CBC Radio – Precursor to Internet Communities of Practice

When I was in graduate school I wrote a paper on educational radio programming on the CBC during the 1930’s and 1940’s. I wish that I had kept that paper, as the achievements of early radio have similarities with the current proliferation of communities on the Internet. Two of the more popular programmes on early CBC radio were the Citizens’ Forum and the Farm Radio Forum [search CBC archives for “farm radio forum” and “national citizens forum” – without quotation marks in search query].

“Farm Forum innovations included a regional report-back system, whereby group conclusions were collected centrally and broadcast regularly across Canada, occasionally being sent to appropriate governments. In addition, discussion – leading to self-help – resulted in diverse community ‘action projects’ such as co-operatives, new forums and folk schools. Farm and community leaders claimed that the give-and-take of these discussions provided useful training for later public life. In 1952, UNESCO commissioned research into Farm Forum techniques. Its report was published in 1954, and consequently India, Ghana and France began using Canadian Farm Forum models in their programs.”

Radio is a one-way medium but innovations such as programme guides by mail one week in advance, local discussion groups and national feedback on individual responses kept people actively involved. Imagine a group of farmers gathering at a neighbour’s house, bringing food for a communal supper, and then discussing issues of great social relevance,  like the possibility of medicare. This was real public radio, not just commercial-free airwaves. Today, the CBC produces programmes such as Cross-Country Checkup and the Radio Noon Phone-In for similar purposes.

Therefore, after more than 30 days of the CBC lock-out, I feel that it’s time to speak up. The locked-out employees have been doing an excellent job without pay at CBC Unplugged. The problem is that the legacy of the CBC in community-building is being undermined by years of inconsistent government financing and what appears to be misguided CBC management. I blame the politicians, the bureaucrats and management; in that order. A nation of our size and diversity needs a strong public broadcaster. I really appreciated the CBC when I was serving with the Armed Forces in Europe, and I’m sure that our troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere could do with some good programming from Canada. So please get off your butts and get the CBC back on the air, for all our sakes.

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