Shift change: Kogan taking his leave from WBEZ

From the moment Rick Kogan stepped into the WBEZ-FM (91.5) studio last September and introduced himself as interim host of The Afternoon Shift, it seemed hard to imagine a more perfect fit for the show.

“Call off the nationwide search now and give him the job for keeps,” I wrote a week later, echoing the sentiments of many others. At 61, the celebrated Chicago newspaperman, radio personality and author needed no on-the-job training to pick up where the estimable Steve Edwards left off from 2 to 4pm weekdays on the public radio station.

But wishful thinking aside, ideal is not the same as inevitable. While Kogan kept The Afternoon Shift humming, the bosses of Chicago Public Media continued to pursue their nationwide search with all the urgency and efficiency they’re known for.

As the two-month interim assignment Kogan signed on for stretched into an open-ended one, a certain sense of frustration began to set in. After all, he still had a full-time job with the Chicago Tribune and a nagging list of other obligations to fulfill.

“When I first agreed to be an interim host for two months, I did it on the assumption that the search for a permanent host might have resolved itself at this point,” Kogan said in an interview Thursday. “I also did it knowing I had put a couple of other major projects on the back burner. It has now been six months and those things have started to boil over.” Among them is a book project he can no longer afford to postpone.

Earlier this week, Kogan told the station that he’s stepping down at the end of the month to take a four-week leave from his duties as interim host. Whether he returns to the show after that depends on whether a permanent host has been chosen. “I told them this might be a good time to ‘test drive’ any of the people who are still interviewing for the job,” he said. “I believe it’s possible they might find the person they’re looking for in the next month.”

With Kogan a free agent, it’s entirely possible he could wind up back at WGN-AM (720), the Tribune-owned news/talk station where he spent 13 years as host of The Sunday Papers. When Kogan left for WBEZ last fall, WGN program director Bill White called him “a mainstay of WGN” and made a point of saying “the door is open for future projects down the road.”

Torey Malatia, president and CEO of Chicago Public Media, said he was grateful for Kogan’s contribution as interim host of The Afternoon Shift and would strongly consider creating a permanent role for him as WBEZ adds more local programming in the future.

“Having Rick here has been a real gift,” Malatia told me. “He’s made an enormous difference in our ability to keep people focused on what we’re trying to build between 2 and 4pm, which is a real forum for discussion for everybody in the area. He’s someone who knows it well, loves it, and can carry on conversations about a range of issues in a way no mere broadcaster can because he’s much more than that. He is a great Chicago figure. We’re just delighted to have him.”

Malatia said he has narrowed the list of finalists for permanent afternoon host to four, and hopes to announce a decision by the end of April.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)