Monday, August 18, 2008

Decision to Post the Whole Exchange

I originally wasn't going to post the whole exchange regarding WBEZ and Vocalo publicly. Frankly, I didn't think it was necessary. I had entered the text into a private blog to share it more easily with a group of colleagues who also donate to WBEZ, so we could try to understand what in the world is going on in management at Chicago Public Radio right now.

But then I received some more information. I realized that there is a lot more to the story of what is going on at WBEZ then is being told. Torey isn't going to tell it. I'm not sure that the Board knows of the extent of it. The current staff aren't going to talk about it because they don't want to risk their jobs.

The hiring freeze doesn't seem to begin to scratch the surface of what seems to be happening there. And what is happening there sounds pretty awful and doesn't really match up with the emails that I received from Torey Malatia.

So, leave it in the comments. Speak up about what you know or what you'd like to know. Or send me an email if you'd like to remain anonymous. jeanmari1 (at) yahoo (dot) com


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vocalo article in the Chicago Tribune

I appreciate Mike Miner's attempts to get more specific information from Chicago Public Radio in regards to WBEZ and Vocalo in his article on August 14th, "Should WBEZ donors be told their money might be spent on Vocalo?"

That headline is essentially the point of my conversation with Mr. Malatia.

In fact, I told him that I would be very happy to re-start my pledge once it was made clear to WBEZ and Chicago Public Radio donors that their pledges might be spent on Vocalo. Period.

For the record, I think that the concept of Vocalo is a good one. I love the idea of community-driven radio programming, especially if the staff is curating the contributions of the community.

I think the current execution of that concept is WAY off of the mark, as well as lacking in quality crafting of good radio. Even if the execution was ON the mark, I think it is costing too much in money and resources for an "experiment". Money and resources that are being diverted from WBEZ and its related programming.

So, why would I restart my donations if they might be diverted to Vocalo and I don't care for the current execution of Vocalo? Because I believe that the staff at WBEZ is an extremely talented group that deserves to be supported and I always have. Even if it meant some of my donations were paying Torey's salary (and I haven't always been keen on his work as GM of CPR either.)

In any case, I think that WBEZ and Chicago Public Radio donors need to be made aware of what their donations are funding. Not from a line or two buried in the appendix of an annual report. Not from an article in the Chicago Reader.

My suspicion is that Malatia doesn't want the listeners of Chicago Public Radio/WBEZ to listen to Vocalo, look too closely at what is happening to staff/resources at WBEZ, or register any kind of feedback at all about any of this.

Why? If everything is aboveboard and going well, what is the big deal then?


If you want to read the exchange between Mr. Malatia and myself, you can start here with the first email. Thanks.

13th (last) email: From J. Olson

date Tue, Jul 29, 2008 at 8:10 AM
subject Re: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ


So pleased that you enjoyed your evening. It has been lovely weather, hasn't it?

Will you or the CPR Board be letting WBEZ members know before or during the next pledge drive about the relationship between Vocalo and WBEZ on the website and in the on-air portions of the pledge drive?

Also, I'm looking forward to reviewing the renewal letters and WBEZ communications to members that welcomed Vocalo into the CPR fold. Who can I call to obtain a copy of those?

Thanks so much.

Jeanne Marie Olson

12th email: From T. Malatia

date Tue, Jul 29, 2008 at 7:45 AM
subject RE: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

It was a lovely evening, Jeanne Marie, thank you. I spent it working on an article on polyculturalism in today’s electronic media that I hope will be published in a professional journal later this fall.

I think you’ll find, over time, as develops its style, sea legs, and audience, that there will be increasing and quite blatant cross-fertilization between the two services. That’s been in the plan since the very beginning (and I referenced this in my Current article, as you may recall). I think some board members wish this would be more the case with our other projects. I know from the beginning staff here had hoped for more opportunities to be part of the production of This American Life, for example, but for reasons that stem from the artistic vision of the program, we keep TAL production segregated from 91.5 daily work.

