Soon after industry veteran Steve Jordan took over as senior director of CBC Music, he made a phone call to Randy Bachman. “I thought he was going to offer me a multiyear contract,” said the musician and long-time Vinyl Tap host on the network. Instead, he was told his show would be cancelled following the 2021 season, after 16 years on the air.
Bachman told The Globe and Mail this week he was “stunned” at the news. He should not have been. Bachman’s preference for nostalgic rock and mainstream pop would seem to be out of step with other CBC Music and Radio One programming.
Upon his appointment, Jordan publicly stated that “Canadian music, in all its magnificent colours, origins and styles, is and always should be, home at the CBC.”
Under Jordan’s leadership, two new shows have been added to the CBC Music schedule: The Block, hosted by Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe, is dedicated to music of Black origin; Frequencies, helmed by Errol Nazareth, celebrates musical storytelling from cultures and communities across Canada that don’t usually get exposure on mainstream radio.
“The main reason we cancelled Vinyl Tap is to get some new voices on the air and also to cover some musical ground,” Jordan, formerly the executive director of the Polaris Music Prize, told The Globe. “CBC Music needs to do its best to reflect the country, and I found that there are some areas of the country that are not being reflected.”
Since its inception in 2005, Vinyl Tap has tended to feature classic radio sounds, supplemented by backstage stories and upbeat musicology told by the chatty veteran musician of Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame. Bachman was not shy about playing songs of his own – the guitar riff to BTO’s Takin’ Care of Business was the theme music – and the show’s playlists didn’t always live up to the taxpayer-funded network’s mandate of 50-per-cent Canadian content.
“There were couple of times we had to speak with him about that,” Jordan said, referring to Vinyl Tap’s Cancon quotient. “But we actually interfered very little, or if at all, with Randy’s show.”
Bachman backed that up: “They told me never to change Vinyl Tap.”
The show’s themed, two-hour episodes aired Saturday evenings on Radio One, with repeats on Sunday on CBC Music and the following Friday night on Radio One. According to a CBC spokesperson, Vinyl Tap is the 11th-ranked show on CBC Music, but is outside the top 20 for its main Radio One stations.
Bachman’s CBC finale will be a three-hour Canada Day special on Thursday, from 3-6 p.m., carried on CBC Music and the digital hub CBC Listen.
Though a replacement for Vinyl Tap’s prime-time time slot has yet to be revealed, Jordan said the change will allow the network to “take that space and freshen it up with new faces,” and to spotlight underexposed genres represented by Canadian artists on an international level, such as electronic dance music.
“We will be looking to uncover more diverse aspects of the music world,” Jordan said. “That, and making sure women are properly represented. Everything we do at CBC Music has that lens on it.”
Last week, Canada’s public broadcaster announced three new original weekly radio shows to help fill the Radio One summer schedule. All are focused on cultural identity. Unforked, hosted by Samira Mohyeddin, looks at the politics behind the food we eat. Recovering Filipino, with Jim Agapito, celebrates that culture. This Place, helmed by Rosanna Deerchild, is dedicated to the Indigenous experience in Canada.
While Bachman is on board with the network’s commitment to diversity, he maintains that Vinyl Tap “was not to be a cultural show,” and that it was meant to be “fun and entertaining.”
Since his show’s cancellation was announced earlier this year, the 77-year-old Winnipeg native said he has been flooded with e-mails, crayoned notes from kids and typewritten letters from the Smith Corona set, all in support of his weekly ride down musical memory lanes.
“Some guys have classic cars, and they get dressed up with their wife and kids and they get in a ‘55 Chevy,” Bachman said. “They drive out and get a hamburger and a milkshake and they drive around singing along to Vinyl Tap like it’s Happy Days every Saturday night.”
Of course, it’s no longer 1955 in Canada. It’s not even 2020. The landscape has changed and the CBC is changing with it, leaving Bachman behind.
Which isn’t to say Vinyl Tap is necessarily a thing of the past. Bachman is currently in discussions with private radio networks in Canada to carry the show nationally. The idea is to buy two hours of radio time on Saturday nights and finance the show with sponsors, rather than selling commercials.
“I’m already planning my next 12 episodes,” Bachman said. “I’m going to continue my show, for my listeners, on channels they already listen to, which are classic rock stations. I am going forward.”