On Oct. 28, veteran Chicago jazz broadcaster Dan Bindert found his dream job: station manager at the Chicago area's leading jazz outlet, WDCB-FM 90.9.
Three weeks later, Bindert expanded jazz programming on WDCB by an hour every weekday, in the crucial 6 to 7 p.m. drive-time slot. That means WDCB now broadcasts the music from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, plus dozens of hours more overnight and on weekends.
Not bad for a station based at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, a western suburb not typically considered a nexus for this quintessentially urban music.
As far as Bindert is concerned, the expansion of jazz programming represented a quick, significant way to crank up the dial at WDCB, which stepped into the spotlight when WBEZ-FM 91.5 cut most of its jazz programming in 2006 and 2007, after having championed the music for decades.
"There's a lot of unrealized potential to be the really big-time Chicago jazz station," says Bindert.
"College of DuPage has been great to this station. You still don't quite have that center point that you had with BEZ, but I think we can get a lot closer to that in the future."
Certainly WDCB is poised for bigger things. Earlier this year, the station moved into spacious new quarters on campus, increasing its footprint from 4,300 to 7,800 square feet. More important, when the facility is finished, WDCB will have a performance studio designed for live concert broadcasts, additional production spaces and other amenities.
Meanwhile, WDCB recently improved the technology for both on-air broadcasts and streaming, says Bindert, all of which points to a jazz station on the way up.
"When you tune in, this station has all these musicians on the air — I feel like I walked into a good thing here," says Bindert, referencing shows by trumpeter Orbert Davis, saxophonist Barry Winograd, pianist Bruce Oscar and percussionist Paul Abella, among others.
"The one thing (WDCB) seemed to not have as much of was a sense of, 'Hey, we are Chicago's station and we're out there.'... I don't think (the station) had the public recognition of being a big-time player," adds Bindert, comparing WDCB to the higher profile of jazz stations such as KKJZ-FM 88.1 in Long Beach, Calif., which serves the Los Angeles area, and WGBO-FM 88.3 in Newark, N.J., which covers New York City.
But perhaps an even better point of comparison is WWOZ-FM 90.7 in New Orleans, which Bindert indeed looks to for inspiration.
"You listen to that for five or 10 minutes, and you know you're in New Orleans," says Bindert, referring to a one-of-kind, community-oriented American radio station.
"That's really a key goal for me, that when people tune in to WDCB, they know they're listening to the Chicago jazz station. That boils down to everything from the music, our interaction with the community, what we play."
Specifically, in coming months and years Bindert and colleagues plan to air more live broadcasts from venues across the city and suburbs; syndicate nationally some of the shows the station produces; create new programs for specific aspects of jazz, such as experimental music; and otherwise fill a void left when WBEZ turned its back on a music globally identified with this city.
"We're hoping to bring us up to a level where we should have been for a while now," says Ken Scott, the station's longtime marketing and fundraising director. "We want to be able to present live jazz to people. So, for instance, maybe some lunchtime concerts, some evening concerts."
The idea, adds Scott, is "to open up the world of Chicago jazz to more people outside of Chicago. ... It really is time for people outside Chicago to realize how much is going on here. The jazz scene is booming."
True enough, but it remains to be seen how far a station with a 5,000-watt signal that covers the Chicago metro area but isn't easy to pick up everywhere, especially in the Loop, can reach.
Certainly there's a void to be filled, as Bindert learned very early in his new job, while hosting a WDCB-sponsored night at the Jazz Showcase. After he had made his remarks to the crowd, someone in the audience cornered him.
"He said, 'The last time I saw you up on stage I was booing you,'" recalls Bindert, who knew exactly what the man meant.
Seven years ago, Bindert, then based at WBEZ, had introduced pianist Marian McPartland on the stage of Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center and reminded the audience that WBEZ carried her beloved "Piano Jazz" show. But music fans already knew that jazz in general, McPartland's show in particular, were doomed on WBEZ, which prompted precisely the catcalls that Bindert says he expected — and hoped to hear.