With only 10 minutes left in Metro Morning’s live outdoor broadcast, the show’s host has disappeared. At 8:20 a.m., the table where he and his colleagues have been sitting is completely abandoned in Toronto’s Simcoe Park, above which the Canadian Broadcasting Centre looms, and yet Matt Galloway’s voice continues to resonate over large speakers. It’s Bike to Work Day, and he’s stepped away from his chair, taking the discussion to the listeners who have been strolling—and riding—through the park all morning. Galloway, wearing a bright blue T-shirt with a white bicycle symbol, is barely visible amid the 20 people clustered around him.

He asks one of them what she thinks would help drivers, cyclists and pedestrians get along better. “Signaling would be my key thing,” says Erika Steffer, who is perched on her bike, helmet still strapped on. “The number of people that do not signal drives me around the twist.” Galloway enjoys a quick chuckle and casually places his other hand in his pocket. He gets it—he rides his bike to work every morning around four.

But just days earlier, when the CBC Radio One host explored the controversial decision in the Michael Bryant case, it was impossible to presume he was such an avid cyclist. On May 25, 2010, the Crown withdrew all criminal charges against the former Ontario attorney general related to the death of cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard in August 2009. The next day, Galloway sat across the studio’s table from former journalist Susan Reisler, who is now vice president of the public relations company Media Profile, to discuss the aftermath. “The special prosecutor explains in great detail why these charges were dropped, because he didn’t believe they would result in a conviction,” Galloway said just over three minutes in. “And yet, there are people who still think that Michael Bryant managed to get away with something.” What he didn’t tell listeners was that he’d been involved in his own bike collision almost 20 years ago—a van hit him—but there was no telling if he counted himself as one of those “people” or not. He didn’t allow his own take to slip out over the airwaves.

Galloway then played an audio clip of Yvonne Bambrick, then a director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, expressing her frustration with the outcome, arguing that cyclists receive a ticket for something as small as not having a bell. “Does that add to the conversation in terms of us better understanding what happened or what didn’t happen, or is it a distraction from the issue at heart?” Galloway asked evenly. “It’s a distraction from the issue at heart,” Reisler responded, tossing back the host’s words verbatim.

In the early hours of the morning, extracting illuminating answers from every interview subject is no easy job. Succeeding Andy Barrie, the radio legend who retired after 44 years in broadcasting, 15 of which were atMetro Morning, Galloway is working hard to maintain the show’s reputation for offering the best local journalism on Toronto radio while still holding top spot in the ratings against the morning zoos and sports talk. His predecessor helped make Metro Morning the number one morning show in Toronto in the early 2000s, but Galloway is no Barrie, who rarely displayed reserve when it came to sharing his opinions with listeners. And that means Galloway must put up with the inevitable comparisons, even as he takes on the task of continuing the show’s mandate: to be the voice of a multicultural city, and not only keep current listeners, but attract younger ones. That’s a lot to throw on Galloway’s small frame.

 

First place in the ratings and 200,000 listeners wasn’t an easy feat for Metro Morning. When commercial radio flourished in the late ’60s, CBC Radio ran commercials, classical music and 15- to 30-minute programs on a single network. The crown corporation’s board of governors almost killed the whole thing because of low ratings and irrelevance. Back then, the network pulled in at most 86,000 listeners from coast to coast. In desperation, the public broadcaster commissioned a report by producers Peter Meggs and Doug Ward, who talked to people and programmers across the country and discovered there was a large prospective audience in the morning. So CBC divided the broadcast schedule into huge blocks of network programming that went to all 35 stations and created or remodeled local current affairs shows for regional programming.

The Toronto morning show, originally dubbed Tomorrow Is Here, launched in 1973. The commercials were gone two years later, leaving uninterrupted analysis, debate, first-hand reports and an array of viewpoints. When Anne Wright-Howard arrived in 1979 as the producer, she brought her experience as a former story producer on the critically acclaimed network program As It Happens. “When I took over the show, it was sort of rambling and not very journalistic,” says Wright-Howard, now a freelancer after retiring from CBC two years ago. By hiring a flock of bright young journalists, she created a sense of immediacy, shaved interviews down to three or four minutes, and taught staff to challenge guests to advance the story.

The idea was to reflect the city as it evolved. “Forty years ago, Toronto was changing,” says Jim Curran, who has been Metro Morning’s traffic reporter since the show’s inception. “And it still is.” Barrie joined the program in 1995, when shows such as Metro Morning were speaking to minorities, rather than with them. In 1998, Alex Frame, then vice president of CBC Radio, recognized the problem. “Frame said to us, ‘We need to change, and if we don’t, we’ll become the precious emblem of a dying elite,’” says Joan Melanson, now executive producer of CBC Radio programs in the Toronto region. “We decided to ask our research department what are the largest groups of people in the city and how can we bring them into the on-air conversation?”

