Thursday, February 11, 2010

Media: Accepting New Sounds

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I've had to get used to the concept that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) changes its radio tones every few years. To my knowledge, CBS and ABC in the United States have changed their top-of-the-hour tones exactly once in my lifetime--there is hardly anything more stable in the world. I don't think NBC or Mutual ever changed their distinct chimes before those radio networks ceased to exist (interestingly, both were absorbed into the CBS radio newsroom). For that matter, the radio station of my youth, KIRO in Seattle, had the same set of theme music (different for each part of the day) from sometime in the early 1980's until 1994, definitely creating a lot of familiarity and comfort in those long-gone sounds.

The CBC is different. It changes its top-of-the-hour tones fairly regularly. The amazing thing is that every iteration (at least in the past fifteen years) is readily identifiable as a CBC theme, yet distinct. Perhaps because of this practice of changing periodically, the CBC may have the best ability in the world to create "sounders" that I have ever encountered anywhere in radio.

Yet, despite having known about at least two changes in the tones since I started listening regularly, it still came as a shock when the CBC introduced new tones in the fall of 2006. The CBC tones previously used had become symbolic of my move to Canada, and I didn't like them being withdrawn. Yet, within a couple hours, I came to appreciate the 2006 tones. They were more hard-hitting, yet readily recognizable as CBC tones. It took only a matter of weeks for me to accept them as the best set of CBC themes of my lifetime.

Thus, I again felt shock when a new set of tones took their place last fall. I wasn't as immediately accepting this time. Sure, they were clearly CBC, but they seemed more convoluted to me, and they were replacing my favourites. It has taken months, but it occurred to me in January that I had accepted these tones and looked forward to them at the top and bottom of the hour. I still like the 2006 version better, but I have to say that while the 2006 top-of-the-hour was better, the ancillary versions for special shows like The World at Six and The World This Weekend were a little strange. The 2009 version creates a clear mood across all the different variations that is much more consistent and cohesive. At some level, I do have to regard them as an improvement.

Perhaps the CBC is trying to teach a life lesson with these regular changes. Nothing stays exactly the same; change is constant. Some things improve, but there are good things ("silver linings") to find in even undesired changes. Will I still think that next time? Somehow, I trust the CBC to do a good job again.

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