WBEZ celebrates 25 years on its own

Chicago Public Media

Chicago Public Media

Chicago Public Media marked its 25th anniversary as the independent parent company of WBEZ FM 91.5 this week with a gala celebration and a smart new mobile app.

More than 500 people attended a $500-a-plate fundraising dinner Tuesday at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. Ira Glass, host and executive producer of “This American Life,” headlined the event, which featured a galaxy of public radio’s biggest stars.

Goli Sheikholeslami, president and chief executive officer of Chicago Public Media since 2014, said the station’s mission remains more vital and its future appears brighter than ever.

Goli Sheikholeslami

Goli Sheikholeslami

“For 20 years I worked at for-profit media companies that, like everyone else, were struggling to reinvent themselves, to figure out how to survive in the digital age,” she told the gathering. “But as it turns out, the public radio model is the one that works for journalism. Public radio is uniquely positioned to thrive in this environment because we receive financial support directly from our listeners. And I have never been more excited or more optimistic about working in media than I am right now at WBEZ.”

Sheikholeslami credited her predecessors, Carole Nolan and Torey Malatia, with doing “such a beautiful job taking the station independent, building an incredible facility and hiring great journalists for local and national programs. They established WBEZ as a place that huge numbers of Chicagoans turn to for the kind of news that informs, engages and moves people to action.

“At a time when other news sources are blurring the lines with sponsored content and native advertising, we are more than ever investing in the kind of news reporting that has real impact. While other newsrooms are shrinking, we are expanding. This investment allows us to deliver essential local reporting that strengthens our social fabric.”

Staking out a leading role for Chicago Public Media in what she called “a revolutionary digital transformation that will redefine radio for the next generation,” Sheikholeslami pointed to the expanded capabilities of the station’s recently launched mobile app.

“It doesn’t just stream live programming and give you access to our podcast,” she said. “It provides a new experience we call the ‘rePlayer,’ which allows you to control the weekly program schedule. You can access whatever programming you want, when you want to listen to it, on any device. So if you want to hear the next ‘Fresh Air’ at 8 a.m. tomorrow, you can with just a few simple swipes of the screen. Just want to hear the lead news stories at the top of the hour? You can jump to them and listen. You decide — not us.”

Established in 1943 by the Chicago Board of Education, WBEZ operated as an educational extension of the Chicago Public Schools for 47 years. It became independent in 1990 when Chicago Public Media acquired the station’s license under the nonprofit WBEZ Alliance.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, WBEZ tied for 17th place overall with a 2.5 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 549,900.