For those who grew up watching Much Music (the original Canadian equivalent of MTV), Speaker’s Corner was the highlight segment of the week. Speaker’s Corner began in 1990 with a booth outside of Citytv in Toronto, Canada. For one loonie (one dollar) viewers could record their thoughts on opinions on city news, similar to a “letters to the editor,” but through video. The money collected by the booth went to charity. The segments were aired on CityPulse, but soon the popularity of the corner and the wide range of viewer segments forced broadcasters to give an entire half hour slot to the segment, and other television outlets like Much Music began airing segments that were relevant to entertainment.
Speakers Corner also created celebrities. In 1991, the Barenaked Ladies, who were at the time unknown, performed the song “Be My Yoko Ono” before performing a live show at The Rivoli. The song would later become a hit single. The segment is credited for giving the band widespread publicity and ultimately giving them their big break.
Other established celebrities also made appearances on the Speakers Corner segment, including Madonna, Mike Myers, Weird Al and Will Ferrell. Often, celebrities used this platform as a way to speak directly to an audience without management or production surrounding them. They could address issues, make apologies, or provide explanations for show cancellations. Before the advent of social media, this was the most uncut version of a celebrity you could get.
However, social media did come, and with it, platforms like Youtube made Speakers Corner obsolete. According to Rogers Media, the advent of social media diminished the “cultural value” of Speakers Corner. With Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook, people are constantly in the know about each other’s lives- celebrities or not. This kind of public access, which was once coveted by aspiring musicians or entertainers like the Barenaked Ladies, was no longer a springboard, or soundboard, of fame. It did not come as much of a surprise when, in 2008, Speakers Corner officially came to an end.
What do you think? Does Speakers Corner belong in the 90s? Would we be able to make use of this type of format today even though we have social media? Let us know in the comments!