The CBC, especially radio, for me – is air. Not simply “on the air.” It is for my mind what air is for my body. It is what keeps Canada sensitive to human kindness and cooperation. It brings quality broadcasting to isolated communities in the far north of our vast and sparsely populated country – something that would never happen if it had to make a profit. It is as important an organ to Canada as the heart is to any human.
I can’t remember whether I listened to CBC radio much while growing up in Lachine, Québec, near Montreal. CJAD was a private station that my parents listened to primarily. My aunt, Helen, worked for CJAD. As a teenager I listened to the hit parade mostly on CKGM. Ray Charles was my favorite. CBC television, in French and English, was the only source of TV when we first bought our TV in about 1954. Later we installed an outside antenna that enabled us to pick up a TV station in Burlington, Vermont that covered NFL football – the Giants and the Packers mostly. At 20 years old I was apolitical, but impressed by and supportive of the civil rights movement in the U.S. – and a fan of JFK. That constituted my political makeup while I attended university, studying Catholic philosophy and theology in addition to my major in Chemistry at Loyola College from 1961 to 1965.
Out of wanderlust as much as a desire to help make the world a better place, in 1965 I went to Trinidad to teach with Canadian University Service Overseas. There I listened to Toronto win its last Stanley Cup on CBC short wave in 1967 while renting a beach house with fellow CUSO teachers near Mayaro. I was grateful then for the CBC, if not for the outcome of the game. Montreal was on the losing side of that one. Trinidad taught me how little consumerism mattered to happiness. Travel throughout South America made me aware of poverty as a burgeoning world issue.
In 1968 I was inspired by Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who, in my opinion, was the last Canadian prime minister that considered the economy as less than the god to be served rather than something created by humans to be managed for human betterment – and subservient also to the planet that sustains us and all sentient beings. For PET, people, ideas and justice were more important than private money.
From 1968 to 1972 public broadcasting and a generous supply of well written newspapers were life lines for my wife and me while she studied nursing in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England and I worked as a chemist in the wallcoverings industry. We owned a small transistor radio and listened to BBC Radio One as our only entertainment during our time there. It was in England that I developed a love for well written newspapers and intellectually stimulating radio: drama, brilliant word game programs like “Just A Minute” and BBC world news. It was during this time that I became politically aware in any serious sense, and learned to write well.
Since returning to Toronto, Canada in 1972 I have listened to CBC radio almost entirely. Not having to please powerful corporate sponsors or make a profit, it is less biased in favour of corporate masters than privately owned media. Much of my political and philosophical education is owed to its excellent radio programming: Ideas, Tapestry, Writers and Company, Morningside, and Metro Morning – when really smart people like Andy Barrie used to host it. As It Happens and Cross Country Checkup are also programs I enjoy listening to, and I subscribe to several CBC podcasts.
I hope I’ve explained why CBC is air for me. I invite your thoughtful comments on why the CBC is important, or unimportant, for you.