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Radio Review: The CBC Summer Waves Review 2006 Part 1

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Well, it's that time again.  Since 2004 The UR Blog/URBMN has reviewed CBC Radio summer programming to the delight of…well, probably no one.  Longtime readers of mine, though, may have noticed how late I am in writing about the subject this year.  Simply put, I'm just not as interested in this summer's programming as in previous summers.  I've accepted that CBC Radio One's tastes just don't jibe with mine, which is a shame as the network really is trying to improve itself lately.

This year there are at least two shows on the CBCR1 schedule (The Contrarians, So, You Think You're Funny?) that sound truly interesting, but the CBC in general walks a fine line between the interesting and the inept.  I don't care who's on Freestyle – the format sucks and the show is just not good.  The One was an abject failure for both CBC and ABC, but at least George Stroumboulopoulos' career remains intact.  Why is the CBC even airing kaiju films, anyway?  Wouldn't it make more sense to air Godzilla films on an unaffiliated local channel, Drive-In Classics or CityTV?  Don't even get me started on CBC's increased reliance on Hockey Night in Canada – TSN has been picking at CBC Sports for some time and without Hockey Night in Canada CBC Sports would be crippled beyond repair, but how about trying to improve Hockey Night in Canada instead of relying on it to stand for the entire sports division?  Does anyone actually care about the Satellite Hot Stove?

It's hard to be a CBC fan.  Hardcore fans will criticize the CBC when it tries to escape its niche, and whenever the network fails vehement critics will regularly take a strip off it for being a government-funded white elephant.  Maybe the problem really is with management.  The CBC hasn't convinced me otherwise lately.  How can that network rely so much on George Stroumboulopoulos as a ratings draw?  The network is so incomprehensively weird in its programming strategies.

Socket
Season: first
Airs: Wednesday: 11:30 – noon/Saturday: 4:00 – 4:30 pm
How Radio One sells it: 'Socket is a new show about the hottest new art makers in Canada. Whether it's painters, sound and performance artists or the kids down the block who are re-making what we think of as art, Angela Antle will plug you into their innovative ideas.'

I despise this show with a passion.  The idea is good, but the execution…man, there's nothing worse than hearing a story about an artist whose oeuvre revolves around Billy Bob Thornton and another story about an artist studying panties.  I know I'm not listening to Socket too objectively, but the show comes across as a half-hour wankfest.  If Socket's objective is to sell the listenership on the artist as down-to-earth and irreverent, it has failed.  Worse yet, Socket reaffirms the stereotype of postmodern artists as fairly unconvincing, self-insulated liars.  Maybe the show isn't as bad as I feel it is – this episode at least sounds interesting – but it's hard not to qualify my loathing for this show.  Maybe it's because I'm helping build a house right now, but why do I need another reminder of the disconnect between my philosophy and CBC Radio One's?  As soon as this show comes on, I change the channel to Classical 96.3 and never look back.

It's nice that Definitely Not the Opera is cut down to a manageable two hours right now, but this isn't much of a replacement for it.

Simply Seán
Season: second
Airs: Saturday: 10:00 – 11:00 am
How Radio One sells it: 'One of our most popular hosts from last summer is back. Seán Cullen returns with more Saturday morning music and antics. His friends will drop by, he'll play great tunes, he'll offer summer survival tips and espouse his love for Canadian cheeses.'

I'll give Simply Seán (is the accent a riff on The Colbert Report, by the way? Just wondering) credit, the show's format is actually turning into something more than Seán Cullen playing stuff he likes.  There's a man-on-the-street segment and Cullen's periodically talking to his on-air staff is a plus.  If there's one thing that bothers me about Simply Seán, it's the way Seán Cullen links between songs.  He'll play, just to give an example, The Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense and Peppermints" and then go on about hippies taking the lyrics seriously.  That's great, Cullen, you're doing your stream-of-consciousness schtick on radio.  Now stop doing it so much.  At least he wins points for making fun of The Rheostatics' bizarre song titles.

