Regarding Deanna Isaacs's Culture Club piece on Victoria Lautman [September 28], Ms. Lautman is without doubt toast. The pattern of the apparent martinet who has controlled WBEZ for the last few years is plain. Victoria Lautman has always presented an involved, dedicated, and passionate view of a diverse segment of art in Chicago. Very few reporters can make visual art work on radio, but she does. In recent months she has done a more than credible job of branching out into other topics and has been quite good as a substitute general interest program host. But Ms. Lautman's work isn't the issue--it's that she demonstrated some level of thought or independence. And more important, broke the seal and talked to a reporter. As Ms. Isaacs points out, Ms. Lautman will be given the freedom to pursue other projects. Ms. Isaacs mentions several, but not all of the others that collectively developed a lot of those projects during Torey Malatia's reign. The trait they share, in addition to that project itch, was the ability to produce interesting radio. Stuart Rosenberg, Aaron Freeman, Mara Tapp, Neil Tesser . . . it is an honor roll that lengthens every quarter. And Malatia wounds what he can't kill, for example by moving the live broadcast of Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know? back an hour by tape delay to make way for his "comic" current events quiz bomb. So Chicago listeners (if they try to listen via WBEZ) can't participate in a unique live event (once considered the hallmark of radio). Instead they get that "quiz" (which is vastly inferior to the other, and genuinely comic, current events show Rewind, a show Malatia tried to kill by moving it to a marginal time while running his dog of a quiz twice a weekend). He is also the only radio executive I'm aware of whose name appears in program credits. The last person I can recall whose name appeared at the end of WBEZ broadcasts was Benjamin C. Willis.
Many years ago, I worked at WBEZ. It was long before public radio. Then it was educational radio, and while it had its moments, generally it was awful. I was heartened when WBEZ became an NPR affiliate, and also when it severed ties with the Chicago Board of Education. But with the arrival of Malatia, things have slowly drifted downhill. From the disappeared personalities to the construction of the radio Taj Mahal on Navy Pier (when thousands of less expensive square feet could be found within a stone's throw of the Loop) to the bloating of staffs with assistant associate executive producers and senior associate executive producers, the spiral downward continues. There is still much to like on WBEZ, just don't get attached to it. If Steve Edwards and other members of the current air staff continue to be interesting I'm sure those magic projects will appear to take them away from the microphones.
I was a member of WBEZ for several years, but as things started going bad I was torn: how to support NPR and protest WBEZ's management. I struck on the idea of joining other NPR stations. I was doing a project in Pittsburgh during a fund drive there, so for a year I was a member of WDQU. Then I heard an old classmate was running the communications department at Boston University so I signed up with WBUR in his honor. I urge other listeners to follow this plan. A large percentage of what you give to WDQU, WBUR, WHYY, WHA, WILL, KCRW, and all the other member stations gets back to NPR (and PRI) for programming costs anyway. Maybe when the bucks stop rolling in to this local operation somebody on the board will see the light.
Good luck to Victoria Lautman, I think you're about to join what is too large an alumni association. Maybe all of you should get together and start a public radio station.