Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Hey, Newstalk 1010 Toronto, Wha' Happen?

Do you remember the movie Working Girl? The end of the movie where Melanie Griffith's character rejoices in winning that prized office? Remember that as the camera pulls away from her window we see the entire building full of windowed offices. A little further and there is an entire block of windowed offices. Keep going and see the millions of windowed offices that blanket Manhattan and indeed, the entire Eastern Seaboard. If we really ever stopped to consider the futility of what most of us, as individuals, accomplish in life, we just wouldn't bother. Maybe some people have given up on life simply because of that one scene in a shmaltzy Mike Nichols film from the eighties. I am just reminded of it because I can look out the window of my office on the 32nd floor of my building right into the office of some other worker drone who probably feels pretty good about looking down on all the rest of the peons about town. I know I do.
Before I get all Tess McGilled here, let me move on the the Airing of Grievances. Well, not just grievances. Comment, criticism, praise, platitudes, vitriol and venom. Lets just see where it goes as we ask: "Hey, Newstalk 1010 Toronto, Wha' Happen?"
The story so far:
I like talk radio. I prefer it to music radio mostly because the music playlists are often not very deep and I don't like to hear the same song twice in one day. Or even twice a week. Talk radio, especially a call-in show, is usually pretty entertaining. I listen to CFRB 1010, called "NEWSTALK 1010" now, here in the Toronto market in Canada. It is available online via and listeners from around the world can log in anytime. That said, I have been a loyal listener of the station for about ten years now and I am about to sound curmudgeonly when I say, "CFRB sure ain't what it used to be back in the day..."
I don't want to sound too whiny by talking about the folks that have moved along to be replaced by lesser lights in the broadcast firmament, so I won't mention John Oakley (sorry, man, but I can't handle MOJO radio) and I will instead focus on the schedule as it is today. A recent shakeup of shows and times has only made everything so much worse.
Lets take a look:

Iain Grant: If you are up really early or if you stay up really late, you can catch Iain Grant's Early Edition. It's pretty laid back and it won't really wake you up, but it's a good warm up to the morning show and Iain is a good guy to brush your teeth to. Smart and adaptive, thinks on his feet, and good with the banter during crossover to Woloshyn. 8/10

Ted Woloshyn: Nice guy finishes first. Or second after Iain Grant, I suppose. Ted is a funny guy in a kind of understated, "wait 'til you meeet my uncle, he's really funny," way. Charming and likeable in interviews and always able to offer a pretty thoughtful view on the events of the day, Mr. Woloshyn is a well-rounded professional and a soothing ointment on the frustrating drive to work. 10/10

Bill Carroll: If Rush Limbaugh actually thought before he spoke (and grew a beard and lost a few pounds) he might be something like Bill. Bill is aggressive and staunchly conservative. Staunch but not stubborn, Bill calls it as he sees it and doesn't hesitate to bite the hand the feeds his political animal. I think that he sometimes goes a little too far in criticizing the Ontario Liberal Party (Lots to criticize, mind you) and I am glad to see that family life has not softened him too much. This Scot has mellowed like a fine single-malt and kept his tasty edge. 9/10

The Motts: Paul and Carol Mott are the husband and wife team that fill out the day at 'RB. While they play at opposites, it is pretty clear that there is a lot of consensus between them. Carol tends toward the social and liberal end of the political spectrum while Paul adopts a macho, red-meat conservative attitude and the two of them share great exchanges with callers without resorting to bickering. Smart and funny, Paul and Carol are able to put the news of the day into a pleasantly accessible context whether it is hard news or general interest. Their long commute must allow them a good deal of time to talk about the news. 8/10

