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CBC Workers Launch CBC Unplugged and Studio Zero

Controversial podcast has got 'everybody.'

By Peter Tupper 22 Aug 2005 |
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Imagine a bunch of locked-out auto workers standing outside the factory gates and saying, "All right, let's build our own cars."

Across Canada, locked-out CBC employees are working together to put out their own radio programs, under the collective name of CBC Unplugged. They will broadcast on conventional radio stations and across the Internet through a new technique called podcasting, in which people download audio files from the web and listen to them on their iPods or other digital audio players.

The leadership of the Canadian Media Guild, the CBC's employee union, says that time spent working on this news service will count as picketing, toward up to 10 of the 20 hours per week of lockout duty. A statement on the CMG website says, "since we are without a collective agreement, there are no conflict issues to prevent us from providing quality content to our audiences."

Here in Vancouver, a group of about 15 Canadian Media Guild members has banded together as Studio Zero, a young and loosely organized enterprise.

From surreal to real

Colin Preston, secretary of the Vancouver local of CMG, says, "We were out on the line on Monday and I just perceived so much energy coming from people on the line who felt frustrated that they couldn't apply their skills as communicators and broadcasters. They said, we've got to do something. I identified those people, they had a meeting the following day and they've just been givin' 'er since then."

"Originally we wanted a more surrealistic project where we would set up a table and chairs and talk to people, and have a studio that did not broadcast at all," says JJ Lee, a reporter and producer for the CBC and the pilot producer for Studio Zero. "Then we realized the technology was out there and there was enough equipment dispersed among our fellow colleagues on the line that we could actually do something." Workers on the picket line laid out the story lineup in chalk on the blank concrete wall of the CBC building.

"It just came down to pushing ahead on the project and seeing what we could do. We built the technological infrastructure. We don't have studios, we don't have anything.... It's sort of like the 'Gilligan's Island' version of a radio program." The show will be produced from a space on Granville Street rented by the CMG.

Striking talent

The first edition of CBC Unplugged from Studio Zero will be an hour-long package of lockout-related news and local music, some of it recorded on the Vancouver picket line on Monday, August 22nd. It will include CBC's on-air talent Mark Forsythe, Ian Hanomansing, Bill Richardson, Rick Cluff and Tetsuro Shigematsu, who have been temporarily replaced by management during the lockout. Co-hosting today's show will be CBC Radio One's Jenna Chow, and CBC 3's Alexis Mazurin. And Carole James is sending a piece in. "We've got everybody, they've got nobody," says Lee.

Studio Zero will soft-launch the package Monday night by sending to various radio stations for broadcast. Campus stations CiTR 101.9 at UBC and CJSF 90.1 at Simon Fraser will air it Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m., and Co-op radio CFRO 102.7 will replay it at noon.

Also at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Studio Zero will hard-launch the MP3 file of the show will be "podcast" from, hosted on a server owned by CBC employee Loc Dao.

The CBC Unplugged podcast is a new medium and one that is still growing in terms of technology and content. Dao isn't even sure he'll have enough bandwidth to handle the demand for the show.

Definitely not the CBC

Lee says, "We figure, at some point, that [the CBC is not] going to be too happy we're calling it CBC Unplugged."

However, he likens the CBC Unplugged project to political cartoons or MAD magazine spoofing "Star Wars", and says using the name "CBC" in the podcast's name is fair comment. "We're real clear that we're not the CBC, all the way through," he says. "We're telling our side of the story, that's our main goal. And we're spoofing it, because [for instance] we're doing the weather, but only describing the weather on the four cardinal points of the block at 700 Hamilton Street."

The Studio Zero show will definitely be partisan in favor of the CMG. "The purpose of this show is not to replace what used to happen on the CBC when it was running properly. The purpose of this show is to get people to complain about the fact that we're not doing our jobs," says Lee.

Jason MacDonald, a spokesperson for the CBC in Toronto, said that CBC Unplugged is, "a tool for guild members to stay in touch with each other and share their point of view and experience with regard to the work stoppage." But adds, "more call-in shows and opinion pieces and those kind of things don't resolve the key issue, which is the need to get back to the bargaining table."

Labour disputes usually involve workers separated from the means of production. In the information economy, the means of production is the same as the workers, who take their names and their skills with them when they strike or are locked out. Digital technologies like mini-disc recorders, personal computers and the Internet make it possible to create and distribute media to the world for next to nothing.

Peter Tupper is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.

CBC workers invite everyone to join over 30 English and French radio and television hosts as they walk a block for public broadcasting on Monday August 29 between 8 am and 2 pm outside the CBC building, 700 Hamilton Street.  [Tyee]

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