WBEZ's Dysfunctional Family | Letters | Chicago Reader

WBEZ's Dysfunctional Family 

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To the editors:

As a musician who has both performed on WBEZ and played at fund-raisers for WBEZ, I have followed with more than a little interest the recent revelations about changes at the station. During fund-raisers everyone from the on-air hosts to station management likes to refer to the station and its listeners as the WBEZ Family. If this is a family, it seems most helpful to view it as a dysfunctional family. If WBEZ's family had "values," that family's "values" are in severe jeopardy, and may indeed have already been replaced by new ones.

I am appalled by the cancellation of Stuart Rosenberg's shows [Hot Type, November 26] (and, quite honestly, while I have talked to many people about Torey Malatia's misguided machinations, I have not talked to a single listener who did not find Rosenberg's shows to be significant and valuable contributions to the station's programming). However, it is important to see what this episode reveals about just one of the WBEZ family values. As symbolized by the on the air meetings with station management and show hosts, one of the major family values promoted by 'BEZ was the sense that programming choices were not autocratically imposed from above, but rather were decisions infused with and reflective of desires of the listeners. When were the outcries of disturbed listeners who found Rosenberg's shows deserving of cancellation? When were the open discussions centering around the proposition that what the station would do in the near future would be to drop five hours of music shows and replace them with talk shows? When were listeners consulted about a program with talk shows? When were listeners consulted about a program director's realization that what he was doing was, in his own words, " . . . the process Ken (Davis) wanted to start before he quit (sic)?" At what point prior to these decisions (i.e. during which of the on-air discussions held during the most recent fund-raiser) did someone from 'BEZ say, "Oh, by the way, we are just about to institute a major restructuring of programming which itself reflects a shifting conception of the mission of the station"?

However, I find most fascinating the rhetorical contortions which have had to accompany the changes, actual and proposed, at 'BEZ. Like the members of a dysfunctional family, the administrative members of the WBEZ family are now engaged in various strategies to avoid/cover up/deny that anything is wrong. Like PR hacks for industries caught in the midst of ecological disasters they are now engaged in either denying that anything is really wrong/different, or explaining how the episode is merely the price of progress. But, to really mix metaphors, the listening members of the WBEZ family realize that the emperor has been shown to have no clothes--the abrupt cancellation of Stuart Rosenberg has revealed, both in its process and in its substance, the nature of the new WBEZ family values.

Michael Levin

S. Austin

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