Ghosts are lurking in the hallways of the CBC's downtown Toronto headquarters, and not just because Halloween is approaching.
Wednesday marks two years since CBC bosses fired Q host Jian Ghomeshi, and the broadcaster is still trying to find its equilibrium. But on Monday, 18 months after its first attempt to relaunch a post-Ghomeshi show with the rapper Shad, CBC Radio unveiled what you might call Q 3.0, with Tom Power in the host's chair steering a debut show that was muscular, intelligent, largely prerecorded and – smartly managing expectations – intentionally low-key.
"Hey," Power began, speaking atop the show's new theme song, a soulful shuffle by Ewan and Shamus Currie of the Sheepdogs, recording simply as Bros.
In the first segment, Power gently prodded Adam Cohen about his experience producing the new record of his father, Leonard Cohen. If the long interview was perhaps a mite too deferential (Cohen's fulsome praise of his father's talent practically begged for an astringent), Power was engaged, and he was comfortable using his own experience – the death of his father a few years ago – as an entrée to how the younger Cohen manages his father's creeping infirmity.
After the interview, which had been prerecorded, Power reflected on the experience. "Speaking with Adam Cohen was honestly a little bit scary," he told listeners. "Because, you know, you're worried when you're speaking with somebody about their parent, that you're either going to get too personal or the relationship you feel with your parent isn't honestly easy to talk about."
He added: "It's really beautiful to hear [Adam Cohen] talk about his dad: this guy who's an icon to us but, at the end of the day, is just Dad to him."
Power frequently seemed to have been encouraged to share something of himself: In introducing the second segment, about the First Nations comedy-drama Mohawk Girls, he said that, though he had begun watching the show for work, he found that he couldn't stop. "It's crazy addictive, like peanut M&Ms," he quipped.
He spoke in Studio Q with Tracey Deer, Mohawk Girls' executive producer, and Brittany LeBorgne, one of the lead actresses, about the quietly groundbreaking nature of the show, a sort of Sex and the City set on the Kahnawake reserve.
Under Power's gentle questioning, LeBorgne recalled how she grew up without believing she could ever be an actress. The host noticed that Deer seemed to be choking up, so he asked her about her reaction.
Deer explained: "As a young Mohawk woman, I felt very closed in, I felt caged in, I felt like there was no point to live my life. …
"I couldn't make choices for myself, because everyone was making them for me, and if I did not do it as they said, then I would be rejected by my people. It's a very tough line to walk," she said, sounding emotional. "You don't want to lose your people, but you also want to live your life, you want to follow your dreams, you want to follow your passion, you want to follow your heart."
With a few minutes to spare in the first hour, Power introduced a new short-doc feature the show is calling Q Origin Story. Monday's had the former Exxon engineer Andy Hildebrand narrating the story of how he invented the recording software known as Auto-Tune. As he spoke, snippets of Auto-Tuned songs – including country, reggae, Bollywood and Cher – illustrated his points.
The final half-hour was a richly produced piece of tape with Thomas Dolby, the early-eighties synth hero whose new memoir, The Speed of Sound, frames him (as Power suggested) as something of a Forrest Gump of pop music.
There were treats along the way for most music fans, even those who weren't big on Dolby's No. 1 hit She Blinded Me With Science. The interview, recorded recently in a New York City studio, unfolded as a sort of musical This is Your Life, with Power playing clips of music and then asking Dolby to talk about them. As Dolby recalled his mid-seventies high-school classmate Shane MacGowan (who later became the front man of the folk-punk band the Pogues) dissing a then-new Pink Floyd album, the title track from Wish You Were Here played in the background. Dolby mentioned MacGowan's adoration of the Sex Pistols, and that band's God Save the Queen crashed into the mix.
As Dolby went on to talk about his unlikely (if platinum-record-winning) work with Foreigner, Def Leppard and George Clinton, as well as a close encounter with Michael Jackson, snippets of those acts played underneath.
And for those who don't like any of those bands, there was still another treat in store: Dolby telling the story of how he created the famous Nokia ringtone from a 19th-century Romantic guitar piece, a snippet of which then wafted in, like a waking dream.
The segment nicely illustrated the collaborative nature of radio at its best. Rather than position Power in the centre of the encounter, producers had him simply ask a series of preset questions, letting Dolby tell his tales while they layered in other sounds that helped to bring the stories to life.
In interviews before the launch, Power insisted that, while he is the new face (and voice) of Q, the show is the product of a large and talented crew; the first episode subtly underlined that argument.
Still, Power is a relative unknown to most listeners of Radio One, so a new concluding bit, called The Daily Q Dedication, allowed him to share a bit of his own biography – he was born and raised in St. John's – before he introduced a collaboration between friends from Newfoundland, singer Amelia Curran and the folk group The Once.
As exorcisms go, it was mighty jaunty, and it went by quickly. "See you tomorrow!" Power trilled, sounding thrilled. "Later on!"