WBEZ Tries for Community Kaleidoscope with WBEW

The news of WBEZ's abandonment of its music programming has received a good deal of attention from journalists (pdf) and bloggers. The innovative programming stream they are planning for their second stream, WBEW, has received less notice. WBEW 89.5–apparently in conjunction with WBEQ-FM (90.7) — will broadcast "pods"– not shows per se, but a mix of stories, 'citizen generated pieces' and music– perhaps along the lines of Current TV. The primary stream will drop music and will be all news/talk/information.

BEZ doesn't have a blog, but did post this letter from Torey Malatia on the homepage of its site this week.

Dear Friends,

In early 2007, WBEZ 91.5 FM will become full time public affairs and culture programming, and WBEW 89.5 FM will carry a new public affairs-based service to reflect the authentic sounds and voices of the region.

The following programming changes will go into effect on WBEZ 91.5 FM concurrent with the launch of our new service in early 2007:

  • Our schedule will offer 24 hours of public affairs and cultural programming, seven days a week (including entertainment programs such as Sound Opinions, Prairie Home Companion, etc.)
  • Chicago Public Radio-produced Comin’ Home, Encanto Latino, Extensions, Jazz Programming, Passport, and Jazz with Dick Buckley will no longer be produced.
  • Acquired programs such as Afropop Worldwide, Blues Before Sunrise, and Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland will no longer air.

What will not change is our commitment to provide and develop rich programming.

We ask you, our listeners and the community, to help us build the new schedule on WBEZ 91.5 FM and to help us shape our new service to launch in 2007.

We will actively seek your input through our online forum, public meetings and call-in programs, to be scheduled throughout May and June 2006. A full calendar of opportunities for input will soon be available on our web site. And please join me here online next Tuesday, April 25th, from 10:30 am – 12:30 pm. I will be answering questions in our online forum.

In the Tribune, Howard Reich foucssed on the loss of music programming. I will miss the music, especially the Friday music bloc, as much as anyone, but BEZ's ambitious plans have won over my enthusiasm:

"In looking at how we might execute our mission of reflecting our area and the world to our listeners, we just felt that the highest and best purpose was to use [WBEW] as a kind of kaleidoscope … of what's going on around the community."

With that in mind, says [BEZ president Torey] Malatia, WBEW "will have as its goal to try to see if we can bring public radio to an audience that might be more ethnically and racially diverse, younger, more Internet savvy, or media savvy, people who use a lot of different kinds of media but aren't loyal to any particular kind of media…I think there's a potential that we might be able to offer that audience, as well as our core audience, something that supplements what we do on [WBEZ] 91.5.

"So while ratings on 89.5 may not be the most we can get, the two stations together are a meaningful public radio service to the community."

Unlike French, who focussed on the loss of the music programming, the Sun Times' Rob Feder shares my enthusiasm for what this experiment could mean to Chicago:

To hear Malatia tell it, WBEW and WBEQ will be combined with the Internet to expand on Chicago Public Radio's mission to serve the community, foster dialogue and bridge social gaps with a form of programming that has never been tried before.

While many of the details are still under wraps, Malatia broadly outlined his bold new concept Tuesday to offer "more varied, highly localized news and public affairs, encompassing everything from arts, culture and music to discussion, debate, commentary and storytelling."

Instead of discreet half-hour or hourlong blocks of programming, the new service would provide "fast-moving, high-energy segments of varying lengths and diverse voices."

If it all comes together as Malatia envisions, it will add up to a "surprising array of audio experiences that will challenge and entertain listeners."

"The listeners will feel that the station and they are both consuming and creating news and culture with a sense of purpose, energy and discovery that through the very act of listening and participating increases citizen involvement," he said.

I, for one, can hardly wait.

Feder also notes that the Net, satellite radio and WDCB-FM (90.9) provide options for jazz fans.

Thankfully, it also appears that BEZ will not take over WLUW 88.7. Instead, it sounds as though WLUW will be left to survive on its own– and made to pay its own bills. There is nothing about this on the LUW website. Instead, we must rely on posts by blogs like Radio Free Chicago, Gaper's Block and WLUW Watch.

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