Going…going…gone? (TSN990 and what really matters)

How much is too much?

Does more always equal better?

Do we need to review our definition of value?

These are some of the questions that arise when I sit down long enough with the “big” questions. As you dig down beneath the surface of an issue, getting underneath the common arguments, reducing the points down to their purest form – you often end up with these sort of existential questions.

Problem is that when you’re dealing with an issue that is seemingly straightforward and black and white, these sorts of subjective and incomplete answers don’t seem to be enough. They just don’t cut it.

Or maybe, they’re just what we need.

Last week Bell Media (part of BCE), the largest telecommunications company in Canada, announced it was going to shut down the English-language sports radio station TSN990 and convert it to a French radio station. Here is the backstory. Just over 10 years ago the TEAM990 radio station was created and with the help of local sports broadcasting veterans Ted Blackman, Mitch Melnick, and others, the TEAM990 built a loyal audience and established itself as a reliable source of sports news and talk radio for the anglophone community of Montreal. In 2007, Bell Media bought the TEAM990 as part of a larger acquisition and eventually switched the station’s name to TSN990, with the station continuing to run pretty much as usual. This year, Bell Media made a deal to buy Astral Media for over 3 billion dollars, but because of CRTC laws stopping one company from owning too many stations in the same market, Bell Media is deciding to shut down TSN990 radio so that their purchase of Astral can go through.

Seems straightforward enough. A company wants to make a purchase and grow; there are legitimate laws stopping the deal from happening; so the company is closing one of their smaller divisions and getting the deal done.

What’s the problem?

Sure it’s unfortunate that TSN990/TEAM990 has to be closed down. Yes it’s terrible that all those years of hard work and community-building and benefit to our culture will be lost. But what can you do? It’s nobody’s fault directly, it’s just circumstance.

And this is where those existential questions run into those black and white situations.

How much is too much? Does more always equal better? Do we need to review our definition of value?

A billion dollar corporation gets that much bigger – but a business built of passion and hard work will be no more. An already abnormally large company buys out its competitor so that it can increase its revenue – but we lose an important part of the local community.

What is it that we hold as important? At what point do we put aside the excuses of circumstance and pay attention to the pervasive effects that unlimited corporate growth is having on our culture?

It is sometimes difficult to keep focused on such abstract moral subtleties when faced with the seemingly inarguable notion of increased profit being a good thing. But we must keep these questions constantly with us, because even if the theories and policies that we use are cold and efficient, we are not.

We need these abstract things. This culture that gets eaten away bit by bit is important to us. In today’s modern world the culture we grow up in becomes our heritage – and it should not be so easily sacrificed.

As time goes on, and as corporations intertwine themselves into more and more of our lives, we must find a delicate balance between growth and conservation, between the harsh advance of capital and the value of those harder-to-define things we need.

Deals like the Bell/Astral one may seem benign, may seem like the “natural” evolution of a market economy, but we must ask: is giving away another piece of ourselves really worth that minuscule bump in profit margin? Let’s be careful and protective of that abstract thing we call our culture, because if we are not, if we simply shrug our shoulders at supposedly black and white circumstances, that abstract and very fragile thing we call our heritage will slowly disappear.

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