WBEZ/Chicago Public Media Closes Its Podcast Studio And Lays Off 14 Staffers

Chicago Public Media has announced layoffs at news/talk WBEZ’s podcasting division and urban adult alternative channel Vocalo, which will cut 15% of the NPR affiliate’s 62 unionized content creators.

Two years after the company’s acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, financial troubles including declining fundraising, listenership and philanthropic support have led to the layoffs of 14 staffers, four of those business employees at the Sun-Times. The other 10 are members of WBEZ’s podcasting unit, which will end production of non-newsroom podcasts “Nerdette,” “Making,” and “When Magic Happens,” and staffers at Vocalo, heard on WBEZ-HD2 and the city-licensed translator W216CL at 91.1, which will shut down May 1.

Unaffected by the cuts are WBEZ’s daily podcast versions of its midday program “Reset” and newsletter “The Rundown,” while “Curious City” will continue as a weekly on-air segment although not as a podcast.

Vocalo, created in 2007 to attract younger diverse listeners with its mix of indie hip-hop, R&B, jazz, and Spanish-language programming – promoted as “the soundtrack that amplifies our city and makes you say and feel…this is what Chicago sounds like” – has not been able to match the ratings success of WBEZ. While two Vocalo staff members will move to a new arts and culture unit of WBEZ, the remainder are being let go.

The cuts are taking place at the same time WBEZ opens a new $6.4 million state-of-the-art studio, and comes in the wake of a double-digit-percent pay increase for CPM’s top executive and the departure of several high-level executives in December.

“This involuntary layoff, coupled with positions that have not been filled in the last year, represents a significant reduction in WBEZ’s content unit,” SAG-AFTRA which represents WBEZ’s unionized, content-producing workforce, said in a statement. “These losses are devastating to our listeners and members. The decision also contradicts [Chicago Public Media’s] stated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, both at WBEZ and to communities of color that we serve.”

Responding to questions from WBEZ, Chicago Public Media CEO Matt Moog said, “Like many newsrooms across the country, WBEZ and Chicago Sun-Times face similar challenges of declining core legacy audience and revenue in broadcast and print. We believe that the organizations are stronger together and have the best opportunity to overcome these challenges by collaborating and sharing resources.”

As to the probability of further cuts, Moog added, “We are doing everything we can to avoid future layoffs. No additional layoffs are currently planned, assuming audience growth continues and revenue grows to keep pace with expenses.”

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