John Moore: John joined CFRB when the afternoon slot became suddenly available a little over a year ago. He filled in for the AWOL host for a week and eventually landed the gig full time. John has alway done a great job presenting little tidbits of entertainment gossip on The Morning Show, and he did a pretty good job during that week of emergency fill-in, but his repertoire is severely limited. Repetitive and slow paced, the afternoon show needs a jolt of adrenaline. If you have seen John on television you realise that his interviewing style benefits greatly from the editing process. He has difficulty maintaining a smooth flow during interviews and seems to have trouble straying too far from the script (despite his constant references to his past as an improv performer - which reminds me: When John was interviewing Lily Tomlin one time, he asked if she would consider a career in politics. She said she could never go to Washington as a politician, she was more of a Paula Jones. Funny. Subtle. John Moore stepped all over that little gem and squished all of the humour out it). Maybe he will improve tomorrow. Or The Day After Tomorrow. 4/10

Six-O'Clock News Hour: Dave Trafford is doing a fine job presenting the News Hour. The news team at CFRB is exceptional and always does a top-notch job. Even CFRB interns are great as evidenced by the stellar performance of one (I apologise for not remembering the name!) during a hostage situation in the summer. Great news package every day worth switching over for this alone. 10/10

Michael Coren: If you have experienced British cuisine you may know it's a little frightening for a start, but you grow accustomed to it. Michael Coren is a bit like that. Once you have developed an appreciation for his dry wit, he can be quite enjoyable. The Michael Coren Show in its current one-hour incarnation leaves me wanting more whereas his old three or four hour show on Sunday evening sometimes seemed too long. Maybe a two hour show would be just right. He gets a bit obsessive over Middle Eastern politics, but is quite knowlegable in that area and reasonably balanced in his approach. His crusading Christianity can be a trifle tiring, but he manages to keep a tight reign on it most of the time. I understand his faith demands proselytisation. I'm just not buying. Michael is an irreverent prankster when the spirit (and I use the word advisedly) moves him and he is not above some occasional silliness. Seldom predictable, always entertaining and worth listening for the interplay with the crackpot moths who seem drawn to Coren's flame. Too bad his television show isn't as much fun. 9/10

Jim Richards: The Showgram. The Feel Good Edition. The Three Hours of Love. Jim "Jimberly" Richards (AKA Vanilla Rage) of the Richmond Hill, Ontario Richards brings in a late evening show that is usually pretty entertaining. Then there are those long, awkward silences that sometimes get pretty painful as Jim pleads for callers. His produced segments like The Truth and The Drill are usually creative and funny with just a few duds and the syndicated Onion Radio News has an appropriate home with the J-Dog. Themed call-in segments may fall-flat sometimes, but they help less imaginative listeners by providing a template for their calls. Jim has also shown himself to be respectable interviewer and has the good sense to behave himself for the serious stuff. When news events require him to shift out of Showgram mode, he always puts in a strong, professional effort. Weekend fill-ins for John Donabie have always been quite good and I don't think Jim does anything that would upset the Weekend Morning Blue-Rinse set. Might do better with a more reliable audience, but that's chicken or the egg thinking. Under-rated. Go Brave. 7/10

Mark Elliot: The host of The Nightside magically transforms into the facilitator of People Helping People once each week. Mark is passionate and well-informed and brings a rather unique perspective to the airwaves. Most of us can't be a gay alcoholic drug addict and if you are, well, you probably couldn't get it together long enough to host a radio show. Mark relates to his audience well, and while I may not be in his target demographic (at least for People Helping People) I find his show entertaining and informative. I am amazed at the number of old drunks that phone in for support that I imagine would be pretty quick with the fag jokes at other times. I think Mark even helps some of these people. 7/10

John Donabie: John is a real pro. He sounds great and has the perfect attitude for morning radio. Always a treat on the weekend and even more when he has the chance to fill in for Woloshyn. He really has a tone of easy familiarity about him that makes it feel like he's just having a chat with you in the kitchen over coffee. When John interviews a guest the listener gets the sense that he is really interested in what the guests have to say and actually listens to their responses. Mr. Congeniality - as smooth and mellow as that first lazy coffee you drink with the Sunday paper. 9/10

Lisa Christiensen: What I know about cars could be written on the bookmark Lisa uses to keep her place in the vast volume of her knowledge. Not my favourite show, but the pace is good and Lisa knows her stuff. Is it wrong to give her extra points for being a woman in a male-dominated profession? I don't think so. 7/10*

