On January 21, 2013, CKUA made two surprising announcements. The first was that they planned to cancel the popular Folk Routes program hosted by Tom Coxworth. The second was that had cancelled their local news and public affairs programming that has been part of their schedule since they first began broadcasting in 1927, and that they laid off Ian Gray, host of Sunday Magazine, and their news reporter, Matt Nodge. The tremendous outcry protesting the cancellation of Folk Routes caused them to rethink the first part of their announcement.
The original announcement of the cancellation of Folk Routes and their local news programming:
We’re in the midst of great change at CKUA. We want to offer our existing listeners a richer experience on all platforms – terrestrial, digital and in person.
In this day and age of ever increasing competition, media organizations need to leverage their strengths. Our strengths at CKUA are many. However, like every business, we do not have unlimited resources. We need to find ways to align and use our limited resources to accomplish our vision. We can achieve our goals, but in order to get there, we need to focus and we need to make strategic choices. Some of the choices are and will be very difficult. Doing something new necessitates removing something from our schedule.
Tom Coxworth and Folk Routes have been mainstays on CKUA for more than 15 years. Tom’s lasting commitment to CKUA, to producing quality programs, and to his work as a champion during the station’s rebirth in 1997 will never be questioned and will always be lauded. It is our hope to work with Tom on future projects and/or new programming. CKUA is grateful for the music and context this important folk music curator and ambassador lent to the station and his loyal listeners over the years.
CKUA will soon produce a new and longer flagship roots, Americana and folk program on Sunday mornings. The new show we wish to produce will require a high level of collaboration between many different resources including host, producers and technical production. It’s this investment of resources that will allow CKUA to produce a world-class folk and roots program that further strengthens our service to fans of roots, folk and Americana, new and old, in Alberta, and across the country – all of which is in keeping with our bigger vision.
Another change to CKUA content takes effect today (Monday, January 21): CKUA has discontinued our local news and current affairs offerings. Producing original news journalism is expensive and our current financial situation prohibits the sustainable production of the quality of news coverage we want to achieve. CKUA will be offering BBC World News in place of our local news service. BBC World News will air at 6am, 7am, 8am, 9am, noon, 4pm and 5pm, Monday to Friday.
“These are challenging times for media organizations and focusing on core strengths is essential for long term sustainability,” said Adam Fox, CKUA’s Content Director. “By reallocating these resources, CKUA can invest in more of what we do best and leverage our capabilities in music, arts and cultural programming both on our terrestrial broadcast network as well as digitally.”
The changes also affect Sunday Magazine, CKUA’s current affairs program. “We believe that having a current affairs program is an important piece of our overall schedule, but we need time to regroup and determine the best way to resource it,” said Fox.
One can only imagine the heat that CKUA took from their listeners following this announcement. Two days later, they made another announcement:
This has been a very difficult time for us all.
We value what you contribute – and we are not just talking about donations. We are talking about your loyalty, your advocacy, your opinions, your feedback, your passion and love of this station. We are listening to you and we want to be responsive.
Our challenge is not only to make programming that satisfies our audience today, but also to address the needs of our future listeners, an increasingly fractured audience with many media options competing for their attention. We need to produce great CKUA content not only for FM Radio, but also for the digital devices that we use every day.
For a very long time, CKUA has been telling itself a lie – that we had the resources necessary to continue to provide local news coverage. We desperately wanted to believe we could do it, but the reality is that we just could not compete. We were barely hanging on in our ability to provide local news coverage and that is NOT a slam against the good work done by Ian Gray and Matt Nodge. Both Ian and Matt produced quality work, including the political current affairs show, Sunday Magazine. The truth is, we could not give our news department the resources and organizational support required. You’ve told us over the years that CKUA is “about the music” and we’ve decided to put our resources towards making CKUA a stronger music-focused station.
