Like more than 650 others who recently lost their jobs at the public broadcaster, associate producer Josh Lynn was shown the door. But the effects in Thunder Bay, Ont., go beyond the loss of a couple positions, he says. The impact there is immediate and dramatic: by losing Voyage North, the city’s locally produced programming is cut nearly in half. 

On June 28, CBC listeners attended a mock funeral in Thunder Bay, Ont., complete with a casket symbolizing Voyage North which airs its last show on Aug. 8. All photos courtesy of Josh Lynn.

By Josh Lynn

In a small way, there's one good thing that has come from the early April announcement that CBC Thunder Bay's radio afternoon show is getting dropped on Aug. 8—it's provided some distraction from my own shifting fortunes.

Like more than 650 others who have recently lost their jobs at the public broadcaster, I've been shown the door. But the effects in Thunder Bay, Ont., go beyond the loss of a couple positions (mine and that of the show's host). The impact here is immediate and dramatic: by losing Voyage North, Thunder Bay's locally produced CBC programming is cut nearly in half. 

The two-hour block occupied by Voyage North will be filled with a new show from Sudbury staffed by two people given the unenviable task of making a pan-northern-Ontario show that resonates from the Quebec to the Manitoba borders. 

That should prove to be quite the challenge, because there's "northern Ontario" and then there's northwestern Ontario. Sudbury is an afternoon's drive away from Toronto (four to five hours), but it would take about 16 hours to make the trip from Toronto to Thunder Bay. Another example of the scale involved: Kenora, which is in our listening area, is closer to Regina than it is to Sudbury.


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Ironically, that remoteness played a large part in the decision to cut Voyage North. We simply have fewer people living here and, of course, that means a smaller potential audience.

Just last year, CBC Thunder Bay celebrated its 40th anniversary. The story of how the station came into existence is an interesting one. It wasn’t a top-down decision to place another dot on the map. Instead, the listeners here lobbied CBC passionately, and successfully, to bring local service to the region in 1973. So it’s sad to see the station erode just as it heads into middle age.

Since the announcement of the cuts, when I meet listeners in the produce aisle of the grocery store, at community events or even just walking down the street, they all seem to feel the same way: betrayed, perplexed and more than a little bewildered by what’s happening to their CBC Radio. I generally maintain a journalist’s practised neutrality in these situations. I’d like to think it says something about my level of professionalism, but really it’s just because I don’t know what else to do.

On June 28, many of those listeners attended a mock funeral, complete with a casket symbolizing Voyage North. There was a gallows humour quality to the whole thing. But underneath the bleak levity, in a city that’s quite familiar with the winds of austerity migrating services elsewhere in the province, you could tell this one really stung. 

Before I ever worked at CBC, I once was given a brief tour of the building in Thunder Bay. At the time, I worked as a newsreader at one of the local pop stations in town where I regularly lashed together tidy news copy that wouldn't overstay its welcome with Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” blaring from the nearby announcer’s booth. So, I was pleasantly shocked to see a handful of people with headphones on, cutting audio and writing scripts. It seemed amazing to me that all those people did, all day, was work on stories.  

CBC Radio is the only outfit of its kind here in Thunder Bay. There’s a certain pride people have when they know they’re going to be on CBC Radio, and there’s a dignity and humanity to the storytelling. 

There's nothing quite like hearing two people share a meaningful conversation on the air for a few minutes or experiencing the arresting, more-real-than-real, fly-on the-wall feeling you get from a good piece of tape as you listen in your driveway.

It's a shame people living in northwestern Ontario will have fewer opportunities to have this feeling, while hearing their stories on CBC.

As for me, I’m not sure what’s next. We sometimes joked in the newsroom about how public radio requires some weirdly specialized skills. It’s not like you can just head over to another public broadcaster down the street. That being said, I hope I can do more of the work that I loved at CBC—telling stories as well as I can, that I hope, mean something to the people they reach.

 

 

 

 

 

Until recently, Josh Lynn worked as an associate producer, on-air personality and occasional videographer at CBC Radio in Thunder Bay.


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