Carole R. Nolan ’50, ‘founding mother’ of WBEZ-FM, loved A.O.L. and S.S.N.D.


Carole R. Nolan ’50, was certain about who had provided the foundation of knowledge she later built upon during her early career as an educator and later as a public radio pioneer with station WBEZ (91.5 FM) in Chicago. Carole praised her teachers at the Academy of Our Lady for their career-shaping guidance.


In accepting an achievement award in 2006 from the School Sisters of Notre Dame Chicago Province, Carole recalled: “Sister Aventine and Sister Josephine awakened my interest in science. Sister Cortona put the fear of God in me as I learned Latin, and Sister Charlette helped me develop study habits in my quest for knowledge. Sister Eudocia developed my interest in ancient history and probably influenced my travel. I loved Longwood and the beautiful campus. I can still remember the fun we had at the Mission parties. [They were] probably my introduction to fundraising, which later helped me raise money for public radio.”


Carole, who was 80, died July 5 in hospice care from the effects of muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease. Tributes posted within hours of her death on WBEZ’s website illustrated how very well Carole had learned her Longwood teachers’ lessons. One former colleague lauded her as the “founding mother” of WBEZ in the early 1970s. Another praised her leadership over the years in transforming the station from an underused instructional outlet owned by the Chicago Board of Education to that of the independent, not-for-profit entity Chicago Public Radio (now Chicago Public Media). Among Carole’s accomplishments mentioned on WBEZ’s website and in her Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune obituaries were her improvement of the station’s broadcasting capabilities, programming and audience share; linking WBEZ with National Public Radio; and–in 1995–moving the station from its Loop location to state-of-the-art facilities at Navy Pier. The Tribune quoted Torey Malatia, Chicago Public Media’s current CEO, in describing Carole’s talent for overcoming challenges: “She was an incisive business professional who let no obstacle, no matter how formidable, stop her.”


And although she was a role model for aspiring women executives, Carole—still a teacher in some respects–also was known for her compassion in developing young talent.


To prepare for her life’s journey, Carole earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at DePaul University and then a teaching degree from Chicago Musical College, where she studied piano. Prior to her radio career, she taught science and music in the Chicago Public School system, wrote science curricula and developed television production classes for high school students.


At her retirement in the mid-1990s, Carole had served for 25 years as WBEZ/Chicago Public Media’s general manager and chief executive, and she had won many awards. Her love of travel had taken her to every continent. Several years ago she moved from her north suburban home to a senior living community in Arlington Heights. Recently she had been writing a book about her years with the radio station.


Survivors include Jane Marie Smith, a friend of 53 years, and several cousins.