Chicago Public Media has canceled its locally produced weekday show The Afternoon Shift as of June 5 and shifted resources to its local morning talk program, The Morning Shift.
“We weren’t seeing growth for Afternoon Shift,” said Ben Calhoun, CPM’s director of content and programming. “It’s a hard time of the day for any show,” he said, adding that the show’s staff was “pushing it towards a stronger incarnation.” But the decision came down to the fact that “the audience was telling us how they were feeling about it” by not tuning in.
Featuring in-depth interviews, Afternoon Shift aired 2–4 p.m. It has been replaced with BBC Newshour at 2 p.m. and All Things Considered starting an hour earlier at 3 p.m.
“I see this as a focusing, but I acknowledge that this is a dialing back of local programming,” Calhoun said. “I was braced for more harsh feelings from the audience, but the response has been minimal and surprisingly positive.”
CPM laid off Niala Boodhoo, host of the three-year-old show, but the rest of the show’s staff will move to The Morning Shift. That will include four full-time production staffers and two who will divide their time between the morning show and other news responsibilities. The shift will help the station “double down” on the morning program, whose audience has been growing, Calhoun said.
Last fall, The Morning Shift’s average audience “used to start at about 17,000 and drop to 10,000 by 10 a.m.,” Calhoun said. Now, he says, it starts at 27,000 and drops to about 17,000. Earlier this year, WBEZ was among Chicago’s top 10 stations in weekday audience 6–10 a.m. “for the first time in recent memory,” he said. In April, it ranked seventh.
Calhoun partly credits the performance of Morning Edition, likely boosted by WBEZ’s participation in NPR’s Spark initiative to heavily promote the show. And he also points to WBEZ’s efforts to provide a stronger core service. “But it’s also Morning Shift,” he said.
“The thing about public radio is, we have a mission-driven audience,” Calhoun said. “If you’re fulfilling the promise of the mission, and providing that in the form of impactful, interesting radio — the audience is going to tell you you’re doing it right. They’re going to tell you by listening.”
CPM also added The Takeaway to its lineup at 10 a.m. weekdays, filling BBC Newshour’s previous time slot.
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I wonder if the real reason WBEZ is dumping “Afternoon Shift” was that the program wasn’t getting enough pledge dollars from listeners.
It’s a logical assumption but that’s all it is: an assumption. Still, it’s true that most good public radio stations measure how well their shows are serving their audience by a combination of factors: Nielsen ratings, social media feedback, performance at awards time, and, yes, donations during pledge drives. But it’s not like these stations say “Gee, this show really stinks and listeners hate it, but man it just rakes in the cash at pledge drive, eh?” Equally true is that they don’t say “Gee, this show does horrible at pledge drive but we have hordes of people saying they love it so much.” Instead, there’s a symbiotic relationship in play, where typically if a show does poorly at pledge drive, relative to a realistic baseline, then that probably means the audience size / listener engagement is also doing poorly relative to baseline, too.
Meanwhile, Ben Calhoun is finding out that you don’t have to be Torey Malatia to be vilified as a WBEZ employee, although I have the feeling that the same people who are attacking him now were attacking Torey and Justin Kaufmann for dropping the first hour of the first feed of “ATC” back when “Afternoon Shift” started (it’s back now). Between this and the likely pile of angry E-mails he’s probably getting for Kim Kardashian being on “Wait, Wait…” this week, this is not a good week for Ben when it comes to listener response.