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.