CityTV is pretty well ruined now thanks to Rogers, but back in the day it used to be really damned awesome. They did TV completely differently from the way everyone else did/does it and even though I’m nowhere near the TV watcher I was then, I still miss it and still know how much that sort of free spiritedness is lacking in basically everything that’s out there now.
One of the things that made it so fun and interesting was Speakers Corner. it was a simple concept. Put a dollar in this machine, talk about whatever you want for 2 minutes and maybe we’ll put you on television. You never knew what you were going to see. Serious people, funny people, people who probably escaped from someplace that would like them back and even the Barenaked Ladies before anyone knew who they were. I hate to repeat myself, but it was just so fun and different,and I used to love watching it.
All of that to get to this very well done article about how the show came to be, what it became and what ended up killing it in 2008 (spoiler: It was Rogers, naturally). That it ran until 2008 was the first of many things I learned from this,by the way. I’d have guessed a few years earlier. Where does the time go?
If you were ever a fan of the show, take a few minutes to read it. You’ll like it and it’ll bring back a lot of memories.
Long before social media provided every loudmouth and exhibitionist with a personal, virtual soapbox, Torontonians who wanted to share their two cents actually needed a spare loonie. That was the price of admission to Speakers Corner, a public video-recording booth open 24/7 outside the CityTV/MuchMusic building; in exchange for a buck (which was donated to the Chum Charitable Foundation), visitors were given two minutes and a space to rant.
But what at first seemed like a narcissistic novelty upon its introduction in the late-’80s would become a revolutionary feature of Moses Znaimer’s ever-expanding media empire. While clips first surfaced as filler on CityTV newscasts, Speakers Corner soon spawned a namesake weekly half-hour TV program that compiled the most amusing/perplexing videos into various topical segments: jokers, sports, battle of the sexes, politics, and many more that were invented as the show went on. (The best clip awarded a prize at the end of each episode.) Throughout its 1989-2008 run, the booth and show would attract attention from tourists, celebrities, and media moguls alike, and even serve as a career launching pad for one of Toronto’s best-known musical exports.