The cuts were part of a plan to merge and improve the stations, but the likelihood of state funding cuts played a part.
By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV Critic
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 1, 2003
TAMPA -- Citing the need to refocus its management and anticipating the possible loss of more than $600,000 in state funding, officials at WUSF have let go eight staffers from the public radio outlet and television station.
Six employees' contracts were not renewed, including those of WUSF-Ch. 16 station manager Bill Buxton, TV membership manager Tom Wilson, WUSF-FM 89.7 news director Rick Stone and TV communications director Martha Cooper, who had worked at the station nearly 30 years.
Two other employees were laid off from their current positions and offered jobs elsewhere at the University of South Florida, which holds the licenses for both WUSF-TV and WUSF-FM. Employees were told of the changes last week.
JoAnn Urofsky, who serves as general manager of both the TV and radio station, said the changes would help merge membership operations for the two outlets and create a management team to pursue her goals for the station. She expects to hire replacements for both Buxton and Stone at the stations, which have a combined staff of about 60 people.
"This was not done for financial reasons ... It was done to transform the station," said Urofsky, who became general manager at WUSF-FM in 1994 and was confirmed in the same position at the TV station last May. "I hope we save some money, sure. But we have some big goals ... I had to put together a leadership team I'm confident can fulfill our transformation."
She said Gov. Jeb Bush's proposed state budget would end state funding for public broadcasting outlets across the state. That would cost WUSF-TV $557,000, about 15 percent of its $3.7-million budget. It would cost WUSF-FM $106,000, about 3 percent of its $3.8-million budget. The Legislature must approve a budget this spring and can accept or ignore Bush's recommendations.
Additionally, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has announced cutbacks that could affect how much federal funding both outlets receive, Urofsky said.
Buxton, 63, of Tampa, had worked at WUSF-TV for more than 33 years. He said the financial pressures were likely larger at the TV station than on the radio side.
"I think JoAnn would like to see more operations of the TV and radio stations ... merged into one unit," he said. "All state government is under a lot of pressure to cut costs."
Still, Urofsky said the possibility of state funding cuts was not the sole reason for the changes. "The announcement of the governor's budget was made the night before the reorganization ... (and) you don't make a decision like that overnight," she said.
Stone, 52, of Forest Hills, said he felt no anger toward the station that let him go after 13 years.
"I think they've got to take the place to the next level," said Stone, who plans to leave the radio industry and seek work as a writer. "I'm not really sure what expectation I was not meeting ... (but) I don't think it was about (saving) money."
-- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.