TRB Podcast: Richard Stursberg’s Tower of Babble

On April 24, Richard Stursberg joined Don Ferguson of the Royal Canadian Air Farce in conversation at the Toronto launch of Stursberg’s new book, presented by This Is Not a Reading Series, D&M Publishers, the Gladstone Hotel, and the Toronto Review of Books. In The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC, Stursberg discloses

the controversies, successes and dead ends of his time at the top.

In 2004, CBC television had sunk to its lowest audience share in its history. That same year, Richard Stursberg, an avowed popularizer with a reputation for radical action, was hired to run CBC’s Television services, by 2008 his role was expanded to head of all English services: television, online and radio. With incisive wit, Stursberg tells the story of the struggle that resulted—a struggle that lasted for six turbulent and controversial years.

Shortly after Stursberg arrived, the corporation locked out its employees for two months. Four years later, he signed the most harmonious labour contract to date. He lost the television rights for the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games. He won the biggest NHL contract in history. He had unprecedented ratings successes. He had terrible flops. He enjoyed the best radio, television and online ratings in CBC’s history. He fought endless wars with the CBC president and board about the direction of the corporation and ultimately was dismissed.

This is the story of our most loved and reviled cultural institution during its most convulsive and far-reaching period of change. It is for those who think the CBC has lost its way, those who love where it is, and those who think it should not exist in the first place. [Taken from the D&M Publishers press page]

We are pleased to present this fascinating and revealing look at a Canadian institution. Listen and enjoy!


Richard Stursberg was born in London, England and grew up in New York in the same neighbourhood as Fifty Cent, the distinguished rapper and social critic. He went to university in Canada, France and the United Kingdom. He has been Assistant Deputy Minister, Culture and Broadcasting at the federal department of Communications, President of the Canadian Cable Television association, Chairman of the Canadian Television Fund, Executive Director of Telefilm Canada (the national film financing agency) and Executive Vice President of English services at the CBC.

Don Ferguson was born and grew up in Montreal, where he earned his way through university by playing trumpet in local dance bands and working part-time in radio stations. He graduated in 1970 with an Honours BA from Loyola College (now Concordia University), and moved to Toronto to work as an audio-visual producer and photographer. He was soon lured to the stage becoming an original member of an improvisational stage comedy troupe, The Jest Society, which in 1973 evolved into Royal Canadian Air Farce, the weekly comedy show on CBC Radio that ran until 1997 and transitioned to CBC Television in 1992. Popularity and ratings success continued for Air Farce until the series wrapped with its traditional New Year’s Eve special in 2008.