Chicago's Dueling Critics are back on the air

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Jonathan Abarbanel and Kelly Kleiman
  • Courtesy of Dueling Critics
  • Jonathan Abarbanel and Kelly Kleiman
Last June I told a melancholy tale of economic retrenchment at WBEZ. Because revenues were falling programming was being overhauled; the station was giving the brush-off to paid contributors who'd been rounded up for their expertise, and giving its audience—bright, engaged, and happy to contribute gratis—new opportunities to call in and sound off. Among the experts to bite the dust were WBEZ’s Dueling Critics, Kelly Kleiman and Jonathan Abarbanel, who’d been discussing theater for the station in one format or another—on air, podcasts, blogs—since 2007.

In the last 11 months much has happened. At WBEZ, general manager Torey Malatia was fired and replaced, and the staff then unionized and is now in the early stages of negotiating its first contract. Meanwhile, the Dueling Critics went on podcasting independently, and this month they returned to public radio. Their new home is The Arts Section, a half-hour show at 8 AM Sundays on WDCB, 90.9 FM, at the College of DuPage.

"I wish it were a drive-time weekday," says Kleiman, "but one miracle at a time."

The show’s hosted by Gary Zidek, formerly an intern at WBEZ, and Kleiman and Abarbanel appear every other week, alternating with a film critic. Kleiman tells me that Zidek hopes to expand the show to an hour, and if he does, she and Abarbanell will show up weekly.

For that to happen, the Dueling Critics and Zidek will have to find a "sponsor," says Kleiman, using a word public radio prefers to avoid, since there's more dignity in underwriter, and endower, and the like. And if one turns up, she goes on, the Dueling Critics wouldn't mind getting paid.

When times were good, WBEZ paid them each $600 a month. When that station turned off the tap Kleiman and Abarbanel decided it was time to part company, since WBEZ—after all—wasn't claiming it could afford no payroll whatsoever. But WDCB is different.

"Since everybody else at the station works for free we realized it was appropriate to do that as well," Kleiman explains.

Everybody?

"The DJs are all donating their time," she says.

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