J A Ginsburg | Chicago Reader

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Re: “Torey Malatia leaves WBEZ

Now can we bring back Radio Gumbo?

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by J A Ginsburg on 07/29/2013 at 9:22 PM

Re: “At risk: The education beat at WBEZ

Would WBEZ have to make these kinds of decisions if it hadn't lost the bet on Vocolo and had other struggles with legacy debt? A few weeks ago, Mike Miner's article, "A different direction for WBEZ," generated over 80 comments, most of them quite critical of the station's recent programming decisions and fiscal management ( http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/publi…). That's 8 to 10 times the typical response rate, which indicates a tremendous level of pent up frustration.

I listen to NPR regularly, but more and more often via an iPad app and not the radio. Not only can I listen to shows—even individual segments—when it's convenient for me, I can also stream dozens of NPR stations, which has been fascinating. I have discovered all kinds of terrific programs and podcasts. For example, WGBH (Boston) turns out to be a musical wonder, with channel streams for classical, jazz and Celtic music. Who knew? It makes me miss the rich musical legacy of WBEZ's past, from all the way back to Stuart Rosenberg's "Radio Gumbo" to, sigh, all that jazz... WGBH also has a nice tie in with public televison. The NOVA podcasts are amazing.

So, do I want to support public radio? Yes, absolutely. Does Chicago need as much top notch journalism as it can get, covering education and everything else? Yes, again. But do I want to continue to support WBEZ? That's murkier. Listening to the latest round of on-air pleas for support made me feel more manipulated than inspired. Money is fungible. Is the station being managed as well as it should be? Are these pleas essentially a band-aid fix masking deeper issues? Is this new direction towards listener call-in local programming something I really want to listen to?

It is now possible to for tablet / smart-phone connected listeners to compare and contrast NPR affiliates. When the time comes to renew my support for NPR, it's going to be a real question whether I send my dollars to WBEZ or another affiliate whose programming I have come to prefer.

3 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by J A Ginsburg on 07/07/2013 at 6:03 AM

Re: “A different direction for WBEZ

Are finances particularly tough at WBEZ, or is this part of a larger trend among NPR affiliates? Why is the station one million dollars in the red at the end of its fiscal year after a series seemingly successful pledge drives? What is driving this level of debt?

The savings from cutting a handful of contributors costing $600 a month per won't make a dent. What else is slated for cutting?

Whether you see the call in / listener generated content approach as a genius move or boneheaded, its skews to whomever has the time and inclination to dial in and wait on hold. It's random. Which could lead to interesting conversation, but maybe not. For there to be wisdom in the crowd, first you need a crowd.

A much deeper issue, however, is a sea-change shift in how viewers and listeners consume content. More and more tune in when it's convenient for to watch or listen, rather than when content is broadcast.

I adore the NPR iPad app, which not only allows me to listen to shows when I want, but to select specific segments as well. (Likewise, I now watch television, without television or cable).

This atomization of content has enormous ramifications. I still "tune in" to the NBC Nightly news, for example, but generally only play two or three segments. I'm grazing news from all kinds of sources, including aggregators Flipboard and the utterly brilliant Zite.

The NPR app means I no longer need WBEZ to access national / syndicated content. The station's value, then, is entirely on its original programming, focused locally and beyond (I prefer a mix—just because I am from Chicago doesn't mean my interests stop at the greater metro border). That programming needs to be able to have relevance whether it's listened to via a broadcast or time-shifted. I'm not sure call-in content has such great shelf life.

There is already quite a bit of call in radio on the dial. It might be worth a quick survey to see how many WBEZ listeners also listen to those stations. Did they gravitate to WBEZ because it was different? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

6 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by J A Ginsburg on 06/15/2013 at 11:47 AM

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