Apr 3, 2024 - Business

Chicago Public Media kills Vocalo, lays off 14 employees

Photo of a sign saying Vocalo
The sign at the Navy Pier studios and offices of Chicago Public Media. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Chicago Public Media is phasing out the broadcast of its radio station Vocalo and laying off 14 positions.

Why it matters: The public media company continues to cut back programming and staff for all of its properties, including the Sun-Times.

Driving the news: The 14 layoffs, announced Wednesday, include Vocalo staffers, members of the podcast team and non-newsroom Sun-Times employees.

  • "These are painful decisions that affect our valued colleagues," CPM chief executive Matt Moog said in a statement.
  • "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."

The big picture: The layoffs come at a time when several media companies are cutting back due to economic uncertainty.

  • WBEZ unveiled plans earlier this year to cut its local talk programming down to one hour a day.
  • Moog announced he was stepping down as CEO last December but is still running the organization while the CPM board looks for his successor.

What they're saying: "It is particularly upsetting that the decision to cut WBEZ's entire podcast unit and gut the team behind Vocalo is being made as a search for a new CEO is underway," WBEZ City Hall reporter Mariah Woelfel said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

  • "Monumental decisions like this should not be made when leadership is in flux."

Context: Vocalo was created in 2007 as an initiative to bring in younger, diverse Chicago listeners — a goal reflected in its talent and guests.

  • While it never found ratings success comparable to sister station WBEZ, Vocalo (99.1 FM) was one of the few stations in Chicago playing independent hip-hop, and it broadcast Spanish-language programming on the weekend.

Zoom in: CPM is retaining some Vocalo staff members and shifting them to WBEZ.

  • CPM will continue to produce the current daily podcast versions of its flagship radio show "Reset" and its newsletter "The Rundown," but it's ending the rest, including the award-winning series "Making," the "Curious City" podcast and the popular "Nerdette."

Yes, but: "Curious City" will continue its weekly WBEZ on-air segment.

  • "It's a lot to process," "Nerdette" host and longtime WBEZ on-air personality Greta Johnsen, who was part of the layoffs, tells Axios.
  • "I love 'Nerdette' dearly, and I'd be thrilled to find a new home for it."

What's next: Vocalo will sign off May 1.

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