WBEZ cuts 12 jobs, ends production deal with ‘Sound Opinions’ (but the show will go on)

Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot

Facing a 20 percent revenue decline in the wake of the pandemic shutdown, the nonprofit parent company of public radio news/talk WBEZ 91.5-FM today announced the layoffs of 12 employees and the termination of its production agreement with the weekly rock music talk show “Sound Opinions.”

Although it no longer will be produced by Chicago Public Media, “Sound Opinions” will continue as an independent production airing on WBEZ and distributed to about 150 other public radio stations nationwide. It also will continue as a weekly podcast.

Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, the longtime Chicago music critics who co-host the show launched in 1993, have been associated with WBEZ since 2005.

“It’s been an honor to work with Jim and Greg and the ‘Sound Opinions’ staff during these past 15 years and we’re grateful for their tremendous contributions to WBEZ and to music journalism and criticism in general,” said Steve Edwards, chief content officer and interim CEO of Chicago Public Media. “While our production relationship is coming to an end, we look forward to continuing to air ‘Sound Opinions’ on WBEZ and we wish them all the best as they start their next chapter.”

WBEZ

The staff reductions do not include any positions in the WBEZ newsroom, in talk show programming or on the Vocalo platform, according to the company.

“While these decisions are extremely difficult ones, we have worked hard to preserve the local journalism and programming investments that are so critical to our mission and to our community,” the company said in a statement. “We remain committed to navigating these unprecedented challenges as responsibly as possible so that we may continue serving Chicagoans with the essential journalism and programming they need.”

The company did not disclose the names of the employees affected.

Here is the text of Chicago Public Media’s statement:

The economic impact of COVID-19 has placed enormous pressure on the finances of many organizations, including Chicago Public Media. As a result, we are facing an overall revenue decline of 20 percent in the coming fiscal year*, leaving a deficit four times larger than the deficit experienced during the 2008 financial crisis.
 
Since then, we have worked proactively and collaboratively to implement a number of cost-savings measures, including a freeze on hiring for new positions, executive compensation reductions, a salary freeze, a temporary suspension of 403b company match, and a voluntary separation option, among many others.
 
We also received PPP funding under the CARES Act and modest funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from the recent emergency Congressional appropriation, both of which provided support for us in the immediate term and enabled us to avoid layoffs or furloughs for any staff members during these past few months.
 
These steps, along with the generosity of members and donors, have gone a long way toward helping us lower our deficit, but they alone don’t fully address the historic challenges facing us. Therefore, we find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to make additional reductions. 
 
Today we announced layoffs of 12 members of the Chicago Public Media team. In addition, we are also ending WBEZ’s production of Sound Opinions on August 28. Going forward, Sound Opinions will continue as an independent public radio show and podcast. It will continue to air on WBEZ, as well as on nearly 150 other public radio stations, with distribution via PRX. 
 
While these decisions are extremely difficult ones, we have worked hard to preserve the local journalism and programming investments that are so critical to our mission and to our community. As a result, we have not made any layoffs to our newsroom, programming or Vocalo teams. We remain committed to navigating these unprecedented challenges as responsibly as possible so that we may continue serving Chicagoans with the essential journalism and programming they need.

*Chicago Public Media’s Fiscal Year 2021 begins July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021.