Monday, July 07, 2008

VOCALO at WBEW

About a year ago Chicago Public Radio 91.5 WBEZ-FM spun off one of it's repeaters into an experiment. WBEZ was a long time NPR affiliate and a source fo much public radio programming including This American Life. They took all 7,000 watts of 89.5 WBEW-FM and did something new. Everything changed, the playlist, the programs, the brand, air staff and the rest. Originally it was called "the secret radio Project." It became Vocalo.

The stick is in Chesterton, Indiana just outside Chicago. The programming seems to be a public affairs program responding to the success of KCMP in Minneapolis. As large as the public radio audience is, it is old and aging. Everyone in public radio land who has a care in the world, has a care about it's future. What's going to work in a decade? Unlike popular formats that just pander to the lowest common denominators, public radio must succeed or fail on donations. Donations succeed or fail based on their ties to their community. They describe themselves thusly:
"Vocalo.org is radio made by you. We take the material you submit (audio, text, video) and turn it into entertaining and informative broadcast material that plays on 89.5 FM in Northwest Indiana and soon Chicago and streams live on our website. Check out our What Is This section for more info."
In December of 2007, The Current described what was then a planned format like this: "
"In fact, it will have no shows at all. It will air a continuous, seamless talk-based stream completely devoted to Northwest Indiana and Chicago metropolitan area culture, issues and selected music. It is not a news station. There are no newscasts."

The idea was pretty big, or at least they talked big. But the result is mixed. There are definitely shows. They stayed fairly true to their promise not to trod on WBEW, the new station does not cross-promote WBEZ. they continue to take submitted content from their listeners. But they also promised never to run a pledge drive .. and that seems so implausible that despite a year of development and local outreach, and hundreds of listener produced programs... I'm just counting the days.