WMNF-FM implements first layoffs ever, downsizing three to avoid budget shortfall up to $90,000
For much of his 10-year tenure as music director at WMNF-FM (88.5), Lee "DJ Flee" Courtney has been one of the Tampa community radio station's highest profile boosters, organizing benefit concerts and hyping events to local media outside the scope of his part-time job.
Which may be why Courtney still sounds a bit stunned recounting how he learned this week he would be among the first people ever laid off the WMNF's 30-year history, downsized to help stem a budget shortfall one station executive said could reach $90,000 if unchecked.
"I've actually raised more than my salary through all the fundraising events I've put on," said Courtney, who regularly organized a series of concerts where an array of local bands would plays the songs of a single artist. "I always think it's better if everyone takes a cut and you keep the jobs around for when the economy comes back."
But WMNF officials say the tanking economy is what forced them to lay off three staffers, including Courtney, receptionist Julie Scheid and special events coordinator Linda Reisinger, who has worked at the station since its earliest days thirty years ago.
Station manager Jim Bennett developed the plan for pulling WMNF's budget back into the black after the last on air pledge drive fell $70,000 short of a $460,000 goal and high profile events such as Tropical Heatwave brought in half the revenue of past years. It's quite a change from the station's position during its 30th anniversary back in September, when Bennett restored staff benefits which had been cut and forecast a $10,000 surplus for that fiscal year.
What changed? "The economy changed," said Julia Morris, president of WMNF's board of directors, who estimated longtime contributors have cut their donations by 25 percent. "In retrospect, we should have realized the community wasn't able to support the level of special events we traditionally offer. I think a lot of people were hoping things would turn around.""
"It's often the same people who give to us, and they don't have the $100 or the $1,000 to give that they used to," said Bennett, who has faced some criticism through emails and Facebook messages for his strategy. "(Layoffs) are a place WMNF has never had to go to..But if we don't do this now, next year we would be talking about more people laid off. This is the hardest thing on earth."
Scheid said some staffers offered to take cuts in their own pay during a staff meeting this morning if it would stop the job reductions. She fears the layoffs have made the station's usually democratic budget process less so, keeping volunteer and staff from offering other solutions.
"It's changing the face of the station," Scheid said, noting that she applied for job at WMNF five times before landing her position five years ago. "(Local musicians) didn't play for a station; I think they played to support Flee."
WMNF also plans a summertime fund raising drive July 13, though station officials realize their loyal listeners are facing the same tough economic times. "Our core supporters are tapped," said Morris. "And we have no other expenses left to cut."