Two Cheers for Vocalo | Bleader

Two Cheers for Vocalo


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I've been no friend of Vocalo, the ne'er-do-well Mr.Hyde to WBEZ's urbane Dr. Jekyll. It's the expensive vision, passion, and — I've invited readers to conclude — folly of Torey Malatia, CEO of the parent Chicago Public Radio.

I've suggested incompetence: 7/17/08 — "When I told Malatia that the WBEZ employees I'd sampled thought Vocalo was so amateurish it was unlistenable, he replied, 'That's probably a good thing.'"

Duplicity: 10/21/08: "Wondering whether any of the money you want to give WBEZ this week will wind up with Vocalo? Don't expect the folks running the fall pledge drive to tell you. The subject's being avoided by design."

Failure: 11/09/09: "An endnote tucked away at the rear of the [strategic plan] is blunter: 'It must be said that many listeners, staffers and even several CPR Board Members find the content and listening experience of Vocalo to be substandard and unappealing thus far.'"

Well, anyway, every week someone from the Reader goes on Vocalo for half an hour to talk about the new issue, and last week I got the call. Let me preface this by noting that earlier in the week I'd posted a notice on this blog about Jim DeRogatis, who was leaving the Sun-Times to write about popular music as a Vocalo blogger. Chicago Public Radio's new strategic plan was particularly hard on the Vocalo Web site, calling it a business failure that "must be fixed urgently," and now here was DeRogatis joining former Sun-Times colleagues Rob Feder and Lee Bey as bloggers on the Web site. These press veterans don't exactly fit the original raw and risky Vocalo mold, but it's hard to argue against talent.

And now I was in hard in conversation with Jesse Menendez about a subject, the 1960s best-seller Black Like Me, that he was prepared to talk about because he'd done his homework. After the show I heard from my daughter Laura in New York. She'd found Vocalo on her computer and listened to Menendez and me and then kept listening.

"I was really impressed with the guy who interviewed you," she emailed me. "What I liked so much was that he seemed book-smart and street-smart, intelligent and informed but importantly, really down-to-earth too.The next host [Luis Perez] seemed less intellectual but still street-smart and open. His show wasn't all that captivating but I thought its roughness was refreshing. Many radio personalities come off as pretentious or as jerks or both, and these hosts were far from both. I really respect that."

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