What the Studio F?

May 02 2012 • Written by Sarah Smellie


CBC cuts by the numbers.

The recent cuts to the CBC’s operating budget might kick Newfoundland right in the arts.

Reeling from a scathing federal budget, the CBC has been announcing program cancellations, office contractions, and bureau closures around the globe in order to compensate for the $115 million reduction in its subsidy from the federal government over the next three years.

Dispatches, a Radio One program that specializes in international documentaries, will air its final episode at the beginning of this summer. The news came just weeks before one of its documentaries, Allison Crawford’s “The eyes of Rosa and Antonio” won the inaugural award for human rights reporting at the Canadian Association of Journalists Award.

News talk television show Connect With Mark Kelly is also cancelled.

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, the situation looks good on the surface: there won’t be any cuts to local programming. But some facilities that create the programming, most notably for Radio One’s shows The Performance Hour and Musicraft, are getting the axe.

According to an April 29th e-mail sent to The Scope by Denise Wilson, Managing Director of CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, the CBC St. John’s mobile recording unit will be decommissioned early this summer. Studio F, the main recording and mixing studio at CBC St. John’s, “will not require the advanced multi-tracking mixing capabilities, [and] remains a recording space for the time being.”

Four and half positions in St. John’s, at least two of which are directly tied to radio music, will also be declared redundant.

In an article published on April 12th, Wilson told The Western Star that management is “now looking at how we can manage to deliver a performance show with reduction in and decommissioning of our radio mobile and our performance studio in St. John’s.”

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“In so many different things that I’ve done over the years there’s always been a CBC connection,” says multi-award-winning gypsy-trad guitarist Duane Andrews.

“I’ve done a bunch of different recordings at Studio F and a bunch of different recordings where they came out to me, all over the island, with the remote unit.”

The remote recording unit has been travelling the province for about a decade, recording regional music performances and festivals like the Trails, Tails & Tunes Festival in Norris Point, Writers at Woody Point, and the Winterset in Summer Writer’s Festival in Eastport. Typically, its recordings would be mixed at Studio F and, these days, then played on The Performance Hour or Musicraft.

Essentially, says Andrews, it’s been the province’s main source of regional music.

“I always go on about back in the day, when there was different regional shows and programs that were just such an influence for all the musicians in Newfoundland,” he says. “These were just strong parts of Newfoundland culture. If they don’t have the resources to do these recordings any more, we’re really moving away from from the heyday, and from where we were hoping it was going to go again.”

Andrews, and many others in the arts community, are equally concerned about the future of Studio F. Originally built in the old CBC building on Duckworth, Studio F has been a key institution in Newfoundland music, hosting everyone from Emile Benoit to Meg Warren, of pop band Repartee.

The e-mail from Denise Wilson which said the studio would remain a recording facility “for the time being,” arrived in the midst of rumours amongst musicians and arts organizations that the studio would be closed down for good. But many feel that even the loss of mixing capabilities and reduced operations will have deep impacts.

“Some of the output from Studio F was so successful,” says author Ed Riche, writer for the award-winning, nationally-acclaimed radio comedy program The Great Eastern, which was recorded at Studio F.

“It really punched above its weight,” says Riche. “Stacks and shelves of awards, both national and provincial, came out of that facility.”

“I think the first professional work I ever did there in my life was a radio drama, back in the 1980s,” he says. “With the shows and the radio dramas and the documentaries recorded there, that studio is a vital source of work for actors and writers and musicians.”

Both Andrews and Riche point out that many top-notch classical and jazz musicians have been able to play in St. John’s because the possibility of recording and mixing an album at Studio F offset the expensive journey to the island. Most recently, David Braid, a leading Canadian jazz pianist, did a live session in the studio for The Performance Hour with clarinetest Phil Nimmons, Braid’s former instructor. Their upcoming and highly anticipated album, Falling Through: Live in Newfoundland, will be drawn from that session.

“The popular music tends to be more folk and rock,” says Andrews. “But the CBC really maintained its commitment to record classical and jazz music in the province too. I don’t know where else that will happen.”

Ultimately, Andrews thinks the cuts will end the CBC’s deep engagement with local music, and that the loss of engagement will really hurt.

“If you take any musician whose name is recognizable in the province, I think it’s a safe bet that they would definitely give CBC props for giving them a boost through their live recordings, at Studio F and with the mobile unit,” Andrews says. “And it’s the merging phase, the beginning of a musician’s career, where the CBC really makes a difference: even just the fact that they would record you is an endorsement and you wind up taking yourself more seriously.”

Visit Duane Andrews’ Facebook group “Sad Times for Newfoundland and Labrador Music” to discuss the effect the cuts will have locally.

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