Mark Cullen: You can learn alot from Mr. Cullen and he has never steered me wrong where my lawn is concerned. I recommend CIL Golf Green grass seed to everyone I know because that stuff is awesome. Friendly and helpful, the show can be a little bit dull when it gets into too many blotches-on-my-apple tree questions. Keep those knees dirty! 7/10*

Frank Cohn: The Radio Renovator is of great help to me and has been since long before I bought my house. I like to listen to pick up tips here and there. Frank is easy to listen to and manages the difficult task of explaining very visual concepts over the radio. I think that he gets a sense of the confidence level of the callers and really does them a great service by directing them to call a contracting service like Handyman Connection if they seem to need help. The greatest weakness of the show is the peculiar "co-hosting" by Christina Chernesky. Her frequent interjections are neither constructive nor neccessary and she should resist the temptation to turn every question into a (suspect) anecdote about her own experience. 6/10*

Chris Robinson: The Travel Show has always been a thinly disguised advertisement masquerading as information, and a little infotainment is fine here and there. The trip giveaway makes the show a guaranteed success (even though email entries kind of take away from the interest in the giveaway-it's more fun when the winner is a caller from the show). For those planning a vacation and those who simply dream of one day being able to go, The Travel Show can be helpful, but some of the questions that listeners ask could be handled at the top of the show (like Wheel of Fortune just gives players RSTLNE now) to force callers to think of something other than, "What kind of currency do they use in (insert destination here)," or, "Can I snorkel in (name of Caribbean Island here)." Again, Chris Robinson has his charms, but Chernesky makes for painfully irritating interchanges and interactions with callers. 6/10*

Christina Chernesky: CFRB has had years of trouble filling the Saturday day slot. Karen Horseman, Erica Ehm and the late Dan Gallagher have all taken a turn in the big chair. Now it comes down to Chernesky. Each successive host has made me sorry for not appreciating the previous one while they were there. Chernesky makes me sorry I wore hearing protection for all those years in heavy industry. A cavalcade of clichés and sorry old stories about her own life; she just can't let a guest or caller tell a story without making it into a Chernesky special. Everything that has ever happened to you or ever will happen to you has already happened to Christina. Or her sister. Or her father. Or her neices. Or her friend from university. Who the hell cares? Just listen and nod and smile (or the radio equivalent) and pretend (or pretend harder) to be interested. When people call in and say, "Hi, Christina, I love your show," I want to go find those people and how they could possibly love the show. Are they just being kind, or have they had some sort of cranial trauma? C'est ca. 2/10

The Real Estate Show: This show is hard to grade and be objective about because my interest waxes and wanes with my housing situation. If I was looking to move, I would pay more attention to the show. The information about the local housing market is interesting if only as a news item, and there are always people out there buying and selling homes, so the show is works for all of the people some of the time and some of the people some of the time. 6/10*

Alan Gelman: Car Talk is the second car maintenance and repair program on CFRB Saturday. Alan is a proper grease monkey and seems to be an actual honest mechanic. Amazing. Down-to-earth, Alan really helps people out in the mystifying world of the automobile. He keeps the show moving and has a good rapport with guest and caller alike. A special treat is when the guy from POINTTS (sorry if I can't remember the name just now...) comes on and people call in to find out if they can get out of their speeding tickets. Come on, folks. Just admit you were in the wrong and pay up. Take responsibility for your own actions. 7/10*

Peter Shurman: The Shurmanator (wow. That gets tired really quickly) rises from the ashes to take a mysterious new spot on Saturday afternoon. Peter is a good old radio guy from way back. A pleasant guy with a great radio voice, Peter does an adequate job keeping the tubes warm for the duration. He promises controversy on the weekend, but seldom delivers. Too centrist to take a really hard line on anything, he knows his stuff but he could take a cue or two from Bill Carroll in the controversy department. 7/10

Taylor Parnaby: Always the real deal, Taylor's wrap up of the Week That Was is concisely and neatly trimmed into a fat-free bundle for easy digestion. Taylor has the charming clipped presentation style of those solid old news anchors like Cronkite and his Tattered Little Datebook is a little hokey, but always informative. 10/10

