Monday, September 29, 2008

Media: Thumbs Down on "The Point"

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The radio industry already has quite a few "point"s. On public radio in the US, there's the "On Point" talk show with Tom Ashbrook from WBUR in Boston, the news show "To The Point" with Warren Olney out of KCRW in Santa Monica, and more locally "The Point" regional affairs show with Mindy Todd on WCAI/WNAN in Massachusetts' Cape and Islands, all of which I can attest are quality programs. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a "Points North" regional afternoon program in northern Ontario out of Sudbury. A little searching also revealed the Australia Broadcasting Corporation's "Talking Point" portion of its morning show, a whole network of Adult Album Alternative music stations known as "The Point" in Vermont, and a smattering of other music stations (usually Adult Album Alternative in format) called "The Point" all over the United States.

So, calling a program "The Point" hardly seems original. Unfortunately, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's new afternoon public affairs program that debuted today, "The Point", is indeed hardly original itself.

While "The Point" is taking the afternoon slot "after your local noon show" (which means 2 pm just about everywhere except Newfoundland, where it airs at 2:30 pm, and Winnipeg, where it airs at 1 pm), it isn't really replacing the former occupant of that slot "Q", the arts, entertainment, and culture program. Itself a relatively new program not much more than a year old, "Q" has moved to the mornings, taking the place of the variety show "Sounds Like Canada". In a very real sense, "The Point" is actually replacing "Sounds Like Canada".

In one sense, the CBC made a good decision by making that time move. The mornings were once the radio home of Peter Gzowski's legendary "Morningside" show from 1982 to 1997. "Sounds Like Canada" host Shelagh Rogers had played a significant role on "Morningside" and her show could never get away from a comparison between the two in which it would inevitably suffer. "Morningside" had a different charter than "Sounds Like Canada" as there was no lead-in from "The Current" with hard news. "Sounds Like Canada" couldn't win. "Q" is such a drastically different show that I expect few to get worked up by comparisons with the past.

"The Point" would seem to have a chance in a fresh time slot. Public affairs programs in the afternoon can work well, witness National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" (which airs in the afternoon in most of the country) and KUOW's "The Conversation".

Yet, if the first show is indicative of what is to come on "The Point," I won't be listening. The production values and fast pacing were somewhat reminiscent of "Spark" or even the now-defunct "Fair Game", indicating an attempt to attracting a younger-leaning audience. Most of the first hour involved host Aamer Haleem talking to "Point People" or one-day guests with something to say on current affairs ("great Canadian conversationalists" according to the show's web site). At least today, Haleem and "Point People" Tasha Khereiddin and Naheed Nenshi didn't offer any insight that couldn't be found on run-of-the-mill commercial talk radio. I kept waiting for them to offer something I hadn't thought of before, and it never came.

Oddly, the show still includes music, which won't win over the talking heads-crowd, but not enough of it to bring back the old "Freestyle" listeners. It also includes various side conversations, the most notable of which on this day was "Search Engine" podcast host Jesse Brown describing a substantially off-the-radar but interesting happening in the video game realm.

My number one criteria for deciding whether to listen to a given show is "Did I learn something?" I can't think of a single thing that I did learn, except during Jesse Brown's segment (which I could have gotten more efficiently from the "Search Engine" podcast). So, I don't anticipate making this show a part of my regular listening habits. There's too much worthwhile programming out there on the Internet, including from the CBC itself.

It's possible that the final half-hour of the show offered something worthwhile, but it didn't air in Toronto, where local programming takes over at 3 pm, and based on the first hour, I have little reason to seek it out on-line to find out.

Don't expect "The Point" to be appearing in my radio picks section in the future. As the show itself might ask: What is "the point" of listening?

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