CBC Radio is shaking up its tempest-tossed arts and culture show q for the third time in less than two years, removing the rapper-turned-broadcaster Shadrach Kabango after only 16 months in the host's chair.
Known by the stage name Shad, Mr. Kabango will be replaced by Tom Power, a St. John's-bred musician and broadcaster who has served as presenter of CBC's Radio 2 Morning since 2011. Shad's final show will be Tuesday. Mr. Power will take over as host in October.
The move comes amid falling listenership for q, which never recovered its footing after CBC fired its founding host, Jian Ghomeshi, in October, 2014, amid concerns about inappropriate behaviour. Dozens of U.S. stations have also dropped the show over the past year.
The removal of Shad, who had no prior broadcasting experience, is a sharp about-face for CBC, which tapped him for the job after a months-long audition process in the winter of 2015, when a series of aspirants took a spin in the host's chair for a week at a time. Mr. Power had landed on the short list, but didn't get the job.
Instead, executives cited Shad's experience as a musician, laid-back nature and heritage – he was born in Kenya to Rwandan parents, and moved to London, Ont., at a young age – as factors that made him the ideal new face of the public broadcaster's mid-morning flagship arts and culture show. They insisted Shad would grow into the role, but months after the new q kicked off with a splashy launch in April, 2015, critics noted he had failed to evolve much as an interviewer, and listeners were taking notice. In June, the show had an average-minute audience of only 168,000, a drop of almost 28 per cent since June, 2014. (The show's average listenership for the 2015-16 season was 215,400, down almost 16 per cent from Mr. Ghomeshi's final complete season in 2013-2014.)
In the United States, where it is carried by Public Radio International, the show airs on 124 stations, down from a high of almost 180 stations during the latter Ghomeshi era.
The CBC executive who made the moves said she would not blame anyone for q's difficulties. "I think blame is a useless emotion," said Susan Marjetti, who inherited responsibility for the show when she became the executive director of CBC Radio English Services in August, 2015. "I'm looking ahead. I can't manage backward – can't look backward, other than to understand." She added that the q production team "has been through a lot these last couple of years. I'm very proud of how hard they worked to push this show forward under some pretty challenging times."
Ms. Marjetti rejected the calls from some critics who said the show should be entirely scrapped. "Here's the thing: I need a music performance arts culture show in Canada, and q is still a very strong brand and a very strong franchise." Citing new research that she said surveyed more than 3,000 Canadians, Ms. Marjetti acknowledged "there's a need for change, but there's also a really strong base to build on."
She added that Mr. Power "is also a musician and artist, but he's a seasoned broadcaster, and Tom has been growing his audience and growing his skills over the last couple of years and I think it came down to fit."
Ms. Marjetti dismissed suggestions made by some on social media that the choice of Mr. Power to replace Mr. Kabango spoke to CBC's lack of dedication to diversity, and pointed to her track record. "When I joined CBC Toronto in 2001, there was no racial diversity in the host ranks, and when I left, eight out of 10 hosts considered themselves to be diverse, 32 per cent of the staff makeup – up from about 2 per cent in 2001. You won't find a bigger champion of diversity. I think my body of work speaks for itself."
She added that CBC is hoping to work with Shad in another capacity that "plays to his strengths, including his expertise in music and curation, his strong sense of community. He brings a lot to the table."
The show will get a new executive producer, Jennifer Moroz, who has served as EP for CBC Radio's The Current as well as producer on CBC-TV's The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos.
Last month, radio station KUT in Austin, Tex., became the latest in a series of U.S. stations to drop q, after programmers there decided it had lost traction with its audience.
"It started out really pretty well for us," said Hawk Mendenhall, associate director of broadcast and content at KUT Radio. But after Mr. Ghomeshi's firing, he said, "it took a really long time to settle on a host, and it really seemed to lose any steam it had with the audience. When Jian was on, it actually did quite well for us but it has been very much on a downward slide after all the publicity and then them going through the hosts [auditions]. I think it took Shad quite a while to find his rhythm, and that didn't help."
Though the show's U.S. carriage does not bring in significant revenue – likely in the range of $1-million (U.S.) – it helps q land higher-profile guests and gives it bragging rights in the public radio universe.