We also decided to rework the Sunday morning schedule, adding a 3-hour show with great folk and roots music, with regular live performances and interviews. Our vision is to build a team of people – a host, producers, an assistant producer and technical production resources – to create not only a great terrestrial radio product, but also podcasts, video and other digital elements. We even see potential for live studio audiences from time to time. Given the high level of collaboration and resources required to produce a show like this, it’s something that we can only do in Edmonton, with in-house resources. The decision was not intended to show disrespect to Tom Coxworth. He has done a great job with Folk Routes and has been an incredible advocate for CKUA. Having said that, we handled the situation poorly and we regret that.
We’ve been reading every email, listening to every voicemail and reading every social media post. We really are trying to be responsive to you, despite what you might think. We don’t have teams of extra people on hand – it’s just us. Everyone here works very hard to run the day-to-day operations of this station, so when something like this hits us we work extra hard to respond, and to own our part in creating the situation in the first place.
We are not perfect – but we are passionate people, just like you, who want to CKUA to succeed. We hear you – and we will continue to serve CKUA’s long-term benefit, but also respect your views and opinions as we move forward. We don’t believe those two things are mutually exclusive – just the opposite in fact – of which we have been strongly reminded these past few days.
On behalf of management,
Katrina Ingram, COO
And the next day, another announcement:
Dear friends of Folk Routes and CKUA,
Sometimes, when we try to do something different, or new, even when we believe it’s the right thing and even when we do so with the best of intentions, we make mistakes. Our recent handling of the Folk Routes programming change was – as mistakes go – a pretty good one. Your comments and criticism have made that abundantly clear. Therefore, you need to know that we are listening and we are paying attention. That has and will always be one of the hallmarks of CKUA.
Tom Coxworth is a colleague and friend. Like everyone who works here, we only want what is best for CKUA. So, Tom and our team at CKUA are talking and we are working together to determine how best to achieve that objective, while at the same time responding respectfully and constructively to your wishes.
Tom and our team at CKUA thank you for your honesty, your obvious passion for CKUA and your support. And we all hope you will understand that like any family, we sometimes have differences; but like any good family we also know how and when to put differences aside and unite around our shared values – which in our case is a deep appreciation for, and supreme desire to protect and preserve, this unique broadcasting jewel – CKUA.
Please stay tuned for what we and Tom believe will be very good news.
On behalf of the management team,
Katrina Ingram, COO
And then the news everyone wanted to hear:
Dear Friends of Folk Routes and CKUA,
This past week has been a challenging one for all of us. We’ve learned a whole lot from this experience and we’ve tried to be flexible and responsive to our listeners. We are grateful and humbled that Folk Routes means so much to you, that you would take such a strong stance. We heard you. Folk Routes will remain a part of the CKUA programming schedule.
As we’ve said already, we regret how we handled this situation, but we think it’s important to explain what we are attempting to do and why we feel it’s so important.
For the past several years, donation revenue at CKUA has been flat and the total number of donors has been declining. Overall, radio audience growth has been declining too. It’s a scary time for media organizations. We absolutely know that in order to build a strong and sustainable CKUA in the long run, we need to figure out how to serve audiences on digital platforms. We need to be more than FM radio. This not about “empire building” – it’s about survival in the digital world of media.
The folk and roots community is our core. We know that and you’ve demonstrated that by your passionate appeals this past week. We never once intended to abandon you. We were trying to expand and enhance the way we serve you with content that could live on another platform, which would also reach out to new audiences. We need new audiences – not because we don’t value you – but because we need to grow in order to stay viable in the long run. How we went about that was wrong, but the vision itself, we firmly maintain, is right.
Now that we have had the opportunity to really talk it through, we are united in our mission to move this station forward. At some point in the not too distant future, we will expand our roots and folk offering on Sunday mornings. We will maintain Folk Routes and we will add a new two hour program focused on roots/folk music with content that can also serve an online audience. Tom will, of course, continue to host Folk Routes and will be included in the consultation process as we develop this new program.
Moving forward, we will become much better at engaging you in the process much, much earlier. Ultimately, we all want the same thing – a strong, vibrant, sustainable CKUA. Working together, we can make it happen.
On behalf of management,
Katrina Ingram, COO
While it is always disappointing to see a reduction in original local news and public affairs programming, it does seem sensible that CKUA would want to focus its limited resources on what it does best.