WBEZ drops ‘Afternoon Shift’ in new lineup

Niala Boodhoo

Niala Boodhoo

In a move that cuts local programming in half on its Monday-through-Friday lineup, public radio WBEZ FM 91.5 has canceled “The Afternoon Shift” and parted company with its host.

Niala Boodhoo is out after five years at the Chicago Public Media news/talk station. A former business reporter, Boodhoo succeeded founding host Steve Edwards and interim host Rick Kogan in 2013 on “The Afternoon Shift,” which aired from 2 to 4 p.m. weekdays.

All other staffers and resources will be redeployed to “The Morning Shift” under a new program lineup that takes effect Monday. The locally produced news and talk show, hosted by Tony Sarabia, follows NPR’s “Morning Edition” from 9 to 10 a.m. weekdays.

Ben Calhoun, who was named director of content and programming at Chicago Public Media last fall, emphasized that WBEZ remains committed to local talk programming and expects the changes to strengthen the morning franchise. If all goes as planned, he said, the show eventually could expand to two hours.

Ben Calhoun

Ben Calhoun

“This is dialing it back, but we’re essentially moving staff from ‘The Afternoon Shift’ to ‘The Morning Shift,’” Calhoun said in an interview Wednesday. “There’s a ton of great work that’s been done on ‘The Morning Shift,’ and I think Tony is doing an increasingly strong job holding down that program. But they haven’t had as much room to move as I think they’re capable of editorially. They’ve had to make certain choices out of sheer human limitations, and I think this is going to provide them with more room for creativity, rigor and adventure. I hope that translates to what people hear on the radio.”

New to the lineup at 10 a.m. weekdays will be “The Takeaway,” a New York-based news talk show co-produced by WNYC and Public Radio International, and hosted by former Chicagoan John Hockenberry.

Once billed as the cornerstone of a grand plan to add “more local service and more local programming” to the station’s daytime lineup under previous management, “The Afternoon Shift” debuted amid high hopes in February 2012. But it never achieved audience acceptance comparable to the combination of “Morning Edition” and “The Morning Shift.”

The afternoon show lost its most ardent backer when co-creator and executive producer Justin Kaufmann resigned in March to join Tribune Media news/talk WGN AM 720 as evening host and producer.

The new lineup leaves WBEZ with only two hours of live local programming each weekday — “The Morning Shift” and Jerome McDonnell’s “Worldview” (in addition to local news segments during NPR broadcasts).

“We intend to grow as a force in daily news, enterprise and investigative reporting and as a forum for the public conversation in our community,” Goli Sheikholeslami, president and CEO of Chicago Public Media, said in a statement. “We are also committed to better serving our audience through enhanced programming and increased opportunities for engagement.”

Armed with a $2 million grant from the Pritzker Foundation, Sheikholeslami recently announced an ambitious plan for the digital expansion of news and programming services.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, WBEZ tied for 17th overall with a 2.5 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 562,600. In mornings, the station ranked seventh with a 3.7 share and 281,800 cume. In afternoons it ranked 21st with a 2.3 share and 299,100 cume.

Here is the station’s new daytime lineup, effective Monday:

5 to 9 a.m. Morning Edition
9 to 10 a.m. The Morning Shift
10 to 11 a.m. The Takeaway
11 a.m. to noon Fresh Air
noon to 1 p.m. Worldview
1 to 2 p.m. Here & Now
2 to 3 p.m. BBC Newshour
3 to 6:30 p.m. All Things Considered
6:30 to 7 p.m. Marketplace