Thanks for your interest and support. I’m sorry you feel it necessary to withdraw, but I hope you will reconsider someday soon. In the meantime, stay well, and listen now and then, if you feel up to it, that is.


Torey Malatia

President and General Manager
Chicago Public Radio

WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago;
WBEW 89.5 FM, Chesterton;
WBEQ 90.7 FM, Morris;
W217BM, Elgin

11th email: From J. Olson

Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 4:56 PM
subject Re: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

Hi Torey--

Oh, I never rest :) Work is too enjoyable for me.

That clarifies Right Now and Hello Beautiful. So, there was a hiring freeze for some programs? Have you replaced all of the staff that have left over the last 12 months? Just curious.

I think I missed the renewal letters and WBEZ communications to members that welcomed Vocalo into the CPR fold. Do you think it would be possible to get a copy of those?

I think the difference I see in the CPR/MPR comparison is transparency. From the materials and websites, the relationship between Current and MPR is very obvious. While the relationship between CPR and Vocalo is not at all clear from the same perspective.

And that is the crux of issue. The line in the org chart being non-existent, then dotted, then solid, then dotted again. I think members will want to know...which is it?

Have a lovely evening.


10th email: From T. Malatia

date Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 4:26 PM
subject RE: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

As I mentioned, we did not start new projects. “Right Now,” a daily program to have run Monday through Friday at 3 PM- 4 PM, never existed. It was in the planning stages with minimal staff and we ran a couple of pilots as specials to see if we liked various structures on the air. We reassigned the three people working on the pilots, the only staff assigned to the production team at the time, to other 91.5 FM shows and reporting duties because we new we could not go forward with hiring the rest of the staff needed to launch the program this year.

“Hello Beautiful” hasn’t had a permanent host since Edward Lifson left over a year ago. We had been auditioning people for the permanent hire on the air—just to see how the candidates sounded. Rather than hire a permanent host, we took the money for that position, as well as the existing staff working on the project and assigned them to producing more arts and architecture features for 91.5. Hello Beautiful was a summary program—that is, a program that essentially rebroadcast material that had run the preceding week. This readjustment allowed us to significantly boost production of fresh arts pieces. No dollars were lost from this project, but were reinvested in 91.5 arts production.

As for informing members of what we do with our money—we are entirely open with is. Our audited financials are available on line and are available to anyone who asks fore them. Our renewal letters frequently talk about the great projects we do outside of WBEZ daily broadcasting, and, of course, we are completely open about this in these e-mail exchanges or in public discourse.

I do have your attachments, but in fact they fully demonstrate that I am correct--that there is no distinction—other than marketing strategies—between MPR’s multiple stations and our situation. If you donate money to Minnesota Public Radio—they can use it for anything the 501 (c) 3 Board that governs MPR specifies as a proper general operating use (unless you have restricted the gift, of course).

Again, I see no problem here except perhaps in your assessment that this is not something you wish to support. And that is a point that cannot be debated beyond a certain level, as we are beginning to discover.

Have a great week. And get some rest, for goodness sake.

Thanks again for your candor and your time.


Torey Malatia

President and General Manager
Chicago Public Radio
WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago;
WBEW 89.5 FM, Chesterton;
WBEQ 90.7 FM, Morris;
W217BM, Elgin

9th email: From J. Olson

date Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 3:43 PM
subject Re: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

Hi Torey--

Thanks for the information. I take it that the cancellation of Hello Beautiful and Right Now wasn't part of cutting expenses? Perhaps we define "cuts" differently. My understanding of "cuts" includes cutting current programming, cutting planned programming, recycling programs (reruns) to take up time slots, cutting people specifically and not replacing people who have left so that the same amount of work is done by less staff.

Are you saying that CPR has done none of those things in the past 12 months or for this new fiscal year? Just looking for some clarification.