Your Opinion Counts: John Wright from Ipsos Reid joins Donabie to go over opinion polls from the previous week. It helps to put the news into perspective. It is most interesting because the changing nature of world events means that each week people are polled on different topics from sports to politics to culture and religion. Good guests and informed comment. 9/10

Dini Petty: A bizarre little effort from Pink Chopper Pilot, Dini Petty. This show is produced on tape, runs for an hour and has all the momentum of a Prozac Nation Parade (if there was such a thing). It used to be odd when CFRB ran a sort of syndicated "Best Of" show from Mitch Albom's program, but because they had a week's worth of material from which to craft the show, it was usually pretty good. Now, Dini seemed to do a pretty good job on Cityline back in the day and she went on to some success with her eponymous show on the CTV Network, but on radio she just doesn't have any pizzazz. It just feels like she is phoning it in from home. In her pajamas. Her interview with one of Canada's first female air traffic controllers was painfully dull and turned embarassingly self serving for Dini as she regaled the audience with tales of her own piloting days and about commercial flying. I have heard enough about Dini and her petty complaints about commercial flying, thank-you very much. 4/10

Mindshift/Strange Days Indeed with Errol Bruce Knapp: I should begin by stating my bias upfront: I am fascinated with stories of UFOs, alien abduction, strange conspiracies and the parade of Things That Go Bump In The Night. I have been listening to EBK since SDI started three-hundred-and-some shows ago. That said, on with the critique. SDI has always been a nice bit of background entertainment for a Saturday night. The new combined Mindshift/SDI is still good, but not quite the same. The UFO show did tend to run a little long before and the new two hour format is more digestible (since nothing earth shattering seems to happen in UFOlogical circles week to week). Mindshift was difficult on Sunday nights before and tended to plod along at a sleepy pace. Unfortunately, the slot was first established by Richard Syrett who put on a dandy show with a wide range of eerie guests and topics. EBK's show runs slower with less variety, tending toward the psychic and ghost material and eschewing the broader field of crackpot (?) conspiracy theories. I enjoy Errol, but having read many books on the subjects of both ghosts and UFOs, I can follow along pretty easily. To a newcomer, I think the show is a little inaccessible. Valuable for being one of the very few spooky shows still chugging along. 6/10

Sue McGarvie: The show is called "Love and Relationships", but it ain't about platonic love and it's not about your relationship with your dog (at least, I sincerely hope not). If Dr. Ruth was the host it might be called "Zex und Zex". It's a sex show. Frank discussion about sex and sexuality from the boring to the bizarre. Everybody could stand to learn a little more in this area, and the show is usually informative. Not to make fun, but callers who ask questions about fundamental misunderstandings about the whole sexual process are always entertaining. I listened to Sue's first show a while back now and she has improved quite a bit in filling the sometimes tedious stretches between calls. The most amazing thing is that anybody would call management to complain about the language or descriptions used on the show. At midnight on Saturday, people that get that upset about hearing the words penis and anus in the same sentence should be in bed. Asleep. Alone. 6/10

Dr. Mickey Lester: Even before I had my daughter, I enjoyed Mickey's show. In his new streamlined one hour timeslot, Dr. Mickey's comforting radio-side manner reassures panicked parents every week. While some topics are bound to repeat week to week, I find that I have picked up a fair bit of information that was relevant to me and my family over the years. If nothing else, the show will send listeners away with conversational ammunition to use with co-workers and friends when the subject of children comes up. Easy listening. 7/10

Mary Tabak: The Parent Coach has moved in to take over what used to be the second half of the Dr. Mickey Lester Show. Useful to parents of older children who are struggling with questions of communication, discipline or development. I am not yet in the target audience for this show, but it moves along at a steady pace and isn't insulting, offensive or tedious. 7/10

Dale Goldhawk: Goldhawk fights back with his unique take on consumer advocacy. Great voice, charismatic and intelligent, Goldhawk manages to make return policies and customer service stories vaguely interesting. The show is worthwhile even if it just gets peoople to start to think before buying or buying into anything. 7/10

