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WBEZ: Now With Less Music, More Talk

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 17, 2006 6:27PM

Though Chicago venues for genuinely soulful jazz and blues are dwindling, city denizens could always count on Chicago Public Radio’s WBEZ for their fix of these American art forms. But come 2007, none of the three CPR stations will carry blues, jazz, or any other music programming thanks to a switch to an all-talk format.

2006_04_silence.jpgThe Tribune’s arts critic Howard Reich covers the details of the switch. Torey Malatia, the president of CPR, says they’re trying to support the music community in a broader way by “talking about the music, playing something difficult but offering something that will explain." We have no idea what the hell this means. Imagine if Double Door said they were going to start supporting Chicago’s rock community by getting rid of live music performances and holding seminars that explain Elbow’s latest album. Ridiculous, right? As is ‘BEZ’s move.

Reich says as much: “It remains to be seen whether listeners buy Malatia's intriguing theory that they appreciate music more deeply by hearing less of it.” (Remember that Elvis Costello quote that talking about music is like dancing about architecture? For some reason, we can’t help thinking about that right now).

Since three local programs will hit the block including the blues show "Comin' Home," the world music showcase "Passport," and “Jazz With Dick Buckley,” we’re hard-pressed to see where all that support is going to go. (“Afropop Worldwide,” “Blues Before Sunrise” and “Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland” will also be lost to the ether). One locally-produced show that will remain at ‘BEZ is “the world’s only rock and roll talk show”: Sound Opinions with Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis.

While there had been recent discussions about ‘BEZ going all-talk, two other frequencies were expected to fill the music void: WBEW-FM in Chesterton, IN and WBEQ-FM 90.7 in Morris, IL. But these stations are also scheduled to go all-talk.

We’ve gotta hand it to ‘BEZ for waiting until the pledge drive was over before making this announcement. It’s ironic that a station that makes such a show over its support from listeners is now showing such contempt for them. In a 2003 interview with the Association of Independents in Radio, Malatia said: "Public radio was created so that every community could have a voice -- it is our prime directive. We can't forget it." Unfortunately, that voice will only be allowed to speak now, not sing.