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CBC starting with ‘clean slate’ as Q relaunches under Tom Power

Tom Power, new incoming host of CBC Radio's Q, interviews musician Sam Roberts in Toronto on Oct. 19, 2016.

jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

It would be tempting, as CBC Radio's flagship arts and entertainment show Q takes yet another shot at relaunching next Monday with new host Tom Power, to focus on what is missing from the mix rather than on what is present: No Jian Ghomeshi, the ignominious original host who hasn't been seen in public since his second trial for sexual assault was called off last May after he signed a peace bond; no Shad, the collegial rapper-turned-broadcaster who debuted to high hopes in April, 2015, but then limped along for 16 months before getting the vaudeville hook last August; no full-throttle two-hour live relaunch at the Glenn Gould Theatre in front of hundreds of invited guests, featuring appearances by Tanya Tagaq, Chilly Gonzalez, Marc Maron and a white-man rap by Peter "P. Manny" Mansbridge.

Also gone? The theme song penned by the musician Bahamas which was unveiled at that April, 2015, relaunch; a raft of regular contributors; and just about all of the show's standing features, including both the pop culture and sports panels.

Many of the behind-the-scenes crew have left, too: About two-thirds of the show's current staff of 18 were hired only within the past two months, after CBC summarily announced Shad was out in favour of Power.

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Still, focusing on what is gone may mean overlooking the intriguing process of reinvention that is underway.

"We started with a clean slate," explains Jennifer Moroz, the show's new executive producer, who comes to Q after well-respected stints at both The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos and CBC Radio's The Current. Sitting in her second-floor office at CBC's Canadian Broadcasting Centre on Front Street earlier this week, she adds: "It's not a new show, but it is a new show."

"We have a new host who's very different from the other two hosts in the last 10 years. We have an opportunity to build something – not only to [Power's] strengths, but we really have a chance to play with the format a bit. Which, after 10 years, frankly – regardless of what was going to happen – is time to do it."

Power, 29, is a St. John's born-and-bred folk musician (he still plays with his Newfoundland-based band, The Dardanelles, though he has lived in Toronto since 2012) who has been a charismatic presence on CBC's airwaves for the past eight years, first as host of Deep Roots and, since 2011, as host of Radio 2 Morning.

He was on the short list of prospective hosts when Shad got the nod, but may have been lucky that he wasn't tapped for Q's first post-Ghomeshi iteration, given the pressure at the time for the show to prove it could regain its footing so quickly after the crisis. Now, with the audience bottoming out, there is nowhere to go but up: The show's average-minute audience last June was 168,000, down 28 per cent from two years earlier; only about 120 U.S. stations carry Q, down from a high of about 180.

Within the CBC bureaucracy, responsibility for the new-new Q has been moved from the Talk department to Music, reflecting a desire for a tighter focus on arts and entertainment rather than the broader notion of "culture," Moroz says. The overall sound of the show will be "more musical," with greater effort put into creating a distinctive sound that will stand out on the radio dial.

While she doesn't want to single out any particular influences on the new sound, Moroz acknowledges that slickly produced podcasts such as NPR's Invisibilia and RadioLab, as well as CBC's Out in the Open, hosted by Piya Chattopadhyay, are kindred spirits.

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And while the long-form interviews that were mainstays of Q since the beginning aren't going away, there will be fewer.

"You know how sometimes you have talk programs that are blocks of interviews – and some of them are terrific, but that's not what we're going for here. We want layered use of sound throughout the show, so that sonically it really does jump out."

Still, she hopes Q will be able to react to breaking arts stories as they unfold. "In a live daily show, everything can't be really highly produced. But, to the extent possible, I'd like to sort of marry those two worlds, and bring in the layer of sound and production that you hear on those weekly podcasts that have high, high production values."

The goal is to produce a show that is both accessible to casual listeners and still meaningful to hard-core fans of the artists who appear. Moroz says that, when the new staff conducted a "blue sky" brainstorming session last month, "one of the terms we came up with is, we want to be like an inclusive record store clerk."

While she's speaking, Power pops into Moroz's office for a few minutes, on his way up to the studio to record an interview with members of the Sam Roberts Band, which will air in the first couple of weeks. He admits he's not an expert in all of the subjects Q will cover, but then, he's only the face of a large team behind the scenes.

"I felt some insecurity about my knowledge on certain things, walking into the show," he says. "But I've surrounded myself with real experts here. The level of expertise on this show, in various forms, in various genres, is really remarkable. Creativity as well." His job, he says, is to "ask questions that people will want to have answered: 'Why does this matter to me? And what's the humanity behind it? Why should I feel something and why should I listen to it? And why should I read it?' "

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Moroz and Power head up to the studio, a secondary space that is normally used by CBC Music's First Play Live recording series, with better acoustics than Studio Q. From now on, this is where they'll do many of the interviews with musicians who come in to perform.

Power is in his element here, a quick-witted charmer who has an easy rapport with the guests. As the band plays, he stands off to the side of the studio, nodding his head in time to the music while glancing at the pages of prepared notes he holds in front of his chest, looking like a cross between an earnest undergrad debater and a boy-genius record producer. Every so often, a producer in the control room speaks into Power's headset, and the host nods almost imperceptibly.

In between tunes, Power probes the band's leader Sam Roberts on the development of the new album, and the need for an artist to keep evolving; it sounds as if Power could be thinking about Q itself.

After three songs, it's time to wrap up the segment. "Sam, I had such a great time talking to you," Power says.

Roberts replies: "Same here. Good luck with this – the next chapter for you."

"Yeah, Shelagh Rogers does The Next Chapter," Power quips, and the control room dissolves in laughter.

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More


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