Without Cullen Simply Seán would be indistinguishable from any other music-oriented show on CBC Radio One.  Cullen's carrying this format, to be sure, but he seems to be enjoying himself more this year and Simply Seán is strong enough as a show to do well on CBC Radio One's fall schedule.  Still, Seán, playing The Strawberry Alarm Clock and not mentioning the Dick Clark-produced film that the band will forever be known for contributing to (1968's Psych-Out)?  C'mon!  Warren's freakin' out at the gallery!

Subcultures
Season: first
Airs: Thursday: 9:30 – 10:00 am
How Radio One sells it: 'Immerse yourself in the lifestyles of a growing number of people who find meaning in their lives by belonging to a subculture. From boxcar riders to crypto-zoologists, you'll experience new ways to make human connections in a rapidly changing world with host and long-time subculture observer Hal Niedzviecki.'

To be honest, I thought this show was The Contrarians when I first heard it.  The Contrarians and Subcultures do share the same overall concept of highlighting the obscure, although The Contrarians seems to me like the infinitely better execution of said concept.  I'm not a Hal Niedzviecki fan – for some reason, I just can't take seriously a man who rewrote Charlotte's Web in fanzine style, no matter his other accomplishments – and the only episode of Subcultures I heard was about furries.

Subcultures was infinitely more objective in covering the nature of furry fandom than whatever MTV shits out about the subject, but the Internet has really killed the shock value of people who are obsessed about humanoid animals to a large degree.  There's a huge difference between people who like drawing humanoid animals and the perversity of much of the furry community.  Frankly, the subject of furries bothers me to the extent that I can't review Subcultures fairly at this point.  I don't like Hal Niedzviecki's lack of radio presence, but's all I can say about Subcultures right now aside from the show being surprisingly dull. (no rating)

So, You Think You're Funny?
Season: first
Airs: Thursday: 11:30 – noon/Friday: 7:30 – 8:00 pm
How Radio One sells it: '"So, You Think You're Funny?" Wanna prove it? Belly up to the bar this summer with host Walter Rinaldi as he travels the country looking for new and emerging comedy talent. So, You Think You're Funny? is a barroom variety show featuring stand up, musical comedy, sketch troupes, and anyone else who has "the goods" to get on stage and make Canada laugh.'

Not a bad outing for this show, actually.  As a comedy show, it's above-average by CBC standards simply due to the fact that the comics covered on the show are fairly obscure and different from Russell Peters gurning on about his ethnicity.  Walter Rinaldi is amiable enough as host, and So, You Think You're Funny? wisely keeps him in the background while highlighting local comedians and sketch troupes.  The show isn't Comics!, of course, but So, You Think You're Funny? is decent listening even when the comedians are as funny as leukemia.  So, You Think You're Funny? is a simple idea, but sometimes the simple ideas work and it's always nice to hear an "emerging talent" show on CBC Radio One that doesn't have Lorne Elliott's name attached to it.

As If
Season: first
Airs: Monday: 11:30 – noon
How Radio One sells it: 'John Lagimodiere is a man on a mission. He's a charismatic Métis journalist based in Saskatoon and he'll spend the summer exploding myths, crushing stereotypes and shattering assumptions about life in this country. Think you've got it all figured out? As If! John will show you what his Canada is really like.'

Isn't this show High Definition with a different host and concept?  It sure sounds like High Definition with a less engaging host (although John Lagimodiere isn't bad, just that Don McKellar's better) and Big Questions About Life as opposed to just Television.  High Definition having been yanked off the Radio One schedule rather suddenly earlier this year, As If seems like a weaker redux of the show.  It's good that the Everything You Know Is Wrong concept is being used here, but the show I heard sounded like a bad episode of HBO's Comedy Showcase with all that talk about sex and Getting Some.  Maybe I just heard a bad show.  Perhaps CBC Radio One is already ripping off its own recent concepts.  As If is better than listening to Shelagh Rogers, though, so that's something going for it.

Will I do another one of these posts in the future?  As Tim McCarver said at the end of Not-So-Great Moments in Sports Take 3, "we'll see."  Not that Larry Merchant came out with a third sequel to his Not-So-Great Moments in Sports series, but that's his problem, not mine.

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