Radio Canada Irrational

Radio Canada International is, essentially, dead.

The last broadcasts of the service on shortwave ended Sunday night. (You can listen to some of the final transmissions here and here.) Its budget has been cut by 80%, its Portuguese and Russian services are gone, two thirds of its staff has been let go, and the huge transmission site in Sackville, N.B., sits unused, to be sold or torn down eventually.

The video above is Marc Montgomery, host of the daily program The Link, at the end of its final broadcast on Friday. As you can see, he gets quite emotional at the end, explaining why cutting RCI is a mistake.

While most Canadians have probably never heard of it, RCI isn’t for them. As Montgomery explains, the shortwave service in particular is capable of reaching people who don’t have Internet access or whose Internet access is blocked or filtered. With an online-only service, third-world countries that restrict foreign media online won’t have access to it.

Does that matter? Do people in third-world countries really listen to RCI in the first place? Maybe not. Maybe RCI has outlived its usefulness, and its shortwave service was mostly just a hobby for lonely ham-radio types who like to tune up noisy distant stations broadcasting in single-sideband AM. In that case, it might as well be shut down completely.

I’ve seen enough media outlets go online-only as a result of budget cuts to know that complete shutdown of RCI is, at this point, inevitable. Few people will listen to it because it’s harder to access and has so little original programming, and that will be used as justification down the line to pull the plug completely.

Many people have been trying in vain to find some way to keep RCI going. Sympathetic stories have been written about their demise. Politicians have been conscripted into the cause. A rule mandating a shortwave service has been found and subsequently eliminated by the government. A protest has been organized¬†with a few people showing up. Attempts are being made (unsuccessfully) to have the federal government set RCI’s funding aside from the rest of the CBC. The RCI Action Committee, started the last time the CBC tried to gut the service, is actively pushing these activities and chronicling with regret the dismantling of the service on Twitter.

But they’re all in vain. The damage is done. Any groundswell of public support will eventually fade. People will forget. The CBC isn’t going to go back on its decision and the government isn’t going to force them to. The latter will point out that it sets the parliamentary appropriation and leaves the details on how to spend it to the public broadcaster. The former will point out that its budget situation has forced it to make difficult decisions and that things like local news and current affairs programming matter more to average Canadians than an international shortwave service.

So while it’s nice to hear that RCI won’t disappear quietly, the best we can do is honour the service and regret that it’s now gone. CKUT’s International Radio Report, which aired Montgomery’s signoff in its entirety, itself got emotional talking about RCI’s shutdown on Sunday (MP3).

The CBC News Network program Connect and CBC Radio program Dispatches also aired their final episodes this week. The final episode of Connect is here, with a retrospective starting at the 36-minute mark. The final episode of Dispatches is here.

7 thoughts on “Radio Canada Irrational

  1. Bill Lee

    RCI was useful to me.

    The French services was better than the patch-cord work of the English section.

    There is no Canadian news outside of Canada.

    There is no internet in many places, or one is travelling too much to stop.

    Consulates and embassies (of Canada) are few and far between and only have month old news bulletins.

    RCI was current, targetted and shared relay transmitters around the world.

    When I was in a revolution in a country in Asia, all local media shut down. Streets were rioting and everyone, even locals, turned to shortwave to get the local news and world reaction and action, or in Canada’s case inaction.

    BBC would issue bulletins to Commonwealth Citizens to assemble at IEWI@3@ for flights out. Ah, Erh. Then?
    RCI told us what the action entailed.

    Radio Australia broadcast reports from their embassies and consulates. Canada was mute on the ground.

    As John Tusa, head of the BBC World Service, said in his book “A World in your ear” you never know when you will need it for internal and external use, or in which language would be useful. [Talking about Thatcher’s closing of BBC Spanish to South America before the Falklands war broke out. Oy! They put something back up but they had lost the long term trust built up by the BBC Spanish which was regarded as neutral, unbiased and open.

    Technically, shortwave is easier to send over long distances and overseas, and doesn’t need line of sight or easily blocked satellites as TV does.

    A sad day. And many in the future when “Why don’t we….broadcast to them.” will be met with a shake of the head.

    1. David Pinto

      Bill Lee says:
      Consulates and embassies … only have month old news bulletins.
      At one time, CP offered a special circuit — I believe it was the E wire — reserved for the diplomatic service. I remember reading material from it when I was in London, England in 1986 or 1988, and dropped in at the embassy or a branch of same.

  2. Marc

    As I said in another post, this type of move re. the budget cuts wasn’t necessary. But that’s how it’s being spun. CBC has far too many chiefs, not enough indians.

  3. Konger

    The budget cuts aren’t needed, unless of course you live in the real world.

    Truth is, the Fed’s over spend by billions every year. Canada has some of the highest taxes in the G8, and yet we still spend more than we take in. Quebec is worse, living on the generosity of equalization payments.

    RCI is a dinosaur concept, one who’s target market is shrinking, but who’s costs are not. It’s the perfect place to cut waste.

    CBC overall is a disaster, a sink hole for money.

    I think that you need to accept here that technology and the times have overtaken the need for a shortwave service. The potential market and the need shrink every year as more and more countries get online, get modern phone systems, and become part of the information age. Sinking cash into keeping RCI running is like putting money into keeping buggy whip makers in business. The time of the horse drawn buggy is gone.

  4. Keith Perron

    When I hear Canadian’s say shortwave is an outdated technology. Africa, Latin America, most parts of South East Asia accept for Singapore, East Asia accept for South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan, the Pacific accept for New Zealand there is no need for shortwave. Why didn’t I mention Australia? The ABC use shortwave for domestic broadcasts. These areas account for a very very small number, when you look at the number of places where shortwave is important. At 38cents a Canadian it’s money well spent.
    I have spent more than 10 years in Asia in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong Singapore. In China international broadcasting services like RCI are listened to more than you may think. I find it very ignorant when I hear Canadians say shortwave is an outdated technology. They have no idea when it’s like for someone living in an area where there is censorship and the internet is blocked. Morons!
    People say shortwave sounds bad. This is total BS. When the engineering is done right it sounds just as good as any local MV station. This notion that is only DXERS that listen is also BS. DXERS as far as I’m concern were part of the problem when SW started to go down. The people that do listen either can’t afford to send a letter, have no access to the internet and can not write. In 2011 when i was in Kenya I spent a week 100km from the Capitol and met some of our listeners. 10 people sharing a radio just to hear our one hour targeting East Africa. Some of them make less than 1 dollar a week, sending a letter to us would cost 2 weeks wage.
    If SW had no future PCJ would not be in the process of building our own relay station. We are doing it because the audience is huge and in needs of current affairs and entertainment content.

  5. Sheila O'Kane

    I haven’t forgotten. Marc Montgomery remains my #1 favourite broadcaster, and “The Link” remains my #1 favourite CBC program… ahead of even Gzowski’s “This Country in the Morning” and later “Morningside” and Michael Enright’s “The Sunday Edition” (which program has also just, shockingly, been reduced from 3 to 2 hours).

    To where has Marc Montgomery gone? I have searched the Internet and have not yet found where he now is.



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