WBEZ: What are you smokin’??!?!

First, let me say that I love public radio. I’ve been a supporter of WBEZ since I moved to Chicago… but this… this will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.

An article in yesterday’s Tribune, Fans dial up anger over format change discusses Chicago Public Radio’s plans to adopt an “all talk” format. Yep. That means no music shows, from locally produced shows like “Passport” to syndicated shows like “Afropop Worldwide”. They are going to instead, talk about music. Yeah. Um, okay.

Torey Malatia lined up a series of some of the lamest reasons I’ve ever heard as rationale for the move:

    “What we’ve wanted to do was support the artistic community in a more effective way.”

    “If we’re not attempting to compete as a music station … but merely celebrate good music often, and allow people to talk about it and explain it … I think it brings the audience into the music deeper.”

    “I think that it’s quite conceivable that this might actually produce at least initially lower ratings than a more familiar kind of format.”

Uh, do you think?

I’ve touted Public Radio to many of my friends. I’ve enthusiastically supported WBEZ for the diversity of programming they offer. I welcome changes to bring new viewpoints into their schedule. But this is ridiculous! Shit-canning music across the board is quite possibly the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. They do this, and mark my words: I will never support Chicago Public Radio again.

Update: The announcement is officially up at the Chicago Public Radio website. I still think Torey Malatia owes the listeners/members an apology for the half-assed way this “announcement” was handled. And I think he owes us some concrete plans for exactly what this change will entail. Over at my blog I’ve outlined what I think are the ways this has been botched, and what I think Malatia should do: go on Eight-Forty-Eight and face the music.

4 Comments so far

  1. Bill V (unregistered) on April 17th, 2006 @ 10:28 pm

    I think it’s pretty shortsighted to pull the music from the programming. The best thing about this station is the mix of different types of talk, and different types of music, much that won’t be heard elsewhere. There will be a drop-off in my listening to the station.

  2. morgen (unregistered) on April 18th, 2006 @ 10:53 am

    I heard they might be starting a second station that will have music shows only. This was a friend of a friend type of thing, so I have no idea how reliable it is.

  3. morgen (unregistered) on April 18th, 2006 @ 10:55 am

    So…I just actually read the article in the post. Not so reliable it tuns out. At least that’s cleared up.

  4. Bill Edwards (unregistered) on April 22nd, 2006 @ 9:04 pm

    Hi Dave, I share your sentiments 100%. I wrote the following to Robert Feder:

    Hi Mr. Feder,

    During my time living in Chicago and Milwaukee, I have continued to enjoy your reporting on the Chicago radio scene. I have always been loyal to both WFMT and WBEZ, and believe me during the years that streams and cable were not available, I went through my share of antennas and positioning so that I could continue to pick these stations up.

    For a number of reasons, I am extremely disappointed that program director Torey Malatia has put the ax to Jazz. Before you even go into the pros and cons of dropping jazz, Mr. Malatia delivered a below-the-belt blow to all jazz supporters timed just perfectly after this last pledge drive. I do not believe that Mr. Malatia did a very serious canvassing of his listeners regarding this, let alone that it has been proven over the years that ratings to the public radio and fine arts music formats are not nearly as relevant as to their demographics, fierce loyalty, and appreciation for what this type of radio operation does. Since I was a teenager able to pick up WBEZ in Milwaukee (with the exception of Ron Cuzner up here), I have never found any jazz station to come close to the wide variety and special emphasis that BEZ gave to latin flavored jazz. All of the program hosts were most informative and enthusiastic of what they played.

    With Mr. Malatia’s axing of jazz and all musical programs, he has also killed another great WBEZ tradition, and that is the airing of live Jazz broadcasts from Grant Park. His predecessor especially blew it when he canned the live Blues Broadcasts. I would tape those broadcasts religiously and these broadcasts were the place to hear the best blues in the world from Chicago – be it the more brassier “south side type” vs. the fierce “west side picking.” While the station cries that these festivals were just getting way to expensive to put on, they could have pulled in a lot more persons, not normal public radio listeners to become exposed to WBEZ, or to many feeder stations that carried these great broadcasts, including WYMS in Milwaukee where I heard most of the broadcasts. What disrespect and contempt does Mr. Malatia have for the fooled listeners, but in firing Chris Hein, and putting out in the alley Dick Buckley, and Richard Steele, and a parade of excellent hosts that helped us end our days on as positively a note as possible.

    Without a doubt, WBEZ’s loss will be WDCB’s gain. Thank God WDCB as a stream, although their signal does not usually cross the border up north here unless we have the right atmospheric pattern.

    In a little fairness to Mr. Malatia, he may be looking at what we have up here with Wisconsin Public Radio. You have both a separate music and “ideas” feeds from Madison. But at how many listeners’ expense – and will there ever be a live jazz broadcast from Grant Park? I don’t think WDCB will have the strength, staff or moxie to fill these WBEZ shoes. At least for Blues broadcasting, maybe this is an opportunity for Tom Marker and WXRT . . .

    The price of gasoline is considerably too high. We don’t have control over that. Mr. Malatia does have control over reversing his stupidity on this one . . .

    Thanks again and thanks for reading!

    Very Best, Bill Edwards

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