Also, still interested in which of these will be happening in the future for CPR (based upon my last email):

* Vocalo will share resources and funding with WBEZ and that this will be made more clear to WBEZ members and Vocalo listeners by the CPR Board.
* Vocalo will be completely separate from Vocalo and will be funded by CPB and Surdna. And that this will be stated clearly by the CPR Board.

This was the email I sent that had the attachments. The one that pointed out the difference between the Vocalo situation and the MPR situation with Current. Did you receive that? Hopefully it didn't get redirected because of the attachments.

Thanks very much.

Jeanne Marie Olson

8th email: From Malatia

date Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 3:04 PM
subject RE: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

Dear Jeanne Marie,

You are very patient, and I am grateful.

I should like to simply make some corrections in the basic premises in the e-mail you’ve just sent me.

You should know that no cuts occurred to WBEZ or to Vocalo, or Sound Opinions, or Third Coast Festival, or This American Life, or Chicago Matters, or our other projects in the new fiscal year budget. We did not expand these projects, and we did not take on brand new projects but we did not cut them as you say.

Vocalo’s shortfall was relatively small at $300K; WBEZ’s was relatively large at $900K.

If there WERE to have been cuts, it would have been primarily motivated because of the nearly $900,000 that WBEZ fell short of budget. That’s because absorbing $300K is eaiser than absorbing 900K. Had resulted in the ONLY CPR shortfall, cuts would have never have even been discussed.

In spite of discussions about cuts, the Board and senior staff decided NOT to institute cuts. No staff was laid off. All staff received a 3% increase. All other expenses for 91.5, and ALL of the CPR projects remained level with—not below— this past fiscal year. I told Michael this, but it also did not appear in print.

All unrestricted grants and donations fund the general operating budget of CPR, and always have. This is true of all non-profits in the Milky Way galaxy, as you know.

Lastly, you deterimine what non-profit you donate to, and there is no other avenue for a donation to reach a non-profit except through you. If you don’t care for Sound Opnions, or This American Life, or Third Coast, or Chicago Matters, or Vocalo, and don’t think CPR should be producing it, or them, and you therefore withold dollars from CPR, then that’s that.

You, Jeanne Marie, are the final word on that, and always have been. We are on the same page with that idea, no question.

Thanks and have a great weekend,


Torey Malatia

President and General Manager

Chicago Public Radio
WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago;
WBEW 89.5 FM, Chesterton;
WBEQ 90.7 FM, Morris;
W217BM, Elgin

7th email: From J. Olson

RE: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ
Monday, July 28, 2008 1:58 PM
From:"Jeanne Marie Olson"

No worries about sharing, Torey. I'm happy to try and help. Here's the recap:

From the public's view, Vocalo was presented as a separate entity from WBEZ. WBEZ is presented as synonymous with Chicago Public Radio. Vocalo is presented as being funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Surdna. The station manager assures staff that there will be a "firewall" between the two entities. Station manager explains in an industry source that there will be no cross-marketing of the two entities, implies that they will be separate. (See attachments for examples of the visual branding designed to create that impression. It's symbolic of the lack of communication about the connection between Vocalo and WBEZ.)

Both entities experience financial shortfalls for the year. One entity has programs and staff that are cut (WBEZ). The station manager declares that the new entity (Vocalo) is not really separate financially. And that they are also sharing IT resources. And fundraising resources. And that current WBEZ staffers will be training the Vocalo staffers. Actually, they are more connected than they were presented as being initially.

Station manager explains that, along with redirecting some of the resources of WBEZ to Vocalo, Chicago Public Radio will use previous donations and other funds to the synonymously branded WBEZ/CPR to make up the shortfall with Vocalo. This situation gets reported in the Chicago Reader and not released initially by Chicago Public Radio.

Member wonders why WBEZ did not mention the potential of funding Vocalo or other projects during the time when she was considering pledging. Begins to look into Vocalo project. What is it?

