — when you’ll be able to access Google through your TV set to find the programs you want to watch, or set your alarm clock radio to wake up to a nearly commercial-free online radio station like France’s Live 9.
It’s a change that could turn the Canadian broadcasting industry on its head — and call the very existence of the CBC into question, given that its mandate is rooted in an era when its programming was one of just a handful of options on radio and television.
Funny that the Friends’ fundraising letter doesn’t mention that, opting instead for prose about the CBC as a “cultural conduit connecting our coasts” that sounds as dated as the ’86 North Dakota vs. Detroit debate and the aging, weather-worn Channel 12 antennas still pointed toward Pembina.