KTOO lays off three workers

Public media across the state and nation hard hit

Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2009

Juneau's public radio and television stations are laying off three workers and making other cuts to handle a budget deficit.

David Sheakley / Juneau Empire
David Sheakley / Juneau Empire

In addition to the layoffs, 1.5 vacant positions will be eliminated, two full-time employees will become part-time, and the remaining 23 employees will have their benefits cut and wages frozen, KTOO General Manager Bill Legere said.

The KTOO family includes KTOO-TV, KTOO News Radio, KRNN Rain Country Radio and KXLL Excellent Radio.

"We're totally solvent, and we can meet all our current obligations. So this isn't about any immediate threat to KTOO," Legere said.

Local support has been steady, Legere said, but the station has lost federal and state grant money, and production contracts have slumped. Meanwhile, expenses have risen, including about $5 million in the past few years for the transition to digital television.

Legere said the media family's board of directors opted to protect the three radio stations and Gavel to Gavel on 360 North, the station's C-SPAN-style cable coverage of the three months the Alaska Legislature is in session. He said viewers and listeners won't notice any changes.

The KTOO receptionist, a production assistant and an engineer were laid off.

Chief videographer Skip Gray - the only full-time cameraman on staff - and the producer of Gavel to Gavel, Randy Burton, were offered full-time positions during the legislative session and reduced hours the rest of the year.

Gray heard Monday. He said he could not remember any staff reductions of this magnitude in his 30-plus years at KTOO. On Friday, he was still stunned and hadn't decided what to do.

"There's basically no other job like that in Juneau," he said. "Since I don't really want to leave Juneau, I might be looking for a new career."

The laid-off also include receptionist Vicki Allison, a self-described fixture at the station for nearly nine years. Last week, as the board met, she expected budget cuts. But she figured her job was safe.

"Absolutely unexpected. Everybody on the staff would say, 'Vicki, you don't have to worry, because Lord knows we need you down here,'" she said.

But no one leaving the budget meeting would look at her, she said.

"It was like they had a crick in their neck," she said.

That's how she knew. Still, Allison, 64, is perky and looking for her next break.

"Life goes on," she said. "I'm ready for a new adventure."

KTOO is far from alone. Public radio and television stations in Alaska and all over the country have been hard hit, from the smallest stations to the biggest.

Jake Poole, a KUAC FM/TV manager in Fairbanks, said Friday he's cutting two employees. Same story: Costs are up, grants are down. Poole said KUAC's documentary work will be slashed in favor of daily radio and TV work.

In Anchorage, Alaska Public Telecommunications Inc., cut staff in 2006 and also eliminated the award-winning radio show AK. The Anchorage public TV station it runs, KAKM, has one full-timer that's spread thin plus contractors, said station manager Steve Lindbuck.

"The staff cuts have been really dramatic," he said.

"There has been a ton of cutbacks," said Dana Rehm, senior vice president of communications at National Public Radio. "And it is radio and TV, because in so many cases they're combined."

NPR had more listeners than ever last year, but is facing drops in investment revenue and corporate sponsorships, which led to cutting two shows and 77 people, Rehm said.

And PBS's flagship station in New York, WNET.ORG, announced this year it would lay off about 85 of its 500 employees.

At KTOO, Allison paused midconversation to direct someone to a studio.

"They think they don't need me!" she said. "They're going to have people wandering all around here."

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.

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