Member gets the impression that the station manager wanted to keep Vocalo away from WBEZ members because he suspected that some current WBEZ members would question the quality of the project and might not want to support it. And that Vocalo wasn't eager to associate itself with WBEZ/Chicago Public Radio because they considered it to be "old guard", unhip and stale.

Yet, while the programming, members and brand identity of WBEZ isn't welcomed by Vocalo, the money that makes Chicago Public Radio possible seems to be essential for the survival of Vocalo. So the money is very welcome. Criticism of what they are doing is not.

Member wonders what is going on at Chicago Public Radio and decides to suspend her pledge until she is clear on what is happening and where her pledges are actually going. She is concerned that her donations go to WBEZ's continued financial success as a priority over Vocalo because that is where it was implied that her donation would be channeled.

She would like to know which of the following will happen:

* Vocalo will share resources and funding with WBEZ and that this will be made more clear to WBEZ members by the CPR Board.
* Vocalo will be completely separate from Vocalo and will be funded by CPB and Surdna. And that this will be stated clearly by the CPR Board.

Then she can make an informed decision about whether to re-pledge.

In regards to the comparison to Minnesota Public Radio and Current, that relationship is MUCH more clearly stated in the materials and online content of those entities. You can see an example of how this compares in the attachments below. It doesn't seem that a donor to MPR would be taken by surprise when it comes to funding Current.

That seems to be it in a nutshell.

Hope this helps to clear your fog.

Jeanne Marie Olson


Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) portrays The Current, News and Classical Music Stations as being under the umbrella of MPR. This is made clear to the listeners on its website, for example:

In regards to funding AND communicating to the donor/listening public, MPR is in alignment. It portrays the relationship between MPR and its entities like this:

In its communication materials and online, Chicago Public Radio portrays itself as synonymous with WBEZ and WBEQ and their programs. In fact, Chicago Public Radio and WBEZ share the same website. Vocalo? Nowhere to be seen...

...until it comes to funding Vocalo with resources, staff and money behind the scenes. Then you want to portray the relationship like this:

You just don't want WBEZ listeners and donors to know about it. Strangely, when I received my donation conformation letter from Chicago Public Radio this past June (2008), the footer of the letter listed WBEZ and WBEQ. But not Vocalo.

6th email: From T. Malatia

From: Malatia, Torey
Subject: RE: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ
Date: Monday, July 28, 2008, 10:58 AM

Dear Jeanne Marie,

Well, I’m still in a fog with this argument, so allow me to share some more thoughts on this latest e-mail, please.

First, as I said, unique branding of products is a common practice in public radio and it is done for quite valid reasons of marketing and promotion. As I re-read your letters there seems to be no complaint about how we market things at all. Is this now a concern? Does it matter if we brand one project “Ethel” and another “Fred”? Must they all be “Ethel?”

Second, several times in our developmental history we have attempted to keep what you are calling a “firewall” between the investment in production and our operating budget if only for our own tracking. I recall this working well a couple of times, and failing a couple of times. It definitely failed with This American Life and Odyssey. It worked with Chicago Matters, in all but three years since 1994. When it does fail, the operating budget takes over and fills in what is needed. The board agrees to this going in. The staff also is very, very familiar with this procedure.

Also, for the record, when I talked to staff about this in regards to, I never said what you are claiming I said. I made remarks about this as very much as I’ve outlined it above—with the caveat that, if this didn’t work,, the operating budget would take over, as usual. By the way, I made these remarks in only one large staff meeting in April of 2006. I’ve made no remarks like this to anyone else. But if I had done so, I would have said, as I did to staff, that the operating budget will fill in any shortfalls as was our past practice.

