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Radio Q Broadcast Sticks to the Cliches

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jun 17, 2011 6:40PM

It's a cliche to say that Canadians are polite, a bit boring and enjoy maple syrup. We're running this image to counter that stereotype.

If you tuned into WBEZ last night at 7 p.m., you would have been subjected to a live broadcast of the Canadian Broadcast Company’s Q from Chicago. Unfortunately, CBC shows on WBEZ can be really polarizing among Chicago Public Radio listeners - and Radio Q is no different. If you’re not familiar with the show (or if you’re among those who switch the station when Q airs), Q is a program that serves as the CBC’s national arts magazine show, featuring interviews with prominent cultural and entertainment figures, with a focus on Canadian events and people, and laced with a dose of Midwestern Canadian identity-politics.

Jian Ghomeshi, the host of Q, opened the show, by acknowledging that Canadians probably know Chicago best through pop cultural experiences, but that he wanted to help introduce them to another side of Chicago they might know - the so-called real Chicago that people don’t know from TV. And this is where his show (a scant five minutes in) started to lose us. Ghomeshi hailed Chicago as an exciting and diverse place, the city of Al Capone (WTF?), land of deep-dish pizza and home to diverse neighborhoods like Wrigleyville. Hey Jian, we thought you were going to introduce Canadians to the side of Chicago they don’t see on television?

Still, though, Ghomeshi probably just got into town and doesn’t know much about the city yet. He’s going to redeem Canada’s national arts magazine with his live broadcast from Chicago by interviewing some real Chicagoans, digging deep to talk to locals that are doing interesting and trailblazing artistic things, right? Not so much. Ghomeshi brought out Lonnie Brooks, who all but led the audience in a sing along of “Sweet Home Chicago,” because there isn’t any other musician that represents the modern sound of the Chicago music scene than a 77-year-old bluesman who came to Chicago in the 1950’s. But not to worry. Ghomeshi interviews local arts luminaries New Englanders Seth Meyers and Jeffrey Ross. Sigh.

To his credit, Ghomeshi tried to feature Chicagoans on the show, by bringing out a panel to discuss the media, featuring Roe Con
n, Phil Rosenthal and Laura Washington. And while they had a pretty good conversation about the so-called flash mobs and the role that race and class play in reporting on it, Ghomeshi spent more time talking with them about the media’s role in the Anthony Wiener Twitter scandal and Sarah Palin’s emails. As for interviewing Chicagoans that are producing actual art/culture, he brought out Steve James, the director of both Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, and then interviewed Irvine Welsh, the Scottish transplant who's now a part-time Chicagoan.

Unfortunately, the two hour live broadcast of Q from Chicago featured a dearth of actual Chicagoans that are doing things in arts and entertainment that might tell the story of our city a place that produces people who make significant cultural contributions. Ghomeshi can be forgiven for not knowing much about our city’s media landscape (even the locals don’t really read the Sun-Times or the Tribune anymore anyway), but to trot out the same tired old Chicago stereotypes like Al Capone, improv and deep dish pizza, without using it as a touchstone to break apart those stereotypes, really fails his audience, both in Canada and in the United States.

Ghomeshi and Q were given a golden opportunity to say to North America, "hey, you think you know this city, but there's so much more. There are people here that are making exciting music, like the 1900’s, Andrew Bird, Mucca Pazza, Mavis Staples and Steve Albini. There are writers and publishers like Jonathan Messenger, Alex Kotlowitz, Mick Dumke and Audrey Niffenegger, that are capturing people's imagination and reporting stories that don't otherwise get told. There are whole neighborhoods filled with people from around the Midwest, and indeed the world, with passions and problems that are unique to Chicago, but that also bind us to the rest of the continent and even the globe. And there is an entire world of food here that runs from immigrant dishes like bigos and banitsa to Rick Bayless’s Mexican and Grant Achatz’s Next.”

Sadly last night’s broadcast of Q from Chicago was a near total failure by the CBC and Jian Ghomeshi to bring Chicago to Canada, or to connect Canada to Chicago. Which brings us back to the problem of CBC programming on WBEZ: it's not relevant to what's happening in our city, and it ignores Chicago in favor of cultural curiosities that don't satisfy the need for community radio and local or neighborhood reporting in Metro Chicago. Given how little regard Tory Malatia holds his listeners in, though, that shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise.