It is Thursday afternoon, and Ian Brown has a deadline to meet. For Brown, the affable host of CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning, deadlines are a good thing. They keep him focused on his job, preparing and hosting a three-hour weekly radio program, rather than thinking about the future. And Brown has ample reason to be worried. Last week, CBC executives announced plans to scrap Sunday Morning and its weekday counterpart, Morningside, hosted by Peter Gzowski, who is leaving the program at the end of the current season. The network intends to replace the two flagship programs next fall with one new show that will run every day but Saturday in their 9 a.m. to noon time slot. “It could have been a lot worse,” said Brown. “There could have been a lot of blood on the floor.”
At least some blood will flow eventually. Last week’s announcement put to rest many of the worst-case scenarios that have swirled around the two programs in the past few months—ever since 62-year-old Gzowski divulged his plans to leave Morningside and the network announced a 28-per-cent cut to the CBC Radio budget. But the lack of detail only created new concerns about management objectives and job security, since the Morningside and Sunday Morning staffs—a total of 30 people—will be merged and pared down. The one source of consolation was the appointment of 44-year-old producer Ira Basen, who has spent 12 years at CBC Radio and created the widely acclaimed sports program The Inside Track, to oversee
the development of the new morning show. “Ira came down and talked to our people,” Gzowski said. “My feeling is it cheered them up. At least something is beginning to be built instead of being torn apart.”
Still, big questions remain about the shape of the new program, the hosts and the staff. Gzowski himself declined to say whether he would be involved. “I would like to have some role in the schedule,” he said,
“but no one has been able to figure out what it should be. It’s all in flux.” Alex Frame, director of programming for English radio, said that Basen agreed only early last week to take on his new assignment. Beyond making that critical appointment, CBC executives say that they may require one host for weekdays and one for Sundays. They may also opt for several hosts to handle different segments of the daily show or different days of the week. But CBC Radio executives will decide on hosts only after the format and content are settled. “We have to figure out an appropriate way of doing this program with the resources left after the cuts,” says Frame. “Rationalization of resources is one way of addressing the problem. Now, it’s up to the programmers and managers to come up with a design that will be effective.”
But many Morningside and Sunday Morn-
Beleaguered CBC Radio plans to merge two top shows
ing staffers were wondering whether they would be around to help develop a successor to their shows. “Not everyone with the two shows will end up with the new one,” said a producer with the Sunday program, who asked not to be named. “Inevitably, some people will lose their jobs and nobody knows who those people will be.” One Morningside veteran said that after listening to Basen for about 45 minutes she felt relieved that “the kind of show we were doing is not going to be trashed.” Nevertheless, the ongoing uncertainty has left her nervous. “It’s a weird environment,” she said. “People would like to get excited, but it’s hard to get excited about something when you won’t know for months whether you’ll be part of it.”
Those lingering anxieties may make life much more difficult for Basen, who says that his first task will be to spend several weeks talking to staff about the new program. “My job will be to bring a lot of people into the circle,” he noted, “and to get ideas from people currently working on the programs, from people in the radio service and from people outside the organization.” Basen, currently senior producer of the science show Quirks & Quarks, has had a varied career at CBC, including three stints as a producer at Sunday Morning. ‘To me, of all the media, radio is the most challenging because you have to create something out of words and sounds,” he said, adding, “I love a challenge, and this is a biggie.”
For one thing, Basen must produce a high-quality show with less money, and fewer resources. And his new hosts will inevitably operate, temporarily at least, in the shadow of Gzowski, who in 15 years at Morningside became one of the most revered figures in Canadian broadcasting. The program’s current executive producer, Gloria Bishop, who is leaving at the end of the current season, said that redesigning the show is both wise and necessary because any successor would inevitably have been compared to Gzowski, and suffered for it. “The alternative was to do the program we do now with someone else,” she said. “And Peter carries material in ways other people just can’t. The situation demands change.” But change, accompanied by budget cuts and downsizing, is bound to create anxiety—and, in the radically downsizing public broadcaster, casualties.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.