You are quoting the Reader’s half-efforts at reporting once again, and I ask you to check facts. The quote is not from me. It is from somebody. That this somebody has recalled this inaccurately does a great deal to make me suspect all this somebody says throughout the article. Perhaps it is as recollected by someone who was never at the meeting, maybe wasn’t even on staff in 2006, or never on staff ever, since they are not identified.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that is true, even though I assure you it is not. Let’s pretend that I said all projects would be covered by separate funding not out of the operating budget absolutely. And then what happened in our hypothetical situation? It all fell through, much to embracement of me, the disappointment of the board, and the staff. And therefore? What? You are angry that the plan didn’t work out?

Because almost nothing we’ve done has turned out as planned. And Vocalo is not the issue financially here ANYWAY—it’s the fact that WBEZ itself had a shortfall that gave us pause—at least three times the shortfall of any other project, including Vocalo, all by itself.

Your last point makes the least sense of all and that is saying a lot by now: How is it disingenuous to fund CPR’s operation with available resources? How? That’s what we strive to do every day. That’s what every non-profit strives to do.

It’s only an issue if you somehow see as not CPR’s project, which is incorrect. Perhaps your point here is that YOU would NOT approve of this as one of our projects were you in a position to lead, and as long as it is, you would rather not invest dollars.

That I will buy. I disagree, but that, that, makes sense.

All the best, and thanks for your time,


Torey Malatia

President and General Manager

Chicago Public Radio
WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago;
WBEW 89.5 FM, Chesterton;
WBEQ 90.7 FM, Morris;
W217BM, Elgin

5th email: From J. Olson

From: Jeanne Marie Olson
To: "Malatia, Torey"
Date: Monday, July 28, 2008, 9:50 AM

My position is simple, Torey.

The position of this article (your words) to keep Vocalo completely separate from WBEZ:

The initiative’s name began as “The Street” and became “The Secret Radio Project” before becoming :Vocalo.

...and in this coverage in the Reader (the details of which have been confirmed by staffers at the station):

Malatia promised a firewall between Vocalo’s finances and WBEZ’s. But WBEZ found itself sharing an IT staff, a marketing staff, fund-raisers. A staffer on the WBEZ side says they began to feel “like the red-headed stepchild, the one who has to do all the chores. There were definitely rancorous feelings.”

...implies that you're trying to have it both ways. To keep Vocalo partially funded/supported with pledge donations given in the past by WBEZ's members and to keep that knowledge (of funding and even of Vocalo's reliance on the resources of WBEZ) from its members. It may not be illegal because of the financial structure of the specific 501(c)3, but it certainly is disingenuous. As an entity that relies very heavily on community support for resources (not only financial), being disingenuous or giving the impression of misleading your community can be a very unfortunate position to take.

I encouraged you not to apologize since you encouraged me not to apologize for withdrawing my donation. Since you were so supportive, I thought I'd respond in kind.

Therefore, I'll repeat. Either unapologetically launch Vocalo as part of WBEZ and come clean with WBEZ members in a very direct way that is presented in pledge drives, marketing materials, online identity, member communications and the rest about what is happening. Or unapologetically decide to truly separate the two and keep everything--ALL of the money, staff, people and equipment--separate so that Vocalo can thrive or die on its own.

That is correct and normal and proper when given the responsibility of managing a community-supported not-for-profit.

You can start with changing your email sign-off, for one. That is pretty simple.

Torey Malatia

President and General Manager

Chicago Public Radio

WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago;

WBEW-VOCALO 89.5 FM, Chesterton;

WBEQ 90.7 FM, Morris;

W217BM, Elgin

There. Fixed that for you. Now you can start mentioning them in WBEZ's pledge drives if you are diverting funds to Vocalo. It's pretty easy, really.

Have a great day. And thanks.

Jeanne Marie Olson

4th Email: Response from T. Malatia

From: Malatia, Torey

Dear Jeanne Marie,

Well, we are both to be commended for healthy dialogue, and I’m grateful for your response. But since it appears from your text below that you have a rather sophisticated understanding of the non-profit world, I confess I am even more surprised now at your position.

Here’s how I would put it to a person who knows the non-for-profit world: All donations to CPR are donations to general operating fund of the 501(c) 3. Knowing that, and knowing that this non-profit is a broadcaster for the region serving multiple constituencies, I simply don’t understand the issue you are raising. Of course, is unapolagetically part of what we do. So is our work with CRIS radio, our Chicago Amplified work with community groups—many of them activist orgamnizations. Who’s apologizing for any of this?

I respect your right to think that by giving it a different brand (as we did when we operated WLUW for 5 years) that we are somehow apologizing. But I completely disagree. I think that is about as strange as suggesting that Minnesota Public Radio is apologizing by owning and operating a news “stream” and two music services. Of course they would want to brand them differently. (“The Current” is the brand of one of their music station. Good idea, if you asked me, since this station attracts lovers of pop music and MPR for decades has been known for classical music).

Mind you, and I am not trying to argue you out of this decision to withdraw support. Your decision is respected, Jeanne Marie. Not to worry. It is your argument that is failing me.

If the money you gave to CPR were truly diverted in some unreasonable way-- used to support another 501(c) 3 of our choice, but not of your choosing, for example, then your argument would hold. (This as you know is what makes the pooled funds of United Way problematic for certain conservatives who object to specific not-for-profits in the pool).

But all of our activities, no matter what they are from programs to events, to institutional partnerships, to broadcast services, to internet platforms, are 1) governed by the same non-profit Board of Directors, 2) independently audited annual as required by the State of Illinois and 3) audited for hiring practices annually as required by the FCC The Reader certainly could use a lesson in the facts pertaining to non-profit operations, that is , if they are interested in earning credibility on this topic. In any case, I’ve read the Reader for years and I would never look to them to be a definitive publication on most topics. That’s not how they make money.

Really we are back to your decision about whether we do things that you believe are worth investing in. The work we do is all true to the same emission, serves all residents of our area equally and with extraordinary respect and passion. But there are other worthy non-profits that may attract you, and I prefer to see your decision as weighing those considerations rather than a misunderstanding of the facts—facts that I know you, more than other perhaps, have mastered.

All the best and, again, thank you for your past support, Jeanne Marie.


Torey Malatia

President and General Manager

Chicago Public Radio

WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago;

WBEW 89.5 FM, Chesterton;

WBEQ 90.7 FM, Morris;

W217BM, Elgin

3rd Email: Jeanne to Torey

From: Jeanne Marie Olson
Subject: Re: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ
To: "Malatia, Torey"
Date: Monday, July 28, 2008, 12:29 AM

Torey, thanks for your response.

Yes, you are correct. None of us have to give at all as the station relies on voluntary donations from listeners.


Since you are relying on voluntary donations from listeners, the station has more responsibility to its donors than, say, a lemonade stand would have to its patrons. At a lemonade stand, I put down 50 cents. I receive my cup. I drink it and leave. If the lemonade stand owner decides to invest his profit into selling clown hats on the side, it doesn't matter to me. I paid for my lemonade, received it, and that is that.

Public radio is not a lemonade stand.

When you go on the air at a pledge drive and ask for listener support, you cite the many expenses that go into making a public radio station work. As a benefit, you mention--specifically by name--the programs that we receive as listeners of the station. When we voluntarily give to the station, especially if our donation is pledged to continue over a period of time, we are entering into a donor agreement with you. We give money and you spend that money on what you have represented as the not-for-profit that is worthy of funding. In this case, that is WBEZ.

If you want to cancel programming or add staff in the newsroom, that is well within the donor agreement that we have made to support the station. Some of us may not like a specific decision and will voice those opinions, but at the end of the day, since it is all under the umbrella of WBEZ, we feel that the good outweighs some of the occasional disappointments.

