Shadrach Kabango, a.k.a. Shad, is the new host of CBC Radio’s Q, it was announced last night. He starts in mid-April—a few weeks after headlining Massey Hall for the first time.
It couldn’t go to a nicer guy. Shad is a real mensch, a positive force, an artist with insatiable curiosity, and an incredibly talented wordsmith who has made some of the finest hip-hop in Canadian history.
So there’s that.
But is he the right host for Q?
The CBC is no doubt basking in the great press that Shad’s appointment will get. That’s because a lot of people know and love Shad – and deservedly so. There is no way that any kind of splash would be made if someone inside the CBC, or even merely anyone with journalism or radio experience, was named the new host of Q.
This is a job only for artists, apparently. Cindy Witten, head of CBC Radio Talk, said in the press release announcing the hire: "We found there were different points of connection with the guests when the host was a creator or an artist themselves."
This has been evident ever since the early 2000s, the era that ushered in Jian Ghomeshi as a CBC personality. Ghomeshi was a musician of some renown before he moved into broadcasting (although, as it has been often pointed out, only the CBC would consider Moxy Fruvous hip and edgy). So was Sook-Yin Lee, the host of Definitely Not the Opera. Later on, so was Buck 65 (host of CBC Radio 2 Drive) and Molly Johnson (host of CBC Radio 2 Weekend Morning) and Julie Nesrallah (host of CBC Radio 2 Tempo). At least Sook-Yin Lee had hosted television and Buck 65 had done campus radio—most celebrities the CBC hires are green in a radio studio. Randy Bachman—don’t get me started (apparently Wikipedia passes for research and script-writing). The assumption is that anyone can be moulded into a CBC personality.
True, it did work for Ghomeshi. But it sure took time. He was on TV first. Then he guest hosted Sounds Like Canada and did limited-run series like 50 Tracks and Canada Reads. By the time he started at Q, he had plenty of broadcasting experience. And, as we now all know, he had an incredibly strong (and suffering) support team at Q propping him up. I found Q unlistenable for its first few years, before Ghomeshi started hitting his stride. Admittedly, as someone with plenty of interviewing and broadcast experience, I also tasted sour grapes: Come on, I thought, I know 20 people who could do a better job. But then Ghomeshi got better—much better. It’s why his fall from grace had such an impact. He was no longer a joke.
Shad does not have the experience Ghomeshi had at Q’s start. Shad’s week-long guest run as Q host was no better or worse than anyone else being tried on-air. His beginnings are going to be bumpy. The CBC hopes they can just announce his name and snap their fingers and everything is going to be hunky-dory. It will not. Goodwill is going to have to carry him a long way—and, again, to be clear, Shad has enough of it to make it possible.
But amidst the excitement and optimism, it has to be said: journalists need not apply for these kinds of positions. It’s the same reason ex-athletes are hired to be sportscasters. Anyone can do it, right? Don’t even bother going to school for training. Get famous—or even semi-famous—first.
Let’s hope we don’t lose Shad the artist. Go see him at Massey Hall on March 27 and celebrate.