Public radio cancels 2 programs, cuts 64 jobs

The Baltimore Sun

National Public Radio announced yesterday that it is canceling two programs and eliminating 64 jobs, blaming a "sharp" decline in corporate underwriting and other revenues.

The move, part of an overall 7 percent work force reduction, comes as NPR's radio and Web audience has been growing. About 26.4 million people are listening to the NPR programs every week, while its Web site, npr.org, is getting 8 million visitors a month.

NPR officials had projected a "manageable" $2 million deficit for fiscal 2009, on a budget of $168 million. But the tumult in the U.S. economy over the past several months has led to such a drop in corporate sponsorships that the projected deficit has risen to $23 million. Such sponsorships are the second-largest source of revenue for NPR, behind only the fees paid by member stations.

In addition to the layoffs, NPR, with a current staff of 889, will not be filling 21 open positions. Trims will be made in all budget areas, including reporting, research, communications and administrative support, as well as travel and discretionary expenses, officials said.

Many of the staff cuts were realized by canceling two shows, Day to Day and News & Notes. Both are scheduled to go off the air March 20.

"It's crucial to realize that these programming changes are being driven by a loss in revenue, not relevance," Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president for news, said in a statement.

Andy Bienstock, program director at Baltimore's WYPR-FM (88.1), said the NPR cuts will have no direct effect on the station, except for the loss of News & Notes, a public affairs show hosted by Farai Chideya that looks at the news from an African-American perspective. It currently airs at 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The station's November pledge drive raised $5,000 more than last year's and, while the average pledge was down, the number of new pledgers rose significantly.

"Everything is all right now," Bienstock said. "But like everyone else, you look at March and April, and wonder. Who knows what will happen?"

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