Originally established as an extension service of the Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Public Media first signed on as WBEZ in 1943. For most of these early years, the station only broadcast educational instruction, operating during the school year on weekdays while Chicago Public Schools were in session. In 1970, the station became one of the first charter member stations of National Public Radio (NPR). In 1990, Chicago Public Media acquired the WBEZ license from the Board of Education as an independent community licensee and not-for-profit: WBEZ Alliance, Inc.
Today, Chicago Public Media broadcasts its primary service on three FM radio stations: WBEZ 91.5 FM in Chicago, WBEQ 90.7 FM in Morris, and 91.3 FM (W217BM) in Elgin, Illinois. In addition to local programming, Chicago Public Media produces This American Life, Sound Opinions, and Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! (a co-production with NPR) for national distribution. In 2005, Chicago Public Media launched a new public media service, Vocalo, which is broadcast on WBEW 89.5 FM in Chesterton, Indiana.
In April 2010, Chicago Public Media's Board of Directors adopted the name "Chicago Public Media" in order to become a better recognized and stronger leader among public media creators and distributors, while aiming to continue the creation of challenging, informative and emotional media experiences that enhance civic life and improve community health by further deepening and growing our existing portfolio of public media brands.