Andy Barrie: What Canadian public broadcasting should be

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $1 per month!

Yesterday was Andy Barrie's last as host of CBC Radio's Toronto morning show. It's a shame. The shame isn't that he's going after 15 years. He has good reasons. It's that he wasn't there for 15 years before that.

Andy is like the Platonic model of what Canadian public broadcasting should be. This is despite the fact that he grew up in the United States, came here as a deserter in the Vietnam years and spent most of his career in private radio. Or maybe it's because of those things.

He says when he first arrived (he'd been a conscientious objector serving as a medic and only left when ordered into the indefensible hell of Vietnam), it was like coming home. So he's a sort of transnational. As if he had felt like a Canadian trapped inside a U.S. citizenship. He learned to talk Canadian by listening to the CBC. He valued it because we did; it wasn't just a boutique like NPR or PBS in the States. He was able to esteem what is here because it was fresh and new. While in private radio, he did an April Fool's debate based on a U.S. net, ABC, taking over CBC and calling it ABCBC. CBC never did anything as puckish or pertinent about its own role.

He's also the model of a public intellectual, a vague, overused term. Usually, it means a guy who talks like a prof but doesn't work at a university, or someone with tenure who goes on TV a lot. But it suits Andy: The intellectual part since, when he's on air, you sense a mind at work in real time, a rare thing in media. (It's even more interesting on TV, where you almost never see it. Make that never. No one ever gets an idea on TV. They spout ideas they already have.) The public part, because he treats us as citizens who share public, social concerns; we aren't just individual dorks preoccupied with buying things or extending our lifespan medically.

Contrast this with recent innovations at CBC News itself. They promise us news that "matters to you." This assumes we are shallow consumers who care only about bargains or health. So The National now leads with items on suspended drivers' licences in Toronto or the launch of the iPad. World stories zip by "in 80 seconds." I find myself turning, amazed, to CTV for serious reporting. CBC journalists (sic) wear rictus smiles; all their standing up is based on U.S. TV game shows such as Family Feud. They emit no sense that what "matters" equally to us may be justice, equality or planetary degradation. Andy's show grabbed and held first place in its slot based on respect for his listeners' intelligence. I presume the Einsteins who dumbed down the rest of CBC plan to move in and relevant it to death.

Tuesday, Andy did a typical interview with the U.K.-born ice dancing coach of a Toronto pair who finished 14th in Vancouver. He turned a delightful phrase: "Their inner children play together on the ice," since they've skated together since childhood. Later, he asked, as he said, a "strange" question: According the rules, it's always a man and a woman; why not same-sex? The coach, who we could tell was a trad type, said it would just feel wrong to him, although he admitted he often skates with the lads to show them how -- but he doesn't put on a dress to do it. Very gentle, kind of fun, it revealed something but it was up to us to decide what. At the end, the coach was effusively grateful, mostly for the respect shown him, I'd say.

Outside the CBC building in Toronto is a sculpture of Glenn Gould on a bench -- another CBC presence whose mind you could see at work. Edward Said says the humming on his records is to show us what he was thinking as he played. It was about an active mind, not a finished product. He never minded talking. He phoned CBC people at all hours. I imagine Andy sitting there with him. They talk, listen and think, as the world moves past them on Front Street.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.