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WBEZ announces layoffs, ends Vocalo radio broadcast

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WBEZ announces layoffs, ends Vocalo radio broadcast

WBEZ announced a number of layoffs Wednesday affecting different departments and the impending closure of the company’s Vocalo radio broadcast following years of lagging listenership.

Chicago Public Media CEO Matt Moog and other leadership said in a letter to employees the “difficult decision” to reduce staffing and change programming will help the nonprofit media company “to best serve our community and manage the organization for long-term sustainability.”

The 14 layoffs are in WBEZ’s content development unit, Vocalo’s radio broadcast and the Chicago Sun-Times business operation, the letter said. The staff members being laid off have already been notified.

“These are painful decisions that affect our valued colleagues,” leadership said in the letter, according to an edited version posted on the company’s website. “We are working diligently to minimize the negative impact on each individual and provide them with financial and transitional support. We are so grateful for their many contributions over the years.”

In a statement from SAG-AFTRA’s Chicago unit, union leadership said the layoffs were “deeply” disappointing. The company also announced it will eliminate the podcast department, which includes the shows “Nerdette,” “Making” and “When Magic Happens.”

“These losses are devastating to our listeners and members,” the union said. “The decision also contradicts CPM’s stated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion — both at WBEZ and to communities of color that we serve.”

Union leaders have been working with members leading up to Wednesday’s announcement and “urged management to reconsider,” the union said.

“Ultimately, our goal is to save the jobs of our very talented colleagues who have much to contribute to WBEZ,” the union statement said.

Chicago Public Media did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The WBEZ fellowship program will also be phased out in fiscal year 2025, the letter said.

Vocalo has been stagnant since its launch in 2007, the letter said, with an audience of 11,000 listeners weekly. The radio music broadcast has been operating at a “significant financial loss for many years,” the letter said, resulting in the broadcast’s shutdown by May 1. Vocalo’s digital presence will remain, covering local music and culture and collaborating with WBEZ and the Sun-Times.

Vocalo’s arts and culture newsletter, “The Goods,” will also continue, having grown its audience by 67% to over 50,000 subscribers.

While the nonprofit cited financial stability as the reason behind Wednesday’s announcement, the letter included details about the company’s “growing and expanding” digital channels. Chicago Public Media’s weekly audience grew by over 475,000 to 4.5 million listeners and readers over the last year, the letter said. Daily news podcasts are at nearly 100,000 downloads every week, and Vocalo reaches over 100,000 people a week digitally.

The announcement comes on the heels of another major change at WBEZ. Moog said in December he would step down as CEO of Chicago Public Media in early 2024. He went from interim president to permanent CEO in 2021 and oversaw the combining of WBEZ with the Sun-Times.

The nonprofit newspaper and radio station, which merged in January 2022 with $61 million in philanthropic support, operate separate newsrooms but share content and resources under the Chicago Public Media banner. In its latest tax filings, the combined company reported an $8.7 million profit for the 12 months ending June 2023, according to its Form 990 filed with the IRS.

In response to questions from WBEZ, Moog said Wednesday actual operating revenues have been flat despite the information contained in the 990, and that the company had not seen enough audience and revenue growth to cover its expenses after adding staff in each of the newsrooms. He said the board has asked him to stay through August, when a new CEO is expected to be hired, the publication reported.

Moog, whose base salary was $449,193, was awarded $149,592 in bonus compensation for a total compensation of $633,310 in fiscal year 2023, according to the 990. Several other executives were also awarded bonuses last year, according to the filing.



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