Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy Birthday CBC

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is 75 years old today. Today I've been listening to all that archive tape; the CBC voices from 1936 and beyond as they're replayed on the radio. And I've been thinking about my relationship to CBC Radio, which is a lifelong, warm one. Those voices are like friends or extended family; people I've grown up with. A couple of weeks ago, when I had the chance to meet and talk to Barbara Budd though the Writers Festival, I felt like I'd known her for years: which, I suppose, in a way, I had.

When I think of the CBC, a couple of instant replays run through my mind:

The low, rolling hills in the middle of Germany, lit a sort of golden green because it was near sunset and the light is low, and a highway curving between them. There were patches of blackish green pine wrapping the hills, and I was sitting in the back seat of my family's car with my younger sister, and we were listening to CBC - was it on shortwave? Was it rebroadcast from the military base? I'm not sure. We were living in Germany at the time, because my dad was teaching at a university there as a guest professor. However it happened, however the sound waves got to us, what I remember is that there they were: Morningside, and As It Happens, and Disc Drive, filling the car while we drove through German fields and pine stands, thousands of miles from home.

Washing the dishes after dinner when I was home for the summer from university: our kitchen radio would go on right after dinner and it was always tuned to the CBC. My parents were still out in the dining room, at the table talking, and I was at the sink looking at myself in the mirror above it (funny: the geography of the kitchen has changed and the sink is no longer in that position; the mirror is also gone) washing the dishes and listening to As It Happens. This was during the Alan Maitland/Michael Enright years, and Michael Enright was interviewing a representative from the Red Cross of Canada about the tainted blood scandal. Enright absolutely cornered and skewered him. You could see it happen, like watching a really good border collie ducking and nudging a sheep, inevitably, in through the fence gate. It might have been the first time I realized that listening to a good interview can sometimes be like watching a good sports game. I dropped my dishcloth, wiped the suds from my hands on my jeans, and went straight to the dining room to tell my parents what I'd just heard - to try to give them some idea of how exhilarating it had been to hear Enright just go for the jugular like that.

In 1997, standing next to the radio, in the corner of the office at the New Brunswick Committee on Literacy, where I was working summers when I was home from university, listening to the last ever episode of Morningside, and crying. (Luckily, I was working alone in the office that morning.) Of course, I also laughed. Particularly over the parting gift of a Madagascar hissing cockroach.

I also remember the day the news hit that Peter Gzowski had died: the flurry of grieving emails that went back and forth among members of my far-flung family, as though someone we knew personally had just been lost.

Riding my bike home in the dark, in late fall when the air was cold, along the bike path on the river, listening to Ideas on my headphones and watching the lights of the Montreal Road Bridge on the dark water: my headlights lighting up a small circle of the path as it ran through the trees, with Paul Kennedy's voice in my ear and no one else around.

Coming home from work a couple of years ago, dropping my keys into my bike helmet where it hung on the handlebars, going into the kitchen to unpack my groceries, switching on the radio to All In a Day, and saying, out loud, as I usually did, "Hey, Adrian: tell me what's going on."

Happy, happy birthday, CBC: here's to many, many, many more years of sounding like home, feeding my brain, being part of my family, filling out my life, and telling me what's going on.