On Wednesday, December 19, Mark Pinski, the general manager for
WCPT—Chicago’s progressive talk radio station—took me out for breakfast to
give me an “annual performance review” about my afternoon show.
Over a delicious omelet—stack of pancakes on the side—Pinski told me things
couldn’t be better. I was doing a great job. Getting better and better at
the technical end of hosting a show (after a year and nine months on the
air, I was still very much an old rookie at this game). Said I was great at
getting guests to schlep all the way to the northwest-side studio (I booked
my own program). And although there are no ratings (WCPT doesn’t subscribe
to a ratings service), the sponsors liked me, and revenues were rising
thanks to my show.
“Keep up the good work,” he said.
It took Pinski about 15 minutes to get through his performance review,
after which we spent the better part of a half an hour talking about—what
else—our beloved Bulls. Like I didn’t have a job-related care in the world.
And then, just eight days later—on December 27—that very same Pinski, along
with Brian Linscott, the company’s COO, called me into the conference room
to break a bombshell.
“It’s a tough business,” Pinski declared. “You’re hired to be fired.”
And just like that they fired me. It happened right after I got off the
air—I’d already booked my guests for Friday’s show. Essentially, they said
the company would be giving me five and a half weeks of severance pay to get out
and never come back.
I never saw it coming. It’s like that breakfast of eggs and pancakes was
the company’s way of fattening me up for the kill. Plus, my firing came
just before the long New Year’s weekend, when few people would be paying
attention to the news. Who knew these cats could be so cunning—Tony
Soprano’s got nothing on the nice progressives at WCPT.
Actually, the timing’s relevant in more ways than one. We are, of course,
on the cusp of a contentious mayoral election—a nasty catfight even by
Chicago standards. And for the last few weeks I’d been rather gleefully
bringing on one mayoral candidate after another and giving them free rein
to rip the hell out of each other. All the time, I’d be peppering them with
questions about my pet peeves—like, how do we cut up the pie so all
neighborhoods benefit. Not just the rich ones.
Ultimately, I believe I was fired because the top brass didn’t want my
left-of-center voice broadcast from their station. I might ask questions
that could embarrass whatever candidate they support (and that turned out
). And so out the door they sent me.
Look, I know I’m not the first radio personality to get “whacked,” as David
Hochberg, one of my show’s sponsors, so eloquently put it. In fact, WCPT
fired Wayne Besen, the previous afternoon show host, to make way for me. As
you might imagine, I’m not getting much sympathy from Wayne these days.
Since I got sacked, my feelings have raced from denial to defiance back to
disbelief. I loved that show. Loved talking politics with my guests. Loved
cracking wise with producer Dennis—aka Dr. D. Loved bringing in community
activists and labor leaders and lefties who rarely get heard on mainstream
radio. Loved my supertalented colleagues at the station—I’d mention them
by name except I worry management might retaliate against them.
But mostly I’ve been feeling overwhelming gratitude at the outpouring of
love and support I’ve been receiving since the word got out.
It’s hard to say which message is my favorite. But this Facebook comment
from a man named Barry Marshall definitely ranks in the top ten.
“I don’t know who did the firing. But I’m confident they some ho’s. (And
I’m not talking the Holly jolly types). #benjoravskyisdope
I don’t mean to denigrate sex workers, but you have to appreciate the
spirit of Barry’s comment.
So now I’ve reached the point of my column where I must choose one of two
roads. I could go all Johnny Paycheck and say—take this job and shove it.
But I think I’ll do like Michelle Obama and take the high road when they go
So, gulp, here goes . . .
I want to thank Fred Eychaner, the wealthy businessman and heavy donor to
Democratic and progressive causes—like marriage equality and reproductive
rights—who owns WCPT.
Yes, Fred’s the man who fired me—Pinski & Linscott made it clear that
the decision came from the top. But he’s also the person who hired me, even
though I had no previous radio experience. And he left me on air for almost
two years to hone my skills and do my thing.
So, Fred, thank you for all of that. Even though you and your henchmen set me up like a freaking bowling pin.
Oh, wait—I was supposed to be going high road, wasn’t I?
As to why I was fired, Pinski and Linscott offered two explanations in our
They said they wanted a more experienced broadcaster—meaning someone with a
smoother, more conventional radio sound.
Fair enough. But I’d think they’d appreciate a normal-sounding guy who’s
just being himself.
They also said they wanted to, as Linscott put it, “promote the mayoral
election in a more positive way.”
I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I do have two reactions. First
of all, I don’t believe journalists are supposed to “promote” mayoral
elections—we cover them. And second of all, good luck finding something
positive to promote about this epic free-for-all.
It seems as though the station and I have what you might call a fundamental
disagreement over how to cover Chicago mayoral elections. I believe in
bringing in all the candidates. Ask them tough questions. Give them time to
respond. And then call on other sharp political observers to help you
figure out what’s really going on—with lots of humor to make the BS a
little easier to take.
Actually, now that I think about it, I should have seen this coming.
Several months ago—well before Rahm said he wasn’t running for
reelection—a honcho at the station told me I was being too tough on the
mayor. “Go easy on Rahm,” he said.
I paid no attention—it’s a little late to put that genie back in the
bottle. Also, I never figured a Chicago journalist would be fired for being
too tough on politicians. Man, was I naive. Guess the Reader spoiled me by
letting do my thing for all these years.
On Friday I read WCPT’s official explanation for why I was fired—it came in
a press release that quoted Pinski. Which I will quote. ‘Cause, as every
journalist knows, you gotta tell both sides of the story. (By the way, I
reached out to Fred for comment and he didn’t respond.)
“We want to thank Ben for all of his hard work and dedication. . . . Ben did a
great job of moving our brand forward, and want our next host to take us to
the next level.”
That sounds like a rewrite of the Bulls statement from 1989 when they
fired coach Doug Collins on the grounds that even though he got them from
point A to point B they needed another coach to get them to point C.
Hey, maybe WCPT’s next afternoon host will be Phil Jackson.
You know, wisecracks like that always get me in trouble.
Whoever winds up getting the afternoon gig—no hard feelings. I suggest you
remember the immortal words of Pinski: “You’re hired to be fired.” So,
watch your back.
Anyway, it was a blast—and turns out it’s not over yet. The Ben Joravsky Show will
continue (keep it here for details). The sooner the better—’cause, folks,
there’s a mayoral election on the horizon. v