This included everything from the opening theme (reinvented by the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, a local band that combines rhythms from India with influences from other musical cultures) to the stories and guests. The overhaul, launched in September 2002, focused on the city’s broad diversity. The 2001 census showed visible minorities comprised over 40 percent of Toronto’s population, up from approximately four percent in a 1951 census. Metro Morning story producer Lu Zhou, originally from China, won a Gabriel Award in 2004 for her coverage of the kidnapping and murder of nine-year-old Cecilia Zhang. Zhou spoke with the parents, both immigrants from China, in Mandarin, and did a voice-over translation, covering the story with unusual sensitivity. In the past, the parents would likely have told their story in limited and halting English over the airwaves.

The combination of this editorial renewal, a signal switch to FM and Barrie at the helm propelled the program up the morning show ratings. By 2002, Metro Morning had hit the top spot.

 

CBC Radio morning shows in other cities have experienced similar success with smart local journalism. Vancouver’s The Early Edition and its private competitor CKNW have teetered between the top two slots, while Calgary’s morning show, The Eyeopener, which began moving up in the ratings about five years ago, has been number one for nearly three years. The popularity of the on-air dynamic between the two hosts is part of its appeal, but Calgary program director Helen Henderson says, “We’ve tried hard to have conversations with our audiences about things that are important to them, like the growth of the suburbs or the lack of an adequate public transportation system.”

CBC Radio has an obvious advantage—public funding, a large and diverse staff, no commercials to annoy listeners and eat up roughly 20 minutes every hour—but it conquered the airwaves when private stations gave up the competition altogether. In the era of packaged radio, marketing companies have taken over and seem more concerned with branding commercial stations than anything else. “Metro Morning’s singular success is that it’s offering listeners something they just can’t find anywhere else,” says Mike Karapita, program coordinator for the journalism program at Humber College in Toronto. “It’s an intelligent, focused morning show packed with information about life in the city.” Competitor CHFI, on the other hand, provides a safe and comforting morning experience for listeners, but it delivers little intelligent information about the city, according to Karapita. Even CFRB—now known as Newstalk 1010—has tumbled since its heyday in the ’60s and ’70s, when it ruled the local market, fronted by such legendary hosts as morning man Wally Crouter. “If you measure the number of stories they actually cover, I don’t think there’s any comparison whatsoever,” says Barrie, who was a host at CFRB for nearly 15 years before moving to CBC Radio. “With public broadcasting, you’re not selling listeners to advertisers, you’re providing a service to the listener.”

And unlike the partisan ideology of some private radio programs, Metro Morning tries to offer as many perspectives as possible, especially for big,controversial stories. For the G20 summit in June 2010, the show’s coverage extended from April to July. In May, it examined concerns over the $1-billion security costs for protecting world leaders, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s security expectations, and discontent that Ottawa wouldn’t reimburse property owners for losses in the event of vandalism. In late July, stories included a look at how much money was lost due to vandalism,a review of police conduct and an examination of the legal concerns following the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.

While wide-ranging content is crucial to keeping Metro Morning on top, many attribute the show’s rise to number one to Barrie and miss hearing his warm, mellow voice as they roll out of bed. “Andy could talk about anything and make it sound like he was your best friend who had just thought of something new he wanted to tell you,” says John Moore of Newstalk 1010’s morning show. Barrie’s strong opinions and passion for news also made for engaging radio. In one famous interview, he argued with the marketing director of FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom) that his 88-year-old mother would find the company’s planned billboard on Bloor Street offensive. “What if you walked out of your apartment in the morning and across the street it read C-N-U-T on a sign 10 feet high?” he asked. “How would you feel about that?”

On January 30, 2010, Barrie turned 65 and announced that he planned to stay at CBC, but not behind the microphone. The big question: Who would step into the long shadow the beloved veteran had cast? And the even bigger question: Could he or she keep Metro Morning’s reputation—and ratings—at the top?

 

Matt Galloway couldn’t be a better fit for a show that hopes to look, sound and feel like the diverse city it serves if he’d come from central casting. He is the child of a biracial marriage, lives with his partner of 18 years and two young daughters in Toronto’s culturally eclectic Christie Pits neighbourhood, and is 25 years younger than Barrie. He is also a traveller, fervent reader, music lover, food fanatic and sports enthusiast. Now 40, he got his start in radio while attending York University. He originally planned to become a world literature professor (he studied English), but on his first night in residence, he stumbled into the campus radio station. “I had listened to radio my whole life, but didn’t know anything about the business of it at all,” he says. “It was like this crash course in how to talk and be on the radio.”

