Ten days before he was fired, Jian Ghomeshi and his CBC Radio One show Q were on top of the world. They had travelled to Los Angeles for a live taping at the Broad Stage Theatre, featuring interviews with celebrities Zach Galifianakis, Martin Short, Sandra Oh, singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis and others. For Mr. Ghomeshi and his local hosts, Southern California Public Radio, the live show was supposed to be a high point after a year of building its presence in a city they saw as a rich potential source of both high-profile guests and listeners.
“I added [Q] maybe a year ago, and then invited them down to do a live show as a way to build audience and connect with the people who were enjoying it,” said Collin Campbell, the managing editor for broadcast at SCPR, which programs three stations.
But when CBC management removed Mr. Ghomeshi from his show last Sunday, SCPR was left in the dark, as listeners who heard the news on Twitter and Facebook began calling its stations to find out what was going on.
Mr. Campbell eventually heard from CBC executives, but he’s not the only one wondering how the CBC moves forward without the charismatic host in which it had invested so much of its energies and its hopes for the future. Mr. Ghomeshi’s show, which is heard on 180 U.S. public radio stations, as well as a handful of U.S. TV stations, was one of the few bright spots for a broadcaster beset in recent years by federal budget cuts, changing audience habits and attacks by partisan critics.
“It’s devastating, because Q was a big name, and it was a success story in a place where we have had very few success stories, and success stories are important right now,” said one long-time radio producer in the current-affairs department.
The show was not as big a success as is widely perceived: its average listenership in Canada was about 280,000 in September, and in the U.S. its average quarter-hour listenership last spring was only 137,000. Still, it was gaining international traction and bringing in revenue from license fees, prompting managers to see Q as one model for the future of CBC’s radio operations.
Still, while CBC’s television operations have been stalling, especially after the loss of rights to NHL games, radio has flourished.“Radio was the little jewel, right?” the producer added. “We’re doing wonderfully, we’re growing and putting out great stuff and the country was supportive of us – and then this happens? It just makes you feel sick, and people are wondering what they indirectly supported.”
On Monday, CBC staff worked feverishly to erase any trace of the host. After an oversized portrait of Mr. Ghomeshi in the Canadian Broadcast Centre in Toronto was whitewashed, his visage and name were removed from the Q website and social-media feeds. On Tuesday, when guest Lynn Cunningham appeared for an interview, a producer had difficulty bringing her a drink of water because all the show’s branded mugs had been removed from the studio.
The show has been in such turmoil that Friday’s broadcast was scrubbed late on Thursday, and replaced with old highlight segments. Staff have been offered a week off to clear their heads, and a former senior producer, Matt Tunnacliffe, has been brought back to run next week’s shows. They will be one hour rather than the usual 90 minutes. Other programming will fill in the final 30 minutes of the time slot.
“It’s been a remarkably difficult week, and what we’ve tried to do is give people some breathing space,” said Cindy Witten, the senior director of talk radio for CBC’s Radio One service.
CBC executives admit they do not yet know their precise way forward. They have told their U.S. partners they will continue with guest hosts, including Brent Bambury and Tom Power. But whether Q is scrapped or built around a new host is not yet known. Nor do managers know whether the next host will be the very public face of the show.
“I think we’re going to take our time with all of those big decisions,” Ms. Witten said. “I think this is an opportunity to really look for interesting talent. I think the hallmarks of the program – arts, music, culture – are important.”
On Friday afternoon, Ms. Witten suggested more consideration has been given to how staff, rather than the programming, move forward.
“I made a commitment to my team, to my staff that things have to change, that I personally have zero tolerance – none – for inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment of any kind, and I asked them to believe that, and to embrace that, and that if there’s any kind of impropriety, I asked them to please talk to me or someone they’re comfortable with,” she said.Report Typo/Error