In the meantime, the station functions as part of a large social network that ties different individuals, groups, topics, and locations together. This relationship is interdependent. The listeners rely on the social network for many things and so does the station. Listeners reinforce brand identity, engage in a certain amount of participation beyond financial donations, are willing to carry and display items with logos on them as part of a larger marketing plan, provide support in public elections that keeps politicians aware of constituents' ties to public radio, link to the WBEZ website in on-line forums and conversations, mention the site in classrooms, conversation and in casual media, etc.

Donors contribute to not-for-profits that they can trust. The trust that, if I give to the station, the station will spend my donation on WBEZ business since that was the agreement presented during the fund raising period. The trust that when you call us WBEZ members you really believe that we are members and not just consumers completing a transaction. Because as the station reaps the benefits of community members behaving like members (and not just consumers), it is required to treat them like members and not consumers.

We could go into the mechanics of temporarily restricted, permanently restricted and unrestricted donations and assets. I'm sure you have already consulted your financial advisors and have found that classifying funds as reserves from previous years provides a handy loophole for presenting the use of previous donations and monies on non-WBEZ projects as relatively easy to defend because it would be extremely difficult to trace the money and interest from reserves to different projects.

So I'm not going to pursue that.

Reframing how you are covering Vocalo's shortfall doesn't hide the fact that you are changing the rules in the middle of the game to benefit your personally desired outcome at the expense of the trust that the station has built over decades with the community that sustains it.

Torey, let me make it simpler for you.

If you had added new programming to WBEZ's schedule that I didn't care for and cut something that I enjoyed, I would still support WBEZ. That is the station I pledged to this year. And the year before that. And many years before that.

To tell me, after you have secured my pledge, that you will be diverting money to a completely different station, a station that I would not have known about had I not read the Chicago Reader, that makes me believe that I cannot trust you to be a responsible steward of my donation.

It isn't the FACT that you are doing it, Torey. It is HOW you have gone about it. It is how this whole thing is playing out. If there are any reserves from past years and WBEZ is coming up short in 2008, that is where the reserves should go. Period. Because of donors like me who believed that our donations and any interest on those donations would support WBEZ which was the station presented to us in the pledge drives.

Should Vocalo succeed or fail? Frankly, I don't really care one way or the other. I'll judge it separately and decide whether or not to pledge to it during a VOCALO pledge drive. Which they should be running with their own fundraising staff. On computers supported by their own IT department. An IT department funded through the donations specific to Vocalo. Should you as the general manager be prevented from trying something new or different? Torey, please, be my guest. Either create that new project with WBEZ funds within the programming schedule of WBEZ, or create something entirely new outside of WBEZ with assets not connected to WBEZ.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a firewall that keeps members from asking what you are doing with assets that we directly and indirectly obtained for the station and at the same time breach that firewall to pull whatever you like (money, staff, time, equipment) in a completely separate venture.

So, Torey, never apologize. Either unapologetically launch Vocalo as part of WBEZ and come clean with WBEZ members in a very direct way that is presented in pledge drives, marketing materials, online identity, member communications and the rest about what is happening. Or unapologetically decide to truly separate the two and keep everything--ALL of the money, staff, people and equipment--separate so that Vocalo can thrive or die on its own.

Once you choose, send me an email. I'd love to consider donating again as long as I know what I'm donating to. Unapologetically, of course.


Jeanne Marie Olson

Email #2: Response from T. Malatia

Friday, July 25, 2008 2:47 PM
To: Jeanne Marie Olson

Hi, Jean-Marie

Thank you for your letter, and I’m sorry you haven’t seemed to get a definitive response.

So here is what I’d like to tell you.

First, never, ever apologize or feel that you need to explain why you have decided to not support the station. Any support we get is an anomaly. People don’t have to give at all—public service broadcasting is meant to be a free public service to all, those who give and those who don’t. Some people are good enough to help us pay the bills and we don’t expect this nor take it for granted once it happens.

So, thank you very much from all of us for your past support.

On to your question.