The Health Show: When I said about The Travel Show that a little infotainment was alright, I didn't mean The Health Show. The show may present an unbiased viewpoint, but is frequently blatently sponsored by a pharmaceutical or clinical company directly related to the topic of the day. Additionally, a one-hour show on a single health topic can be tedious and rather specific to just a small group of people suffering from a specific ailment. Often educational, but best enjoyed by the elderly and hypochondriacs. Now if only they could cure that nasty case of Chernesky they seem to have contracted...6/10

Dr. Joe Schwarcz: The Dr. Joe Show is a rookie player in the CFRB lineup, but I think he's been around for a while on CJAD in Montréal. Fun and informative, Dr. Joe has a genuine infectious enthusiasm for the science of the world around us. If only he had been my high school chemistry teacher I might be a scientist today instead of a bitter hack writer and artist. 7/10

Spider Jones: The Loveable One is what we like to call a good egg. Outside of his radio gig, he does community work and seems to really care about the future of youth in our society. Passionate and bright, Spider's take on the world is usually pretty refreshing and unpredictable. He has a little trouble with people's names, but it is pretty endearing over time. Awesome memory for sports statistics and usually hooks up with some interesting guests. I think he mentioned once that he had written a book, too. 7/10

Marc Saltzman: The whiz kid is all grown up with kids of his own. A good show for consumers of electronics and software (and most of us are), Tech Talk really does bring a confusing and overwhelming topic down to a level that even I can understand. He is good in interviews with a pleasant, conversational style and really keeps up on the computer and gaming industries. Great giveaways courtesy of corporate guests ensure steady questions from listeners. 6/10

Karyn Gordon: I must admit that I don't have much to say about Bridging the Gap with Karyn Gordon. It is a new show and similar to The Parent Coach from Sunday morning. Again, I am outside the demographic for this subject and not really very interested at this time. It wouldn't be fair to grade this one yet.

Nancy Woods: The Portfolio Chef does seem to know her stuff, but the delivery is stilted and wooden (wooden stilts?). I know that the subject matter is pretty dry and for the most part we don't want to sit around delving into the minutiae of finances and investment. For my part, my interest wanes where interest is concerned and I don't wish to invest to much time in investments. Just a really boring hour of radio, unfortunately. The show could be spiced up through the addition of a seasoned host (just not Chernesky). 4/10

Focus Ontario: Now this is the kind of show that I really enjoy on the weekend. Bill Carroll hosts what I think is a radio spin-off version of the Global Television show. Solid, smart and entertaining, the politics are tempered by the distance of a few days and can be viewed in the round. Worthy fare for good old 'RB. 9/10

Ask Ellie & Lisi: Ellie Tesher brings her newspaper advice column to the air. The twist here is sharing part of the show with her daughter who sometimes disagrees strongly with her mother. Not too much tension, though, as they seem rather inconveniently to actually like each other. Might be more fun with lots of raised voices and cuss words. If you can't decide what you want to do on your own, you have much bigger problems than any radio program will ever solve. Servicable time filler of interest to the Dear Abby crowd. 6/10

Andrew Krystal: Joined each week by his biggest fan, himself, Andrew Krystal dishes up more of the mediocre mouth-breather fare that stood him in such good stead amidst the jock-sniffing set over at MOJO Radio. He whiningly delivers weak humour with an "oh, wait I just thought of a really funny comment about what you said five minutes ago" sense of timing. He has his loyal followers, though. They are always thrilled to get through on the phone (although some of that excitement might be over learning to use the phone...) and tell him how much they miss him over on the OTHER station. They feel a void in his absence. I feel one in his presence. A void is a vacuum. A vacuum sucks. And so does Andrew Krystal. I just listen to the whole show expecting the fart jokes to start. 2/10

In Closing: Some of the specific topic shows get lower grades than they might because I am comparing the programs across the entire schedule. Because they do not generally explore a range of material, they lose points against the typical open-format shows which mix topics, guests and call-in segments.
I wrote this entire review off the top of my head in two sessions, and some of my opinions might have been influenced by the most recent show I listened to for each host or program, but I tried to think about a range of shows to inform each review. CFRB is still my choice for talk radio in Toronto and remains far superior to American talk radio which tends to stay away from the kind of diverse comment heard on 1010. We live in a complex city with issues that are unknown to most of middle America, or even rural Ontario. CFRB provides a valuable measuring stick in the ebb and flow of the tide of public opinion.