He learned the basics—cutting tape, putting shows together and playing music. And he learned how to put a microphone to someone, usually musicians coming through town. “It was generally just about being curious and asking questions,” he says. “As a music fan, you just asked yourself, what did you want to know about the artist, the record or the process?”

Galloway has been involved with CBC Radio for over 10 years, freelancing, producing and hosting for almost a dozen different programs, including Global VillageThe Current and Sounds Like Canada. His big break came in 2004 when his position as fill-in host at the afternoon drive-home program Here and Now turned into a full-time job. In January 2009, he became a regular voice on Metro Morning when he replaced Barrie for four weeks. By March, he was the permanent Friday host.

When he took over a year later, Galloway was well versed in the show’s formula. Still, with a new host, the content was bound to change to reflect his interests. “He has so much music knowledge that it’s almost a little bit scary,” says Garvia Bailey, host of the Saturday arts and performance program Big City, Small World. In fact, he often collaborates with the music producer to make song selections. Meanwhile, stories and discussion about food are far more common, and his passion for sports has led to another noticeable change, especially since Barrie was so indifferent to the games. “With Matt, it’s not necessarily so much a sportscast as a discussion,” says CBC national sports reporter Scott Regehr. “For me, it’s far more of a chat than a singular analysis.”

Inevitably, not everyone shares Regehr’s enthusiasm for more sports. “The sports reporter used to come in, do his thing, and when he was finished, he’d go away,” says retired Toronto Star columnist Michele Landsberg, “There was never this chummy thing where the two guys acted like they were at a bar, going over every move of every player.” Listeners have also noticed a significant shift in the show’s interview style. Barrie was quick to engage guests with his strong political leanings. Galloway, on the other hand, is less transparent about his own views. “I think Matt is like a lot of people at CBC,” says Barrie. “I don’t think he’s ever been into hard news, but there have been news reporters who have become hosts, and they have a very, very difficult time projecting attitude or opinion because, as a journalist, you’re not supposed to.” Perhaps that’s why Galloway never mentioned that he is a cyclist to Reisler, or to Rob Ford when he cited the then mayoral candidate’s comment about cyclists being “a pain in the ass.”

Galloway says it’s important to sustain this impartiality, knowing that listeners have a broad range of opinions. “I really, really try to be the devil’s advocate, and kind of play it through the middle,” he says. “Even if you think one thing, and it sounds like you’re leaning one way, come at people the other way.” Some agree, commending his journalistic neutrality on air. “He’s a very balanced journalist, and I think that’s a big reason why they put him in that position,” says Michael Hlinka, Metro Morning’s business commentator and a favourite with listeners. “He works very hard on the air to maintain his objectivity.”

Others are less convinced. “I don’t seem to be getting the same depth,” says Landsberg, shortly after the host switch. She mentions an interview Galloway conducted with political activist Judy Rebick on June 2, in which he suggested that activists just make a lot of noise without really accomplishing anything. “He was playing devil’s advocate, but it came across as though he were demeaning activists,” says Landsberg. “He should have probed more of that instead of playing the counterargument.” Others criticize Galloway’s mile-a-minute pace. “He’s extremely engaging and people really love him. I would just tell him to slow down and stop stuttering,” says Susan G. Cole, participant in a weekly panel on media issues on Talk 640 radio and senior entertainment editor at NOW Magazine, Toronto’s alt-weekly, where Galloway was a staff music writer for about eight years, starting in 1994.

The show—like the host himself—is formal yet informal, didactic while still somewhat chatty and focused on delivering intelligent information about life in the city. Guests range from politicians to TTC workers to local artists to grieving mothers, and Galloway prefaces interviews with cerebral and polished scripted introductions that summarize how the subject is relevant and newsworthy. “His role is not to change how we reflect the city,” says Melanson, “but to bring his own talents and his own perspectives within a non-negotiable parameter and value that already exists for the show.”

Galloway knows he has to make the program his own. “You step into that role of someone who’s been doing radio for longer than you’ve been alive, and you say, well, I’m not going to be Andy, and nobody wants me to be Andy,” he muses. “I’m going to be myself, so who am I in that role?” His objectivity could be an asset on the air or make for bran-cereal radio. Or he could become more outspoken, more like Barrie. Fortunately, he has time to find his voice. October’s ratings revealed that, for the 26th time since 2002, the show is the number one morning program in Toronto. And as long as Galloway doesn’t actively turn off listeners, they’ll stay tuned to Metro Morning. After all, anyone who wants to wake up to discerning local journalism can’t really touch that dial.