Starting today Chicago’s premier public radio station is putting it all on the line.
With the debut of a two-hour local talk show as the new centerpiece of its daytime lineup, Chicago Public Media WBEZ 91.5-FM is hoping to boost noontime listenership without jeopardizing its robust ratings in morning drive, fueled by NPR’s “Morning Edition.”
To launch “Reset with Jenn White” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, WBEZ sacrificed two high-profile programs from its weekday schedule — “The Morning Shift,” which aired from 9 to 10 a.m., and “Worldview,” which aired from noon to 1 p.m. Longtime fans of “Worldview,” a 25-year staple of the noncommercial station, organized a protest of the cancellation to no avail.
In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, WBEZ tied for 15th place overall with a 2.9 percent share and cumulative weekly audience topping 524,000. In mornings, it tied for eighth with a 3.8 share. But in middays it dropped to 16th with a 2.5 share before moving up a notch to a tie for 15th in afternoons with a 3.1 share.
In shifting resources and personnel to the new show, the goal is not only to increase midday ratings but to attract more listeners to streaming audio. “Equally important to ‘Reset with Jenn White’ is to create listening and engagement opportunities on multiple platforms beyond the radio, through social media, live events and remote broadcasts,” according to an official statement. “It will also be available as a podcast to meet the needs of time-shifting listeners who want to catch the show on demand.”
The station’s most ambitious program realignment in years comes at a time of transition in the front office. Goli Sheikholeslami, who led an impressive resurgence as president and chief executive officer of Chicago Public Media since 2014, announced her resignation in August to become CEO of New York Public Radio, parent company of WNYC.
Since Sheikholeslami’s departure, Steve Edwards, vice president and chief content officer at WBEZ, has been serving as interim CEO. While a search is underway for a successor, Edwards has taken himself out of consideration for the top job.
How much “Reset with Jenn White” will borrow from “The Morning Shift” and “Worldview” remains to be seen. Heading the new show’s seven-member production staff is Dan Tucker, who had been senior producer of “The Morning Shift.”
Izzi Smith, managing director of programming and audience development at WBEZ, described “Reset” as “a new addition to the public conversation on WBEZ, providing a fresh opportunity during midday for listeners to check in on the news – to understand what’s happened since you left home in the morning and find out where the news and big conversations are going next,” adding: “Each weekday it will be a place for listeners to discuss and unpack the biggest stories and issues in Chicago and beyond, right in the heart of the day.”
White, who joined WBEZ in 2016 from Michigan Public Media and succeeded Tony Sarabia as host of “The Morning Shift” in January, expressed high hopes. “We want ‘Reset’ to reflect the complexity of the city, and we’re all looking forward to connecting deeply with the many diverse communities we serve through this new show,” she said.
Contributors will include former “Worldview” host Jerome McDonnell, who’ll cover energy, environment and climate change, Chicago Tribune transportation reporter Mary Wisniewski, Crain’s Chicago Business real estate columnist Dennis Rodkin, WBEZ food authority Monica Eng, and Slipstream sustainability expert Karen Wiegert.
Its signature series will be “Closing the Gap,” ongoing examinations of critical gaps in such areas as life expectancy, income inequality and health care throughout Chicago and the region. Among other regular segments will be a weekly guide to things to do around town, a Friday panel on the week’s biggest news stories, profiles of new musicians and conversations about culture.
White’s opening week guests will include former United Nations ambassador Samantha Power, historian Lonnie Bunch, poet Saeed Jones and “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin.
Here is the new Monday-through-Friday daytime schedule on WBEZ:
- 5 to 9 a.m. “Morning Edition”
- 9 to 10 a.m. “BBC Newshour”
- 10 to 11 a.m. “1A with Joshua Johnson”
- 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. “Reset with Jenn White”
- 1 to 2 p.m. “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” (Monday through Thursday); “Science Friday” (Fridays)
- 2 to 3 p.m. “Here and Now”
- 3 to 7 p.m. “All Things Considered” (“Marketplace” at 4:30 p.m. and again at 7
Friday’s comment of the day: Paul Lockwood: If WGN starts NFL games before 1 p.m. on Sundays, they’re eating into the best entertainment-oriented radio programming: Dean Richards. And why do we really care to hear non-Bears games anyhow? What’s next — Brewers games?