Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pledge Drive Blues: My Love/Hate Relationship with Chicago Public Radio

Warning: The following post may not be suitable for younger or more sensitive readers (or the rant-phobic).

I confess: I listen to public radio and I am NOT a member. There are several things that drew me to WBEZ (oooh, they don't call it that anymore...) back in the early 80's. First of all, they had many hours of jazz programming, which was not available anywhere else in the Chicago radio spectrum. They were also the local distributor for All Things Considered, which has been referred to as the gateway drug for becoming a public radio junkie. It is, all things considered, a consistently wonderful way to get more accurate unbiased news and some off the wall human interest features that I wouldn't otherwise get to hear.

In recent years I have also been drawn, like many of my fellow listeners, to This American Life, Le Show and even, on occasion, to Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me. I also listen to the venerable and eclectic Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I should probably send WHYY a few hundred dollars for that one! For the last two decades I have been a member (on and off, but mostly on) and have gladly indulged my auditory addiction to 91.5 FM.

As I write this, the station is in the midst of their autumn fund drive. I hate fund drives. I know they're necessary, blah blah blah, I hate 'em anyway. A bunch of whiny on-air wannabees shilling for contributions; demeaning for them and an insulting waste of good airtime for me.
Yesterday I heard one of them use the word "awesome" about a dozen times in a five minute period to describe the programming, the crappy gifts they give out to encourage donations and what kind of person I would be if I would only call and pledge at the dollar-a-day level. Bah, humbug!

There's also a lot of yammering during this drive about "accountability" - how the station is listener-supported and therefore responsive to the community that sustains it. My experience with WBEZ is that this is an empty platitude. Here's why:

This past year the station abandoned their long term commitment to jazz. I'm not saying that the programming was great; to me it was lacking in variety (bring back Neil Tesser!) and their format mandated playing a vocal track every 5 or so selections. However, at least I could count on hearing the most under-represented genre of music - and the one I play and love - on the radio every night. Now it's gone - poof! There was a substantial outcry from jilted jazz listeners but our protests fell on deaf ears. I even had a heated email discussion with the station manager Tory Malatia. It was all to no avail. Now, instead of music we get repeats of shows that have aired during the day (including Worldview, which IMHO shouldn't air at all) plus some unlistenable international news programs.

So, "Chicago Public Radio", I will continue to listen to the shows I like and I will not be sending you any more money, at least for the time being. I know there are hundreds if not thousands of disappointed jazz fans who have to try to tune in the faint and amateurish WDCB to get their on-air jazz fix. Accountability isn't a word to be tossed around lightly, Tory.

I can't wait for this stupid fund drive to be over!