TORONTO, ONTARIO - After 17 years as co-host of the CBC Radio One program As It Happens, Barbara Budd is not stepping down on her own accord. The CBC decided not to renew her contract. In other words, the CBC has decided to fire Budd.
The story has been well-covered only by the Globe and Mail newspaper, which published most of the relevant details in this article. The CBC is trying to eliminate "presenter" or "announcer" positions and replace them with journalists. Budd's part-time position serving as the presenter for As It Happens was the next one targeted. She's sad, to say the least, comparing it with being told by a man that he no longer loved her in this interview with the Globe and Mail.
Unless a major change in the show format is forthcoming, which would be unfortunate, this move makes no sense at all. I listened to As It Happens (while in the United States, mostly on late-night delayed broadcasts) for months before I even realized that there was one host (presently Carol Off) who does the journalistic interviews and one host (Barbara Budd) who reads the introductions, and I'd like to think I'm not a particularly casual listener. It flows so well to the point that the distinct roles are not blatant in large part because Budd does such a great job with the transitions. Listening to a show with one of the less skilled fill-ins when Budd is away makes it all the more obvious just how well she does it. Does the CBC really believe that a journalist is going to do a better job at the announcing part of the job? Perhaps they have been spoiled by skills of the last two co-hosts, the legendary Alan Maitland and Budd.
Outside of As It Happens, the CBC policy of eliminating presenters has had, at best, mixed results. The policy reportedly led to Alison Smith coming to The World At Six, about which I have no complaints, but it also led to the hiring of Peter Armstrong to replace the retiring Judy Maddren on World Report. I rather liked Armstrong as a reporter, but he's almost unlistenable as an anchor. I perk up in the morning when I hear Martina Fitzgerald or Dzintars Cers (who, if I am not mistaken, is an announcer) filling in on that broadcast.
Many of the comments on the Globe and Mail articles imply that this is really about cost cutting. We'll know that's really the case if writer Chris Howden appears as the co-host. I'd probably hold my nose and accept the new reality in that scenario, as Howden is my favorite of the regular fill-ins. Others suspect this is about attracting a younger audience--exactly how a journalist would do that is beyond me. Presumably, though, neither alternative is what management is up to here.
The CBC seems to be blowing up one of their programs that actually works. To me, not having been around in the era of Maitland and Barbara Frum, the classic As It Happens era will always be that of Budd and Off. I hope this doesn't portend another program falling off my ideal radio schedule. Best of luck, Barbara--may your next employer treat you better than the CBC.
Before closing, I must give credit to public radio station KALW in San Francisco, California. They included information about Budd's exit in their station newsletter. I haven't noticed any other outlet that actually airs As It Happens say anything about the real story.