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 sounded a bit stunned after learning this week he would be among the first people ever laid off in WMNF's 30-year history, downsized to help stem a budget shortfall that station manager Jim Bennett said could reach $90,000 if unchecked.
"I've actually raised more than my salary through all the fundraising events I've put on," Courtney said Wednesday. "I always think it's better if everyone takes a cut and you keep the jobs around for when the economy comes back."
WMNF officials say the tanking economy forced them to lay off Courtney and two other staffers, receptionist Julie Scheid and special events coordinator Linda Reisinger.
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 that 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."
"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," Bennett said. "(Layoffs) are a place WMNF has never had to go to. … This is the hardest thing on earth."
Scheid said some staffers offered during a staff meeting Wednesday to take cuts in their own pay if it would stop the job reductions. She fears the layoffs have made the station's usually democratic budget process less so, keeping volunteers and staff from offering other solutions.
"It's changing the face of the station," said Scheid, who wanted to work for WMNF so badly she applied for a job 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 plans a summertime fundraising drive July 13, though station officials realize their loyal listeners are facing the same tough economic times. "Our core supporters are tapped," Morris said. "And we have no other expenses left to cut."