Both 91.5 FM’s shortfall from our original projections this year of close to $900,000, and all other subsidies, This American Life, Third Coast Festival, Sound Opinions, and were paid for out of net assets, not a pledge drive. Net assets are, in essence, the station’s reserves or bank account.

So, what you are afraid happened did not happen.’s needs were so small compared to WBEZ’s this year that you can quite comfortably know that no pledge drive revenues were used. But, in a way, it is rather moot. In the pool of reserves, certainly there were some pledge revenues from the past. And this is normal.

To explain: All of our revenues—revenues from pledge drives, government grants, foundation grants, major gifts, events revenues, shop revenues, underwriting revenues, direct mail revenues, telemarketing revenues, and pledge drive revenues pay all of our bills at Chicago Public Radio.

Here’s what all of the string of revenues I outlined above pay for:

  • Programming acquired for broadcast on 91.5 FM
  • Original production heard on 91.5 FM
  • Engineering and other capital infrastructure costs for the WBEZ transmitter at John Hancock Center
  • The same costs as they apply to the WBEQ transmitter at Morris, Illinois
  • All costs associated with W217 BM in Elgin
  • Engineering costs for WBEW
  • Third Coast International Audio Festival costs
  • Costs for Sound Opinions
  • Chicago Matters
  •—the website—it’s design, maintenance, and streaming costs
  • The same as they apply to
  • Studio equipment and maintenance at our Navy Pier Studios
  • Rent, maintenance at our South side bureau in Englewood
  • Rent, maintenance at our North side bureau in West Rogers Park
  • Rent, maintenance at our West side bureau at Humboldt Park
  • Rent, maintenance at our Northwest Indiana bureau in Chesterton
  • Costs associated with live events, such as the recent Worldview Global Activism Fair in Edgewater
  • Costs associated with intern training and talent development in our City Room
  • Costs associated with our public education programs done in cooperation with the Chicago Board of Education
  • And others, and others, and others.

My point is—it is very difficult if not impossible for anyone to be assured that any single dollar in our hands is used specifically for one item on the list and only one—for the salary of one specific employee or one specific moment of any one specific broadcast.

This is correct and normal and proper. This is the way it is with any donation one might make to any Chicago institution—the Art Institute, the Chicago Symphony, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the DuSable Museum. The dollars given merge with other dollars to build a strong, multidimensional service for all Chicagoans.

We’ll give your donation back, as you wish. No questions asked. We hope you will come back one day. In the meantime, listen and enjoy our work.

We are terribly fortunate to have a pool of donors who will keep the home fires burring so that you and I can listen all we want. We are grateful that so many people believe in the rich service we provide, and we are very grateful for all of your past support.

Have a great weekend, Jean-Marie.


Torey Malatia

President and General Manager

Chicago Public Radio

WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago;

WBEW 89.5 FM, Chesterton;

WBEQ 90.7 FM, Morris;

W217BM, Elgin

First Email: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ

Thursday, July 24, 2008 4:28 PM

After 15 years of supporting WBEZ, I called earlier today and canceled my monthly pledge.

This is a pity, because I’ve always been a proud supporter. I have generally supported many things that the station has decided to do (neighborhood bureaus, getting rid of some jazz programs) but siphoning off the funds I’ve pledged to this side project that I wasn’t told about when I pledged? Nope. That is a violation of donor intent.

I don’t care much about Vocalo one way or the other. I think experimentation is cool, as long as the donors to Vocalo know what they are supporting. If Vocalo can make it on their own through their own donors, kudos. But not with my money unless I choose to give it to them.

Even if Vocalo was QUALITY experimental radio (which I can't even tell if it is, the skills of the crew are so terrible, that it is hard to listen to more than a few minutes at a time), I would still have a problem with my pledge going to them. Because I pledged to support the programming on 91.5 FM. Only.

I hope that this gets straightened out quickly, because I want to begin pledging again. But I can't begin pledging again unless I'm sure that my donations aren't being misused.


Jeanne Marie Olson