Beloved Canadian institution reflects on turning 75

Victoria’s CBC station invites listeners to birthday bash

Peter Huchinson, producer and station manager of local favourite On the Island, welcomes change.

Victoria’s CBC station invites listeners to birthday bash

Families don’t hover around the radio anymore, quietly holding their breath after supper like they did in the ’30s. They don’t hurry through chores to squish together on the sofa and flick on the black-and-white television like they did in the ’50s. Today, we browse our computers alone at night, scan through our iPods at the bus stop, or tune into our Android phones during workout sessions. Yet so many have been listening to the very same thing through nearly four generations: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

On Nov. 2, the CBC will turn 75 years old. But this grandparent media mogul is more than just a fossil of our communication history — it’s become the evolving beast, taking over from the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission in 1936, and turning into a medium that’s seen more drastic changes in the last five years than ever before.

“For all we’ve seen over the span of CBC, the greatest changes have come with the massive increase of the digital online component,” says Peter Huchinson, producer and station manager of local favourite On the Island. “We no longer think, ‘Is this a TV story, or a radio story?’ We’re thinking, ‘How do we do this?’ And we’re no longer considered a ‘broadcasting station.’ We’re a ‘media distributing organization’ — anytime, anywhere, any way you can access what you want from CBC.”

To celebrate 75 years of that change, and to show exactly how radio, television and online programming is broadcast into the palms of more than 34 million Canadians, CBC locations across the country will invite listeners — and viewers, and internet junkies — to join birthday teams for an open house this Saturday, Oct. 1.

The CBC Radio Vancouver Island Station will open its doors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Pandora office (1025 Pandora), and will team up with LifeCycles to offer events that include a chance to record a station ID, meet hosts Gregor Craigie, Jo-Ann Roberts, Shelagh Rogers and more, sample the judging of staff-baked apple pies, learn how to make apple muffins and win a few hard-to-come-by CBC prizes.

When it comes to the real prizes of CBC though, fans, including Hutchinson, can remember the impact the corporation has had in their lives — from the time the CBC decided to Canadianize content in the 1970s, to implementing digital editing software in the last decade. Hutchinson’s own journey started in 1980, after arriving in Canada from working with the BBC in Nottingham, England.

“I can remember it was a boiling hot day, and I had a terrible head cold. I had just arrived in Montreal, and there was all this excitement and nationalist stuff all around me, and I had to go lie down,” says Hutchinson. “I turned on the radio to the only English-speaking station I could find. It was the CBC, and I was hearing this story about an incredible young man who was running across the country on one leg — Terry Fox.”

Hutchinson started working for the CBC in 1982 as an associate producer, and has worked with On the Island for 10 years now. In a tribute to the birthday, the show has been airing one piece of archival material each episode, from a ’30s clip on Cadborosaurus, to the mayor and school children welcoming royalty to Victoria in ’51, to the Canadian-Russian hockey tournament in ’72.

With all the history, it seems like it would be easy to see an increase — or decrease — in the quality of journalism, but Hutchinson says that’s comparing apples to oranges.

“I’ve listened to some dreadful archival clips that would never make the cut today, but we were all living in a different culture back then,” he says. “Many of those mistakes have become the touchstones for policies set out to make things better, so we have come a long way — but still, we’re always improving. It’s more useful to look at the energy and efforts put in to do it right. The standards of journalism are probably better than they’ve ever been.”

While the CBC has been hit with funding threats from the government and challenges in its distribution form, Hutchinson says it will always be the listeners who decide what’s best for the corporation.

“We have a mandate handed down by parliament not for fun or just to make money, but because the people of Canada have asked for it. That’s a weighty responsibility,” he says. “Do we know where we will be in 75 years? If someone asked the broadcasters in 1936, I doubt they would have known what to say either … Of course, the world will always want storytellers; that’s been true since cave days. It’s just hard to predict the form.” M

For a look at special historic archives, and to learn more about the last 75 years at CBC, check out cbc.ca/75.

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