Steve Edwards leaves ‘really big shoes to fill’ at WBEZ
With the surprise resignation of Steve Edwards Tuesday, WBEZ-FM (91.5) lost the host of its fledgling afternoon talk show — and Chicago radio lost one of its most brilliant and talented stars.
After 14 years in a variety of on-air and management roles, Edwards, 41, said he’s leaving the Chicago Public Media station to become deputy director, programming at the University of Chicago’s new Institute of Politics, a public policy and public service institute led by David Axelrod. His last day at WBEZ will be September 21.
Only last February, Edwards launched The Afternoon Shift, a live, two-hour weekday call-in program that showcased his versatility as a curious journalist, incisive interviewer and genial host. It marked the return of the former Eight Forty-Eight anchor to full-time on-air duty at WBEZ after serving as director of content development and program director.
Calling Edwards “one of our very best media professionals,” Torey Malatia, president and CEO of Chicago Public Media, told staffers in a memo: “Steve has devoted most of his broadcasting career in painting the public mural of what WBEZ is in the daily lives of our listeners. It is a priceless part of his skill and insight that will always remain with our institution as he moves forward with his life and career.”
In an interview Tuesday, Edwards said he views his move more as an evolution than a departure, noting that he’ll still be engaged in developing content and programming. “I’m actually working in a space that’s consistent with material I’ve reported on for years," he said. "It doesn’t at all preclude me moving back more squarely into the media or journalism down the road if there’s the right opportunity.”
The invitation to work closely with Axelrod and help launch the ambitious, non-partisan academic program at the University of Chicago (modeled after the Institute of Politics at Harvard University) was particularly appealing to Edwards, who’s been following politics all his life and majored in political science at Amherst College. In 2007, he was awarded a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan.
“It was one of those opportunities that doesn’t come around very often,” Edwards said of his latest move. “I’ve been approached to do other things, but I’ve always stayed here. These guys have been great to me, and if I could have timed this differently, I would have. But in this case, the mission was consistent, the topic area was one I’m deeply passionate about, and the chance to build this at the university was really exciting.
“What motivates me is trying to create a deeper understanding of the world around me and trying to share that with people. How do I touch and transform people and communities? How do I uncover insights and share them with others? Journalism has been an amazing place where those values and skill sets intersect. And I think my new role at the Institute of Politics represents another place where they do as well.”
The search for a new host of The Afternoon Shift is already under way. On Tuesday, WBEZ retained Livingston Associates, a Baltimore-based firm specializing in public media, to solicit candidates and advertise the position online and in trade publications.
“Ideally, we want to canvass available options here and across the country efficiently, but we also want to find the right person,” Malatia told me. “I think there’s sometimes been a dysfunctional amount of delay in hiring in public media — both television and radio. We will do everything we possibly can to avoid that.
“This is an extremely important time slot and we have really big shoes to fill. An extraordinary talent is leaving, and we have to find someone who is really up to the task of doing good work, and we have an audience to serve that’s not going to be sitting around waiting for an ultimate decision. So we’re going to try to find this person reasonably efficiently, without compromising the need to find the right fit.”