That program is, of course As It Happens – and it is one of the longest running and most successful programs in the history of CBC radio.
Remarkable in its simplicity, but ambitious in its scope and range, As It Happens is like no other program on the radio. It is at once irreverent, serious, moving, tongue-in check, journalistic, probing, and playful – a unique mixture of qualities that has made it a hallmark of Canadian society and must-listen radio for Canadians who are concerned with the evolving events, debates, and matters of this country.
Each 90 minute episode of AIH (as it is colloquially known to listeners) is made up of a series of interviews with people from around the world - people who either have insight into, influence over, or have been touched by, the issues and items of the day. From dictators, and cabinet ministers, to people affected by disasters, or caught in the middle of conflict zones, to quirky and eccentric characters who have done things that baffle credulity - the range of people As It Happens speaks to is truly remarkable. And through its conversations, and perhaps in part by virtue of the medium of radio it employees, As It Happens manages to do something that very few other current affairs programs ever do - make the news of the day feel relevant, close to home, and in its best moments, even intimate, while upholding the best in public-interest journalism.
"If they weren't going after us [the CBC] it would be because we're irrelevant" - Carol Off
As a long-time listener of As It Happens myself, I’ve always been incredibly impressed with Carol Off’s rare and deft combination of insightfulness, gentleness and toughness that she brings to the role. Her dexterity and flexibility as an interviewer is truly remarkable: one minute she’s skilfully holding a powerful figure to account, asking insightful and pointed questions and drawing attention to the responsibility they bare, and moments later, expressing remarkable sensitivity and empathy in a different interview to someone caught - through no fault of their own - in a difficult or tragic situation.
But what I most admire most about Carol Off, and why I think she is so well-suited for the role with AIH, is that few journalists in this country are as skilled at holding the proverbial feet to the fire when it comes to the powerful as she is. For whenever figures in positions of authority, be them a cabinet minister or a CEO- skirts a pointed but fair question she's posed, or answers it in a way that strains credibility in the face of known facts, Carol Off never fails to express the incredulity shared by many a listener, and come at them once again, facts and skepticism in tow.
Before coming to As It Happens in 2006, Carol Off had already distinguished herself as a skilled reporter, and had spent years as a foreign correspondent for the CBC, covering conflicts all over the world – including from the Middle East, Haiti, and the Balkans.
What I most enjoy about As It Happens, is that to me it's an example of the best possible sort of what public broadcasting is all about – a forum for the airwaves for us to come together as citizens to learn about the issues, stories, and questions affecting us - A public sphere that can, and is, operated with the public interest in mind rather than the dictates of profit or shareholder value.
For if one listens regularly to As It Happens, you get a sense, I think, not just of Canada, but of the larger world we live in. It makes one – or it least it has made me – feel like a citizen in the best and richest sense of the word - an individual who lives within the context of a society, who is informed, connected, engaged, and to a degree responsible for decisions we collectively make - whether the issue happens to be from just down the street or indeed, ‘from around the world.’
But let's get to it! You can listen to our interview with Carol Off at the player below, and remember for other exclusive interviews with iconic CBC personalities (and to make sure you never miss an episode) be sure to subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.