Budget cuts at public broadcast outlets are having an impact on podcast production, with two of the most well-funded public media companies announcing in recent days that production on some podcasts will come to an end as they cope with the economic fallout of COVID-19.
Boston University-owned WBUR-FM Boston (90.9) said Wednesday that the New York Times will take over production of the Modern Love podcast at the end of June — the two had been editorial partners — and Kind World, a morning radio feature and podcast, will end its run in July. WBUR also said it will lay off 29 employees, representing more than ten percent of its staff, including many part-time employees. Among the full-time staffers exiting WBUR is Digital Managing Director John Davidow. The station will also discontinue producing the nationally syndicated sports program “Only A Game.” It airs on about 260 public radio stations.
CEO Margaret Low said WBUR has been “a credible digital innovator” but said as listening habits and media consumption patterns continue to shift, so do its priorities. “We have to confront how we reach new audiences and become even more relevant in people’s lives,” she said.
Beyond the layoffs, Low said WBUR will reduce expenses across the board. “Most notably, we are eliminating seven unfilled positions, cutting travel and marketing costs and canceling various contracted services. I’m taking a 10% salary cut,” she said in a statement. Low said the WBUR Board approved a budget of just under $46 million for the current fiscal year, but in the coming year it will be presented a budget of just over $40 million.
The cutbacks at WBUR came as management reached a tentative agreement with SAG-AFTRA on its first union contract. The staff of the influential public radio outlet voted overwhelmingly to unionize in February 2019. WBUR said it would abide by the layoff provisions in that new contract.
Meanwhile in Minneapolis, American Public Media will cease production of the John Moe-hosted podcast The Hilarious World of Depression as part of wider cutbacks announced by the public broadcaster. CEO Jon McTaggart said some of APM’s revenue sources have “dramatically and simultaneously declined” due to the widespread economic turmoil and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. McTaggart said regional and national underwriting, corporate sponsorship and ticketed events revenue is all down.
“We know this is hard news, especially with everything that has happened over the last few months. We are beyond grateful for your support over the years. The one bright spot: we’re going to keep episodes up on our feed and our website so you can re-listen to the show whenever you need,” the podcast team told fans.
MPR also laid off 28 and discontinued the national production of the “Live From Here” syndicated radio show, which was the successor to “A Prairie Home Companion.”
The pain at public radio isn’t just being felt at the local level. NPR in May cut pay and benefits as it faced projected losses of up to $53 million in the next two years. In the latest round of austerity, the base pay of NPR’s employees will be reduced on a sliding scale of up to 9% through the end of September. Workers who make less than $80,000 annually will not see a reduction in pay.