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3 weeks after Malatia resignation not much is clearer, or different at Chicago Public Media

Torey "South Side" Malatia, outgoing CEO of Chicago Public Media

Torey “South Side” Malatia, former CEO of Chicago Public Media

It’s been about three weeks since former Chicago Public Media CEO Torey Malatia abruptly resigned his position, surprising both station staff and listeners. Current and the Chicago Reader’s Michael Miner have both published overviews of Malatia’s tenure as an often-controversial and innovative leader, and the aftermath of his departure. At the same time, sister station Vocalo is moving forward with more Spanish-language programming and the Chicago Tribune’s Arts critic pines for the return of jazz to WBEZ.

What is clear from the Current and Reader articles is that while there were signs of friction between Malatia and the organization’s board of directors, nobody saw his resignation coming. Neither the Board nor Malatia has provided any clarification yet.

This American Life host and creator Ira Glass tells Current that the relationship between Malatia and the board began to sour in 2008 when the organization experienced a decline in revenue. Glass said, “It was like a marriage gone bad or something, was my impression.”

This year saw the station’s audience numbers decline, dropping it out of the top 10 most highly rated public stations in the country. However, Malatia told Current that “If you look at total audience, if you add up the streaming audience, the podcast audience and so on, our audience has grown, not shrunk.” He also noted that the drivetime ratings loss come during national syndicated programs over which the station has little control.

In the Reader Miner recalls how Malatia jump-started traffic to the CPM’s Vocalo website by hiring prominent Chicago media reporter Robert Feder as a blogger, paying Feder more than anyone else in the station’s newsroom, making him the 6th highest paid person at CPM at the time.

Ultimately, Miner concludes that “20 years is a long time for anyone to run anything.” That is a sentiment I can agree with wholeheartedly. Regardless of Malatia’s many accomplishments, I can see how a change in leadership will be healthy for Chicago Public Media.

As I wrote earlier, I don’t expect that there will be a significant change in direction at CPM. That would be a disappointment for Chicago Tribune Arts critic Howard Reich, who recently wrote a piece lambasting WBEZ’s reliance on “free-dried” rebroadcasts of the BBC and other syndicated talk programs when it could be airing jazz like it did in the past. He takes the station to task for featuring discussions about artists and music without actually playing the music. He, of course, is hoping that a new CEO will reinstate music programming that Malatia cancelled. I don’t see it happening, nor do I think that will improve the station’s audience or revenue. (And I love jazz).

Over at Vocalo, the deputed sister station to CPM’s flagship WBEZ, the station is moving forward with more Spanish-language programming along with Latin Alternative music. Vocalo, which started out on a satellite transmitter in Northwestern Indiana, last year took over the former Radio Arte signal previously operated by the National Museum of Mexican Art. So it only makes sense that Vocalo would expand its Latino programming.

Chicago Public Media is now beginning a search for a new CEO which the organization expects to take a year or longer. In the meantime, employees are keeping on keeping on, and listeners shouldn’t expect many more changes in the near term.



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