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Chicago’s WBEZ is the 4th station to drop Smiley and West

Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ quietly dropped the syndicated Smiley and West program from its Sunday line-up at the end of September. This stands in contrast to the station’s decision to drop Car Talk reruns from its Saturday line-up, which management communicated in an email to donor members explaining the decision and soliciting feedback (full disclosure: I am a member and I sent them an email saying “thank you!”). I can’t say for certain that the station didn’t send an email notice about Smiley and West’s cancellation, but I checked my spam filter and can say that I definitely didn’t get one.

Chicago media reporter Robert Feder quoted a Chicago Public Media spokesman who said audience erosion was one reason for the cancellation. The spokesman also said that,

“More importantly, the show had developed much more of an ‘advocacy’ identity, which is inconsistent with our approach on WBEZ.”

Feder also quotes a statement made to the program’s syndicator, Public Radio International, by Chicago Public Radio CEO Torey Malatia. In it Malatia says that Smiley and West was “becoming like Democracy Now,” which is the Pacifica Network’s signature daily news and public affairs program, hosted by the iconic and unabashedly progressive journalist Amy Goodman.

Smiley and West, hosted by Tavis Smiley and Prof. Cornel West, grew out of Tavis Smiley’s eponymously titled weekly Tavis Smiley Show. Previously two hours, the second hour became Smiley and West in 2010.

Media activist group Chicago Media Action has started a campaign to oppose the cancelation of Smiley and West, which includes a facebook group. They’re encouraging listeners to call or email the station, which is currently in pledge drive mode. On the CMA website Mitchell Szczepanczyk writes,

“In an era of media concentration that has seen communities of color diminish in visibility from the nation’s radio waves, cancelling Smiley and West in a city with a majority-minority population is not, to put it lightly, a good move. Sure, WBEZ isn’t stopping anyone from getting the show from the internet, but they are stopping a great many poor and lower-income Chicagoans from getting the show, most of whom disproportionately do not have ready internet access and are disproportionately from communities of color.”

WBEZ is the fourth station to drop the program. According to Feder,

WBUR-FM in Boston dropped the show earlier this year for being “too political,” and KWMU-FM in St. Louis and KMOJ-FM in Minneapolis dropped it last year, citing pressure from listeners for Smiley and West’s controversial and outspoken views of President Obama.

On WBEZ the program was replaced by shifting the Sunday afternoon schedule forward, so that On the Media airs in the former Smiley and West spot, making room for Car Talk reruns in the 5 PM slot.



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5 Responses to Chicago’s WBEZ is the 4th station to drop Smiley and West

  1. Bernard MacDonald October 15, 2012 at 5:59 am #

    As soon as I read Mitchell Szczepanczyk’s reference to “color” I lost interest in reading further. I’ve listened to Tavis Smiley over the years with some enjoyment however, as a white male of some years i’ve lived through the civil rights difficult yers and the development of ERA and at this point i’m about done with hearing about race being an issue. As a result of the ERA I too have been discriminated against as a result of my color so that quotas could be met in the work place and in education. If people of color don’t understand that letting them get by because of their color is still discrimination then their just not understanding the true use of the process. All men and women should be judged on the quality of who they are and what they can contribute. If The Tavis Smiley show is losing it’s ranking then it should be replaced with something that the listeners are more interested in.

  2. Tom October 16, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    In a sense, it’s not surprising that stations are starting to drop them. One minute they talk about paying attention to poverty and doing something about it, which I agree with. Then, they commission a study that starts by saying the unemployment rate is 8.1%, when we all know it’s roughly 23%. On top of that, Smiley’s PBS show takes money from Wall-Mart (not exactly a big supporter of worker’s rights). When people ask him about these things, his fallback answer is, sometimes you have to do stuff that you hate.

    Sorry, but that’s a weak answer.

  3. Thisismy Fullname October 28, 2012 at 2:29 am #

    I’m not hearing anything remotely resembling a good enough reason to drop Smiley and West. I don’t agree with everything they’re willing to say. That’s not the point. I’m grateful that, especially in contrast to the repellently regressive b——- that finds ready funding everywhere else on the radio spectrum, they’re able to say it.

    This is public radio. The fact that NPR stations are doing this is reminiscent of what Johnson did with the Vietnam War. History will judge.

  4. Craig November 23, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    So Democracy Now and Smiley and West advocate for issues or people? They argue in favor of certain points of view, certain groups of people, etc.? Hmm. Maybe, sometimes. But then, so does The New York Times. So does NBC News — or ABC News or CNN or MSNBC, time and Newsweek, et al. NPR too.

    They all advocate. They all have a point of view. The easiest way to see that is by looking at what and who they leave out almost without fail and what who they include almost without fail. In the case of the mainstream media, it’s the viewpoints of poor people, of Palestinian people, minority people (unless they’re rich celebrities, of course), leftists, political dissidents, union organizers and others which are generally kept off the newsprint and out of the TV studio by the gatekeepers.

    Maybe that’s the real reason why the gatekeepers at those four NPR stations wanted to drop Smiley & West. Maybe these stations just don’t welcome the viewpoints of some of the people whose voices have been heard on the show. Viewpoints that tell the people’s stories you won’t hear on NPR much, if at all, and might contradict what we’ve long been told is going on.

    I think this is why S&W won’t be heard (and why Democracy Now may never have been heard) by many NPR listeners in Chicago, in Boston, in St. Louis and in Minneapolis anymore.

  5. Craig November 23, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    So Democracy Now and Smiley and West advocate for issues or people? They argue in favor of certain points of view, certain groups of people, etc.? Hmm. Maybe, sometimes. But then, so does The New York Times. So does NBC News — or ABC News or CNN or MSNBC, time and Newsweek, et al. NPR too.

    They all advocate. They all have a point of view. The easiest way to see that is by looking at what and who they leave out almost without fail and what who they include almost without fail. In the case of the mainstream media, it’s the viewpoints of poor people, of Palestinian people, minority people (unless they’re rich celebrities, of course), leftists, political dissidents, union organizers and others which are generally kept off the newsprint and out of the TV studio by the gatekeepers.

    Maybe that’s the real reason why the gatekeepers at those four NPR stations wanted to drop Smiley & West. Maybe these stations just don’t welcome the viewpoints of some of the people whose voices have been heard on the show. Viewpoints that tell the people’s stories you won’t hear on NPR much, if at all, and might contradict what we’ve long been told is going on.

    I think this is why S&W won’t be heard (and why Democracy Now may never have been heard) by many NPR listeners in Chicago, in Boston, in St. Louis and in Minneapolis anymore.

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