Citing lagging income, Chicago Public Media cuts staff, ends Vocalo broadcast

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Chicago Public Media announced Wednesday that it has cut 14 positions from its podcast unit, its Vocalo radio station and the Chicago Sun-Times staff because of a slowdown in revenue. 

The move brings the broadcast signoff of Vocalo, which debuted in 2007 and later pioneered public media’s Urban Alternative format. Three WBEZ podcasts — Nerdette, Making and When Magic Happens — will also end. WBEZ will also shutter its fellowship program in fiscal year 2025.

“Because they did not reach the scale needed to generate revenue to cover expenses, Vocalo and the podcast Content Development Unit will be scaled back and folded into the newsroom,” outgoing CPM CEO Matt Moog said in a statement. 

In an email to staff, Moog and board chair Robert Pasin said that revenue from sponsorship, advertising, subscriptions, membership and philanthropies “are not growing to support our mission.” The decision was made “to focus our resources on producing accessible, trusted news programming,” they said.

“While these changes are difficult, they represent Chicago Public Media’s commitment to delivering high-quality local news that our loyal audiences depend on and innovating to reach new, expanded audiences,” Moog and Pasin said. “We believe these limited changes will continue to move us toward delivering on that promise.”

Leaders of WBEZ’s Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union said in a statement that they are “deeply disappointed” by the layoffs, which included nine union members. 

“This involuntary layoff — coupled with positions that have not been filled in the last year — represents a significant reduction in WBEZ’s content unit,” the union leaders said in the statement. “These losses are devastating to our listeners and members. The decision also contradicts CPM’s stated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion — both at WBEZ and to communities of color that we serve.”

The content unit formerly consisted of 62 members, according to a WBEZ news article

The union leaders said that before the layoffs were announced, they had advocated that management reconsider them “and will continue to do so.”  They praised management for “improvements to the employee severance package being offered.”

In their email to staff, Moog and Pasin cited Vocalo’s weekly audience of 11,000 listeners and that the broadcast station had been “running at a significant financial loss for many years” as reasons for ending it. Vocalo airs on 89.5 FM WBEW in Chesterton, Ind., and 91.1 FM in Chicago.

Two Vocalo staffers will move to the newsroom and cover Chicago music and events. Vocalo will maintain a digital presence, including The Goods newsletter, which has more than 50,000 subscribers. The radio broadcast will end May 1. 

WBEZ’s Content Development Unit, which started in 2016 and houses the organization’s podcasts, will focus on daily local news podcasts Reset and Rundown. Curious City will also continue as a weekly audio feature on WBEZ. 

The cuts come less than three years after Chicago Public Media arranged a $61 million deal to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times. The WBEZ article Wednesday quoted Moog as saying that CPM had since added staff but that “this additional investment … did not result in enough audience and revenue growth to cover our growing expenses.”

Moog left the door open for further cuts. “We are doing everything we can to avoid future layoffs,” Moog said in the article. “No additional layoffs are currently planned, assuming audience growth continues and revenue grows to keep pace with expenses.”

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