WBEZ is a noncommercial public radio station broadcasting from Chicago, Illinois. Financed primarily by listener contributions, the station is affiliated with both National Public Radio and Public Radio International; it also broadcasts content from American Public Media. The station and its parent organization were previously known as Chicago Public Radio; since 2010, the parent company has been known as Chicago Public Media. Some of the organization's output is branded as WBEZ and some as Chicago Public Media. WBEZ broadcasts in HD.
Stations and call signs
In addition to its main transmitter on 91.5 FM, WBEZ operates full-power satellite WBEQ in Morris, Illinois (90.7 FM). The station also formerly operated a low-power translator in Elgin, Illinois (W217BM at 91.3); however, the translator moved to Chicago in 2014 and changed its frequency to 91.1 as W216CL.
CPM also operates a web site and radio station named Vocalo.org which broadcasts on radio stations WRTE 90.5 FM in Chicago and WBEW (89.5 FM) in Chesterton, Indiana, as well as on the W216CL translator on 91.1. Vocalo is also heard on the HD2 channel of WBEZ.
CPR/CPM also previously managed Loyola University of Chicago's WLUW 88.7 FM, heard on the North Side of Chicago and adjacent suburbs for a few years in the early 21st century. The arrangement terminated in 2007.
WBEZ first went on the air in April 1943, carrying instructional programming for the Chicago Public Schools. However, initially only a few classrooms were able to tune in, because most did not have FM receivers. For most of its early years, the station broadcast only instructional programs, operating on weekdays on which Chicago Public Schools were in session.
In 1970, WBEZ joined National Public Radio as a charter member and began general programming outside of school hours. Initially, most programming outside of the instructional programs and NPR programs was jazz music. The Board of Education sold the station to the current license holders, the not-for-profit WBEZ Alliance, Inc., in 1990. The corporate name was changed in 2010 to Chicago Public Media, Inc. The general manager from 1995 to July 2013 was Torey Malatia. The current CEO is Goli Sheikholeslami, formerly of The Washington Post, who took office in April 2014.
2007 programming change
On January 4, 2007, the station's traditional overnight jazz programming was eliminated. The music program remaining on the schedule was the world music program Radio M (formerly Passport) on Friday nights. All other music hosts were to be reassigned to other positions at the station, according to a March 2006 article in the Chicago Reader. The replacement of music programming, which management said was due to the prevalence and popularity of other music delivery systems, caused outrage amongst many in the Chicago jazz scene. Protest sites were organized but were unsuccessful. Legendary jazz disc jockey Dick Buckley retained a time slot Sunday afternoons until mid-2008.
Station management announced a five-year plan for Chicago-oriented programs to cover all seven hours between the national news programs.
Other program changes happened in October 2012, with various programs being reshuffled. At the same time, Smiley and West from PRI was quietly dropped from the Sunday afternoon line-up.
Programming on WBEZ includes international and local news, world music, and quiz shows. Notable national programs offered by WBEZ include All Things Considered, Car Talk, Marketplace, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, PRI's The World and A Prairie Home Companion. Generally, news and talk programming is heard during the day and overnight, with music and entertainment programming on the weekends.
WBEZ is best known nationally as the producer of This American Life through Public Radio Exchange, and Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! through NPR. This American Life began in 1995 as the local show Your Radio Playhouse; it was renamed in March 1996 and has been national since June 1996.
WBEZ was also the flagship station of The Annoying Music Show!, a 3-minute program that showcased generally annoying songs. The program was produced by former WBEZ program director Jim Nayder. Nayder Communications also produced the somewhat more serious Magnificent Obsession, a program of interviews with persons who have overcome various addictions. The station was also once the flagship station of Steve Cushing's nationally distributed Saturday night blues music program Blues Before Sunrise, which started in 1979 and has been independently produced and distributed by Cushing since 1995. The program was eliminated from WBEZ's lineup in the 2007 restructuring, but was taken over by public radio station WDCB in nearby Glen Ellyn.
Its morning magazine program Eight Forty-Eight was initially named after the postal address of the station, 848 East Grand Avenue. The show is now called The Morning Shift.
The corresponding afternoon program was called The Afternoon Shift. WBEZ touted the program as "a live talk show featuring in-depth interviews and conversations with [mostly local] newsmakers, artists, writers, and innovators". Original host Steve Edwards left the station after a few months, and longtime Chicago Tribune journalist Rick Kogan temporarily replaced him. As of 2013 and the conclusion of Kogan's interim stint, WBEZ introduced Niala Boodhoo as the show's permanent on-air host. In 2015, WBEZ canceled "The Afternoon Shift"; the final episode aired on June 5, 2015.
The other local program heard Monday-through-Friday is Worldview, an international news and analysis program that began in 1986 as Midday with Sondra Gair. After Gair's death in 1994, her producer Jerome McDonnell took over the program and has hosted since. It was heard nationally on Sirius Satellite Radio's now-defunct PRI channel from Sirius' inception until 2006.
Chicago Public Media is a founding member of the Public Radio Exchange (PRX), a programming cooperative for public radio stations and independent producers. The rock music talk show Sound Opinions, which moved from WXRT in 2005, was distributed nationally by American Public Media until 2010, when its distribution was transferred to PRX.
News and news discussion/documentary programs aired on a weekly basis include Latino USA from NPR; Canadian CBC Radio shows Q, Ideas, and Under the Influence with Terry O'Reilly; and Radio Netherlands: The State We're In. Other programs that air weekly include Snap Judgment with Glynn Washington, a story-telling show from PRX and NPR.