Monday, November 22, 2004

UGH: Relevance & Irreverence

Let me open my first real entry by explaining why I am UGH. Or more properly lowercase: ugh. A quick look around the 'net will produce a gob-smackingly high volume of pages that reference this little three-letter word. Understandable, really, as it is as useful and succinctly descriptive as it is phonetically blunt.
The Miriam Webster online dictionary defines the word this way:

Main Entry: ugh
Pronunciation: often read as '&g or '&[k] or '&
Function: interjection
-- used to indicate the sound of a cough or grunt or to express disgust or horror

I used a similar definition on a t-shirt I produced ages ago and on business cards and letterhead for my freelance work. I have used ugh as a name for my company (registered as a sole proprietership in the province of Ontario, Canada) and as a personal monogram for about fifteen years now. I came to use it through a round-about joke that I shared with my Aunt Nancy many moons ago...
(This is where the image should go wavy and zoopy harp music should play indicating the fade to: FLASHBACK!)
I used to work for my Aunt Nancy in Toronto's Kensington Market at a store called, "Get Dressed". One dreary Saturday afternoon as we looked out into a damp street devoid of the usual bustling crowds of Bohemian bargain hunters, I indicated the vacant storefront across the street.
"I think I am going to open a store over there," I told my Aunt.
"Oh," she asked, "And what are you going to sell?"
"The exact same stuff as you," I replied, "But at half the price."
"Oh Really?"
"Yes. And I will open an hour later and come to work in my pajamas and every morning I will look across at your store as I drink my coffee and I will say ugh."
"Yes," I went on, "In fact, that is what I will call the store. Ugh. Just ugh. But not the word, just the sound. And when I answer the phone I will just go: uuuughhghghghghgh. Actually, I will hire somebody to answer the phone and just do that. That will be their whole job."
My dear Aunt Nancy was not especially impressed. Or concerned.
Later in life, as I began to do freelance and contract work, I wanted to open a business banking account. To this end, I went to the appropriate Ministry office to establish myself as a sole proprietorship. As I waited in line to file my paperwork, I was still deciding on a name but by the time my turn came up, I still hadn't chosen one. Remembering that day at the store, I wrote down: Lowercase u, lowercase g, lowercase h. That's it. When the clerk told me that for an extra five dollars I could search the provincial records to see if anybody was using the name, I suggested that I probably didn't need the service. The clerk read my choice and snickered, "No, I guess not."
I have been using it in various capacities ever since. I even reverse-engineered the acronym to come up with a longer name: Underground Graphics House. Appropriate because I have for many years been working out of my parents' basement, and later a basement apartment and an apartment that was half underground. Now I have a house and I am happily above ground, but I still like the ugh and I decided to use it for the name of my blog.
Additionally, I called myself ughman on the NTN trivia game that is played with radio frequency keyboards in bars across North America. I haven't played for a while, but when I did I got onto the national scoreboard from time to time, so drunks across the continent have seen my name up there on the idiot box.
Now that I have made something of an introduction, I will carry on with (hopefully) more interesting entries.

Be Gentle, It's My First Time...

The Blog is off and running. I hope I can keep up with it. I have been less than diligent in updating my existing webpage at so I hope that I manage to get in here more frequently. I just want to use this site to make some of my opinions known to whomever might be so bored and tragic that they have time to drop by. I have no idea what I will write about, but I expect that public transit, money and my local talk radio station (CFRB 1010 in Toronto) will enter into it soon.
Write to you later,
Remember: You shouldn't feel bad about being stupid. Everybody else is too.