Public Radio Project Met With Donor Doubt

Volcalo.org is very different from WBEZ-FM

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Chicago Public Radio donors feel duped after the station spent their donated monies for a pet project.

    Supporters of Chicago public radio station, WBEZ-FM (91.5), are said to be angered by a decision made by the station's management to quietly use subscriber funds to help support an alternative radio station out of Chesterton, Ind.

    Vocalo.org -- the young public radio station aimed at a less wealthy, less white audience than its more traditional counterpart -- had its coming-out party at a Chicago Public Radio fundraiser on Feb. 4, Crain's Chicago reported.

    But the announcement about the connection between the two stations was two years too late for some supporters of WBEZ-FM, who are disappointed that their pledge money was diverted to a project designed to exclude them.

    Crain's said that Chicago Public Radio raised funds from WBEZ listeners without telling them that some of the money would go to the experimental station.

    Daniel Ash, Vice President for Strategic Communications for WBEZ, said the station will "readily acknowledge that we did not pitch" Vocalo.org in its recent fund drive, but he added that they don't focus on developing projects when trying to raise money, but rather highlight known programs and successes at the station.

    "People don't respond to new ideas," he said of the fundraising approach, adding that the mention of Vocalo wouldn't help them raise money.

    Crain's quoted Betty Bergstrom, a Chicago-based fundraising consultant, as saying, "I would think WBEZ would have sent a letter telling donors about the new enterprise, and that funds are needed to start it." 

    "You have to have transparency with your donors and accountability to them," especially since WBEZ and Vocalo are so different.

    Ash contends that WBEZ has been transparent in its launching of Vocalo.org, and that there has been no conspiracy to conceal the project from Chicago Public Radio members.

    When Michael Miner wrote in The Chicago Reader that WBEZ management didn't want the CPR donors to know about Vocalo, or even to go anywhere near it, management at the station became concerned that donors would become suspicious of the operation.

    But Miner said that WBEZ "didn't want them listening, it didn't want them calling in, it didn't want Vocalo tainted by their existence. Vocalo was going to be really cool and young and alternative, and the WBEZ crowd is -- well, you know." 

    "I don't want donors to ever feel that we're hiding something from them," Ash said, acknowledging that WBEZ depends in large part on listener contributions for its life blood.

    Regarding the alleged controversey over this most recent project, Ash said that of some 600,000 listeners to Chicago Public Radio each week, "we got just north of 10 letters" from listeners who were unhappy with the plan. 

    He said the coordinated efforts with Vocalo are meant to help create "a broader public broadcasting umbrella," which is all part of WBEZ's ongoing efforts to keep public radio up and running in the Chicago area.

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