Chicago Jazz Radio: Station Guide

Along with New Orleans and Saint Louis, Chicago is one of the jazz capitals of the United States. While no substitute exists for Chicago’s legendary jazz clubs, there are several radio stations in the Chicago area that feature significant jazz programs in their lineups – so you can listen when a smoky piano bar isn’t convenient. Whether you want to hear fledgling local artists, tried-but-true standards, experimental jazz, or just interviews and commentary, you can open your ears to these Chicago jazz radio stations. With hundreds of hours of jazz programming available each week, this station guide for Chicago jazz radio will help you find a groove at home, work, school, or in the car.

Station #1. Chicago Public Radio
91.5 FM WBEZ

If you want to hear jazz in any city, public radio is usually a safe bet, and Chicago is no different. Hosts
Dan Bindert, Richard Steele, and Sarah Toulouse play jazz on the overnight during the week. Hours vary, but the grooves typically start after 8:00pm. Diverse in genre, the jazz spun by these hosts is like a sampler, but they do delve into artists and themes on a monthly spotlight rotation. Embracing their Chicago jazz radio location, WBEZ also features local jazz artists in their playlists.

On Sunday afternoons, the Jazz with Dick Buckley program, broadcast on Chicago Public Radio since 1977, boasts rare records and clever commentary. And of course, because WBEZ is an NPR affiliate, it features the syndicated Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz show. Calling itself the “perfect balance between historical perspective and sheer entertainment,” the program centers on its host’s collaboration with and interviews of her guests. Details are available at

Station #2. Northwestern University Radio
89.3 FM WNUR
Jazz Subsite:

Self-identifying as “Chicago’s Sound Experiment,” this Northwestern University station does not play 24-7 jazz, but the genre comprises a significant portion of their programming: nearly 40 hours a week! The centerpiece of WNUR’s Chicago jazz radio is simply titled The Jazz Show. Broadcast each weekday morning from dawn until the noon hour, the show is a hodgepodge of new releases, indie label jazz, free jazz, Chicago talent, and other elements. In addition to playing recordings, they conduct interviews and occasionally feature live performances when a notable jazz act is in town. If you’re lucky, they’ll also give out tickets to callers.

WNUR also sponsors an annual Jazzfest event which has previously featured performers like Fred Anderson, Ken Vandermark, and Tatsu Aoki. Their website is a solid place to read reviews of new jazz recordings, and struggling Chicago jazz artists can even submit recordings for the program managers to review. This ensures that a fresh local vibe remains present on WNUR. All in all, WNUR’s epic jazz megashow is a place where newbies can educate themselves and jazz scholars can ruminate on records old and new.

Station #3. University of Chicago Radio
88.5 FM WHPK
Jazz Subsite:

Blowing across the Windy City from the South Side’s Hyde Park neighborhood, WHPK broadcasts are diverse. Because it’s a university station, the programming and times do vary by term, but they feature at least one or two jazz shows everyday hosted by students and faculty – with latin jazz, swing, free jazz, be bop, underground and plenty of other styles, schools, and classifications represented. For a blurb about each show, visit the website. Even jazz scholars like author John Litweiler share their knowledge via this Chicago station.

Station #4. Chicago Smooth Jazz
95.5 FM WNUA

So-called “Smooth Jazz” isn’t for everyone, and sometimes it can admittedly sound like waiting room music. But if low-maintenance background jazz is what you want, WNUA provides that aspect of Chicago jazz radio.

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