Chicago Public Media trims ‘Barbershop Show’ from Vocalo, WBEZ

Richard Steele

Richard Steele

“The Barbershop Show,” a weekly community conversation unlike any other on Chicago radio, has gone out of business.

Produced by Vocalo, Chicago Public Media’s alternative channel, the show originated from Carter’s Barber Shop in North Lawndale and aired live at noon Fridays on Vocalo. It repeated Sundays on WBEZ FM 91.5 and in podcast form.

The fate of the show has been in question since January 8 when it went on hiatus. Silvia Rivera, managing director of Vocalo, confirmed its cancellation Wednesday.

Launched in 2010 in partnership with The Chicago Reporter, the show was billed as “a weekly dose of real talk, straight from the shop floor.” It’s been hosted since 2012 by Chicago radio legend Richard Steele, who brought together journalists, activists, academics and community members in a smart, insightful dialogue.

Rivera said the decision coincided with the reassignment of producer Ayana Contreras to “Sound Opinions,” the rock and roll talk show hosted by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot.

“Replicating the collaboration between Ayana and Richard seems impossible right now and as such we will end production on the ‘Barbershop Show,’” Rivera said in a statement. “But our commitment to broadcasting from community spaces has not changed and we are exploring ways to create opportunities for the ‘Morning Amp’ to fill this space.”

Steele, 75, retired in 2014 from his full-time position with Chicago Public Media but continued to host “The Barbershop Show” and serve as a contributor to other programs. Rivera said he has “decided to move on to explore other projects.”

Earlier this week Steele did not respond to a request for comment, but said in a statement released by the station: “Chicago Public Media has been my ‘media home’ for more than 25 years and I thank the organization for that. I will always be willing to participate in a special project if called upon.”

Here is the text of Rivera’s memo to staff:

Dear CPM fam,

As you all know Ayana has taken a great new role at Sound Opinions.  We are super excited for Ayana, but it does leave the Barbershop Show without a producer  — and the very unique chemistry of Ayana and Richard that made the show so special.  As a result, the show has been on hiatus since January 8. 

After much consideration, and many discussions with Richard about the Barbershop show, Richard has decided to move on to explore other projects.

As he told me:  Chicago Public Media has been my “media home” for more than 25 years and I thank the organization for that. I will always be willing to participate in a special project if called upon.

Replicating the collaboration between Ayana and Richard seems impossible right now and as such we will end production on the Barbershop Show.  But our commitment to broadcasting from community spaces has not changed and we are exploring ways to create opportunities for the Morning Amp to fill this space. 
 
In closing, I can’t begin to express my appreciation for Richard and the magic he brought to the Barbershop show.  He is a Chicago treasure, and I know that we will never fully let him let go.  I look forward to working with him on special initiatives in service of our great city.
 
Silvia